So you’re doing the research and trying to rally the troops for a winter trip. Maybe you’re looking for a 3 day “All you can slay” powder buffet in Hokkaido. Or a 10 day balanced diet of pow, ramen and onsens. Or maybe you want to put first tracks into some chutes in the Craigieburn Range, or link up some alpine passes in Aoraki-Mt Cook National Park.
Whatever you’re planning, here are some tips from us to get the most out of your trip.
Keep your group small
This is a ski trip, not a disco. Keep your crew small and nimble. Between three and five people is the sweet spot. I cannot stress this enough.
Think about it. Big groups in the backcountry are dangerous and slow. But even when you’re not on snow, you’re going to be doing some combination of packing and unpacking bags, moving from hotel to hotel (or hut to hut), picking a restaurant each night, gearing up to ski, or gearing down to get in an onsen.
You want to keep those things simple and quick. And that’s doable for up to around four people. Five slows things down a little. Every person after that will dial up your faff time and increase the difficulty of each decision you make. Try to get eight people to agree on where to eat dinner. Someone’s going to be allergic to something. Someone’s going to be sick of ramen. Someone’s going to feel like Italian (someone ALWAYS feels like Italian).
Also, the places we go aren’t set up for big groups. My favourite ramen place in Asahikawa literally cannot seat 10 people. My favourite sushi place will struggle if you turn up with more than six.
Keep your crew small and save more room in the van for snacks.
Travel with people who want what you want
If you’re a diehard backcountry fanatic, don’t travel with someone who hates walking uphill. If you’ve assembled a crew of ultra fit lift lap charges and your buddy asks if their buddy can come, maybe check that they’re going to keep up before you welcome them aboard. Similarly, if you’re keen to grab a beer or two and enjoy a long lunch, bring friends who want to do the same. Everyone will be happier.
Travel Japanese style
I understand that some people are used to a western bed and won’t get a good night’s sleep any other way, but for those who can manage I strongly recommend staying in Japanese style accommodation. Our favourite places to stay are the two star options. Simple, comfortable rooms with futons and tatami mats on the floor, run by families whose warmth and generosity continues to astound us. You’ll probably have to share a bathroom. You’ll probably have to wear some dorky slippers. But the food will be amazing, the hospitality warm and the experience unforgettable. When it comes to Japanese accommodation, less really is more.
If you’re on a trip where we’re moving around and chasing good conditions, pack light. It will make it easier to pack up if we decide to move, and there will be more room in the van. Not to mention the hassle of hauling your gear through airports. Bring one set of skis or one (split)board, your gear to ride in, a change of clothes or two and your camera.
Talk to us early
If you’re putting a plan together, run it by us ASAP. It’s no good finding out the best area to do what you want is around Sounkyo after you’ve already locked in accommodation in Furano. It’s no good chomping at the bit to ride at Kurodake if you’ve already booked your flights in mid January and the whole place is closed.
We’re only a small company. We’ve probably only got one or two guides working at any given time. I’m not going to pretend we’re booked solid (and I don’t want to be booked solid - we’re serious about getting out and exploring new areas on our days off) but with so few guides it doesn’t take much before we have to turn people away. If you want guiding and your dates are limited you need to book early. Think two to three months ahead. You could certainly get lucky with a late booking and it’s worth a try, but in general earlier is better.