A guide to Skiing in Japan - an opportunity of a lifetime and not be missed.
Kaluma Ski recommends the Finnair service via Helsinki. The route is new and a great addition to the list of competing, and sometimes unnecessarily painful routes, via Tokyo or Singapore. Relatively speaking, it’s a short and interesting route. Their business class service competes with most first-class flights. The Finnish and Japanese influences of the in-flight meals, and notably one of the best GnTs ever (Arctic Blue Gin), makes the view of the snowy Ural mountains in Russia even more exciting. The stunning way to get to the powder and food nirvana of Hokkaido. Way to go Finnair!
Hop off the plane and through the body temperature sensitive border monitor (written pre-COVID!), Japan is a country that makes your neurons erupt. There is so much to take on board; the incredible food, the relentlessly lovely people, the wacky shopping, the delightfully hilarious mistakes on the translations, the Saki (but only the good stuff), the natural hot spring ‘onsens’ (I’m a convert) and the consistently mind-blowingly great POWDER skiing. Even in what the guides described as a ‘bad year’, we skied fresh tracks every single day for the second year running.
Niseko is a great place to start. It’s the biggest mountain in Hokkaido with a lift system on a par with Italy’s mid-range resorts, but not France or Austria’s. Nor is the piste area comparable to any mainstream resorts in Europe of North America, but that’s really not the point. It’s ALL about the powder. The ‘controlled gates’ system to access the off-piste will be a frustration initially, but it soon makes sense, especially given the snowfall is frequently on a biblical scale. Having skied for a lifetime with an off-piste fetish akin to a gene coding, I know painfully well the huge benefits of skiing with a guide. My unequivocal advice is to ski with one. Make your amazing trip a safe one and an enduring lifetime memory by using the services of a local. Admittedly, there’s lots of access to the off-piste without a guide, but don’t be fooled – their local knowledge will exponentially improve the whole experience and the safety element is priceless. Local knowledge is essential to get the best snow, facts, food and fun.
We have teamed up with White Room Tours and Finnair to make the trips as seamless as possible. We have spent two weeks skiing with the owners of this passionately run ski guide business and we can say without reservation, that they know what they are talking about. They share our passion for guest experiences. We have personally visited the resorts, skied the runs, stayed in the properties, enjoyed the Onsens, loved the culture and enjoyed the taste explosion from mind-bending great food.
By using ‘a base’ and being prepared to do some limited local travel, we will make sure that you have the very best experience possible. The local guiding service comes with a dedicated 4×4, offering ultimate flexibility – let the guides micro track the best snow on the day and you can go hunting together for the best fresh tracks on the planet.
Dress warmly as the weather from Siberian can be chilly to say the least, but that just keeps the powder fresh. When the snow is so light that your tracks simply disappear behind you, you know that the next run will be just as good as the last.
Enjoying several resorts in the same week is really worth the modest time spent on the road. If the plans change during breakfast, be flexible and relax. Your guide will have heard about some fresh fluffy stuff somewhere hard to pronounce and easy to miss. There are local microclimates that if played right, can give you the best 6 days skiing of your life. You can drive through a 500m tunnel and go straight from an average day to one with 2 feet of fresh powder and a departing snowstorm. Local knowledge is EVERYTHING in this environment.
Rest assured that you don’t have to be an ‘expert’ to get the best out of a ski trip to Japan. You just need to be a competent skier that can ski red runs without too much difficulty. The terrain is not challenging and the descents are quite short relative to the busy off-piste hotspots elsewhere in the World. Just grab some powder skis and packet of mild gung-ho; the guides will do the rest. They will make sure that you are safe and have the best skiing time of your life!
And there are plenty of adventures for the most expert skiers too, skiing into the semi-active volcano of Yotei, heli-skiing the 40-degree slope of Mount Shiribetsu or couloir skiing with the Sea of Japan in background.
From Niseko to Rusutsu, Kiroro, Teine and beyond. Experience a thoroughly modern designer hotel or a more traditional Ryokan, Japanese guesthouses (our preferred option). The best of the hidden gems will make a huge difference to your stay in this stunning country.
If skiing in Japan is even slightly on your radar, we would love to talk to you. We have so much enthusiasm for this destination that it is infectious. Do not miss the opportunity to be surprised, amused and amazed in equal measure.
You can read more about our other experiences here.