OFF-PISTE ON YOUR GUARD
Niseko has led the way in opening up possibilities beyond the ropes and many places in Hokkaido and elsewhere have followed to a greater or lesser extent. You should always listen to local advice on the conditions though and carry suitable gear to help yourself and others should anything go wrong. If gates are opened to allow side-and backcountry, use them. If they are not open, it will be for good reason so heed the fact. If you are not experienced in the backcountry, hire a guide and learn what to look for in the snow and weather. A beautiful bluebird day can be more deadly than a howling blizzard as the sun warms the layers of snow and the jeopardy can be compounded by complacency in the fine conditions. Recent seasons have seen several deaths in Niseko, most often when people disregarded the ski patrol’s advice about where and when it was safe to proceed. They are professionals and are there to help, not to spoil your fun: pay them the respect of listening and doing as they say.
BLUE SKI THINKING Even Hokkaido’s family-oriented resorts, such as Kiroro shown here, offer access to more challenging backcountry areas.