When you think of the deepest, fluffiest, most epic powder days, where in the world comes to mind? Japan? Same goes for our resident snowboarding Queen and marketing guru Nirvana Ortanez, who’s heading to Japan for a snowboarding trip in just a few weeks! If you’re a serious skier or snowboarder, we bet you’ve considered taking a trip to the land of perfect powder. And if you haven’t thought about it yet, well, you’re in luck. Along with Nirvana, we’ve compiled a list of 10 important things to know before you board the plane. Read up and then get packing.
1. Expect Tons of Snow
This one may seem obvious, but in North America, even our best winters don’t match up to what you’ll see in Japan. For your safety and the safety of others, many resorts require avy tech even right outside resort bounds. Arrive equipped with a backcountry setup, including an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe.
2. Bring Plenty of Cash
Unlike the US, Japan is mostly cash-based. While you will likely be able to withdraw cash from various ATMs around the country, save yourself some money along the way and order Yen from your local bank at least 5 days before takeoff. Once in Japan, your best bet for finding ATMs are post offices or 7-Eleven convenience stores.
Note: if you’re staying at or immediately next to a resort, cash will truly be king, and most places won’t even consider running your card.
3. Prepare Your Body Accordingly
Sure, you’re used to skiing and snowboarding to your heart’s content every winter… what’s going to be any different about that in Japan? Well, your immune system, for one. Introducing your body to an entirely new climate (plus freezing temps!) can take a toll. So be sure to hit the vitamin C and zinc hard in the weeks leading up to your departure.
4. Skiers! Bring Powder Baskets
Japan is deep. You know this … it’s why you’re going. But seriously, if you’ve never skied in chest deep powder before, you’re in for a treat. Don’t lose those poles you love so much, or miss out on some seriously deep stuff just because you decided not to bring an extra pair of snow baskets especially equipped for powder.
Note: most Japanese skiers and snowboarders prefer groomers so that sidecountry powder is often left untouched. Arrive prepared.
5. Pack Your Boots, Leave the Rest
In our experience, packing your skis or snowboard and hauling them all the way to Japan is more trouble than it’s worth. We suggest you bring your own boots and apparel, and rent everything else. Also consider bringing your favorite pair of goggles with a few lens options. Visibility on snowy days can be really rough in Japan, especially if you’re out of bounds. If you insist on bring all your own gear, make sure you have a great bag that can handle a lot of wear and tear.
6. Groomers For Days
Not all of us are powderhounds! And that’s quite all right. Japan’s resorts also have amazing groomed runs. But if what you’re looking for is tree skiing, check with the resort(s), as many don’t actually allow it.
As a general rule of thumb, check to see what type of skiing is available within about a 15-mile radius of wherever you stay… if the skiing/snowboarding everyone likes is attainable. If not, you may want to consider staying elsewhere.
7. What the Heck is An Onsen?
An onsen, or hot-spring fed pool, is the way skiers and snowboarding wind down at the end of a long day on the slopes in Japan. There’s a good bit of etiquette associated with enjoying an onsen, though. You’ll need to wash your entire body thoroughly before entering, and leave your bathing suit back in the States. These pools are separated by gender and require nudity… it’s tradition, and meant to enhance the health benefits associated with the mineral-rich water of the onsen. If you have tattoos, consider covering them up with waterproof bandages, as some onsens prohibit those with tattoos from bathing.
8. Where To Go
Hokkaido, the northernmost island, is known for a few things, but most notably, it boasts what we believe to be the best skiing in Japan. Here’s where we suggest strapping in while you’re over there.
The Furano Resort is our pick for all-around best skiing. It’s got groomers, powder pockets, and expansive runs that will test your stamina. Not too busy, not too isolated. This one’s just right.
Rusutu is where you’ll find more than 42 km of scenic trails, untouched powder, and a serious lack of lift lines… Though it’s been deemed the largest ski resort in Japan, this area remains particularly undiscovered by the international visitor… so you’ll probably want to get over there ASAP.
Niseko United is extremely well-known, and for good reason. The country’s most famous resort, its terrain is truly unmatched. The only downside is that you’ll see more people here than anywhere else. But it has everything, from glades to moguls to powder you won’t believe.
9. Hire a Guide
Plenty of people will disagree with this one, but we’ve got our reasons. If you’ve gone all the way across the world to ski and board the best lines of your life, why not make sure they are, in fact, the best lines of your life? Hiring a guide means you’ll get the best of the best, and you won’t waste any time trying to figure out where to go.
10. Go in January or February
The best snow conditions Japan sees every year happen in January and February. In December, the resorts are still getting their first snowfalls. But by the following months, they’ve usually been bestowed by the snow Gods with at least a few feet as a base, and then whatever fluffy perfection is arriving every day thereafter.
As if you weren’t already itching to buy that ticket and schedule your Out of Office … now’s as a good a time as any. With such a range of terrain, unbelievable amount of snow, rich culture, there’s truly nothing Japan doesn’t offer the serious snow junky. Keep these tips in your back pocket as you plan your trip across the globe … then tell us all about your adventures. We’ll be jealous.