You may not know this about us about us at Skiis & Biikes, we have just weathered 5 tough years in business. With the changing retail and e-commerce landscape, some abnormally warm winters, and the aftershocks of the recession, we have had some hard years. The rising prices in Whistler forced us out of British Columbia and we had to close our 3 beloved stores there. Our lease expired at our Don Mills location and we were forced to quickly move that location to Yonge St (which is actually a pretty great new location). Amazon, US incumbents, and online retail are changing the way we do business. Behind the scenes has been difficult but we have stayed laser focused on staff education, customer service excellence, finding operational efficiencies, and curating the best of the best ski, snowboard, and bike products for our customers.
All this is to say, we set ourselves a goal that if we weathered this storm, we would treat ourselves to a dream ski trip to Japan. It was the sweet sweet prize at the end of a grueling uphill marathon where we didn’t know if we would make it to the finish line.
But we did make it and we are better than ever and went to Japan and it was amazing.
Here is what we learned:
There are 3 main general regions for skiing in Japan: Nagano, Niseko, and Furano. We wanted to visit them all in the 8 days we had for skiing, but we narrowed it down to Niseko, which offers a mix of backcountry and resort skiing with consistently deep powder. Niseko is a short drive to powder meccas like Rusutsu, Mt Yotei, and Kiroro and we were ready to experience the chest deep pow-pow of them all.
Accommodations are varied in Japan; you can choose anything from high-end hotels in the heart of the resorts to airbnb huts in the woods. What is consistent among them all is that during the peak months of the winter, it is expensive. We were looking for a place where we could meet and mingle with other ski enthusiasts and backcountry nerds. We wanted an atmosphere of camaraderie where we could share our stories about where we found “the sickest pow” that day. We ended up staying in bunk beds at Moiwa Lodge, a hostel at the base of Moiwa Ski Resort, a little off the beaten track of the main resort centre of Niseko Village. We loved it. It was a great way to meet fellow skiers, they had a drying room for your gear, a bar for evening meetups, and breakfast that was included bright and early so you can hit the slopes as soon as possible. Our top tip is to not shy away from hostels in Japan as they are an elevated experience compared to what you may have experienced in Europe. Toilets with heated seats and privacy curtains on your bunk? Yes please.
We flew into Tokyo from Toronto and transferred to Sapporo. In Sapporo, we rented a too-small car that (thankfully) had winter tires and drove the two hours to Moiwa Lodge. At night, in a snowstorm. To be honest this was stressful, but Google Maps saved the day and we managed to find a small ramen shop along the way to keep our energy levels high. Crawling into bed, safe and warm, has never felt so good. Top tip: Make sure someone in your group can use data on their phone or get a Japanese SIM card. Google Maps played an important role in our trip.
We found the lift ticket pricing at the ski resorts to be a breath of fresh air. In North America, if you don’t have an IKON pass or EPIC pass, you can end up paying up to $290 for a daily lift ticket. In the Niseko region, the average price for a lift ticket was about $40, which helped to offset the price of the flights.
We booked a ski backcountry guide for 4 of the 8 days that we skied in Japan and it was one of the best decisions we made. We found our guide, Kenji, through our hostel and he would pick us up in the mornings and consistently blow our minds by guiding us through nearly untouched backcountry areas. One highlight was skinning up Mt Yotei, an active volcano in the shape of a perfect cone. Skinning to the top took all day, but the chest deep powder skiing down the side of a volcano was well worth the effort.
Kenji went the extra mile not only by guiding us through “secret” powder stashes in places like Rusutsu and Kiroro, but also took us to his favourite food spots after a big day of exploring. We ate japanese cheesecake, ramen, udon, yakitori, and endless small dishes that were delicious and mysterious and new to us. If you need to find a restaurant on your own, use Google Maps and look for high star ratings with lots of reviews. This method never steered us wrong when we didn’t have Kenji to guide us. We recommend having a rental car for your entire stay in Japan so that you have the freedom to choose restaurants and ski areas that are off the beaten path.
Overall our ski trip to Japan was life changing. We were turning the corner in our business; we had moved on from a tough 5 years in business and emerged better, leaner, smarter, and more focused than ever. Japan gave an experience that shed away the stress or the past and revealed an inspiring part of the skiing landscape. Every single day of skiing in Japan was epic for so many reasons and we couldn’t recommend it more highly.
What to Pack for a Ski Trip to Japan?
Your packing list for your Japan trip will depend on the type of skiing you are doing and length of stay. Here are some products that we recommend:
- Perfect amount of space for avalanche safety equipment (which we rented from our hostel), snacks, extra socks and layers, skins, sunglasses, and your GoPro. Strap your skis to the sides or your snowboard to the back if you need to do any bootpacking.
Head Kore W 99 Skis
- Gill was lucky enough to be part of the small group of women internationally who received an advance pair of Head Kore W women’s skis. The Head Kore W is new for Winter 2020 and made the trip insanely awesome. We ski toured, we skied powder, we transitioned on sketchy terrain. There was fluffy pow, heavy pow, groomers, lumps and bumps, and everything in between. The Head Kore W was stable while also being playful and quick in transitions, which is especially needed in the trees. Gill felt strong, light, and nimble and would HIGHLY recommend this ski.
Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD Ski Boots
- Buy boots that are lightweight have a walk mode, pin binding capabilities, and GripWalk. We all rode the Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD ski boots and absolutely loved them.
- Reduce the amount of ski bags you need to check by putting everyone’s skis and poles in as few bags as possible. Pack clothes around the skis to keep them secure. Wheels are a must for transporting bags through the airport.
- Devin and Paul skied on the M5 Mantra and V-Werks Katana. They loved both pairs for all the same reasons. They are in a class by themselves when it comes to big mountain powder skis are they are still light enough to tour on. On a low powder day (which didn't happen much) they performed well on the frontside and chopped up snow on ski outs, but obviously they were absolute monsters in the powder and while touring. They were both bouncing off pillows all the way down to the ramen waiting for us at the chalet.
- This bad boy was lightweight, highly ventilated, and low profile. Complete with MIPS safety technology, it was the perfect helmet for our Japan trip.
- New for Winter 2020, we were lucky enough to have an advance pair to test on our trip. These goggles feature a curved lens that folds downwards. The first of its kind, they offer a greater field of vision downwards, exactly where you need it.
- Giro’s Vivid lenses really are worth the hype. No matter the weather; sunny, snowy, overcast, flat light, the Vivid lens gave us great clarity and depth of field, which is vital when skiing in the close-knit Japanese trees.
- Kari Traa, Daehlie, or Icebreaker merino wool baselayers and socks will wick away moisture from your body during strenuous uphill skinning and the wool won’t leave a chill when you’re hit the powder going down.
- Your pants, jacket, and even gloves or mitts should be completely waterproof and breakable. Choose products that have zippers for ventilation and pockets just where you need them.
If you are planning a big ski adventure. We highly recommend Japan. It was AWESOME.
Maybe we'll see you there!,
Gillian,, Devin, and Paul Montgomery
Owners, Skiis & Biikes