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Old 11-30-2010, 01:09 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Beginner in Japan Back Country

Hello everyone, so here is my problem/question. I've only been snowboarding since 2010 season starting in the spring, and I've been a few times the start of this winter with the little bit of snow that's fallen in Southern California.


December 26th I'm going to be heading to Japan. I'll be in Tokyo for about 10 days. While I'm there I was thinking about going to Hokkaido / Niseko because I hear if you go there you are pretty much set on getting some awesome powder. I wanted to do one of the guided tours where you hike into the back country with snow shoes. I just wanted to know like how much experience did most of you have before exploring the back country?

I'm pretty determined to do this, because I might not be back in Japan for a long time.

Right now skill level wise I can link turns down intermediate runs and I can get down black diamond runs but not linking turns down black diamonds yet.
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Old 11-30-2010, 03:15 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Talk to some of the companies that do the guided tours. They'll be your best source of info. I can tell you this - snowshoes fucking SUCK! But, if you're going through a guide company, they may have some compacted trails ready to go and in that case, you'd be fine. But snowshoeing it through unpacked powder... yeah, that blows majorly.

Talk to them and see if your skill level is ready for anything they offer. It may not be. I had a little over two years of experience (rougly 100 days on the mountain) before I ventured into the backcountry.

One thing to keep in mind that BC riding is nearly like learning to ride all over. Riding after hiking is a whole new experience. You aren't riding up the chair and getting a chance to have a breather before you strap in and go. You're riding immediately after doing some exhausting shit. The way your legs feel after a full day of hard riding at the resort... yeah, that's about the way they feel on your first drop of the day in the BC and that exhaustion just continues throughout the day. You need to be in GREAT shape. I'm in pretty good shape and BC riding KICKS MY ASS! As you get more experience and get better at snowshoeing or skinning, it becomes less exhausting as your technique improves, but just starting out, it's going to be some of the most exhausting shit you've ever done in your life.

A day of BC riding for a BC beginner is pretty much the exhaustion equivalent of climbing a really tough 14er. I'm not even joking. I climbed Long's Peak at the end of the summer and that's roughly a 14 mile round trip hike with about 5k of elevation change. It didn't kick my ass any worse than a day of BC riding.
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Old 11-30-2010, 03:38 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Like ^ said. If you're out of shape I wouldn't even try. If you do go...dont stop you will sink and you will never be found again.
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Old 11-30-2010, 04:18 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Have you ever ridden in really deep POW? If not I wouldn't venture into the BC, it will be more frustrating and exhausting than fun. I had 10 years of riding east coast ice before I went out west and though I could shred the groomers my first foray into Copper's Union Meadows with over a foot of fresh on top of who knows how many feet of un-groomed snow killed me. I literally had to lay on my board and paddle to a spot where my friend was so he could help me get up.(kinda of embarrassing looking back on it) And that was in-bounds in Colorado, not BC Japan!
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Old 11-30-2010, 05:30 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Id say first of all you should be comfortable riding in powder. Most likely in Hokkaido you will find plenty of areas to do that
in bounds or just out of bounds. It doesn’t sound you have a lot (if any) experience riding powder conditions which are quite
different then groomed slopes, especially in Japan where its very likely you could have waist deep+ conditions.

However having said that, if youre going to do an organise BC tour with a guide, they should be able cater for your abilities
and pick appropriate terrain and snow conditions to get your first taste of BC riding. When you get there go speak with the touring company
and they will point let you know what tour would best suit you. Most run introductional BC tours for people getting their first experiences
with powder condtions, and enjoying some BC terrain.

And as mentioned above, it does help if you have a good level of base fitness, as snowshoeing is hard work.
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Old 11-30-2010, 08:21 PM   #6 (permalink)
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I doubt you have the skills to tackle Japanese back country powder at this stage.

Watch these two videos and tell me honestly if you think you can actually control your board through that. I know in January this year in Japan I didn't. I was spending a lot of energy and 10 minutes each time I fell, trying to get myself out of stuff that was half that deep.

I just spent another 35 days on the snow this southern winter here in Oz and now about to do 2 weeks in Austria before I head back to Japan to actually try Cortina in Hakuba.

If you don't have the skills to control your board in and out of the small powder stashes you find on the sides of groomed runs, then you will be wasting a lot of money, time and energy and will get very frustrated. There will be more than enough powder on the groomed runs and between them in Japan without having to go Back Country. Japan is insane and for some reason the runs are empty

YouTube - Tree Skiing in Cortina Hakuba, Feb 2010
YouTube - Skiing Hakuba Cortina 2010.m4v

Good luck
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Old 11-30-2010, 09:56 PM   #7 (permalink)
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If you are having a hard time linking turns on a groomed black diamond, deep powder is going to kick your ass. Riding powder is completely different from hardpack, you have to let go of the edge-to-edge deal and basically learn to surf. It's going to frustrate the hell out of you until you get it, because you will be trying to make hard consistent turns and end up falling over and over again and get stuck, have to dig yourself out, and then have a meltdown. I think you will find plenty of chair-access powder in Japan, I would see how you do on that before considering doing backcountry.
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Old 12-01-2010, 01:01 PM   #8 (permalink)
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I have to go with these guys. I don't think you are ready yet. Sorry. It sounds like at best it's going to be an exhausting, frustrating, and slow experience for you at best. Awesome stuff to do, but at this stage, you're going to spend more time with your dick in the snow than you are going to be riding on it.
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Old 12-01-2010, 04:42 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Thanks everyone for all the reply's! It's all really helpful info/input. I consider myself pretty physically fit, 5'9" 160lbs and I outlast my friends on the slopes riding from opening until they close the lift lines. And I keep going when they stop to rest and have lunch. But now I'm thinking I don't have the experience to handle deep POW. And after watching those videos I don't know if I could have enough board control to make it through trees that are so tight packed. Especially if it got much steeper. I'm going to try and shred a lot at my local mountains before I go to Japan (December 26th) but it's still probably not enough time to be ready.

The only experience with powder I've had (If you can call it powder) was when I went to Mammoth Mountain and I cut through un-groomed sections between some tree's. I fell once in the stuff and it was probably like knee high. That's what got me wanting to try and search for powder though, I liked the feeling of floating, compared to feeling like your on concrete when you ride on the hard pack groomed stuff. I ride a 162 lib tech now also, so I'm used to a bigger board which is good for powder right?

Well I think I'll take everyones advice and just ride the regular trails at Niseko and try cutting through some un-groomed sections and see how I do.

Also, I found this website and they offer "off-piste" guides at Niseko. I guess they just use the lifts at the resort and help guide you through un-groomed areas or whatever. Does anyone think this would be a good idea? Heres the link

Off-piste Tours - Hokkaido Powder Guides - Backcountry Ski Tours Japan

Thanks again everyone for all the reply's!!!
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Old 12-01-2010, 04:45 PM   #10 (permalink)
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I think your initial plan of dipping into the trees and seeing how it goes is probably the best way for you to go. If you rip it up and have no problems, then maybe you'll want to hire out a guide. Recognizing what lies beyond the trees (another trail, the lift line, or is it the resort boundary?) is key. As long as you know where you are at in relation to the resort and it's boundaries, you should be fine. That way if you have to wallow in knee to waist deep snow for an hour to get out, you're only wasting your time and effort.
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