Why Spring Is The Best Time To Enjoy Niseko Backcountry

When it comes to skiing and snowboarding in Japan, backcountry is considered the be-all and end-all. Providing limitless options of untracked terrain, deep powder, and the most scenic views Japan has to offer, it’s an experience that many people solely make the trip to Niseko for. 

If you have heard stories, you’ve likely heard one name pop up again and again – Stefan Boers. A veteran backcountry skier with over four years of experience in Niseko as Rhythm Ride’s lead guide, and a lifetime of riding in the European Alps, Stef is the go-to person in town for all things backcountry. When asked about the prime time to head out into the backcountry terrain of Niseko, Stef was adamant that springtime is the way to go.

close up of ski guide in niseko

“Generally in Japan, if you’re looking at backcountry touring in the winter, you’ll mainly be sticking to tree lines.”

 

“When it comes to springtime, it’s finally time to venture out into the alpine. There are beautiful mountains over the back of Niseko like Chisenupuri, Iwaonupuri, and Nanupuri that offer stunning views of the island. From there, you can see the Japanese Sea, and there are a lot of different trails you can ride down, so you can really plan out a great day. It’s one of the reasons I really like March; it has much more stable weather, we still get great snow, and it’s much quieter, which makes it perfect for proper tours with beautiful views.”

Although regardless of the season, it’s an activity that presents various dangers, with the isolated nature of the sport meaning that riders have no access to chairlifts, indoor facilities, or ski patrol, while also facing potential dangers such as avalanches and glide cracks. When talking about the safety considerations guides need to keep in mind while touring, he said,

“If you go into the backcountry, you can’t really expect any facilities out there.”

“Even if you do lift-accessed backcountry, you will still be at a resort with facilities like a building with warm air in it. So if you do feel like an icicle, you can warm yourself up.”

“That’s not the case in the backcountry. Backcountry isn’t something people should underestimate – especially the uphill climb. Even if you’re a really good rider, if you’ve never been touring before, you should definitely give yourself a little bit of time to get used to uphill travelling because it’s basically hiking mountains, but in the snow.”

Rides Guiding

As explained by Stef, “it’s a bit of a myth that there are no avalanches in Hokkaido. In peak season, avalanches happen every week. Although avalanche conditions improve in springtime, providing more opportunities to go out and really get what you want from a tour.”

 

“I think it’s better to have a nice calm day with good visibility so that you can enjoy the views and the environment that you’re hiking through.”

 

But, as Stefan assures, the pros well outweigh the potential dangers and physical exertion involved with trekking uncharted terrain.

“It’s hard work … but the reward is big because you will ride the best snow in Hokkaido at that moment.”

“It’s all about the quality and not the quantity.”

backcountry safety equipment including shovel, probe, and tranceiver.
Rhythm Rides backcountry and touring guests will receive safety gear. Safety gear is also available to purchase in-store.

To reduce the risk of danger, every attendee carries avalanche (AVI) packs featuring tools such as shovels, beacons, and a probe, to ensure they are equipped with the correct safety gear in case of an emergency. When asked if guests are given a rundown of the gear before heading out on a guided tour, Stef laughed and commented,

“Of course! We don’t just give customers touring gear and expect them to know how to use it. We want to educate them about why we are wearing this gear, what it’s for, and how to use it. When safety comes first and people feel safe, they will have fun. If they don’t feel safe, it’s not going to be a good day.”

the japow experience

If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘avalanches, hiking, snowstorms…why would anyone do this?’ We get it, backcountry guiding isn’t the right fit for everyone. But for thrill-seekers looking to elevate their riding to all-new heights (literally), spring backcountry touring in Niseko opens up a ton of different experiences that you can’t receive anywhere else in the world. As said best by Stefan,

“I think it’s the ultimate freedom. You can literally decide where you want to go on the mountain, and nobody’s going to tell you not to go there. Obviously, you need to make the right decisions, but if you’re capable of doing that or have a guide that is doing that for you, the sky’s the limit.”

 


Sold on spring touring? Of course you are. Bluebird days, clear visibility, less chance of adverse weather conditions–what’s not to love? Contact us now to find out more about how you can enjoy exploring Niseko’s backcountry terrain this spring.

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