Niseko, Japan averages nearly 50 FEET (15 meters) of snow every year, making it the most reliable ski destination for those in search of consistent powder. With all that snow, you might be asking why you need to hire a guide? Here are the TOP FOUR REASONS you should have a powder guide when you visit Niseko, Japan.
#1. Finding POW
You want to ski the BEST Powder, right? Being such a popular destination, the in-bounds skiing can get tracked out pretty quickly. But don’t worry, with practically unlimited backcountry terrain accessible by lift and easy boot pack, you can still get plenty of freshies if you know where to go. A powder guide will be able to take you to the powder stashes off the beaten track. If it’s your first time to Niseko you can waste a lot of time finding each of the 9 gated access points on the mountain. A guide will take you to the best ones first without wasting time getting there and getting back to a lift. A few of the bigger ski schools and guiding companies have priority lift access if you want to maximize your ski time by sticking close to the resort “sidecountry” gates. If you don’t mind earning your turns and getting away from it all, there are plenty of boutique backcountry guiding services that can shuttle you outside the Niseko resort area.
#2. Your Safety
Your Safety: With such copious amounts of snow, the avalanche danger outside the resort boundary is high. Backcountry access gates are monitored by ski patrol and everyone should have basic Avalanche safety gear like a Beacon, Probe, and Shovel. Many guiding services provide Avi packs stocked with these items to every guest and show you how to use them. That means one less item you need to pack in your checked luggage on an international flight. Others may expect you to have your own gear so double check with your company before you book. Avalanches are not the only risk outside the resort boundary. Fissures known as “glide cracks” form frequently in Japan, especially late-season. They can be up to two-storeys deep, wide enough to fall into, and nearly impossible to get out of if you are alone. Guides are the first to hear about these hazards and can keep you away from other dangers like thawing creeks, falling cornices, and Jerrys.
#3. Avoiding A Wrong Turn
A wrong turn could land you in hot water with the Japanese authorities. And, no, I don’t mean Onsen hot water. If you ski or board into “Haru no taki” or any other “permanently closed area” you could end up finishing your vacation with a confiscated lift pass and a bad reputation in the local community. Certain areas just outside the resort boundary of Niseko have been closed by Japanese authorities due to the high number of avalanche deaths in those zones. It’s important to respect closed areas and not duck ropes; not only for your own personal safety, but also knowing that backcountry skiing in the Niseko area is a privilege and not a right. Many other parts of Japan still don’t allow any off-piste riding. Everyone who shreds the pow in Niseko must abide by the local Niseko Rules. Your guide will make sure you don’t go into these areas because every guide loves their job and doesn’t want to lose it.
#4. Local Knowledge
Local knowledge. Locals don’t just know where to find the best powder stashes. If it’s a windy day, they can take you where it’s more sheltered. If it’s a busy day, where it’s quiet. Whether you book a Japanese guide or one from an international guide outfit, they will all tell you a little more about the area and about Japan. With plenty of ski-in-ski-out restaurants around Niseko, any guide will be happy to show you their favorite Japanese Izakaya and the best places for Apres at the end of the day. You may even be able to coax out of them the location of their favorite Onsen or local ramen bar. So next time you are in Niseko, play smart and play safe with a powder guide.