Japan is a powder frontier. Everyone dreams of experiencing japan’s legendary ultralight dry snow. Light, fluffy flakes billow around you as you bound down pristine fields. It’s a backcountry skiers’ paradise, and Hakuba is ground zero for some of the best backcountry tours in the world.
On a Hakuba Backcountry Tour, you will experience the very best powder skiing in the Japan Alps. Seasoned backcountry guides will take you to some of Hakuba’s most beautiful and remote locations. Your pictures will have your friends frothing at the mouth to join you on your next ski trip. However, before putting on your powder skis and book, you should know a few things.
Things To Know Before Booking a Hakuba Backcountry Tour
- Fitness Level
- Ability Level
- When to Book
- Pick The Right Group
- Renting Gear
- Avalanche Safety
- Ski Insurance
1) Fitness Level
While the Hakuba Valley offers some fantastic in-resort powder skiing and easily lift-accessible backcountry, the really good stuff will require you to hike. You should be in reasonable shape if you want to take advantage of what’s out there. On a private tour, the guide will work with you to find the best routes that match your skiing and fitness levels, but the fitter you are, the more amazing turns your going to get in. You have to earn your turns on a backcountry ski tour. We recommend taking some time before your trip to get into shape for skiing with a pre-season workout program.
2) Skiing Ability
You should be a strong intermediate skier and feel comfortable skiing powder snow if you plan on taking a backcountry tour. Be sure to communicate your ability level and experience with your guide when you book your trip. Give the tour operator an idea of your experience level so they can plan what terrain to take you to. Be honest with the guide; this will give you a better experience. Book a lesson if you aren’t sure you are ready for a backcountry tour. The instructor can give you some feedback and help ensure you are ready.
In the backcountry, your skiing will be put to the test. It’s not just about going downhill; you will also have to be able to navigate challenging situations to get in and out of the backcountry.
If you are uncomfortable or nervous, you can put yourself at risk and get injured. If you get hurt, it is much harder to get you out to safety. Take the time to perform an honest assessment of your ability level.
3) When To Book
If you’re spending the time and effort to book a backcountry tour in Hakuba, you want to get the most out of the experience. While there are better times of the season than others, the good news is that Hakuba has lots of options. Your guide will do their best to get fresh powder daily in the mountains. However, for the best conditions, book your trip between January and the end of March. January and February have the best powder snow. March has more spring-like conditions, but you are much more likely to have bluebird powder days.
4) Pick The Right Group
The right group is essential to a fun backcountry tour. When you choose your group of friends, ensure everyone has a similar skiing and fitness level. If there is a significant disparity in the group, it can make it difficult to enjoy your time. Someone may feel left behind or slow down the group. You want to find people who can hike and ski at similar levels.
Pro-Tip: Work out and ski with your group before your backcountry tour. Your friends will help to keep you accountable and focused.
5) Renting Gear
When taking a backcountry tour, one of the great things is that the guide is accountable for your safety. The guide picks your route, pays attention to the weather, and knows the local area. But depending entirely on your guide is also a heuristic trap. You assume the guide is right because they are the guide. Every member must take responsibility for the group’s safety in the backcountry.
Before taking a backcountry tour, consider taking an avalanche safety certification course and doing online research about avalanche safety.
Before heading out, check the following:
- The Avalanche Report (nadare.jp)
- The weather forecast
- Weather reports (past week)
6) Avalanche Safety
When taking a backcountry tour, one of the great things is that the guide is accountable for your safety. The guide picks your route, pays attention to the weather and knows the local area. But completely depending on your guide is also a heuristic trap. You assume the guide is right, because they are the guide. When in the backcountry, every member needs to take responsibility for the safety of the group.
Before taking a backcountry tour consider taking an avalanche safety certification course and some online research about avalanche safety.
Prior to heading out check:
- The Avalanche Report
- The weather forecast
- Historical weather reports
7) Ski Insurance
You may not know, but general travel insurance rarely covers skiing injuries. Skiing (even just in the resort) is often classified as an extreme sport, and an additional rider is required to protect you in the case of injury while skiing. The added difficulty is that backcountry skiing is often not covered even with the additional rider. Be sure to read the fine print of your insurance policy and check to see if backcountry skiing is included. Most policies that cover backcountry skiing require you to be under the supervision of an experienced and certified backcountry guide.
*Note: make sure to read the fine print on what is considered backcountry; some policies identify any ungroomed terrain as backcountry and therefore do not cover the activity.
The last thing you want on your trip is to pay full price for medical coverage in a foreign country.
Hakuba Backcountry Tours
Hakuba Guiding Companies
The companies offer private backcountry tours in Hakuba. Our preferred tour provider is Northern Heights Guiding.
- Northern Heights Guiding
- Good Guides
What To Pack For Guided Backcountry Tours
- Clothing (We recommend layering)
- Ball Cap (It can be hot on the way up)
- Avalanche Gear (Beacon, Shovel, Probe)
- Ski/Snowboard Gear (Don’t forget your skins)
- First Aid Kit
- Cell Phone
- Ski Backpack
- Food and Water
- Sunscreen and lip balm
Is ski touring the same as backcountry skiing?
Backcountry skiing and touring are often the same things. Skiing outside of a resort is considered backcountry, and touring is skiing that requires you to skin/hike up to ski.
How do I plan a backcountry ski trip?
The best way to plan a backcountry ski trip is with the help of a guide. A guide will help you choose the correct route and have the knowledge and experience to keep you safe in the backcountry.
Do I need insurance to go backcountry skiing?
Yes, you need insurance to go backcountry skiing. Check with your insurance provider to see if they cover backcountry skiing and the requirements.
How hard is backcountry skiing?
Backcountry skiing can be as easy or as challenging as you wish to make it. There are many different routes to choose from, and you can always hike/skin up further to make the descent more challenging. I like to tell people that you need to love going up as much as you love going down.
Where is the best backcountry skiing?
This is a matter of opinion, but there are many great places to ski backcountry worldwide. Some of our favorite ski places in Japan are Hakuba, Niseko, and Myoko.
A trip to the vast Hakuba backcountry is a great way to explore the Japanese Alps. With beautiful views and plenty of fresh powder, the area is a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders worldwide. Backcountry skiing is a great way to get off the beaten path and explore the mountains at your own pace. When done with a guide, it can be a safe and enjoyable experience.
Hakuba Ski Concierge is a ski school in Hakuba, Japan, offering high-end personalized lessons to small groups and private individuals. We provide great lessons with instructors who go beyond to ensure you have the best experience possible.