Frequently Asked Questions
When is the best time to visit Hokkaido for a ski holiday?
The ski season runs from late November until early May but as with anywhere in the world weather conditions vary from year to year. At the start of the season we need a fair amount of snow to fall in order to fully cover the underbrush (sassa grass) which stands close to 2 meters tall in the summer. Until we have received enough snow to cover the sassa, our ability to ride off-piste powder is limited and options can be restricted; but if you catch that deep early season day, you’ll likely have your pick of lines as the new seasonal staff will be just as unaware of where to find the goods as the short term visitor.
Early December can sometimes bring heavy snowfalls setting us up early but generally conditions are a bit touch and go until about Christmas time when you can usually expect a sufficient base to have developed to get off the main runs and into the terrain you’ve all heard about and seen in the movies.
By January you can expect coverage to be good and powder plentiful on all slopes. January and February offer the most consistent quality powder snowfalls with powder to be expected almost on a daily basis. Remember though that even in one of the snowiest places on the planet, nothing is guaranteed and there is always the chance that you will catch that unlucky stretch of clear skies. Not surprisingly, January and February are the busiest months for ski tourism in Hokkaido so keep that in mind as accommodation can be harder to find if you are booking late and peak season rates apply to everything. Also the Sapporo Snow Festival and Chinese New Year fall in early to mid-February and these are big draw cards for a lot of visitors to the area. If these events are not of interest to you, then it is advisable to plan your trip outside of this time.
March brings a huge change of pace as the bulk of international ski visitors disappear and we’re left with uncrowded slopes and often conditions equal to or better than earlier in the winter. If you’re interested in backcountry skiing, this is a great time of year to visit as you can count on a little more sunshine, longer daylight hours and a well developed base that facilitates easier entry and exit from the backcountry.
By April, the season is coming to a close and most people are thinking about golfing, bike riding and surfing but the resorts are still open, the parks are well maintained and the long sunny days open the door to knock off some of the bigger ski traverses not possible during the winter months when the weather is too variable and the days too short.
What ability level is required for your trips?
This is an important question as no one wants to be in over their head, holding up a group or conversely spend their day standing around waiting for others to make it down the mountain. We fully understand this and have a number of ways to organize the right people in the right groups and ensure we get the right guests on the mountain together. In general though, our trips are geared towards advanced-intermediate, advanced and expert skiers but within our trip options there is a range of skills that are required to make the most of your time out on the mountain. Through the booking process, we will work with you to find out more about your skill level and get you booked on the right trips but it begins with you making an honest assessment of your abilities. Once you arrive here and join us on your first trip our guide’s can provide feedback on whether or not subsequent trips that you have booked are suitable and we will adjust if and when necessary.
*********BDTours reserves the right to direct guests to on-piste terrain if your guide determines that your skill level is insufficient to safely navigate off piste terrain and natural hazards on any group trip. BDTours guides will NOT provide on piste guiding for the weaker skier / rider but rather focus on skiing more challenging off-piste terrain with those that are capable. Refunds will not be offered in the event of this occurrence. On private trips your guide will determine which terrain is suitable for your group`s skill level and take you to appropriate lines even if this means on-piste groomed trails.*********
For snowboarders, critical skills are the ability to hold a strong edge allowing for good high traverses without losing too much elevation (particurlarly important to make the most of the back bowls trip) and the ability to read terrain effectively – you have to be just a bit smarter than the average skier (hopefully the skiers aren’t reading this 🙂 to avoid the ptifalls of deep pow and flat spots. Also many runs will end with winding, bumpy trails through the forest that you will need to be able to navigate.
For skiers, the biggest challenge typically comes with skiing through deep snow and through trees. Most of Hokkaido’s best skiable terrain occurs below treeline so its important that you are able to consistently turn where the terrain dictates. Managing this in deep snow is of particular importance. A great tool to help improve your ability is a good set of fat skis and we highly recommend upgrading with a rental ski for your trip with us if conditions are deep and you aren’t skiing a fat ski.
In general, we expect guests to be fairly proficient in off piste terrain – you don’t necessarily have to have the best form or style but need to be capable of making your way down.
The following is a breakdown of our main trips and what you can expect with each.
Off piste and sidecountry day trips: This includes our Niseko Back Bowls, Powderhunter tours and trips to other ski resorts (including Rusutsu, Sapporo Kokusai, Kiroro and Teine Highland). The main criteria to enjoy these trips is as described above. As long as you meet the minimum levels, you will have a great day but we can also tailor these trips to the more extreme expert skiers out there so if you’re looking for drops, chutes, pillows and mushrooms we will find them.
Multi – day Trips: Again these trips are geared towards the same basic level described above but each trip has its own flavour which we attempt to describe with each trip write – up. Please read carefully to make sure you book the right trip for you. Our most free-flowing advanced trip with the fastest pace is the PowerTrip but all of our trips will get you out to great areas. Also we usually have fairly large groups on our multi day trips (maximum of 12 on most trips) and several guides. We will almost never ski as a full group as this is too many people to move efficiently and safely in the mountains but this allows us the opportunity to have several guides on the trip and split the group up so that everyone is skiing terrain suited to their skill level.
Backcountry Trips: In terms of going down, guests booking backcountry trips should be proficient as described above. In terms of going up hill guests should be fairly fit and able to hike for several hours over the course of the day. Experience on backcountry equipment is not required but please advise us at the time of booking how much backcountry experience you have so that we can plan and prepare accordingly.
Private Guided Trips: A private guide is a great way to go and trips will be tailored specifically to your group’s level. This is best suited to groups of 4 or more people. All options are open for private guided days and we will work with you to find out your goals for the day. On private trips we can add in some basic avalanche training to the day and even do some beacon searches if that is of interest. We can also focus a bit more on instruction and tips if you’d really like to improve your skills (please see below for more the limitations of this) or if you’re up to it, find some bigger lines, pillows or drops.
What time should I schedule my flights to arrive / depart?
Sapporo Chitose airport to Niseko: Buses run regularly through the day so any time will work; however the last bus departs the airport at 9:30pm meaning your flight needs to arrive before 8:30pm in order to make it onto the last bus. If you are arriving later than this there are private transfer options available or you can spend the night near the airport and transfer to Niseko the following morning. First bus in the morning departs at 9:30am meaning that you arrive in Niseko at ~12:30pm.
Niseko to Sapporo Chitose airport: The first bus of the day departs Niseko at 7:10am arriving at the airport at 10:25am so flight departure times of 11:30am or later can be reached. If your flight departs earlier than this, you will need to transfer to the airport the night before staying near the airport or use a private transfer service.
Sapporo Chitose to Sapporo city: Sapporo city is about 1 hour by train or bus from Sapporo Chitose airport so connections to an from the city can be made to meet any flight time.
Sapporo Chitose to Furano: The last bus to Furano departs at 5:20pm arriving in Furano at 8:20pm so you will need to arrange your flight to land before 4:30pm in order to make this transfer. If you are arriving later than this there are private transfer options available or you can spend the night near the airport and transfer to Niseko the following morning.
How do I get from Chitose airport to Niseko and back?
After arriving at Sapporo Chitose airport, the hard part is done and if you have booked accommodation with us, we will take care of everything you need from here on out. Unless otherwise requested or stated in your package, we will charge for airport transfers at the time of booking. After you have provided us with your flight details, we will make your transfer arrangements and provide you with all necessary directions to catch the direct charter bus to Niseko. Please disembark at the Niseko Village Hilton Hotel stop and our lodge staff will meet you there to bring you back to our lodge.
Note: We only book airport transfers for guests staying at our accommodations. If you have booked accommodation independently, please make airport transfer arrangements with your accommodation provider to ensure a smooth transfer direct to your accommodation.
My package trip finishes in Sapporo but indicates that no return airport transfer is included. How do I get to the airport?
Airport transfers from Sapporo city to the airport are readily available on public transport (either by airport bus or train) with connections available to meet all flights departing Chitose airport daily; however it is not possible to make advance bookings for these services so instead you will need to pay at the time of boarding the train or bus (cost is between 1000-1500Yen depending on the service you choose). Your guide will provide all necessary information on available transfer times, where to go etc. prior to your departure so that you are able to easily effectuate the transfer. Also note that our accommodations in Sapporo are specifically chosen to facilitate easy airport transfers.
What is the best way to travel between Sapporo Chitose airport / Tokyo? and transfer between Tokyo Haneda / Narita airports?
Sapporo Chitose airport is an international airport but has only a limited number of international connections available meaning that most people travelling to Hokkaido and Niseko will need to stop in Tokyo and catch a connecting flight to Sapporo. If you are unable to make arrangements (or fares are too expensive) for the domestic leg of your travel than you can book your domestic flight independently. Skymark Airlines and Airdo are Japan’s domestic discount carriers connecting Hokkaido to Honshu and generally offer the best rates; however it is important to note that most domestic flights depart from Tokyo Haneda airport while most international flights arrive at Tokyo Narita airport. Also note that most domestic carriers will not accept bookings more than 2 months in advance of your intended date of travel.
If you have a domestic flight departing from Haneda, you will need to change airports. This is a very easy process and the Airport Limousine bus company offers the most convenient service. When you arrive at Narita and exit the customs control area into the main concourse, you will see bright orange Airport Limousine counters at regular intervals through the airport where you can arrange to transfer between airports. Guest services staff will speak English making it easy to arrange. Buses depart every 10-15 minutes, take about 1 hour and cost 3000Yen each way.
Please note that if you plan to do this, you should leave at least 3.5 hours between your arrival time at Narita and departure from Haneda airport. If you leave this amount of time and your international flight happens to be late causing you to miss your connecting flight, both Skymark and Airdo will rebook you on the next available flight at no extra charge. They will require a printed document from your international carrier stating that your flight was late. This document can be obtained from airport carrier counters in the baggage claim area.
UPDATE!! Several new low cost carriers have recently begun domestic operations in Japan offering cheap airfares and more convenient Narita-Chitose and Osaka-Chitose connections. The new airlines are Jetstar Japan, Peach Airlines and Air Asia. Korean Airlines now also offers direct flights from Seoul to Sapporo Chitose airport. We recommend exploring possibilities with these carriers when booking flights.
We want to book a trip(s) but want to get the best conditions – is there any flexibility to adjust our plans after we arrive?
At Black Diamond our goal is to take you to the best skiing/riding on offer on any given day and flexibility is a key component of making that possible so the short answer is yes!
The most important thing for us is to have you booked in and on the schedule so that we have a guide available and are thinking about where best to take you. This also means that we will have the ability to get in touch with you prior to the trip to advise you of conditions and alternatives. After you arrive in town we recommend that you give us a call to discuss your trip, weather conditions and what’s happening around the island in terms of snowfall. We do try to accommodate as many last minute bookings as possible but advance booking is highly recommended – especially during peak season (Christmas – late February) to ensure availability.
On the scheduled trip date, if the tour that you have arranged is not looking like a great option for that day or for safety reasons we cannot run the planned tour, we will offer alternative options, postpone the trip or offer a full refund.
In order to ensure that you are headed to the best possible snow conditions we highly recommend booking our Powderhunter day trip as this is specifically designed with the ultimate in flexibility to make sure we are following on the heels of the latest snow storm.
The bottom line is we want to make sure that you have a better day with us than you could have had without our service.
Is backcountry safety equipment required?
Backcountry equipment is required for all participants on all trips. This equipment is included in the trip cost of all lift accessed trips but not for backcountry tours. On backcountry tours you will also require touring gear. If you don`t have your own, we have everything you will need. Please visit our rentals page for more information.
Should I purchase lift tickets in advance?
We highly recommend against purchasing lift tickets in advance as there are no additional cost savings and pre-purchasing lift tickets only serves to limit your flexibility. Due to localized weather patterns, conditions can often be much different at nearby resorts; if it looks like there will be more snow elsewhere, we will advise of this and recommend heading to another area rather than staying in Niseko for the day.
Further, Niseko’s lift system is highly subject to closure due to strong winds meaning that on some days only small parts of the mountain are open so you may not be able to take full advantage of your lift pass and a more limited single mountain or partial day pass may make more sense. Last up there is always the possibility that after several incredible powder days you may be tired and want to take a day off. We know that sounds crazy now but it happens!!
If you are staying at BDLodge, we sell discounted lift tickets from reception so you can purchase the most suitable ticket for you each day that you are here.
I am travelling on my own but want to join one of your trips – what are my options?
If you are interested in a package tour, our scheduled package trips are ideally suited to singles or small groups and we can book any of these trips for you regardless of your group size. Multi day trip schedule can be found here.
We are currently only taking bookings for Private Lift-assisted and Backcountry tours. If you would like to join a group, we will begin taking bookings one week (7 days) prior the requested tour date. If you are interested in being added to the wait-list please let us know, and if there are still no privates booked 7 days prior to the date, we will start contacting people to form a group trip.
What hiking equipment is provided/required for backcountry touring trips?
For backcountry touring trips, we offer snowshoes and collapsible hiking poles for snowboarders. For skiers we offer climbing skins and alpine trekker touring bindings. “Trekkers” are a binding adapter which fit into any regular alpine ski binding and connect to regular alpine ski boots allowing skiers with a standard alpine ski setup to tour in the backcountry. Alternatively skiers can also fit into snowshoes which for first time backcountry skiers can be easier and less frustrating under certain conditions – particularly on steep climbs. Our guides will advise clients of which equipment is most suitable on the morning of the trip.
We do also have a limited selection of dedicated touring skis with Alpine Touring bindings mounted to fat powder skis available for rent. These are considerably lighter and easier to use than the alpine trekker setups and are available as an upgrade if we have sufficient stock availability. We cannot pre-book these skis but will offer the upgrade option to you on the day of the trip. If you would like to ensure AT ski rental, we recommend contacting Rhythm & Beats Niseko Rental shop as they have a much wider selection of AT skis available. If you indicate that you have been referred by Black Diamond Tours you should receive a small discount on your rental.
Are your trips only open to guests staying at Black Diamond Lodge?
Our trips are open to anyone regardless of where you are staying. We do offer clients staying at Black Diamond Lodge special discounts off our trips and are able to keep all guests staying at BDL advised of trips running day to day but guests staying elsewhere are welcome to drop by the lodge or our Tours office in Hirafu village to stay up to speed on powder conditions around the island.
Can BDTour guides provide instruction?
Our guides are qualified as guides and the format of our trips is all based on skiing great lines, great snow and incredible terrain. We are happy to offer advice and tips to help you improve your skills and many of our guides have previous experience as instructors. That said we do not offer straight ski or snowboard lessons so if your goals for the day are specifically to improve your skills we recommend booking a ski lesson with one of the great lesson providers in Niseko… then when you’re ready join us to fill your boots with pow!
Why does BDT require a 2-day minimum booking?
It takes time to build a relationship between the guide and clients. Once we learn the group’s abilities, skill level and desires we can make the most of their tour. Given 2 full days we can deliver a unique experience that could not be accomplished in just one day.