Why not ski with Japanese ski guides for some real local knowledge. Now that’s an idea! After all, why should only western guides and tour leaders who jumped on the Japowder bandwagon show you round?
Sure, some western guides and tour companies do a great job. Many do a good job. And yes, sad but true, there are some duds out there.
So what about Japanese ski guides? Why don’t we hear more about, and from, them?
Of course there are actually plenty of Japanese ski guides. For example, on a day ski basis, anyone who has skied with Hanazono Powder Guides excellent operation in Niseko will likely have skied with some of their great guides, like Joe Sugano or Shintaro Kawaouchi. The HPG daily programs, including First Tracks at Hanzono, are very popular, and the best way to guarantee in Niskeo you will get exactly that.
But for multi day trips and safari style tours western guides/tour leaders taking western clients is standard. If you are lucky those guides and tour leaders speak reasonable Japanese, and have good knowledge of the areas they are taking you to.
It takes years to gain true local knowledge and experience anywhere, so unless those western guides/tour leaders have been there for a long time their actual local knowledge is likely not the great.
Fortunately there’s a new generation of Japanese ski guides now who have seen the western invasion and decided it’s more than time there was a truly Japanese alternative. With good English language skills, and exposure to and knowledge of international ski markets and skiers, these guys are very switched on to what the market wants.
A couple of the best are Riki Nakajima, aka Riki Japow Guide Inc., a leading Japanese freeskier and Canadian Sports Business Academy graduate, and Aki Kitamura, aka Nagano Outdoor Sports, who as Sales/Marketing Manager at Madarao was the driving force behind them opening up their awesome Tree Courses.
Snow Action did a trip round the Aizu Region with Riki Nakajima in January, and we had as good a few days as we have ever had in Japan. The man can ski, and he knows the areas he can show you backwards. We hit Alts Bandai, Nekoma, and Gran Deco with him for some clean powder lines we just wouldn’t have found without him.
Along the way, there were surprise lunch stops at amazing local restaurants, stays at both ski in / ski out hotels (at Alts and Gran Deco) and in historic ryokans, surprise geisha performances, delicous dinners, and the odd beer and sake.
The unifying factor, apart from his upbeat fun and very funny personality, was the level of local inter-action. Wired-in is understatement.
On the mountain getting first lines all over Gran Deco in knee to thigh deep snow off the lifts, then hiking 400m vertical to the peak of Mt Nishi-Daiten, was the highlight. We bombed waist deep in the back bowl before returning via the snow ghost glades to the lift served slopes.
The final night at a historic traditional ryokan in Higashiyama Onsen village was the off-snow highlight.
Japanese ski guides don’t get much better than this, and guided ski Japan trips don’t either. For 2017-18 Riki has put together some amazing trips to less known areas. A guided week in the Aizu region costs from Y300,000. They also do a range of intro to experienced back and side country day programs.
Definitely not just another westerners do Japan tour, check more at https://rikijg.com/en/
Aki Kitamura and the crew at Nagano Outdoor Sports can access a range of 40 ski areas in easy day trip distance of their Madarao base. Aki is the main man behind the famour Tree Courses at Madarao, and now the neighbours at Tangram too. He has worked a season on exchange in Mt Buller (Australia for non-Aussie readers) and he is almost as famous for his sense of fun as his ski ability. Definitely you will have the best time with this Japanese ski guide and since he grew up skiing here no on knows it better.