If you’re a decent skier or snowboarder, and you absolutely love riding amazing powder, then you will love backcountry touring in Japan! Not only is Japan the land of the snowiest winters on earth, it is also home to some of the most ‘beginner friendly’ backcountry there is. So, want to know all about how you can enjoy backcountry touring in Japan for the first time? I’d be happy to share my secrets with you…
What is Backcountry Touring?
For some people, backcountry skiing or snowboarding means being way out into the wilderness to ski down completely untouched bowls and chutes. To others, it is as simple as riding outside of the resort boundaries.
More often than not, there will be some sort of hiking, snowshoeing, traversing or skinning involved to get you there. If you’re lucky (and somewhat loaded) you could even get there via helicopter.
The key takeaway of the draw of backcountry skiing is having access to (hopefully) untouched and phenomenal terrain to ski down.
Why should you go Backcountry Skiing in Japan?
Skiing in Japan even on-piste is freaking amazing, but backcountry skiing… absolutely mind-blowingly awesome!
I can guarantee that you will never have experienced snow like it. It is light, dry and you can blow straight through it. This goes for the snow in Japan both on-piste and in the backcountry.
The upside of backcountry skiing in Japan is that if you can find an area that is not highly tracked or popular, you could be skiing on days worth of fresh snow. And because the temperature is usually quite cold there, the snow quality will keep for ages. Even writing about how amazing the snow in Japan is gets me excited to go again! 😱
Japan is an awesome place to try your hand at backcountry touring for the first time, because the terrain is generally a lot mellower than places like Canada or Europe. It’s a really great starting point to advancing your riding abilities outside of the resort boundaries.
Who Should you go Backcountry Touring with?
Well, when I first wrote this post back in 2017, there was one main company that I recommended and they are Whiteroom Tours. They are a Melbourne based travel agency who specialises in all things snow!
Whiteroom Tours undoubtedly have the biggest range of tours on offer in Japan. When I first wrote this post, they had 7 seperate tours and now 3 years later, they have eleven! 😱
If you’re looking for an inclusive backcountry touring option, I would certainly point you in their direction. They aren’t cheap (which I’ll touch on below), but they are the best in the business for a reason.
On the other hand, if you’d prefer to just dip your toes into the backcountry for one day, you’ll find backcountry offices in most Japanese ski towns who offer day tours. For example, in Hakuba, you can do a day tour with Evergreen Backcountry Guides. While I’ve never done one of these tours, I used to work for Evergreen and can vouch for their professionalism and emphasis on safety.
What does a Backcountry Tour Entail?
Generally speaking, you will spend your days riding lift-accessed, amazing side-country and backcountry terrain at various resorts in the area that you’re staying. Sometimes, you may need to hike 20 or 30 minutes to reach a higher drop in point.
10 out of 10 times, you’ll find me puffing and grumbling about the hike, but when you reach the drop in point and you’re staring down at a beautiful, wide open, un-touched bowl of pure powder, that all fades away 😍.
What are the Costs & Inclusions?
Again, this is something that will vary between companies but guided backcountry tours do not come cheap 😫.
For a day of guiding, you’d be looking at around $300 AUD per person, give or take. Many guiding operations charge a group rate for up to 6 people, so the more people you have in your group, the less it costs.
If you’re looking at an extended tour like something Whiteroom Tours offer, you’re most likely looking at minimum $4.5k AUD for an 10-day tour 😬. This has gone up quite a bit since I did my first tour in 2014, but I do know the cost of travel in Japan has gone up a lot too.
Bearing in mind that these tours include (for example) 10-nights accommodation with breakfast daily, lift tickets for at least 8 days riding, airport transfers, daily transport on guided days, at least 2 dinners and backcountry guiding!
Side Note: It is compulsory on all backcountry tours to have your own safety gear including a beacon, shovel and probe. Most companies can hire this out to you if you don’t have it, on top of the tour costs.
Is Backcountry Touring Safe?
Of course there are risks involved in backcountry touring in Japan, or anywhere for that matter. However, that’s why I would always recommend joining a guided tour, especially for your first few experiences and until you undertake your own avalanche safety training.
The reality is that Japan can produce some extremely unstable snowpacks, due to the never ending snowfall. You want someone on your side who knows how to read the mountains for cues, and understands the avalanche safety rating of the day.
When you enter the backcountry with a guided group, you will always have two guides with you – one to lead and one to follow. This means, the lead guide will always drop in first, to test out the stability and safety of the snowpack. And the tail guide will be there to help you out if you get stuck 👌🏼.
So why exactly do I recommend Whiteroom Tours?
Truth be told, they are the only guiding company I’ve ever used – but they really are awesome. They are a bit too expensive for us now, but for someone who is starting out and wants some support to experience the backcountry, they’re a sure bet.
My first trip with them was considered a ‘drought’ (it didn’t snow for 5-days…) and yet they still managed to find us fresh tracks everyday! The guides know the resorts and backcountry areas like the back of their hands, and it really shows.
They also make an effort to give you a real Japanese experience, by fitting in Onsen stops at the end of most riding days which is excellent for helping those tired legs to recover. AND they know where all the good restaurants and bars are in town. Most nights they will even join you for dinner voluntarily.
They really do go above and beyond to make your trip awesome at every turn 😉. I’ve honestly had some of the best days of my life riding with Whiteroom Tours. And I met my partner on one of there tours 😍, although that is not something that they generally include 😂. Do yourself a favour and get on board 😉. See what I did there…