Rhythm’s Guide to Splitboarding in the Niseko and Hakuba Backcountry
The Niseko and Hakuba areas in Japan are home to some of the most stunning and exhilarating side and backcountry riding options in the world. These days, splitboarding is regarded as the easiest way for snowboarders to get off the beaten trail and enjoy everything the out-of-bounds has to offer. Here are some tips that will help get you geared up for touring beyond the boundaries!
1) Choose your Splitboard Carefully
Your best bet is to drop into Rhythm Summit in Niseko or Rhythm Japan in Hakuba where the expert staff can help you choose a board that will suit your style. Choosing a splitboard is similar to choosing a snowboard, you need to make a decision based on your ability and riding style. Obviously in Japan your aim will be to ride powder, so choose a board that will give you enough float. The Jones Hovercraft is ideal for the backcountry, riding supremely well in deep pow, chutes, bowls and trees. Jones also does a women’s specific split called the Dreamcatcher. The CAPiTA Neo Slasher Split is another winner, it’s based on their legendary powder board, the Charlie Slasher. Modern splits have taken advantage of the improvements in technology and new materials to ensure the equipment is as light as possible, which makes the ascent a little easier. By combining your new ride with a splitboard specific binding from either Spark or Union you can expect the downhill performance to be up there with a regular snowboard.
Rhythm Recommends: Aside from the Jones range and the Neo Slasher, the Burton Flight Attendant is definitely worth a look. And remember! At Rhythm Summit in Niseko you can try before you buy.
(Featured: the Union Expedition Binding)
2) Grab the Best Backcountry Gear
Once you’ve got your board you’ll need to add some other specialty items to your backcountry arsenal. As mentioned, we recommend a splitboard specific binding like the Union Expedition, along with some compatible crampons that can assist with grip. You also won’t be going anywhere without a pair of skins, along with some collapsible poles. Then you can chuck it all in a backpack with your avalanche safety kit which should include (at the very least) a shovel and probe. Then finally (but super importantly!) kit yourself out with a beacon and you’re ready to tour!
Rhythm Recommends: Spark Splitboard Skins are splitboard specific and come in a range of lengths. They offer the perfect combination of stick, slide and grip. Black Diamond Compactor poles are lightweight and compact enough to fit in a pack. Speaking of packs, the Dakine Heli Pro is a tried and tested favourite for many backcountry adventurers.
3) What to Wear
You don’t get to shred the backcountry without breaking a sweat! It’s a good idea to layer up so you can shed or add clothes depending on your core body temperature. Start out with a wool (or equivalent) baselayer, followed by a thermal midlayer like an insulator jacket or vest and then complete the look with a technical, shell style jacket. When choosing a jacket go for something that is lightweight, has a GORE-TEX® waterproof / breathable membrane and comes with some useful accessories like pit zips, a powder skirt and internal pockets.
Rhythm Recommends: Burton ak GORE-TEX® Cyclic Jacket and Burton ak GORE-TEX® Freebird Bib Pant.
4) Find a Guide.
While the backcountry in Japan is beautiful, accessible and overloaded with fields of fresh powder, the most important thing to keep in mind is safety. Even if you’re an experienced rider, we recommend hooking up with guide from the local area. Not only will they have advice when it comes to avalanche awareness, they’ll help you uncover all the hidden gems.
Rhythm Recommends: Luckily Niseko and Hakuba are bases for a huge variety of experienced guiding companies, so there are no excuses for trekking into the unknown alone.
5) Enjoy Yourself.
Once you have the right gear and a guide you’re free to get out there and explore. The backcountry around Hakuba and Niseko is renowned for being some of the most accessible in the world. According to Tom Phillips, the Manager at Rhythm Summit and all-‘round guru, “Backcountry riding in Japan is unique because there are endless options, loads of which are accessible from the side of the road. You can get very close to decent terrain without any long approaches. You may even come across a hidden onsen (hot spring) or two while you’re out there!”
Rhythm Recommends: Putting a smile on your dial and ripping it up!