Japan Powder - Backcountry skiing near Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan.
5-11, 12-18, or 19-25 February 2017
I was simply stunned when I first visited Japan to ski. If you've seen the photos or articles in the magazines, it's not made up. For 17 out of 21 days it snowed 20-30cm daily, "resetting" the slopes. When the avalanche hazard climbs too high, no worries - the beech forests are perfectly spaced for tree skiing. The backcountry terrain is easy to reach, easy to travel through and fantastic to ski. And the snow... You see, Niseko gets its snow from cold fronts coming out of Siberia, picking up moisture as they cross the Sea of Japan, then dumping it when it hits the mountains of Hokkaido and Honshu. The combination creates a huge amount of very dry snow, and you get to ski it over, and over, and over again.
I've created this itinerary to maximize your time and make the most out of a week. Its possible to depart North America on Saturday and land in Japan on Sunday, but then return home just on Sunday - the international date line knocks back the clock so you still land on Sunday. That can give you six days of skiing!
Its possible to fly directly into Sapporo, Japan, where I'll pick you up and drive you down to the village of Niseko, which sits at the bottom of majestic Annupuri. Four massive ski areas - Niseko United - girdle the southern and south-eastern sides of the mountain. A short bootpack from the highest chair gains the summit, and some fantastic ski descents on the northern and western aspects.
The range runs on to the west, and its possible to ride one chair, exit the areas, and link summits. Every day will feature 5000-7000' of ski descents, more if we stay close to the resorts.
We'll stay at the Woodpecker Lodge, which resides only 30 meters away from the Moiwa ski area on the southwest arm of Annupuri. The owner happens to be the regional avalanche forecaster with 40 years of local experience. The age of the building makes the lodging rustic, but his wife is an incredible cook who will be feeding us breakfast and dinner every day. We'll also have the option to visit any one of a number of local onsens (hot spring baths).
One of my favorite days - which I repeat often - is to ski all day and slide right up to an onsen nearby, then have a short 15-minute climb and a final run down to the lodge in time for dinner.
If you have time, consider spending a few extra days in Tokyo. It was an incredible experience that I always repeat. If you'd like help or advice with additional bookings, I'm happy to assist.
Costs included in the trip:
- Sapporo-Niseko transportation
- Transportation during the week
- Lodging at Woodpecker Lodge for seven nights
- Dinner and breakfast at Woodpecker lodge for seven nights
- Guides' daily wages
Costs not included in the trip:
- Transportation to Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
- Meals taken outside of Woodpecker Lodge - we usually eat out once at a local izakaya, or Japanese pub, on Thursday night
- Onsen visits outside of Woodpecker Lodge
- Lift tickets (which can range from $35-65 USD for a full day ticket, or as little as $4 for a single-trip ticket)
This trip runs at a 4:1 guest-to-guide ratio, and requires at least 2 people to register in order to run.
Cost: $2780 per person
Saturday - Step on a plane and make your way to Japan. See you on Sunday!
Sunday - Let me pick you up in Sapporo and drive you down to Niseko. We'll make it in time for dinner and meet the owner of the Woodpecker Lodge, Akio Shinya. Shinya-san has lived and skied here for more than 40 years.
Monday - After all that sitting, today's going to focus on the down. We'll pick up a single-trip or half-day ticket to ski the back bowl of Moiwa, the local hill only 100m away from the lodge. This backcountry basin separates Moiwa from Mt Annupri (1309m/4295'), and so we'll traverse over there and pick up a second ticket to reach the summit, a 20 minute bootpack outside of the ski area. An 1800-2500' runs exist on the west and north aspects. We'll ski what looks best before heading down to the Moiwa-Io onsen. After a good soak, we'll be fresh for a 15 minute climb back to Moiwa and a final run to dinner.
Tuesday - All right, now we're going to get after it. The north side of Mt Io (1090m/3576') features some great 1000' couloirs. From here we can explore north to Waisuhorun (1020m/3346'), which features incredible tree skiing and open glades on moderate slopes, and ends at the Hanazono onsen; or head east to climb the Chisenupuri (1130m/3707') before getting an 1800' ski descent to the Chisenupuri ski area for a pickup back to the lodge.
Wednesday - We'll drive back to the Chise ski hill to get one-trip lift tickets and a 800' leg up. Our goal today is simply to ski and traverse as many peaks as we can - or want to - westwards. From Chisenupuri there's Shakunagedake (1030m/3376'), Shirakabayama (930m/3051') and Zenmennaidake (970m/3182'). From the summit of Shiraka we'll have a 1400' ski descent to Niimi onsen, where we can soak while we wait for our ride.
Thursday - We'll return to the Niimi onsen to continue the hunt for summits and snow. This time we'll climb the massive Mt Mekunnai (1190m/3904'), and Mt Raiden (1220m/4003') . Mt Raiden is particularly special - this massive mountain sits right on the edge of the Sea of Japan, and features descents up to 3000' - the longest in the area. We'll finish the day back at the Niimi onsen.
Friday - Mt Yotei (1898m/6227') is almost a perfectly symmetrical stratovolcano, towering over 6000' above the valley floor, and one of the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains (a list penned by climber and author Kuuka Fukada in 1964). We'll have a 4900-5200' climb, depending on where we start. From the summit, we'll get a one-of-a-kind summit, and a 1000' ski descent in the crater! A short climb back out will give us a 4600' descent back down to the car.
Saturday - Bonus day - we'll save this one for a rest day (if you want one) to shuffle into the week, explore the Raiden-Annupuri ridge further, or explore areas like Rusutsu Ski Area and Mt Nukkibetsu.
Note - This itinerary should have a heavy emphasis on "suggested." Avalanche hazard and weather conditions will have a marked impact on our week. Its best to be flexible, confident that no matter what, we will ski some of the best snow in our lives.