Hokkaido Backcountry Ski Touring FAQ

Posted on Aug 1, 2018
1

Posted on Aug 1, 2018
1
Reading time: 4 min
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 Dec 6, 2018

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. 

Transport

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.

Gear

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

1 thought on “Hokkaido Backcountry Ski Touring FAQ”

  1. 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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