Ski Asia chats to Guide and Managing Director of Alpine Backcountry Guides, Samuel Morrell

The 2023/24 ski season was a special one for Alpine Backcountry Japan‘s Samuel Morrell, and not just because the company was named Japan’s best ski tour operator in the 2024 Ski Asia Awards. It also happened to be Samuel’s first season taking the reigns of the company from his father, John, who first started the Central Hokkaido guiding operation in back in 1984.

Sam grew up spending every winter in Japan with his dad, where he spent every day he could out in the mountains on skis or snowboard, learning about the local terrain, risks and, of course, the best places to ski.

“As time went on I started to come along on tours as first a tail guide and then eventually a lead guide”, says Sam.

“Kaspar and I had witnessed the life changing experiences that were provided to people in the Japanese backcountry. The highs and lows of ski touring in the 40 years of history that this business has existed, all the beautiful interactions with locals and past clients alike, many of whom have been working with us for longer than I have been alive.

“In short, I don’t think it felt right to let the business go.”

Ski Asia sat down with Sam to find out more about his first year at the helm, the influence of his dad and, of course, his favourite backcountry spots in Central Hokkaido.

Samuel Morrel

Samuel Morrel, Alpine Backcountry Guides

What are some of the key lessons that John has passed on to you when it comes to running a business operating in a backcountry environment?

Dad has taught me everything I know out there, from my first experience stepping into a pair of touring skis to learning how to write up an excel spreadsheet. I was very lucky in that sense. I think one of the most important things he has passed down to me is the dedication to do right for those around him. Not just his clients but his staff, business or touring partners, and all the people we interact with in the community.

How has your first season heading up the business been?

This past season was an incredibly good experience for me. There was definitely the added weight of responsibility weighing me down at times, but I was very conscious not to let this affect my guiding on the day to day – it’s easy to lose yourself at work when you’re skiing deep powder every day. We had some incredible highs and we of course made some mistakes along the way, but overall it was a great learning experience not just for me but for the whole team at Alpine Backcountry Guides.

Which areas do you tour in, and where is your favourite?

We operate in the Central Hokkaido region of Japan, based out of Furano town, the aptly named “bellybutton of Hokkaido”. Our coverage spreads from northern Daisetsuzan, Kitami Pass, and Asahidake in the north, down to Tomamu, Northern Hidaka and the southern Yubari range in the south.

There are so many wonderful locations to ski within this massive area, and most of them can deliver “best run ever” moments if you catch them in the right conditions. I don’t think I can look past the Tomamu Backcountry as a top location personally though. Wide open trees, great pitch, few other people, and snow that will have you marvelling in disbelief at its cold consistency.

What sets Alpine Backcountry Guides apart from other operators in Hokkaido?

There are so many great guides operating in the area these days, and a bit of healthy competition has been good for our guides. We pride ourselves on the ability to explore new terrain as often as we can, with most days off being spent looking at maps or mountains trying to find the perfect lines for our clients in the future. Spending over 40 years in an area has allowed for some great wisdom and stories to be passed down about the local areas we operate in. We try to show our clients a full perspective when in the Hokkaido Backcountry, and like to involve as much teaching as we can.

“There are so many wonderful locations to ski within this massive area, and most of them can deliver ‘best run ever’ moments” – Samuel Morrell

What would a typical day on the mountain with your team look like?

Every day out there is different. If a client looks at a sweet line and says they want to ski it you can bet we will be pushing to get there. That said, when the snow is falling as it so often does, the wind is low and you can’t hear a sound amongst the snow loaded silver birch, we like to do one thing: ski deep powder. Once the day is over and everyone’s patting each other on the back with a great big smile on their face, a locally brewed beer along with an onsen tends to be the perfect way to finish the day.

What advice would you give to someone looking to experience the Hokkaido backcountry for the first time?

Hire a guide. It doesn’t have to be us but having someone take you straight to where you want to go in a safe and reliable manner is invaluable stuff. Not only do you maximise your enjoyment of the day but you get to learn about the country and land in which you’re travelling, along with getting tons of fundamental tips on your own technique to improve your backcountry days in the future.

Alpine Backcountry Guides

“There are so many wonderful locations to ski within this massive area, and most of them can deliver ‘best run ever’ moments” – Samuel Morrell

Anything you’re particularly excited about for the 24/25 season?

We have got a lot planned for 2025. Some really great new tours have just been released including our Hokkaido Powder Belt, which will be the longest publicly available tour we are running. This tour combines a ton of different ski locations, resorts, onsens and local towns for a mega trip over 11 days in Central Hokkaido. Other than that, I am already starting to feel the itch to clip into a pair of touring skis and walk into the mountains, to push to a summit somewhere far away from the crowds and step out over the edge of an untouched birch lined bowl of powder snow. I look forward to picking up our first clients next season, for another winter of unforgettable experience, new friends and world class skiing.

To learn more about Alpine Backcountry Guides, visit