Get your Japow fix with one of these guided backcountry tours

Skiing Japan’s backcountry with a guide is not only the best way to guarantee your share of the country’s famous powder, it also arms you with someone who has knowledge of the local terrain and training in snow safety and avalanche risk. If you’re a first-timer to the backcountry, we highly recommend reading this article first, which talks about the benefits if skiing with a guide, what to look for, and the kind of equipment you might need.

If you’re ready to take the next step and start planning, then continue reading. The five adventures below are available to book via Ski Asia partner explore-share – a booking engine for guided backcountry experiences around the world, on which guides have been vetted for the relevant certifications (in Japan, this is often with the Japan Mountain Guides Association).

Ski touring on Mount Yotei in Hokkaido

Price: from ¥10,310 per person per day

Backcountry skiing on Mt. Yotei

Mt Yotei. Image: explore-share. Enquire about this tour

Visitors to Niseko will be familiar with the imposing sight of Mount Yotei, a 1900-metre symmetrical stratovolcano that lies to the east of the Niseko United ski resorts. Skiing into the Yotei’s crater on a bluebird day is a true bucket list item for locals and visitors alike, though getting the right weather for this can be as much of a challenge as the skin to the top, which can require anywhere from five to eight hours.

As with all good guides, your experience will be tailored to suit the weather conditions, so if a trip to the summit isn’t possible (or desired), you might find yourself skiing lower down, where the tree skiing can be superb. Guide Jun is a Hokkaido local with an intimate knowledge of Niseko and its surrounds, and also regularly takes guests to places like Rusutsu, Nakayamatoge, Asahigaoka, Rankoshi and Chisenuppuri.

The best backcountry experiences in Japan have one thing in common: they finish with a cold beer, some delicious Japanese food and a relaxing soak in a traditional hot spring (onsen). This trip is no different!

About your guide

Certification: Japan Mountain Guides Association (JMGA)

Jun is a JMGA-certified ski guide from Hokkaido who, in his own words, “knows every corner of this incredible island”. He regularly takes guests to the most beautiful parts of Hokkaido, including Shiretoko (UNESCO World Nature Heritage), Daisetsuzan National Park, Rishiri, Niseko and Asahikawa.


4-day backcountry skiing tour on Rishiri Island (accommodation included)

Price: from ¥119,588 per person per day (includes 5 nights’ accommodation)

When we caught up with Andrew Spragg and Rob Thompson, two of Hokkaido’s backcountry veterans, they both named Rishiri Island as the pinnacle of their powder skiing adventures in Japan. It’s a destination that’s for the truly adventurous – a remote island volcano off the north-western tip of Hokkaido, with infamous weather conditions, but the terrain to excite the most seasoned backcountry aficionados. Many visit Rishiri with their eyes on the summit (if it is visible!), but there’s no guarantee that the weather will cooperate.

This 4-day Rishiri backcountry tour puts guests in the ultra capable hands of JMGA-certified guide Toshiya Watanabe, who was born on the island and has spent the past two decades climbing and mapping its skiable terrain. He is unquestionably THE person to rely on for the best experience on Rishiri.

Your trip will also include five nights in Toshiya’s family-run guest house, which is comfortable and features an onsen and some very good family-style cooking (seafood, naturally).

Rishiri Island backcountry tour

Rishiri Island. Enquire about this tour

About your guide

Certification: Japan Mountain Guides Association (JMGA)

JMGA level 2-certified guide Toshiya Watanabe was born in Rishiri and has spent much of career attempting to make it a backcountry hotspot. He has reached the summit more than 500 times, and says he knows the island “like the back of my hand”.


3-day backcountry skiing in Tohoku

Price: from ¥45,361 per person per day

Tohoku is the region to visit if you’re after an old-school Japanese snow experience: less development, smaller resorts, fewer international tourists, bucket loads of snow.

Over this 3-day trip, you’ll be based out of Morioka city – a gateway to the top powder destinations in Iwate and Akita prefectures, and also home to some good dining and nightlife options.

Guide Kenichi will select the best locations depending on the weather, and your itinerary might include experiences like a hike to the summit of Hachimantai’s Mt. Chausu (1915m), a cat-assisted journey to the summit of Mt. Akita Komagatake (1637m), or a day spent exploring the backcountry areas around Geto Kogen ski Resort, known for its epic winter snowfalls.

The region is also famous for its historic and picturesque onsen, like the gorgeous Nyuto Onsen in Akita prefecture, with mineral-rich cloudy water. A piping-hot soak with wintry alpine views is the best way to cap off a day skiing waist-deep Tohoku powder.

Tohoku backcountry tour

Image: explore-share. Enquire about this tour

About your guide

Certification: Japan Mountain Guides Association (JMGA)

Kenichi is a multi-talented JMGA-certified guide who, in addition to backcountry skiing, also guides mountaineering expeditions, hiking trips and canyoning all over Honshu. His backcountry guiding journey started in 2002 in Minakami, where he later founded one of the region’s first ski guiding companies.

Kenichi has a wealth of international experience too. He’s done seasons in Canada and the U.S. as a skiing and rafting guide, and two seasons in Switzerland as a hiking guide. He regularly travels to North America and Europe with his clients.

“Keni was an unbelievable guide, not only on the mountain but also in town during the night. An additional comment was he supported us post tour as he was still in the area. Much appreciated everything he did”, writes one of Kenichi’s past guests.


12-day freeride ski trip in Niseko

Price: From 2,258 EUR

This 12-day backcountry tour, based out of Niseko, has everything for the serious skier: a great selection of terrain, avalanche training, filming and analysis, and even a night-time powder skiing session thrown in for good measure.

You’ll visit powder hotspots like Kiroro, Rusutsu and Moiwa, log some time on Mount Yotei (see item one), and get into Niseko’s famous back bowls, where you’ve likely seen video edits of the resort’s incredibly light, deep powder. It’s a jam-packed itinerary, and you’ll benefit from being based in Japan’s most popular resort, with everything you could conceivably want at your fingertips: shopping, gear rental, great dining and nightlife and loads of accommodation options (from budget backpacker lodges to 5-star hotels).

12-day Niseko backcountry tour

Image: explore-share. Enquire about tis tour

About your guide

Certification: UIAGM (known in English as IFMGA, International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations)

Josef is a highly experienced UIAGM-certified guide from the Czech Republic, with an impressive five summits on 8thousander peaks to his name and an extensive career guiding around the world (all seven continents!), including numerous treks, climbs and ski touring expeditions. He represents Patagonia, SKI TRAB and ABS avalanche backpacks, and splits his winters between Japan and Europe, where he runs his own guiding operation out of Prague.

He likes Czech beer and food, passionate guests and jokes, and with all his experience skiing around the world, has come to the conclusion that Japan has “the best powder snow on earth”.


Riding in Hakuba with the top male FWQ snowboarder in Japan

Price: from ¥10,310 per person per day

This is not explicitly a backcountry tour, but you’ll be skiing deep alpine bowls, steep ridges, tree-lined runs – all within the resort boundaries of Hakuba Valley. The resort is widely regarded as Japan’s best freeskiing destination, and the only destination in Asia that has hosted (and continues to host) a stop on the Freeride World Tour.

Better yet, you’ll earn boasting rights by spending a day hot on the heels of Taichi Sato, Japan’s top-ranked male FWQ snowboarder, who took top step on the podium in the Hakuba stop of the 2018 Freeride World Qualifier series.

“The snowpack is generous and world-class, so you will never have to worry about riding in slush or less-than-desirable conditions”, claims Taichi.

“And the legends are true: the snow is arguably the best on Earth!”

Note that Taichi is not a certified mountain guide (hence the requirement to stay within resort boundaries), but he has a wealth of experience in Hakuba and will undoubtedly be able to guide you to the best powder zones and natural features in the resort.

Taichi Sato

Image: explore-share. Enquire about this tour


Japan backcountry skiingOrganise your guided backcountry skiing tour in Japan

There are lots of options in Hokkaido and Honshu that can be tailored to the kind of skiing you like and when you plan to come. Answer a few questions and we’ll get back to you with some recommendations.

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