Hokkaido Backcountry Ski Touring FAQ

Posted on Aug 1, 2018
Posted on Aug 1, 2018
0 21
At The Hokkaido Wilds, we get all sorts of questions about the nitty gritty of organizing a ski touring trip to Hokkaido. While we do love to share our two cents when we can, we have busy day jobs, so to avoid repetition, here's a constantly evolving and expanding list of some of the more common questions we field. It also includes a few odd-ball inquiries that nonetheless will inform and inspire others who are wondering the same thing. If you've got a general query about backcountry ski touring in Hokkaido, feel free to leave a comment in the comments section. We'll endeavour to respond.

Last updated Feb 16, 2023

NOTE: This is a resources in the making. Please make a comment below and we’ll endeavour to respond.

Trip Planning

No. We have day jobs, and this site is really just a glorified blog, created by amateurs who like to wander in the Hokkaido winter hills. If you’d like to outsource the planning of your trip to an expert, then have a browse on Google for backcountry ski guides in Hokkaido.

At the moment we don’t have a list of recommended guides – it’s something we want to work on as we move forward (only so many hours in a day). When looking for a guide, look for experience, qualified guide status (this disqualifies us at the Hokkaido Wilds automatically), and preferably fluent Japanese ability.

Staying at a hostel-like accommodation in Niseko or Furano would be your best bet. Also try one of the Hokkaido skiing Facebook groups: https://www.facebook.com/groups/445558962163520/

This is one of the most difficult questions I get asked about ski touring in Hokkaido. If it’s high above-the-tree-line alpine skiing you’re after, then Furano (or Asahikawa, for that matter) will give relatively close access to the roof of Hokkaido – the Daisetsu Range. Hokkaido weather is fickle, however, so the relatively more sheltered slopes of Niseko and surrounds – along with multiple options regarding aspect and altitude – will probably guarantee more ski-able days. 


Niseko Area

Furano and Central Hokkaido

Other areas

Unfortunately, the above are the only avalanche advisories in Hokkaido at present.


My idealistic and positive-thinking self says YES! See the Car Danchi Series for proof: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ts45OKETBY. But then the creator of the Car Danchi series, the amazing Niel Hartmann, gives a more nuanced, realistic take on this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoAuHXEY6cA

Having a car would be the ideal option for a few reasons.

  • Complete freedom to choose routes.
  • Public transport can be a little cryptic to work out in Hokkaido, particularly with summer and winter timetables, usually in Japanese outside of the main centers.
  • Buses may not leave early enough to give enough time on the mountain.
  • Skis usually need to be stored in a bag (a plastic ski bag is fine), and ski boots may not be allowed on the bus.
  • If there’s more than just one of you, a cheap rental car (booked via the likes of Tocoo!) can actually work out cheaper in the long run than trains and buses.

That said, particularly for multi-day trips and overnighters, public transport can be a perfectly feasible option, if you’re willing to plan ahead.

Where possible, I try to note the ski touring routes on The Hokkaido Wilds that can be accessed by public transport (here’s those routes). If you’re going to be here for a couple of weeks, for example, I’d heartily recommend buying up a week’s worth of food at a supermarket in Furano (such as Ralse Mart here), take a bus to the ridiculously good value Hakuginso Lodge, and stay there for at least a week. The bus literally goes from Kami-Furano direct to the lodge. The door-to-door skiing there is incredible. Here’s four routes in the immediate vicinity that would happily keep you occupied for a week.

In many cases, however, you’ll likely end up pairing local buses and trains with taxis, which will require a little more coordination and language skills to organize.

We recently came across Tocoo! which has some really good deals. Unlike many budget rental companies in Hokkaido, Tocoo! appears to give access to rentals that don’t need a Japanese license. If you can speak Japanese, and you have a Japan drivers’ license, then our go-to rental company is Niconico Rentals.

There’s also a gas station on a corner near Sapporo Station (here) that has insanely cheap rentals, as a franchise of Choinori Rentals. Either try booking online here (in Japanese) or book in person at the gas station.

Note that both Niconico Rentals and Choinori Rentals have English websites, but the prices are more expensive when booked via the English version of the website than the Japanese site.


The only place I know of with a decent selection is Rhythm Japan. Please let us know in the comments section below if you know of other providers in Hokkaido that rent touring gear.

Mountain Huts

You can see each hut’s facilities on the individual hut pages. Have a browse on our Hokkaido mountain hut search and filter page.

As a rule, however, all huts in Hokkaido should be assumed to be extremely basic by any developed-world standards. Everything is pack-in-pack-out. Food, rubbish, bedding (including sleeping pad/mattress), cooking equipment, electricity…everything. The only thing you generally don’t need to pack is heating – many huts have wood or coal stoves that are a god-send in mid-winter. If there’s a stove at the hut, there’ll also be fuel. Check the individual hut details, and if you have any questions or queries about any hut in particular, feel free to make a comment on the individual hut pages – we’ll strive to respond.

Of course, if you have any general queries about huts in Hokkaido, make a comment below on this FAQ page.

It really depends on the hut and the approach. You’ll be safest to count on using a pack.

An example is a trip we did to the Shakotan Hut. One member of our party brought a sled (700yen plastic cheapie – which works well, usually), as we all assumed we’d be able to skin up the snowed-in forestry road all the way to the hut. As it turned out, the road had been bulldozed back to the gravel, and we had to skin along the gully next to the road. Our sled-toting member had to abandon the sled and carry on with a very unwieldy tote-bag around one shoulder.

Comments | Queries | Discussion

21 thoughts on “Hokkaido Backcountry Ski Touring FAQ”

  1. My friends and I are heading to Hokkaido in a couple weeks for a big ski trip with quite a few backcountry days planned.

    I saw your post about PLBs but couldn’t find anything else about what happens during a rescue there, and who gets billed/what insurance to buy

    Do you have a post or a recommended resource to learn about how mountain rescue callouts and backcountry rescue and insurance work in Japan?

  2. Hi guys,
    Thanks so much for taking the time to develop and maintain such a helpful resource!
    I went through the FAQs but couldn’t see a question related to when you would recommend visiting Hokkaido for ski touring. We are thinking Christmas to early Jan. From your experience, how are the snow conditions and weather during this period? Or would you recommend coming later on eg February? Thanks in advance!

    1. Hey Gregorio, for deep powder backcountry skiing, I’d recommend mid-Jan to late Feb. Late December can also be good, but the most reliable base tends to be from early January onwards. For long alpine ski tours, March and April are amazing (think stable weather, firm pack snow, and long days). Hope this helps!

    1. Hi Stefan, thank you for the heads up! We hadn’t updated that in a while. I’ve updated the avalanche advisories part with Niseko Avalanche Information (http://niseko.nadare.info/), Japan Avalanche Network for Shiribeshi (greater Niseko) region (https://nadare.jp/avalanche_informations?q%5Bavalanche_area_id_eq%5D=6&locale=en) and Furano Avalanche Center (https://furanoavalanche.org/). Overall, avalanche advisories are sorely lacking outside of Niseko.

  3. Hi Rob and team,
    What a great resource! I’m planning my 3rd trip to Hokkaido next month, but this is the first time I’m more active in planning and just came across your site. Amazing.
    Do you know where I might be able to fill a Mammut airbag cannister near Niseko? Thanks for any advice.
    For people reading this in 2023, the Japan Avalanche Network now appears to publish a decent report on conditions every 3 days and uses standard format that you might see for Colorado or Utah. Caltopo.com also has topo maps for the area with slope shading and various overlays to help you plan your backcountry trip.
    Ride safe,

  4. Hi Rob and team,
    What a great resource! I’m planning my 3rd trip to Hokkaido next month, but this is the first time I’m more active in planning and just came across your site. Amazing.
    Do you know where I might be able to fill a Mammut airbag cannister near Niseko? Thanks for any advice.
    For people reading this in 2023, the Japan Avalanche Network now appears to publish a decent report on conditions every 3 days and uses standard format that you might see for Colorado or Utah. Caltopo.com also has topo maps for the area with slope shading to help you plan your backcountry trip.
    Ride safe,

  5. Hi.
    I have no acquaintance with Rob or any other staff. Last night, lying on my bed, I somehow discovered your blog, was surprised and overwhelmed, and then kept reading the posts until 4 am. Thank for the great contribution. It is amazing that you are running this site non-profit!

  6. Hi Rob,

    Great site, thanks for all the info! Is there anywhere that one could fill a canister for an avalanche airbag after arriving in Sapporo? Any idea what the cost might be?

    Thank you!

  7. Hello! Your site is absolutely fantastic. First off, thank you for everything y’all have done to ease the planning process for those of us ski bums headed to Hokkaido for the pow! One question though, we are planning to try to do at least 1 ski tour (potential overnight in a hut) down in Nagano, would you happen to know of any resources that would be helpful?

  8. Hi there! This website seems to be an amazing resource so kudos to you guys! I’m planning on skiing in Japan for the month of January next year, and am still debating between basing myself somewhere in Hokkaido (Niseko or Furano) or in Hakuba. I’m planning on mostly touring, so having a resource in English like this for all of Hokkaido is a major reason to go there! I’ve definitely heard Hakuba has more big mountain features/steeper and varied skiing compared to Hokkaido, but I’m leaving my home of big mountain stuff (BC) to ski deep trees anyways. I guess I’m asking, what made you guys choose Hokkaido over Hakuba?

    1. Hi Hanah, thanks for the message.

      Hakuba definitely has more steeps (from what I’ve heard – I’ve not been there), but it is a bit difficult to compare Hakuba with Hokkaido. Hokkaido is an huuuge 83,450 km² island with many different massive mountain ranges, whereas Hakuba is a small, approx. 200 km² region of the Japan alps. The short answer to your question as to why we’re here is: we work here in academia (at universities in Sapporo City).

      If you’re looking for steep skiing in Hokkaido, you’ll certainly find it in central Hokkaido, Rishiri Island, and in eastern Hokkaido on the Shiretoko Peninsula. The latter two areas we just spent 10 days exploring, and will have about 7 new routes up on the site for that area over the next couple of months.

      I personally love Hokkaido for the varied options in locations for skiing. If you have 10 days or more here, you can really experience many different areas of the island. If you’ve only got less than a week or so, then the choice between Hakuba and Hokkaido will be a little harder – distances in Hokkaido between mountain ranges is far (think 3-5 hours drive). I also love Hokkaido for the accessibility of the ski touring – even at sea level along the coast there’s super cold, dry powder. Being this further north, the temperatures are simply consistently colder.

      That said, Hakuba is ‘real’ Japan with thousands of years of history, so you can expect more traditional architecture and traditional Japanese culture. Hokkaido only has 150 years of Japanese frontier colonial history, but does have thousands of years of indigenous Ainu history before that…

      Either way, you’ll love your time skiing in Japan!

  9. Hi- great site Rob! Planning a trip for this season. On google maps, does an area shaded green indicate conservation land where the public can ski tour freely? Cheers kate

    1. Hi Kate, thanks for the query. I will have to do a bit of a dig to see what the green areas are on Google Maps, but in any case, as far as access to the mountains go in the winter in Hokkaido, there are, effectively, not really any restrictions. Beyond, of course, privately run cat skiing areas such as Chisenupuri near Niseko. This is a bit different to the situation in other countries. In my home country of New Zealand, private land access in particular requires sensitivity and in most cases permission. Not so in Hokkaido, at least as far as permission is concerned. As far as I have read, heard, or seen, I have never encountered the concept of ski tour access being restricted (beyond the obvious privately leased ski areas). Do note however that technically putting a tent up in national parks such as Daisetsu is not allowed, but rules are very relaxed in winter.

      Is there anywhere in particular you are looking at?

      1. Hi Rob
        Thanks for replying to my 2019 query! Quite different from NZ..

        It’s now 2023, and we’re planning our next ski touring trip to Hokkaido, so your website is going to be SO useful! Thx again

  10. Is there any ressources for avalanches conditions out there? Reports etc..? I know they have some in Niseko but was wondering if that was it.

    Thank you

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REGION: The general mountain/geographical region the route is in.

BEST MONTH(S): Time of year a route is suited to visiting. Some pop all season, some are more limited.

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FREERIDE/SKITOUR: Very subjective, but is a route more-of-a-walk-than-a-ski or the other way around? Some routes are all about the screaming downhill (freeride), some are more about the hunt for a peak or nice forest (ski-tour). Some are in between. 

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Hokkaido Backcountry Ski Touring FAQ Difficulty Rating





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GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.