Some Japan ski/snowboard backcountry tips thoughts and advice

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Cynicor

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I don't really do photos, and can't be bothered with trip reports, but I figured others should benefit from the year of research that went into my epic 2 months Hokkaido back country trip, as there was a lot that I couldn't find online or had no current information for. In no particular order (I.e as things hit my brain) I will add replies or information as to how we went about things, where we stayed and the guides.

I do have some photos which I will upload if relevant. Otherwise, please feel free to engage your own tips and thoughts.

Starting with the hardest to find- Radios.

2-ways use a different frequency in Japan and devices from other countries are strictly prohibited. You require a licence to operate anything over the 1km range (not sure of exact output max) so if you want a radio 500m-1km is the max.

If you know the/a model already then you can find them online, but googling in English does not get you very far. I went to Akihabara on arrival but you would be amazed at how few electrical department stores sell them. To get to the radio district you need to cross into the backstreets of the main road, on the far side from the station, wander around I there and you should be able to find quite a few shops selling them and can compare prices. I actually only found these places after my purchase.

I bought from a helpful man down an alleyway of random assorted cables and wires, just outside the station and around a corner. From memory he was in the building near the pin:
ImageUploadedByAustFreqFly1455397650.221515.jpg

I got 2 long antenna Alinco DJ-P221s. Waterproof, compact, little clip for my backpack and foolproof. They have channels and groups but don't allow you to fine-tune frequencies. Perfectly adequate for 2 and we didn't notice any major range issues in the BC. They are easy to activate whilst riding and were 10 000 JPY each all in.

Please ask away and other questions on radios.

ABS, Avalanche airbags, canisters and trigger/detonation devices:

I've used a bunch of keywords so this comes up in a search, because up to date information is so damn frustrating to find.

Our party of 4 (at its peak) all had new ABS units with full canisters and triggers. These were extremely simple to transit with, thankfully, though I can also report that there is now a retailer in Tokyo and one in Niseko (Niseko 343) so if you want to travel without canisters (or need a new one ) you can buy locally (though Central Hokkaido to Niseko is 4 hours min really).

None of us dared travel with them as hand luggage as it just adds another layer of complexity and the occasional power tripping security guard might decide they weren't safe, but we did experience a range of airlines and airports.

Person 1- SQ in PER, checkin and through checked onto ANA via SIN. pretty easy, showed the MSDS and IATA rules. Had emailed both in advance. Singapore airlines noted it in my booking and ANA said they were fine with it, no need for anything special. Was simple, bag turned up.
Took JAL domestic HND-CTS and checkin was a breeze. Declared dangerous items on checkin, no worries. Had called the Aussie number to add the airbag details which was simple and efficient.

Person 2- TG/ Thai airways at PER, checkin and through checked via BKK to CTS. No hassles at airport or in transit. Emailed in advance to the general Perth enquirers address and had to submit model and dimensions but it was relatively painless.

Persons 3+4- QF to SYD, Japan Airlines SYD-NRT-CTS. Emailed QF DG team on the email listed online. Given details and a printed letter of approval issued. Show this, no hassles apparently. Checkin at SYD was a bit slow, they wanted to check them and had never seem them before, but all in all they arrived safe and sound. Apparently the same happened on the return journey, the staff were very curious about this almost mythical device.

As backpacks go, the ABS vario system is pretty decent. We got 18L and 30l zip on units that seem really well designed and have been used with no hassles. Have not deployed them yet, but I still have a week or so here.
 

Cynicor

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Car hire in Hokkaido

Get a car in central Hokkaido. GET A CAR.

If you are not the sort of person who can sit on a piste for a week then you want wheels. Even in Kutchan/Niseko/Rusustsu a car is very handy, but touring from Furano gets slow, hard and expensive without your own wheels.

The only car rental agency that I could find in Furano itself that is open during winter months is Toyota rent a car. It is definitely open, despite being hard to find on the Internet. 0900-1800 and next to the JR Furano station.

We actually used Shiretoko. Their online engine sucks big time, but they are very responsive to emails and have relatively good English. They aren't quite nuanced at it though, so rephrasing sometimes helps (eg, I wanted to upgrade in advance to a larger car and asked what they had, and the quote only came back for a van. Needed to ask about specific priced for classes as I think they saw "large" and just quoted for that, not all "larger" cars. Easy mistake).

Car sizing depends on what you are taking, but I wouldn't go smaller than the S-W with JR Eki. We received a corolla fielder with roof racks which is a 1.6L wagon I believe. This was perfect for 2 because we could fit everything straight into the back and ignore the racks.

For 3 people the split back seat means you can still have the gear on the inside, for the most part, with a bit of luggage Tetris. Once you hit 4 people it becomes a little trickier. You need to empty the board bags and drive with the boards in the racks, then fold the bags and all the luggage into the boot and cannot have any of the seats down. I suggest something bigger for 4 and would be pushing the van idea as a sedan or larger wagon is unlikely to cut it. If you can ship the board bags to and from, and only want the car for day trips and never full luggage transport from one hotel to another, then you can get away with the wagon for 4, with boards and full abs packs.
The price difference is pretty low anyway, so try to spring for the largest possible! We found Toyota wanted to charge extra for guaranteed 4WD/AWD (a MUST) and roof racks, while JR EKI were pretty relaxed. I think overall it came to around $75 a day for the wagon for a month but I can double check later if anyone wants more exact figures.

The ETC is very useful, 540Y or so to just breeze thought toll gates and not worry about cash.
The Hokkaido expressway car is of doubtful value depending on how far you are touring. This is where you pay a flat fee based on days for unlimited tollway usage. If constantly trekking between major cities then it would be good value, but the expressways are not very useful for short distances and quite cheap in that case anyway. Rough pricing is 3000 CTS-Niseko or Vv to Sapporo, about 5000 Niseko to Asahikawa and maybe 2000 Furano to Sapporo (the actual on ramp is nowhere near Furano but I forget the town name...
We got to about 19000 after 1 month of use. The card would be much better in a short summer trip because you could travel the whole island over a few days and rack up ++ fees quickly.

A quick note on signs and speed limits. Stop signs are triangular, they look like give way signs so watch out. Everything else is relatively normal. Speed limit as are ignored as a rule, the cops seem friendly and just waved at us to slow down when we passed them at 50k/hr over the limit.
Expressways are 80 and normal roads are 40-60 but no one does this if conditions allow. Our average of the expressway would be around 110-120 and normal roads varied significantly due to snow and ice cover. A good road would allow 80 or so, sometimes 40 is optimistic.

Quick one on fuel- most petrol stations are full service, and really simple. Standard unleaded is Reg-u-rar and Man-tan is full tank. Cash is simplest and that is normally the first question, so we have our fill up spiel down to. Konichiwa, Regurar, Mantan, Casho.
 
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Cynicor

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Location and planning. I might as well go into some depth for new skies and old hands alike, so apologies if this rehashes what everyone knows. Please ask away if you ant more detail o anywhere

If you have done Niseko to death, think the crowds are too much but love the snow, then central Hokkaido is for you. If you like Niseko and surrounds, then hit up some of the local back country.

Niseko area:
The first obvious ski area is Niseko United. This is 4 resorts on Mt Niseko-Annapuri that have joined up to link ski areas and offer a united pass and shuttle between them. It is the winter Bali and was full of bogan Aussies. They are actually beginning to be priced out and the Chinese, Euros and Americans are moving in. Hirafu is the main centre and it is your typical overpriced ski village with lots of new apartments and restaurants going up. Gets pricier every year and is not stupidly busy with lots of shuttles and restaurants all booked out at night. If you like nightlife/a huge apres ski scene, this is pretty much the only place in Hokkaido to find it.

Higashiyama ("Niseko village"), annapuri and hanazono are the 3 relatively quieter sections of Niseko United but are also quite expensive. This mountain is new heaving and tracks out very early even after a large dump. The backcountry gates also track quickly and most people go out there with no BC training and no gear. Very good conditions for burials and injury, two avalanches on a single day last week from idiots dropping cornices. Luckily no deaths, not sure about injuries.

Slightly less busy but pretty out of the bag now is Moiwa, the next mourning along. This is a powder stash heaven but is also tracking quite early. Behind Moiwa and Niseko is Goshiki. You can get here from the back country gates of Niseko and then bus or taxi home if you are into touring, but again the masses hit it hard and fast because it is simple.

Rusutsu is now free tree skiing and all inbounds areas are fair game, a massive 180 from 2 years prior. Everyone "in the know" heads here when Niseko is off, and many people now stay here instead of Hirafu so it too is getting hit pretty hard, especially if there is no snow. Luckily there is lots of out of bounds back country which requires touring gear and most people don't hit it. You can get untracked turns for a few days off the back I reckon, but did not have time to find out.

MTs Shiribetsu and Yotei. These two are great for skinning up and getting quiet, peaceful, untracked turns. It's definitely quality over quantity but they aren't being hit too hard yet and you might only see 5-10 other people on a bluebird day. Yotei can be a confusing run out so make sure you have good gear and know where to go/how to get out. The crater in Yotei can be ridden if you get up there quick enough too.
 

Cynicor

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Central Hokkaido

This is where it's at. No crowds, cheap food and great touring.

Furano is the main base and it's still not a heaving mass like Hirafu. In fact, after 6 it's dead and you'd be lucky to see more than 2 other groups on the streets on the way to dinner. This is partly because it's too damn cold to walk around and also because many of the restaurants are ridiculously far apart. If you come here, I strongly suggest having a car, just to get around town or to the slopes.

Furano as a ski field is two sides of a mountain- Kitanomine and Furano. Oddly, on the Furano side there is almost nothing except the New Prince hotel. Much like Higashiyama and the hilton (they look similar because the Hilton was the Higashiyama Prince hotel until 2008).

The main town of Furano is closest to the Kitanomine ski area, where a river divides Kitanomine and Furano. In Kitanomine you can find overpriced gear sale and rental shops and about 6-8 small restaurants which all seem to serve the same thing. It's bizarre. Curry and pizza and pasta. They are cheap and delicious (800-1200Y a mains, generally), but if you want more local cuisine or variation in your diet then then you need to trek over the bridge. Taxis cost around 1300Y each way but there are many more restaurants in town. It really isn't walking distance in the winter, but would be very nice in summer.

The pistes are large and there is enough inbounds to get ok powder all day long assuming a dump/reset each night. Ducking ropes is ok it seems, except in certain areas. It's hard to get stuck badly inbounds, nothing a good boot pack doesn't fix most of the time, except between the link lifts. You will (may?) need touring gear if dropping between then link lifts and the base. Above the lifts is fine.

Out of bounds is massive and untracked for days. I can give more tips on where to go if you want, but suffice to say if you have gear and are happy to hike then you can easily fill 3-4 days and love life and the lines.

The best thing about Furano is its proximity to so many other ski and BC areas, which I will begin to cover soon.
 

Cynicor

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Sapporo area ski fields

Sapporo is not really an ideal base for a ski trip. Getting anywhere takes too long I the traffic and grid of traffic lights, especially when the snow festival is on. That said, if you want to do the tourist thing too, then this is the place to be. Book early as hotels book out during the festival. Food in the city is cheap and public transport excellent, as with any Japanese city.

3 main ski fields are accessible from Sapporo:

Kokusai- 1ish hour. Didn't go this year, great off piste when everywhere else is tracked because it's a bit flat and you have to work slightly harder for it. Ducking ropes seems to be ok if no one sees you do it but you can end up with a long road walk back to the car. Generally quiet on weekdays.

Kiroro- working hard to be the next "to be" place. They have got quite a good back country setup going with registration and manned gates. The backcountry club is a bit of a rort but worth it if you will be spending some time there. They open a powder field for members only until around 1030 or 11, then they groom it. More foreigners now than before, but still heaps of BC that is untracked for ages. Easy to find good lines. Without hiking, the bases are a bit flat and so snowboarders will have a long traverse or boot pack out. I prefer to hike off the baby chair and get better lines anyway. Earn your turns!

Tiene- haven't had much chance to explore the BC here. Very close to Sapporo, 30-40min drive. Park at the very top car park, there is no point going any lower. Lots of fun inbounds tree riding and it looks like the BC could be quite good too, with a series of bowls to enjoy. We will have to come back to this place to check it out. Crowded on weekends but powder for ages on a good weekday dump.
 

travelislife

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Great trip Cynicor, exploring the Hokkaido ski resorts by road is awesome fun.

Yep Kiroro is having a big marketing push with some Australians working in the higher levels there now.

Am thinking of planning a couple of weeks back there at the end of this year.
 

Cynicor

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My friends could only make 1 week due to work commitments this year. After hiking asahidake and the furano resort backcountry in bluebird conditions, they are already looking at flights for next year. I wouldn't hit central any earlier than January though.

Our 3 nights in Sounkyo (Kurodake) were a bust, high winds so cable car not spinning. Recommend late Feb for this mountain.
 

Craigie

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This is absolutely fantastic! I had started doing this research but you've just saved me a ton of time!
 
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I haven't had time to read much, but thanks big time for taking the time out to write it. My +1 wants to do a Japan ski holiday in January, so if that eventuates, this will be great!
 

travelislife

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My friends could only make 1 week due to work commitments this year. After hiking asahidake and the furano resort backcountry in bluebird conditions, they are already looking at flights for next year. I wouldn't hit central any earlier than January though.

Our 3 nights in Sounkyo (Kurodake) were a bust, high winds so cable car not spinning. Recommend late Feb for this mountain.

Yeah central definitely gets a bit less snow than the coastal areas. On our road trip in early Jan last year in those areas there was still a lot of sasa around. I would love to go back in February gain (have had 3 trips then) but am now tied to school holidays so Jan it is.
 

smeacs

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This is great thanks heaps for posting it.

I was in Hirafu (again) at the end of Jan and loved it however think I might need to go elsewhere next time so this is really interesting.

A couple of questions, when driving was navigating rather easy ? Whenever I caught busses my mater and I were rather glad not to be driving as the snow covers carparks ( unknowingly park illegally) and all the roads look the same so it felt like it would be easy to get lost.

How did you learn to go “Backcountry” ? my last trip was all inbounds skiing with mates which was great but I think I started to run out of ski area, we watched lots of people go through gates without gear etc. However I’m pretty sure my next trip should have some back country component in it. Where is a good place to start learning the skills to be safe ?
 

Cynicor

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This is great thanks heaps for posting it.

I was in Hirafu (again) at the end of Jan and loved it however think I might need to go elsewhere next time so this is really interesting.

A couple of questions, when driving was navigating rather easy ? Whenever I caught busses my mater and I were rather glad not to be driving as the snow covers carparks ( unknowingly park illegally) and all the roads look the same so it felt like it would be easy to get lost.

How did you learn to go “Backcountry” ? my last trip was all inbounds skiing with mates which was great but I think I started to run out of ski area, we watched lots of people go through gates without gear etc. However I’m pretty sure my next trip should have some back country component in it. Where is a good place to start learning the skills to be safe ?

No worries. Will update the central hokkaido areas as well as some guides you can contact soon.

In winter, driving in Hokkaido has no rules except:
1. No matter what speed you do and how dangerous the road, someone is always willing to overtake and go faster.
2. Hazard lights allow you to stop anywhere, anytime.
3. A traffic light is only "Hokkaido Red" for the first few seconds. Just breeze through if its only just changed.
4. Lanes are arbitrary and generally belong to the side with the most cars already in it.

Those are semi-joking and make it seem like SE Asia or Italy, but the truth is that everyone is patient and gives way where needed because you just cant see lanes, and often can't stop in time for lights etc. You will notice sequence changes are quite slow to allow for this (i.e. red in one direction, 2 sec wait, then green for the other direction). Most of the main roads are 2 lanes each way, even in cities, but are only ploughed to around 1.5ish lanes each way, so you stay in the lane until someone turns, and then just make an extra lane to go around. The first 2-3 days are kind of exciting but you get used to it quickly.
Drive to conditions and your own fear, no one honks etc, they just overtake. Speed limits are crazy-slow anyway (think 30-60k/hr), so you will just be following the limit until comfortable.

Navigation is a breeze with English GPS in many cars (ask for it from Shiretoko or whoever) and most navigation is done via telephone numbers. Type it in, and away you go. We have a portable wifi for the whole time which is a godsend, allows us to look up numbers on the fly, or navigate via google maps etc if we need/want/prefer.

Carparks are well signposted on the whole, but no one sticks to bays anyway in winter. Most hotels out of the cities have free parking.

With BC- gear is essential. Anyone who goes out a gate without a beacon is an idiot or uneducated, basically. Just because you haven't seen an avalanche doesn't mean they don't occur, and just because the gate is open/exists doesn't make it a safe zone. Gear can be rented for around 2000-3000Y a day or purchased. At a minimum you need transceiver, shovel, probe and backpack and the knowledge to use them. We practice burials and search at the beach in summer.

A first start depends on how much you want to learn and do and how much time and money you have. NOASC in Hirafu run a basic half day back country course that includes a summit trip or similar for only 7000Y PP. This is a great little intro to the gear, safety and the BC basics and is a really cheap guided tour to boot. I did one with them a few years back and I assume other companies may offer similar. More detailed are avalanche awareness courses and the AST1 or similar. These are accredited avalanche safety courses.

Nothing beats familiarity with an area so I would suggest a guided day or two. I will post up a list of companies/guides I have used, some of whom are pretty cheap on the whole. They can give you the best turns and do it safely, and if you want to learn you can ask them plenty of questions along the way.

Some backcountry is a short bootpack (walk) and naturally funnels back to the resort, or has a short traverse (long flatish but rideable all the way back). This is the stuff that is easy to access and tracks out easily. It can also be really fun riding and generally is easy to lap because lifts get you most of the way. The "proper" BC, if you will, is where you need touring gear such as snowshoes (slow, sucky, not much fun) or touring skis (only for skiers...) or splitboards (best invention in the world). You use legpower to skin up and away either out from a gate or on a mountain with no lifts at all. Obviously not many people want to put the effort in so the lines are untracked and often amazing. It all depends how fit you are but it's worth doing a bit of cardio to get there. Note that both types of BC are inherently and equally unsafe.
_MG_0784 copy.jpg

Photo of me at Nissho pass. Hiked about 2 hours (with a run in between) to get to this area, then lapped it 3 times. The only other tracks were our own in deep pow. Sheer bliss! Credit to Pat at HOA guiding for the photo
 
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Cynicor

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If anyone has any questions about the basics of a Japan ski holiday or anything else, let me know. I've been to Niseko 7 times now and taken many a newby there, so have a bit of it sussed out.
 

Cynicor

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Guides- Have used a variety of guides this trip and in the past because nothing beats local knowledge and experience when it comes to safety. Some mountains I would be happy to hike myself now and others I would prefer a guide for still. In general, book at least 2 days with any new guide. They are going to want to suss you out as much as you-them. The first day is almost always going to be pretty basic or have good bail routes so that if you cant keep pace everyone can get out safely. Once they know you they will be more willing to push it. if you just want lots of turns and mad powder with no effort, book a cat or heli day. BC is earning your turns, quality over quantity. In the best run of my life we only did 3 lines, maybe 2km vertical drop combined, for 7 hours out on the snow. And it was worth every minute of it- not a soul in sight, by ourselves the whole way.

In no particular order:

Mountain Flow- Sapporo based, covers everywhere, Japanese. A lady called Michiko who is from Higashikawa (Asahidake) and consequently has spent a lot of time there. Fluent English, knows the locals well and is a decent guide who is very professional. Highly recommended, partly because she is dirt cheap compared to the rest of them. I believe she will guide anywhere but probably knows central Hokkaido the best. She let us cancel with no penalty when conditions were not great and is also quite flexible on short notice. Will use her again next year to hit Kurodake and Asahidake powder stashes.

NOASC- Niseko based, Japanese outfit it seems, their guides have good English but it varies from fluent to clearly understandable but a little short on complex stuff. Did a day of Cat last season and a BC intro 2-3 years ago. Seemed knowledgeable, professional and friendly and I would use them if BD (below) were booked out, in the greater Niseko area.

Black Diamond Tours- My pick of the guides in the Niseko area, Canadian owned. Very professional, well organised, great tours. Ok pricing, probably midrange. They do group BC tours which helps a lot, means you don't need a private guide for just a group of 2. The downside is that you never know who is on the tour with you until you start on the mountain, but we have never really had any issues. Most of their tours have 2 guides too, which adds safety and ability to split the group if any issues etc. We have always had a good experience with this crew and the guides themselves are top notch.

NAC- Niseko based, not sure of ownership. Only ever had a Cat day with them. Not really sure what to think due to the numbers on the same tour. Would probably go elsewhere.

Powder Project- New outfit, Aus owned. Based in Sapporo/anywhere. Guide is great, friendly. Simple to organise what you want and pretty cheap for private guiding. New to Hokkaido so will only get better with more knowledge and seasons. Would use again, felt very safe with them.

HOA Rafting- Based near Tomamu, Aussie who lives in Japan 25 years. Guide is friendly and probably knows many mountains really well. Takes AMAZING photos (credit to the shot up thread). Personally, felt slightly less professional and I would be unlikely to use them again. Could be good for local tours in the Hidaka area, lots of small BC there.

Whiteroom Tours- Furano based, Aus owned(?). Slightly disorganised it seems, but that could have just been my contact. As far as guides go, very happy with our lot. Great days and great lines. They don't do group BC tours so it's private guiding only which makes it $$$ for smaller groups. The were the cheapest of a bunch of quotes (prior to finding Michiko and Powder project) for a private group of 4 for 3 days so 4 is probably the magic number. Would definitely use them again if they were cheapest. As they have a few guides they have up to date knowledge of terrain and conditions at multiple mountains simultaneously.

Quick notes on rental for BC.
In Niseko you can rent anything you want. Splitboards, avi gear, touring skis.
In Furano you can get tour skiing stuff and basic avi gear but that is about it. Snowshoes too, but no one wants them. No splitboards to be had for love nor money so BYO or work something out with Niseko (BD or Rhythm).
Everywhere else in Hokkaido you will need your own gear. If doing a big tour then buy it or start in Niseko and rent it for the whole trip. At about the 12 day mark its probably just as cheap to buy your own anyway.
 

Cynicor

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Ok. Central Hokkaido areas

This is not a comprehensive list. You can basically just stop the car and skin up anything tall and find great lines down. Central Hokkaido is amazing.

Asahikawa- 2nd largest city in Hokkaido. Close to some ski area but inconvenient and slow to drive in, as with Sapporo. Roads get icy quickly and too many traffic lights. In winter there isn't much to see except for the zoo, it seems. The zoo is awesome and cheap. We bought season passes, valid for 1 year, for 1000Y and have been 4 times so far. The single entry is 800Y or so. They have a penguin walk at 11 and 2:30 in winter, and the red pandas are stupidly cute. They also have snow leopards, polar bears and seals, along with a bunch of other animals. Great value and not too much of a small-concrete-enclosure zoo. Kamui and Pippu are both about 30is min drive.

Kamui- the new go-to if everywhere else is smashed, kind of like rusutsu. Medium sized ski area with good tree riding if it has received some pow but the inbounds tracks quicker than it used to. You'll find most of your Asahidake refugees here, anytime the rope way isn't spinning due to wind. Off the back is fun but slightly mellow,apparently, but I haven't done it yet. Really haven't seen the potential of this area due to time constraints.

Pippu- tiny ski field north of Asahidake. Quiet and dirt cheap and can be good for a half day of tree riding and on piste powder as no one seems to ride the pow stashes. Not overly tall or steep but oddly quite fun. We went twice during poor condition days.

Tomamu- mid sized, 4 giant towers riding out of the ground in the middle of nowhere. Really odd place. Huge and spread out if you stay in the Hoshino resorts. They also have a giant indoor wave pool with slack lines (similar to tightropes but not tight...). It feels bizarre to sit on a deck chair in boardies whilst it is snowing outside. Skiing wise, inbounds tracked really easily this year, I think snow is limited this season but they have snow machines too, so I guess they aren't located in the best place. The off piste out of bounds is controlled by a simple, free, registration system at the base of the gondola. They give you an "expert skier" arm band and then you can hit the powder zones. When we got there these were heavily tracked but we are massive powder snobs now, due to the quality at other areas. The backcountry off the lookers left peak is meant to be pretty decent, and probably not too hard to DIY. Will investigate this further next year.

Furano- if I had my time again (probably next year...) I would not move accommodation so frequently and would just base out of here. Everything is within a 90 min drive, and of those with lifts, not much spins before 9am. This means you can make first tracks as long as you leave by 7:30, which is pretty easy considering the lack of nightlife anywhere but Hirafu (and Sounkyo, oddly). The roads are good, the town is large and there are plenty of places to eat. It is possible to stay here without a car but it does make your food choices slightly limited:

Furano is (kind of) 4 places:

1. Furanodake (Furano moutain)- nowhere near Furano or the skiing, about an hour away, backcountry accessed.

2. Furano town- separated from the ski area by a river. Has the main restaurants, JR station, souvenir shops etc. If you stay on this side, make sure you have a car or that you are happy with regular shuttles/taxis to the slopes. It is not really walkable in the winter. Taxis cost around 1300 to the slopes and the public shuttle seemed few and far between. If going to ski the piste and not for touring the BC, I strongly suggest staying in Kita-no-mine (Kitanomine-cho).

3. Kitanomine-cho- Village on the other/slope- side of the river from Furano. Has a gondola station and various lifts. Apparently the prince hotel is the only currently ski in ski out location, but a bunch of hotels etc are on the other side of the road, so it is a short distance. There are a bunch of restaurants around but they almost all serve the same thing- curry, pizza and pasta. I think there was one sukiyaki place too but it was always full. On the plus side they are cheap and cheerful and a short walk so you don't really need to arrange anything in advance. There are no bars around, and many places close up when they feel like it or by 2030. Some late night venues may take last orders at 2130 :p
If a newby, piste skier or family then I feel this is the best place to find accommodation because you are walking distance to food and skiing and in this case you would not really need a car.
The slopes here are actually the Kitanomine side of Furano resort (confusing, hey?) but connect to the other side via a link lift, which can be accessed via lifts even when the gondola isn't spinning due to wind/maintenance etc.

4. Furano rope way/Furano side of slopes. Technically in Nakagoryo, this side of the ski slope is know as the Furano side and has a rope way/cable car rather than a gondola. This is where the New Furano Prince hotel is, and not much else. The best BC is accessed off here and it opens at 9 so plenty of time for a lazy morning. Nothing else currently here except in the resort hotel complex, so you are pretty self contained if you have no car. I understand the food is well priced, however, so it may not be needed, but I have not set foot inside myself.


Asahidake- has been referred to in the bible several times, but they changed the name since. (Wikipedia "Heaven"). Deep powder with miles of untracked terrain. Hellish on bad weather days even when the rope way does spin (maybe closed 1/4 to 1/3 days). Strongly suggest not to bother staying here, as we did, because you can't control the weather and it opens at 9, giving plenty of time to drive in from Furano and make the first tracks. There is no real piste here, and it is only suitable for advanced or higher skiers, and decent snowboarders who can maintain speed. If not you will have a lot of boot packing. Lapping the cable car gets old quickly because it's freezing and windy up top, and 20min between rides. This is a place for touring and getting away from the crowds. The area has become hugely popular but many people still seem to just lap so there is good touring left still. All hotels include dinner here because there is not a single restaurant open past 3pm (and only 1 restaurant anyway, they do lunch). If you come here at night for some odd reason, bring food because I don't believe the hotels will sell you dinner either!

Kurodake (Sounkyo onsen)- apparently the biggest and baddest mountain in Hokkaido (not the tallest, that's Asahidake). Was meant to be the Jewel in the crown of our tour, but being big and the weather put an end to that idea. Accommodation here is stupidly expensive because of the ice festival they have and the number of Chinese and Japanese tourists. Most places include dinner I understand, and the buffet was amazing, but I would have to think twice about staying again. Can actually be accessed relatively rapidly from asahikawa and 2ish hours from Furano. The chairlift above the rope way only opens form late Feb so don't go too early. The rope way itself generally doesn't spin until early Feb either. If you can't ski the area due to weather, there is Nothing else here after the ice festival (maybe 2 hours worth). Don't stay more than 1-2 nights, if at all.

Tokachidake/Furanodake- BC areas on the Daisetsuzan ranges, the same gnarly range as Asahidake and Kurodake. 1 hours drive from furano town and some nice BC if the weather is good. Suggest getting a guide the first time on each, as there is plenty of terrain to get lost in, and few roads. There is apparently some accommodation here and in Kamifurano, the nearest main town, but you are probably better off staying in Furano itself.
 
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blu

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We ski/board in inbounds offpiste trees at Niseko (and lower gates), Rusutsu, Kiroro, Tomamu & occasionally Kamui. Found Tomamu quiet good 2nd week of Feb (snowfalls every day).
It would be worth mentioning insurance risk with inbounds offpiste and out of bounds skiing/boarding.
 

Cynicor

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Jun 13, 2007
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We ski/board in inbounds offpiste trees at Niseko (and lower gates), Rusutsu, Kiroro, Tomamu & occasionally Kamui. Found Tomamu quiet good 2nd week of Feb (snowfalls every day).
It would be worth mentioning insurance risk with inbounds offpiste and out of bounds skiing/boarding.

Interesting point. It is covered well in another thread on Japan ski here, but the distinction is actually quite blurred because many insurers do not defined backcountry, or skiing. Whilst the consumer thinks they are more likely to be covered for in resort tree-skiing, this is not always the case.

It is better to go for one of the unambiguous products in my opinion. QBE, insure for less and IIRC AAMI offer ski insurance which covers everything. Of these QBE is generally the cheapest via Entertainment book or Ouch.

2 months of complete cover for unguided BC, in or out of bounds, heli/cat/whatever was only $400ish in an annual policy.
 
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