First tracks is the dream for many heading to Niseko, and even on the standard one week holiday it’s possible to get them every day, as we proved on a mission to do just that a couple of seasons back. But unless you have competent friends with local knowledge you will improve your chances by paying for expert help.
One of the simplest and best ways to do that, at very reasonable cost, is to book in with Joe Sugano and the crew at HPG (Hanazono Powder Guides).
Their ‘First Tracks’ program at Hanazono lets you start early, ahead of the hordes. HPG pick you up from your accommodation in the area and get you to Hanazono in time to hop on as they load the hooded chairs onto the quads an hour before general opening.
After a normal Niseko night, i.e. with fresh snow everywhere, you get first shot at famous runs like Strawberry & Blueberry Fields, with time for several laps as the 3 successive Hanazono quads start rolling in sequence.
Sugano had to convince management and get the lifties and patrol used to the idea initially, but the program is well established now and runs like clockwork – starting with the included pick ups from your accommodation.
It’s definitely worth getting out of bed early for: the whole Hanazono side of the mountain is your private playground, and you get a coffee and pastry heart starter too.
Take your pick of slashing lines – if the group is good the HPG guides make sure the pace is hot so you can really max out the experience.
As the regular punters start filing onto the lower lifts you still have the advantage to get to #4 King single chair in the alpine first as that opens, and out the legendary gate 3 to the Peak, West Face and beyond. If it doesn’t open they’ll get you to the best of what does open instead.
First Tracks is only available as a ¥2,000 add on to HPG’s group morning tour programs (¥13,000 per person for 2 – 4 guests), or included with their private half of full day tours. These run from ¥40,000 for 1 – 3 guests with one guide or ¥60,000 for 1 – 6 guests with 2 guides.
“We like to ski as much as possible, so with two guides in a small group a longer pitch is possible so it’s more fun” Joe explains.
“Otherwise I have to stop every maybe 10, 12 turns, that’s not fun. Of course skier/snowboarder skill is required, but usually they are good.” Fun is the main goal, and if you can get around in the fresh on one plank or two you’ll have plenty.
It’s understandably popular so book early at www.hanazononiseko.com/en/winter/hanazono-powder-guides/index.html