The analysis of historical avalanche data is important when developing accurate hazard maps. The record of snow-avalanche disasters on Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands is incomplete, due to the historical division into periods of Japanese and Russian rule. Here we combine and analyze data from Japanese and Russian sources to reconstruct a continuous record of avalanche catastrophes in the region from 1910 to 2010. Despite the relatively small scale of the majority of catastrophic avalanches, with a total vertical drop < 200 m, we document evidence that places the region among the most avalanche-affected areas in the world. In total, 756 fatalities and > 238 injuries have occurred in 275 incidents over a 100 year period (two-thirds of those killed were Japanese). This death toll is higher than that in Canada, New Zealand or Iceland, or non-recreational fatalities in France. A wave of avalanche disasters (1930s–60s) following intense colonization of Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands is evident. Although this ‘wave’ could be considered a local issue of the past, many presently developing countries may face similar situations. The fatality rate has decreased over time, due to social factors, and differs from that of any other region, in its absence of deaths through recreational activities. Although in recent years the fatality rate is lower than that of Iceland or the USA, the per capita avalanche casualty rate on Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands remains among the highest in the world.