With happiness of skiing and reverence for nature in my heart.
Former Mayor, Kutchan
ITO Hiroshi served as the mayor of Kutchan for 12 years since 1995. During his term of office, Hirafu had changed dramatically. He talks about his thoughts on skiing and memories during his service.
I was born in Muroran, 1942. I love skiing since I could remember. I went to Kutchan high school by train from Nepp (now Kuromatsunai). The lifts of Hirafu were opened in my third year of high school. KIDA Yoshinari under one grade, came aboard the train I was riding in Rankoshi. I was not able to ski down the “Ni-kabe” very well at that time yet. KIDA overtook me often with outstanding skill of skiing. I thought jokingly that KIDA was younger than me but cheeky. He participated in the Innsbruck Olympic Games and the Grenoble Olympic Games Olympics later.
After graduating from high school, while I was going to a night college, I worked in Hokkaido prefectural government. I worked mainly with regard to fisheries. Even though I was out in the world, of course, I did not lose my passion for skiing. When I was a manager, I was encouraged to run for Kutchan mayor by various people. I thought that if I became the mayor of Kutchan, I could ski in Hirafu more frequently than now at the bottom of my heart. I can say now such a trivial reason was one of motives to run for the election.
When I became the mayor, I formed a “JAGATA Ski Team” in the town office. (“JAGA” means potato that is famous produce in Kutchan.) On the Internet was beginning to spread at that time; we sent the information of the ski team. Through it, we were able to interact with people outside of Hokkaido. I was known as the mayor of loving ski, so Kutchan became more famous. I always wore the jacket with the character of the town “JAGATA” on my back on the slopes. My handle name on the net was also “JAGATA”.
No matter how much I build up stress in the office, skiing relieved me from it. I used to ski about 40 times in a year. I was looking forward to skiing with the torch of the new year. I was so crazy about ski that some officer might possibly be bored.
Hokkaido Takushoku Bank went bankrupt in November 1997. Hokuyo Bank was the main bank of St. Moritz Lifts company that was operating Alpen Lifts. However, since loans of Hokkaido Takushoku Bank in Hokkaido were transferred to Hokuyo Bank, Hokuyo Bank evaluated loans more strictly. St. Moritz Lifts company had been suffering from excessive debt through capital investment. I heard that assets of St. Moritz Lifts company might be seized.
The opening of the ski season of the year was just around the corner. If assets of St. Moritz Lifts company would be seized, the lifts could not be operated. And I concluded that cancellation of lift service adversely affect the economy of the town. Immediately I went to the head office of Hokuyo Bank (Sapporo), and I petitioned to continue operation of the lift. Eventually, Hokuyo Bank decided that they would restructure St. Moritz Lifts company. So we avoided difficulty. In the 21st century, the two lift companies, St. Moritz Lifts company and Niseko Kogen Kanko company, merged into the one company as Niseko Grand Hirafu. I think that the form of today is very good as a result.
I met a lot of people through skiing, and they got to know Kutchan. I was called “Mr. JAGATA” often on the slopes. They didn’t know I was the mayor, and I was their fellow who purely loves to ski. I used to guide après-ski, not to speak of the slopes. To increase the tourism from Australia, I visited Australia as part of the Visit Japan Campaign by Japanese government. I promoted actively the attractiveness of Hirafu to travel agencies and travel related companies.
When I got off the lift at 1000m-Daichi, blizzard was blowing. I did not see anything, did not know left from right, all of my sight was just pure white. In such conditions, I had to endure snowstorm alone. Then mountains, snow and nature awed me. I believe that people should always keep the feelings of reverence for nature. I am happy because I met skiing in my life.