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Japan 2020...first off...all of the questions

Discussion in 'Japan' started by tugboat, Mar 18, 2019.

  1. tugboat

    tugboat Early Days

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    So much information on this site. I’ve been enjoying reading all the TRs, looking at all the amazing photos, and reading about everyone’s unique experiences. Thank you for all of your wisdom!!

    I’m looking at doing a Hokkaido Trip 2020, and in the beginning stages of planning. Looking for tips and advice on how to make this trip as successful as possible.

    I’m from the US, and looking to fly into Chitose, probably renting a car. We don’t have our group solidified yet, but it most likely will be 5 to 8 people, all upper intermidate to expert snowboarders, with maybe a skier or two mixed in.

    We’re looking for good side country, off-piste, ungroomed terrain, mostly lift access with the possibility of a day of two of touring. Looking at options for cat skiing as well, NAC has caught my eye with really good reviews. We may hire a guide for a day or two to maximize our possibility to explore the best terrain. Any recommendations for great guiding or other cat skiing services are greatly appreciated!

    Currently looking at going at the end of January or beginning of February, 15 days, more or less, including all travel.

    I’m starting the research early, but looking for advice on when I should start booking lodging. Is it good to book early, or can you still have decent lodging options up to a couple months I’m advance?

    From the research I’ve done thus far, here’s a list of places of interest:

    - Furano and a few surrounding ski areas
    - Otaru (Kiroro and other nearby areas)
    - Rusutsu
    - Niseko (Moiwa, Niseko United...others?)

    Is this too much to tackle in two weeks? If not, how much time would you dedicate to each area? If you had to leave one of them out due to not enough time, which one would you skip?

    Any other advice for a first timer in Japan?
     
  2. Vermillion

    Vermillion Pool Room Ski Pass: Gold

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    Do you have BC gear? Have you used it before?

    I'd cut Niseko from your list, it's probably not what you're after. It would be a better option for 2 weeks IMO to base yourself in 1 location (especially if you have a car) and ski that resort most of the time with day trips or potential overnight trips to other places. Furano would be a good place to do this.

    There is no sidecountry, only inbounds and backcountry.
     
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  3. tugboat

    tugboat Early Days

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    My husband and I have touring gear, and yes, we’ve used it. We currently don’t own safety equipment (beacon, shovel, probes), mainly based on where we live...very minimal avalanche terrain, so we really don’t venture into it. We have done some backcountry that required it, but always with a guide and rented gear. Thinking about investing in the equipment and training for that type of terrain, but haven’t done it yet. A couple of the people we will be going with don’t own BC gear, which may limit us to more lift access backcountry. Husband and I can always branch out for a day or two if we decide to do a tour day.

    Just curious, why cut Niseko? Mostly inbounds skiing? Not interesting? Crowded? Or just overall, better places to spend time, in your opinion?
     
  4. Ramenman

    Ramenman One of Us

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    If you want to experience many different ski areas in Hokkaido in one ski trip.

    2 days in Asahikawa region(Kamui + Asahidake)

    2 days at Furano

    2 days at Tomamu(including Tomamu's CAT tour to Mt.Karifure)

    1 day at Sahoro or Mount Racey

    2 days at Rusutsu

    3 days at Niseko(Moiwa included)

    1 day at Kiroro

    1 day at Sapporo Teine or Sapporo Kokusai

    Hmm, two weeks is not enough at all, too short:p.
     
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  5. Vermillion

    Vermillion Pool Room Ski Pass: Gold

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    People will disagreeing with me (mostly those who has vested interests in Niseko) but yes I would say it's too crowded, you will be fighting to get good tracks in bounds aswell as the lift-accessed BC, and the village is certainly not a Japanese ski-jo village anymore (although you havent specifically said you want the authentic Japanese experience so that might be OK). It's also the most expensive ski resort in Japan for a foreigner.

    The reason I asked about the avi gear is because like I said, there is no such thing as sidecountry IMO. It's either in bounds and patrolled, or not patrolled (BC). Avi danger in Japan is no joke, they happen, they happen often and they kill. Japan is unique not only in the way and type of snow that falls, but also the terrain, which can result in being put into very dicey situations with little notice, further enhanced if you dont have local experience. Getting a guide is a good idea. Doing AST1 at a minimum is also a good idea. Being confident in using your equipment in any situation you put yourself in, and more importantly riding with someone else/s who are also confident in using their gear, is the most important thing though. There are plenty of others who do a lot more BC than me and they can comment too, but IMO if you havent used BC gear before then Japan is not the place to get confident in using your gear.

    When do you plan on going?
     
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  6. tugboat

    tugboat Early Days

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    Thanks for the input on avi gear. I’ve used it but not enough to be really comfortable...so will definitely be taking that into consideration in where we end up going. Or more importantly, when and if it’s safe to go out of bounds.

    Planning on sometime between mid-Jan and mid-feb next year...exact dates TBD.

    @Ramenman - totally agree, two weeks won’t be enough. We may try to pull off a bit longer 2.5-3 weeks...but work tends to get in the way of being gone for too long, unfortunately.
     
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  7. Froff Life

    Froff Life A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    Did a similar trip in Feb just gone. Great plan so far, having your own wheels will really open up your options. Are you wanting to base yourselves somewhere central, and drive out to the ski hills each day? Or base yourself at the bottom of a decent sized mountain?

    We liked being based in a larger town as the accom/food options were better and cheaper. Plus allowed for down-days of not skiing and access to other touristy activites.

    Otaru is a cute little city, with access to 3-4 great resorts in under an hours drive. Kiroro, Teine and Kokusai all well worth a visit. Makes a great base for a week.

    Asahikawa is a (really cold!) city that provides access to Kamui, Pippu, Asahidake and to a lesser extent Furano.

    If you wanted to be based at a resort, Rututsu or Furano would be decent options.
     
  8. tugboat

    tugboat Early Days

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    I could go either way at this point. Was considering doing a bit of both...maybe a week in one location like Furano or Asahidake to move around to different resorts, then a couple days in someplace like Rusutsu where there’s more ski in/out options.
     
  9. tugboat

    tugboat Early Days

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    How early did you start booking accommodations and rentals for your trip?
     
  10. Froff Life

    Froff Life A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    October/November. Japanese options in the cities (Otaru, Asahikawa) don't book out as quickly, with most only opening up bookings 3 months before. However the more popular western accommodation at the resorts can sometimes book out sooner.

    Rentals can be annoying, the quality of gear we saw across the resorts varied quite a bit. 2.5 - 3 weeks will end up costing you quite a bit in rental fees too. Can you buy before you go?
     
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  11. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    I think the advice you are being given here is very sound. Backcountry is backcountry - anything outside the resort needs to be taken seriously. People are still getting lost, buried, injured and worse.

    Personally I wouldn’t move around so much for a first trip, especially if you’ve got another couple who want to be more resort skiers. Pick one or two resorts, and maybe do a day trip or three.

    Furano is great.
    Rusutsu is great.
    Kiroro is great.
    Asahidake is on my hit list.
    My brother rates Club Med Sahoro (he was a first timer though)

    The Niseko thing:
    It’s popular for a reason.

    It’s a huge well organised international resort with every possible service you require right at your finger tips. More so every year. I’ve gone every year for the last 13 (but have also been elsewhere in that time)

    The negatives of that is it is busy (but not Aus/NZ/Europe or USA busy). Untracked lines in resort all day long is no longer possible in Niseko but it is in the lesser known small resorts where you may be the only gaijin in the resort.

    A lot of people enjoy Niseko for the easy access to a lot of professional guides who’ve extensive knowledge of the area and will progressively introduce you to the local
    backcountry. Starting with the local Niseko gates and branching out to local hills where you’ll earn your own turns, and even serious uphill like Mt Yotei for those really looking for a challenge. However I find people going for a few weeks will have big plans for lots of touring and really just do a day here or there, happy to just lap the lifts and explore most days. And that’s ok too!

    AST 1 and 2 courses are also offered by a number of providers and I can highly recommend Black Diamond for their courses - really well run and we were all in no doubt where we sat on the skills and ability at avy search and rescue by the end. It was no token prac.

    There is plenty of Japan left in Niseko.
    I eat Japanese food. drink Japanese beverages and speak Japanese on the daily when I’m there - however you can also go to places where you never have to eat/drink or speak Japanese as there are all the other offerings you’d get in any international resort. It is what you make of it.

    As for rentals: you can rent pretty much anything you need in Niseko including split boards, touring gear and safety equipment. One of my boys is there now, renting boards from Rhythm despite owning 3 - he just wants to demo all the new ones.

    If you’re stuck for renting what you need in other places maybe you could start and finish at Niseko - rent the gear and then go for a road trip.

    Bottom line: there is so much choice and only you will work out what works best for you, and only after trying a few places out.

    Enjoy the journey :cheers:
     
  12. bluestick

    bluestick One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Rent a car at chitose and explore. Book accommodation maybe 3 months before or earlier if going to Niseko personally I would not bother with Niseko but it can be a very (too?) soft intro to Japan. Accomodation is mainly cheapest and easily available at late notice in the cities. Sapporo, Otaru, Asahikawa. Eg got a simple sc apartment in otaru and asahikawa via abnb for around $40 aud a night for 2.
     
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  13. tugboat

    tugboat Early Days

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    Yea, we have gear. I was referring to rentals as in car or housing...reading back, that was definitely not clear. Thanks for the input for lodging though....sounds like we can wait awhile unless we end up wanting ski in/out at a bigger resort.
     
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  14. tugboat

    tugboat Early Days

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    How about Cat skiing operations? Any experience. Looking for something that’s guided (re: minimal avalanche training).

    I appreciate everyone’s thoughts on backcountry and emphasis on safety, your thoughts definitely line up with my own values in that regard. I am hoping to sign up for at least an AIARE 1 course next year, before going to Japan, and get some extra practice using the equipment. I’m in the US, so these are the avalanche training courses most readily available, and our season is coming to an end, so will need to wait till next season.
     
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  15. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    There are a few cat skiing operations.
    From what I hear (haven’t done it myself) Shimamaki Snow Cats provides the best terrain options. The others are a bit mellow - unless that’s what you’re chasing.

    Re: hiring car if you’re from the US - the Japanese drive on the other side of the road (same side as us Aussies). Add a little complexity to snow driving and foreign road signs. But it’s perfectly doable.
     
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  16. sourmash

    sourmash One of Us

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    Re Cat tours.
    For the areas you've listed I'd recommend either of below. Both about 1.5 hrs or so from Furano...
    NAC http://www.nacadventures.jp/en/cat-ski/niseko-private-cat-ski-resort
    Tomamu https://www.snowtomamu.jp/winter/en/ski/expert/cat.php (Needs prompt booking to get your wanted dates)

    I've not done Shimamaki, but it does look expensive compared to above.
     
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  17. tugboat

    tugboat Early Days

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    I have a friend that will be coming with us that has done some extensive travel...including driving on the opposite side of the road (he’ll most likely be the one driving for most of the trip). Snow driving’s not an issue...I at least live in part of the country that does a lot if that. As for the foreign signs...how’s GPS out there?
     
  18. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    It’s easy.
    Easy signal
    Easy navigation
    Decent roads.

    Cities are more of a challenge but not insurmountable.
     
  19. Mike Pow

    Mike Pow One of Us

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    Shimamaki definitely has the best cat skiing terrain.

    Iwanai would be my second choice
    https://iwanairesort.com/cat-experience

    Tengu Cats out of Kitataisetsu would be my third choice, although I haven't done it. But I have seen the terrain.
    http://tengucat.jp/

    Good overview here

    https://www.snowsbest.com/go-cat-skiing-japan/

    To be honest though, there are a number of really small ski areas in central Hokkaido where hardly anybody skis off-pitse and you can get untracked practically all day. For between 3,000 - 4000 yen, not 35-80,000!!!!
     
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  20. Froff Life

    Froff Life A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    We did NAC cat ski February just gone. Was a fun day with great guides, but the terrain is pretty mellow, with shortish runs.
     
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  21. Vermillion

    Vermillion Pool Room Ski Pass: Gold

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    Then it sounds like your friend wont be doing much sampling of the great Japanese alcohols (chu hi, whiskies, sake, umeshu etc) because I would strongly recommend anyone driving in Japan has a BAC of 0.00. It's really not worth the risk. More fun for you though!
     
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  22. Kimski

    Kimski One of Us

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    All of what LMB says is correct.

    While exploring and going to more 'Japanese' places is great it's also not what everyone wants and certainly not for the whole trip.

    For example, I'm doing a 2020 Honshu trip. I'll be staying 3 nights in Hakuba and 5 nights in Shiga Kogen. Hakuba is great for more English spoken, well set up lessons in English and more restaurants and places to go in the evening. All of which I'll be taking advantage of. Shiga Kogen is certainly going to be more Japanese. Possibly meals at my hotel / pension (depending which area I stay), not really any nightlife but a really big interlinked resort and higher elevation than other Honshu resorts.

    The mix works for me and having been to Japan before I'm confident it won't be too much of a culture shock (I REALLY need to work on my Japanese language skills though.)
     
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  23. tugboat

    tugboat Early Days

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    Wow, really good to know they have no tolerance for drinking and driving before going. Thanks for the tip. We’ll be taking this into account when setting up accommodations, whether it’s public transport options or walking distances. Pushes me to also have one or two other people (probably myself and my husband) get an international drivers license, so we can split up the driving and all enjoy sampling. :)
     
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  24. Tonester

    Tonester Lift Line Nazi Ski Pass: Gold

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    And speaking of international drivers license....it's a must. I know, when I travelled to US and Canada that my IDL is never asked for. They just want to see my regular driver's license. Not so in Japan....they are sticklers for the rules (and fair enough too!). So, make sure you have both regular and international driver's licenses when hiring in Japan.
     
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  25. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    And your passport with visa stamp in it.
     
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  26. tugboat

    tugboat Early Days

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    My understanding is if you're traveling for less than 90 days, and not working there, as a US citizen, I do not need a visa...but definitely a passport. I'll have to double check the rules to make sure I understood that correctly.
     
  27. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    They stick the 90 day permit in it when you enter.

    I had my partners drivers licence and international licence and a colour copy of his passport when I picked up my car, but he was atop Aconcagua in Argentina at the time, so he had his original passport with him. They wouldn’t add him as a driver until we came back with his passport with the visitors entry visa in it the following week. Wasn’t difficult to pop back seeing as I was back at the airport to collect him anyway. But yeah - original licence, international permit and passport required.
     
  28. tugboat

    tugboat Early Days

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    Ah, I understand. Makes sense. I don't think many car rental companies in the US will add you to the rental contract without you and your original license being present either.
     
  29. Tonester

    Tonester Lift Line Nazi Ski Pass: Gold

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    Yes, that too!
     
  30. fosphenytoin

    fosphenytoin Early Days

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    Your understanding is correct. I traveled w/ U.S. passport to Japan last December, for 3 days, no visa needed.

    Immigration officer may ask for your return flight ticket, hotel reservations. It'd be helpful to have the documents ready to show.

    As for car rental, make sure you have: 1) U.S. driver license; 2) international driver license; 3) passport (may need, so bring just in case).
     
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  31. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    I've never had an issue with this. I have emailed docs to friends hiring cars. Or alternatively had my wifes details with me. Mind you she was down stairs minded the bags
    To be honest. I don't think i've even had my passport looked at that much?
     
  32. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    I've never had an issue with this. I have emailed docs to friends hiring cars. Or alternatively had my wifes details with me. Mind you she was down stairs minded the bags
    To be honest. I don't think i've even had my passport looked at that much?
     
  33. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    Yeah, to be fair I thought I had it in the bag.
    But...Japan.
    Better that everyone knows the possibility of rejection based on others experience. Better to have all the boxes ticked than be shocked.
     
  34. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    Oh yeah for sure
    Japan
     
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  35. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    So i'm looking at $920 cathay to osaka via HK for three nights
    thats pretty decent
    7th jan for 3 weeks
     
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  36. PMG

    PMG One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    How long in HK?
     
  37. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    Three nights
     
  38. PMG

    PMG One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    That's what I was thinking.
     
  39. Lonepeak

    Lonepeak Hard Yards

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    67767F02-2956-4F5E-AD77-09FAD7169629.jpeg
    As a fellow yank (but living in Okinawa Japan), my suggestion would be to move around a bit based on the above list. Japan areas are not huge, and you could get bored easily if you stay put. That said, if the snow is dumping (as it often is), then I have fun no matter what the area. This forum and powderhounds.com have been indispensable for my planning. I am by no means as well versed in Japan skiing as many here, but after 4 seasons here’s my input:

    As some suggested, Asahikawa/Furano for a base for some days, and Niseko for the other half I think is a good 1st Trip. My group enjoyed staying in Asahikawa- cheap single business hotel rooms with numerous places to eat/drink within walking distance. Day trips can be a bit of a drive - especially when it’s snowing- but we did asahidake (marginal snow day with long lines for the only lift..a tram), and had a blast at Kamui. Furano is long drive from Asahikawa but consider hitting on way to/from Asahikawa - if not basing in Furano. It is a decent mountain but it’s never been a huge snow day there for me. Lodging choices are limited.

    Niseko area I think is worth 4-5 days. Tons of sidecountry skiing @ Niseko United, with more English spoken than anywhere in Japan (not suggesting that’s a good thing). If (or when) winds will shut the upper lifts for the day you can head to smallish Moiwa with has very decent off piste - but may be busy with others with the same idea. If decent snow Moiwa is worth a day regardless. Other high wind day option is Rusutsu with amazing tree skiing. A few intermediate boarder buds like Rusutsu better than Niseko.

    Although I love Otaru, my sampling “other” ski areas based there in January this year was so-so. Kokusai and Tiene were a little too small and lacked sidecountry options as far as I could tell (without ducking a rope which I won’t). Kiroro is certainly worth a day which is easiest from Otaru, or do when relocating to/from Niseko.

    Other things to consider -

    -Chinese New Year can can be very busy so may want to avoid that week.
    -Sapporo snow festival is worth a look for half day.
    -Rent a car. Use your phone to video the rental person showing how to use the GPS/Bluetooth.
    -Get a SIM card for phone so you can use google maps when you can’t get car GPS to work.
    - definitely agree avi gear is a good idea when heading thru gates.
    - repeating...drink no alcohol if driving.

    PM as needed with any other questions.

    PS: I think the pic is Moiwa
     
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  40. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    On piste very good skier mate of mine loves Rusutsu for the groomers. Suits his fast groomer style.
     
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  41. Kimski

    Kimski One of Us

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    I would agree with this. Also fantastic views on a clear day.
     
  42. silva

    silva One of Us

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    I am actually going to suggest you go to Niseko first.
    From your posts I think that Niseko would offer you the guiding and instruction (in English) to safely introduce you to backcountry skiing in Japan. As others have said Japan is a bit different to the US and Canada where areas between runs and just outside resorts is "side country" and thus that bit safer and regularly skied. There really is no side country in Japan. The Gate access areas around Niseko offer many options for a slightly softer introduction to backcounty skiing and means that guiding and instructor companies have lots of more easily accessed, training areas.
     
  43. Sbooker

    Sbooker One of Us

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    Surely groomers and good views are not the reason you go to Japan though. Groomers and views are best consumed in Europe.
     
  44. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    If coming to Niseko, hit me up, happy to introduce you to some fine guides. I’ll be in town Jan, Feb, March - if before that can give you some numbers. Also happy to take you to a few inbounds spots to test the waters, and maybe a gate or two depending on how you go.
     
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  45. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    Are you sure? ;)
     
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  46. Sbooker

    Sbooker One of Us

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    I hope to see very little sun when I’m there for my ‘taster’ in December.
     
  47. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    Yes, but weren't you doing central Japan and Hokkaido?
     
  48. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    Personally, I think there is "sidecountry" in Japan.
    IMO, there seven types of terrain in Japan:
    1. Inbounds, goomed "courses", inside ropes, patrolled
    2. Inbounds, ungroomed (moguls or powder, depending on the snow cycle) "courses", inside ropes, patrolled
    3. Inbounds, groomed or ungroomed "courses", gated with a warning about steepness, inside ropes, patrolled
    4. Inbounds, ungroomed including trees, inside ropes or no control ropes. Patrolled. Terrain traps.
    5. Sidecountry, ungroomed including trees, gated through ropes, out & back to pistes. Unpatrolled. Terrain traps.
    6. Sidecountry, ungroomed including trees, outside ropes, out & back to pistes, enter at your own risk. Unpatrolled. Terrain traps, possible avalanche risk.
    7. Backcountry, all terrain outside ropes, enter at your own risk. Unpatrolled. Terrain traps and avalanche risk.

    Examples:
    2. Just about any moguls courses that are never groomed.
    3. Super G & Olympic courses at Shiga Kogen. Hakuba Goryu Expert & Adventure courses.
    4. Many places. Myoko Suginohara Super Giant trail. Nozawa Onsen inside the ropes around Yamabiko
    5. Kagura Expert Forest Trail, Okushigakogen gated entrances above Kuma-Otoshi course.
    6. Hakuba Norikura, southern end. Nozawa Onsen outside the ropes off Mt Kenashi: 1. down to Yamabiko 4. 1. Down to Karasawa.
     
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  49. Sbooker

    Sbooker One of Us

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    No. Just Hokkaido. I dropped Honshu on your recommendation due to early season. So if it’s shite I’ll have to spend the time eating ramen and drinking Japanese beer. And I’ll blame you.:p
     
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  50. Tanuki

    Tanuki A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    Yep, my greatest concern when in bounds in Japan is terrain traps. We've learnt a lot through experience and training (AST1&2) that they're always front of mind. Case in point, second trip to Japan in 2011 we got caught in a few traps at Nozawa, one up top in Yamabiko and two on piste off the side of Skyline. In the three trip since then I've done my best to avoid them = missing out on potentially great lines at Rusutsu, and Appi last year. I don't want to suffocate it in a ditch.
     
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