Japan is a powder hound’s dream. The cold Siberian winds pick up all the moisture from the Sea of Japan and proceed to unload on Hokkiado (North island) and Honshu (main island) upwards of 18 meters a year. If you want to ski in true waist deep powder there is no other place quite like it. The super large flakes of snow combined with how light and fluffy it is will literally have you swimming in the stuff.
Being the good buggers that we are we have endured many ski holidays there ourselves just so we can educate you on the dos and don’ts of going there on a ski holiday
Buy before you go
Excluding Niseko, Japan offers very little in the way of purchasing equipment. This is 10 times harder if you have long feet or you are taller than most. Our recommendation is to always go over prepared and make sure you have everything you need
Ski width for powder
If you are an all-day piste basher then your standard 80 under foot carvers will work no problem. But like us if you want to adventure around in the powder those carvers will be about as much use as blind lifeguard. The terrain on average in Japan is generally somewhere between Blue and Black runs but most resorts have their fair share of flat sections. There are two main ways of looking at purchasing. Either to own and use back here - or to own and only use on powder days.
If you want to have a set of skis that can handle waist-deep, face-smashing pow in Hokkaido yet still roll into the Motatapu chutes on TC, 100 mm underfoot is our recommendation. As long as you combine it with a decent 15% tip rocker then you will have a set that can pretty much tackle anything
If you really are just in search off the best face shot then go for 110-120 underfoot. Although they are pretty pointless for NZ unless you search out the pow days or just love heli skiing then these will be your go-to travel skis. The medium vert of the resorts combined with the trees and amount of snow mean the more width you put under your foot the less effort you will require.
Your style of riding obviously plays a massive part in this decision. Japan is dominated by low lying mountains with medium to steep faces, large rolling flat sections and narrow tree lines. Camber is still the preferred choice of advanced riders but we definitely recommend rocker for Japan. This will help keep the nose of your board out of the deep snow and stop the worst of that back leg burn. Here are the two ways the Brofessionals recommend you go about this:
Keep your standard board and purchase a powder board is one of the better options. This allows you to keep your normal shred stick to ride at home and dominate the trails but gives you a powder board to pull out on the days you need. These usually have taper dominated design, with large rocker forward of the front binding. The other good thing about a powder board is they don’t change a lot so you can keep it as your deep day destroyer for years to come.
The second is to move onto a Reverse Camber preferably Flying V or Hybrid camber. This style board will give you the best of both worlds. It will still dominate in that freeze thaw that we get here but the lift in the nose and tail will help you ride through the trees and keep your speed up on those powdery open faces.
Your normal shoes won’t cut it
As soon as you step out of the plane at Chitose airport you will immediately regret your decision to bring normal shoes. This is not just due to the cold ground temp working its way through the soles but the amount of snow on the ground will have your shoes filled in seconds. A waterproof set of hiking/snow style boots its a must. Due to the small size of feet in Japan this item is near on impossible to find in anything over a US 9. Also a set of spikes for your boots won’t go astray. The average incline when combined with the ice factor make the footpaths resemble an ice-skating rink more than a sidewalk!
No matter how warm you get skiing at least a packable puffer should be taken. Getting around the restaurants at night will almost always be on foot and the temps drop well below zero so pack plenty of items to insulate
The Resorts We have skied in a few words:
- Niseko – Busy / Book for dinners / Lots of night life / Kitchen sushi train / Go Moiwa / Australians / Gate 4
- Rusutsu – Great tree runs / No crowds / No nightlife / Day mission from Niseko
- Furano – Amazing back country / Cable car / Small town vibe / Ajitos / Link Lift
- Tomamu – Great vert faces / long run out / Nothing there / Open trees / Good day mission
- Samui – Open / Uni mountain vibe / Very quiet / Rad old Gondola / Small park / No English
- Hakuba – 11 resorts / One flight / Loads of terrain / Japanese holiday destination / Lots of everything.