Getting Into the Niseko Backcountry
Often when we think of the backcountry we conjure up images of 2 day long hikes, snow-caves, helicopters, snowmobiles and granola bars and there is a tendency for people with little or no experience of the backcountry to file it away in the too hard basket along with 720s and marathons. Of course there is an element of inaccessibility for the novice and maybe without these preconceived images the backcountry might lose some of its mystique. How ever to experience the backcountry we really need nothing but a love of the outdoors, a bit of fitness and some common sense.
The backcountry is not some far away place inhabited by bearded mountain men and women but a place that is usually right at the backdoor of your local resort often at the top of the top lift as is the case at Hanozono resort in Niseko Hokkaido. This is a perfect example of easily accessed backcountry, it is just a short hike to the peak, which gives you a superb panoramic view, and more importantly access to acres of fresh powder.
It is hikes like this one to the peak of Hanozono that are the perfect stepping stone to greater backcountry adventures. Here you can become familiar with surroundings that are just a little more isolated than the average off piste run on the resort and are nowhere near as tracked! The run down from the peak (straight down back toward the resort) is arguably one of the best lines in the area and comparable to a heli run. A short hike up and a short hike out and you've had all the powder you can eat and hopefully ignited the backcountry flame that will guide you to many more lines the same.
Runs like this can be found at almost every ski resort across the world, from Treble Cone where the run from the summit to the bottom of the Mototapu Chutes is no less than epic, to Squaw Valley in California where the hike to the top of the Palisades is short but steep and "totally sick brah" as the locals will tell you. These short accessible hikes are perfect entry-level backcountry experiences and only require the most basic of backcountry gear.
A peeps, a probe a shovel and a friend or 2 to share the experience are all you need. You also need to know your ability, fitness and your skiing and riding limits. Communication is the key, talk to locals or even better ski patrol about what your planned destination demands and decide from there whether your up for it.
Another way to experience the backcountry is to take a guided tour, here your gear and all the necessary knowledge will be provided. A guided tour is an excellent way to introduce yourself to the backcountry and will provide you with some basic knowledge that is needed for future unguided adventures.
Backcountry awareness courses are also excellent stepping-stones.
The backcountry, be it in Niseko or elsewhere in the world is a pristine playground and an experience second to none. You can experience it either by helicopter or other means or simply point yourself in the right direct and put one foot in front of the other. Enjoy the squeaky crunch of the snow beneath your feet and the sights and sounds of the alpine wilderness around you, stop at the top eat lunch, strap in and taste the fruits of your labor.
Senior Writer, New Zealand Snowboard Magazine
Contributing Writer, Australia/New Zealand Snowboard Magazine
Contributing Writer, Manual Magazine