February: Backcountry Skiing in Hokkaido, Japan

February: Backcountry Skiing in Hokkaido, Japan

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6 days, 6 nights

Starting 5, 12, or 19 February 2018

Ratio 4:1 to 1:1

Cost varies, $2780 USD for 2:1


Join me for another season in Japan!

This isn't your typical resort-based powder ski trip that Japan is famous for (although that's great too). Instead of sticking to the side country around the Niseko resort, explore the backcountry westwards to the sea.

I was simply stunned when I first visited Japan. 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 nightly. When the avalanche hazard climbed too high, no worries - lower angle beech forests were perfectly spaced for tree skiing. The backcountry terrain was 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!


The pricing above includes 1/2 board and lodging at the Moiwa Woodpecker Lodge - there are other lodging options if you wish to be in the center of Niseko, or less rustic accommodations. The owner happens to be the regional avalanche forecaster with 40 years of local experience.  We'll also have the option to visit any one of a number of local onsens (hot spring baths). Almost every day ends at an onsen, giving us a chance to clean up before dinner and after a full day skiing.

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

  • 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 (typically costs $8 USD)
  • Lift tickets (which can range from $35-65 USD for a full day ticket, or as little as $4 for a single-trip ticket)
  • Gratuity/tip

Suggested Itinerary:

Saturday - Step on a plane and make your way to Japan. See you on Sunday!

Sunday - Arrive in Niseko, by train (my personal favorite), bus, or car.

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.