Niseko is located on Japan’s northernmost island and geographically is in a prime setting to receive some of the world’s softest, lightest and driest snow, falling at an unrivalled rate. If you’ve ever experienced waist deep turns in champagne powder, then you’ll know there are few experiences that compare. For those who haven’t, imagine feeling a weightless effect of floating through a fluffy pillow of clouds. It’s an addictive hobby and like any addiction, we are always desperately seeking the next fix.
For those on the chase for the next perfect run in perfect powder, a trip to Niseko is a must. While Japan sees some of the best snow in the world, due to avalanche risks many resorts enforce a strict out-of-bounds policy. This lack of accessible terrain has caused much frustration in the past, with many people ignoring warnings and resort boundaries, only to be met with extremely dangerous situations.The Niseko United Ski Resort have puts steps in place to increase accessible terrain for its guests whilst not jeopardising their safety. Niseko’s recently developed ‘sidecountry’ or ‘gates’ give access to an expansive area that can be better managed and cautiously opened depending on the day-to-day risks.
What is sidecountry?
Sidecountry or ‘slackcountry’ is a median between resort-based and backcountry terrain. The sidecountry in Niseko is not technically within the resort boundaries, but can be easily accessed off the main piste. While you should always understand the risks of entering these areas, the sidecountry does provide a good stepping-stone for making the transition from resort skiing or snowboarding to backcountry touring. The sidecountry provides un-groomed areas, enabling long runs and wide powdery turns whilst minimising the amount of hiking or effort required.
What do you need to know before you go out the gates?
Sidecountry must be accessed through the gates, and ducking of ropes is considered a serious breach of ‘The Niseko Rules’. Niseko’s gate operations are assessed on a daily basis and when considered unsafe will remain closed to guests. If you decide to duck a rope, you will not only risk confiscation of your lift pass but also could be putting yourself or others in danger. When the gates are open, you’re typically not required to carry backcountry gear, although it is always recommended for safety, as well as peace of mind. As there is no patrol sweep through the gates, always ride with a friend and well within your capabilities.
What sidecountry options are available in Niseko?
While there are many dangers to consider when entering the sidecountry, there is equally a lot of fun to be had in these areas. Niseko’s gates open to some of the longest, widest, most powderfilled runs in the world. When the gates have been closed for a couple of days or we have had recent snowfall, the sidecountry can can have you up to your waist in the softest of snow. There are 11 gates across the 4 resorts which provide an entry point to this expansive terrain. While you should take your time to explore each of the gates, some local advice can save you much valued time.
Gate 1 and 2 are accessible from the Annupuri resort at the top of Jumbo #4 lift. These 2 gates give access to the back bowls and the Annupuri Summit. With open fields of powder leading to a natural half pipe, this is often a popular choice for snowboarders first thing in the morning.
Gate 3 enables you to summit the Niseko Annupuri Mountain range and allows access to some of the longest Niseko runs. Not only are the views sensational from the peak, but this area often sees a greater snow depth and an expansive selection of powdery terrain.
Gate 5 is a popular choice for those who do not wish to hike but want to enjoy the powder on offer at the peak of the resort. Best accessed from the top of Hanazono #3, you have the option to drop straight in, traverse across, or stick close to the trees, with each option granting you some unforgettable turns. Gate 5 directs you to the bottom of Hanazono #3 making this run very easy to lap.
Gate 7 is accessible from the Annupuri Resort. This area enjoys a gentle gradient and is a good choice for intermediate riders, families or groups wanting to get their first taste of the sidecountry. Featuring a natural half pipe this is frequented more by snowboarders.
Gate 9 or ‘Waterfall’ is accessible from Hanazono and provides a powdery conduit back to the Grand Hirafu resort. Due it’s proximity to accessible lifts, this area is often the last spot to get tracked out of a morning. With a wide open face there are countless spots to drop in, just make sure you cross before the waterfall to avoid any troubles.
Niseko plays host to a wonderful variety of terrain and with improved management of the area, we are very lucky to be able to safely enjoy some of the best runs in the world. Remember to respect the local rules, and adhere to the signage and instructions given by the resort.
To book your next holiday to Niseko, talk to the team at Japan Ski Experience today!