The number one way to stuff up your ski/snowboard trip is to get injured. While I have plenty of expertise in this field, this blog post is actually about the number two stuff up your trip: gear problems.
If, like us, you come from Australia, getting the right gear can be a minefield. Firstly, ski/snowboard gear in Australia is really expensive. Secondly, it can be hard to find good quality stuff, especially if you're planning to head into the backcountry. And finally, good advice really is hard to come by. There are a few ski shops around that know their stuff, but there are a lot of people with a lot of stories about bad advice, poor bootfitting, and shonky tech-work. It's no surprise that so many people try to get their gear overseas.
If you're looking for gear in Hokkaido, you're either going to want to rent, buy or repair stuff:
In general, renting gear in Hokkaido is bad news. An unbelievable number of rental shops haven't got the memo that skiing powder is fun, and the overwhelming majority of the rental gear available is skinny on-piste gear. Unless you were once a hotdogger these are not the path to a good time. Even the "performance" gear in most places is pretty hard to ride in powder and also quite expensive.
Despite its many failings, Niseko is an important exception to this. There are a bunch of ski and board shops, they all handle English-speaking customers (many are run by westerners) and they have a range of floaty, bendy boards/planks that make riding pow easy and awesome. If you need rentals it can be well worth detouring past Niseko to grab gear. We can usually drop it back when you're done if you're travelling with us, which gets you a bit more riding time. Touring gear is available in Niseko but the options are more limited and more expensive.
There's also a good rental shop for backcountry gear in Furano (they have fat skis with AT or telemark bindings and snowshoes, I'm not sure if they have splitboards) and there's a rumour going around that one of the big Niseko shops will be setting up out there soon. Shirakabasou at Asahidake has a handful of skis in their basement you can use, but you probably shouldn't rely on them.
In general, prices are pretty standard for decent quality gear.
Don't expect to get good rentals near Teine (including Sapporo), Kokusai, Kiroro, Tomamu, Rusutsu, Kamui, or Kurodake.
Given the hassle, I often suggest people rent gear from home and bring it with them. At least you know what's available and you won't waste ski time trying to get the right stuff.
If you're getting away from Niseko, chances are you're pretty serious about riding pow and want your own gear. Japan is cheaper than Australia and New Zealand, but not as cheap as the US, Canada, or Europe. There's a really good range of gear available but you have to know where to look, and there are a few quirks to keep in mind.
Niseko has a decent range (although not as good as you might expect given the strength of their rental market - I guess rentals are their main business) but you'll pay more there than you would elsewhere.
Sapporo has a bunch of ski shops. The best one is confusingly called "Paddle Club" and it's on Nango-dori to the south-east of the city (you can get there on the subway pretty easily). It has the best range of skis I've ever seen. Off the top of my head, they've got Armada, Rossi, K2, Black Crows, 4FRNT, Movement, Moment, Black Diamond, Line, Head and probably a few others. They stock fat skis, carve skis, park skis, race skis - you name it. They've got a huge range of AT and telemark boots and bindings, plus G3 and Coltex skins, all the relevant backcountry gear, and plenty of clothing, backpacks, helmets etc. The staff speak a bit of English, their workshop is quick and everything I've seen from them has been good quality work. Paddle Club is awesome - one of those places you're happy to spend money because you know it's going to actual skiers and outdoors people who get outside and do stuff.
To be honest, I'm not actually sure about board shops in Sapporo. There are guaranteed to be good ones around - it's a big city and there are a lot of locals boarding at Teine and Kokusai.
There's also lots of outerwear available from the big brands who have outlet stores in the Sapporo Factory shopping mall to the east of the JR station. If you like looking at shiny things in nice displays this is a good place to go. If you're broke and don't like to be reminded of that too frequently, just go to Teine and get rad.
If you're in central Hokkaido, your best options are in Asahikawa: Shugakuso has an awesome range of backcountry gear including skis and a few boards. Spray (on the other side of town) is an awesome snowboard shop. Spray doesn't have such a strong backcountry focus but has enough backcountry stuff to get buy if you don't want to trek across town. Also, the owner of Spray has a great Instagram account. It has all the usual trendy clothes associated with snowboarding shops, but also plenty of good gear and the staff all ride pretty hard.
Shugakuso is a rare gem. It has everything you need to have a good time in the hills. You could walk in here in your underwear and walk out kitted up to ski tour, mountaineer, rock climb, hike or do all kinds of other fun stuff. Their ski range is fairly slanted towards lightweight backcountry stuff. They also stock some local brands like Field Earth including a couple of snowboards.
The staff at these shops don't speak a whole lot of English, but I tend to find that if you know what you're doing, and they know what they're doing, there's not that much to say.
If, like me, your life is ongoing festival of breaking things, you'll probably need a workshop in Japan sooner or later.
Workshop stuff can be tricky. It can help substantially to be able to communicate clearly with the ski/board tech. If that's what you need, go to Niseko. There are some good Australian and Kiwi techs working there. I've had good work done at Rhythm Snowsports. It wasn't cheap, but when it's the difference between using your skis for a few more seasons or having them fall apart it's worth spending a few extra dollars.
While Paddle Club have done good work too, and are quick and super efficient, they sometimes won't work on gear you didn't buy from them. Otherwise they're great and highly recommended.
If you're in central Hokkaido you need to go to Shugakuso. Their techs are really good, and they understand the most fundamental aspect of ski repairs: That you want to go skiing again ASAP for as little money as possible. The last time I took my boots in there they were so thrashed that any other ski shop I've been in would have tried to sell me a new pair. The tech at Shugakuso figured out a solution, drilled out an old bolt that had seized, fitted a slightly-too-small part that did the job and got me through the rest of the season for about $15. It's the kind of small-town ski shop service that you'd get in Rossland or Bozeman and it's definitely worth your support. I would absolutely trust these guys with any work I needed done.
And finally, if you're travelling with us, we can fix a surprising number of things without needing to head back to town. It's amazing you can do with a sharp knife and a bit of epoxy resin.