Backcountry Powder Touring
The mystical deep.
If you've heard about Japan's legendary powder skiing, Hokkaido is the place. This northern island receives a steady flow of Siberian storms, bringing a combination of heavy moisture and very cold temperatures. The result is a snow climate described as "arctic maritime", and some of the deepest snow on the planet.
The terrain and landscape of Hokkaido is unlike anywhere you've skied. Rimed white birch forests on the lower flanks of storm-obscured volcanoes provide wind protection for skiers, and preserved powder snow. When it's on, skin tracks disappear as quickly as we break trail. Ski tracks become faint remnants by the next lap. Cold days of powder skiing are warmed with onsen (hotsprings) and the Japanese high standard of hospitality.
Our Pacific Alpine Guides program is ski touring focused. We spend the majority of our time in the backcountry, allowing us to truly maximize the untracked experience.
Hokkaido has become increasingly popular over the years, with massive development in the resort areas, especially around Niseko. We prefer to avoid the crowded, touristy scene. In our opinion, the best skiing is in places with fewer people, and with this comes authentic Japanese culture, beautiful mountains, and super deep snow.
Over the years, we have crafted and refined an itinerary that maximizes skiing and minimizes driving. Over half of our accommodations are ski in/ski out, including incredible meals and beautiful onsen (hotsprings) all in the same facility.
B = Breakfast included, D = Dinner included
Day 1 — ARRIVE in OTARU
The journey begins in the culturally rich coastal city of Otaru, about 90 minutes by train from Hokkaido's main airport, Sapporo New Chitose (CTS). Otaru is known for glassworks, sake distilleries, and some of the best sushi in Japan. It is also a perfect base for exploring the beautiful mountains to the south.
Day 2 — SKI KOKUSAI
This small ski area offers the friendly local hill vibe with nice lift-accessed "sidecountry" and backcountry touring terrain. A nice place to get acquainted with skiing in Hokkaido. Stay in Otaru. B
Day 3 — SKI KIRORO
A Hokkaido classic, Kiroro offers abundant terrain to explore. Stay in Otaru. B
Day 4 — SKI FURANO or TOMAMU
We pack up the vans and head for the mountains of Central Hokkaido, stopping for a day of exploration at Tomamu or Furano en route – two more awesome ski areas with excellent backcountry access. Stay in Tokachidake at a traditional Japanese onsen lodge.
Day 5 — TOKASHIDAKE or ASAHIDAKE
More deep powder touring. Stay in Tokashidake. B, D
Day 6 — DAISETSUZAN NATIONAL PARK
We stay at a hotel and onsen at the base of a tramway, on the lower flanks of the volcano Asahi, the highest mountain on the island of Hokkaido. The tramway offers quick access to excellent storm touring below the treeline. Stay in Asahidake at an amazing onsen lodge. B, D
Day 7 — ASAHIDAKE ROPEWAY
Powder skiing. Stay in Asahidake. B, D
Day 8 — KAMUI and/or OUTBOUND DEPARTURE
We ski an optional day at Kamui Ski Links, finishing the trip in Hokkaido's second largest city, Asahikawa. From Asahikawa, it's an easy 90 minute train ride to Sapporo, or 2 hour train ride to New Chitose (CTS). An additional option includes flying home from the Asahikawa Airport (AKJ).
7 days of guided powder skiing
7 nights lodging in Hokkaido (double occupancy)*
Breakfasts and dinners, as stated in the itinerary
Van transfers starting from our Furano hotel
Lift passes for ski area accessed backcountry days
* single occupancy upgrade available at additional cost
Flights to/from Japan, transfers to/from Otaru and Asahikawa
Lunch food, dinners in Otaru, and sake (alcohol)
Additional lift passes or activities outside of the itinerary
Fly into Sapporo New Chitose Airport (CTS). We recommend avoiding itineraries requiring an airport transfer in Tokyo (Haneda to/from Narita).
Most departures from the US require leaving a day early. Travel times from the US average from 14-24 hours depending on connections.
From New Chitose Airport, you can get to Otaru by train, bus or private transfer. There is a train station in the airport, and from here it is a 90 minute journey to Otaru via Sapporo Station.
We finish the trip in Asahikawa, Hokkaido's second largest city. From here it is an easy 2 hour train ride to Sapporo New Chitose (CTS) via Sapporo Station.
As an additional option, you can book your outbound flight out of Asahikawa Airport (AKJ).
Outbound flights from Hokkaido often arrive in the US on the same day as a result of crossing the international dateline.
When is the best time to go?
January, often referred to as "Japanuary" is the best time to go. Storms are most consistent during this time and ski areas are less crowded.
What sort of experience do I need for this trip?
Previous ski touring experience, advanced downhill skiing ability, and excellent physical fitness are the key ingredients for having an amazing backcountry experience in Japan. It is particularly important that you are comfortable skiing in soft powder snow that is potentially deep.
Why does this trip costs more than some others?
We've put together a program that we know is awesome, with no compromises. Some factors that go into the cost:
The quality and location of the accommodations along the way. 3 nights of Japanese coastal culture in Otaru, and 4 nights truly in the mountains at ski in/ski out lodges with beautiful onsens. Breakfasts are included every day; dinners are included the last 4 nights of the trip.
2 vans per group – 4WD rigs offering plenty of space for gear, etc.
What kind of skis/board do you recommend for this trip?
Skis: We recommend a ski with a waist width of at least 110mm, setup with tech/pin bindings (Dynafit style).
Board: Make sure to bring a splitboard with enough flotation for riding in potentially deep snow. Nothing worse than being under-gunned!