The Expert Niseko Mountain Guide: The Backcountry Gates

If you're an experienced skier or snowboarder looking for an unforgettable powder experience, Niseko's backcountry/sidecountry gates are an absolute must. If you've studied the Niseko United Trail Map, you've likely come across the various gates scattered around the resort. There are 11 gates in total (2 are located in Moiwa), marked G1 all the way through to G11 and give access to unpatrolled terrain across the mountain. The gates are managed by the Niseko Avalanche Information Center (NAIC), who provide daily information on weather and snow conditions, as well as avalanche risk assessments. They give access to some of the best off-piste/backcountry skiing and snowboarding in the world. In this article, we'll provide a comprehensive guide to the Niseko backcountry gates, including everything you need to know before heading out.

Getting Started

Before heading out to the backcountry gates, it's important to be prepared. While it is not mandatory, we strongly recommend having the correct avalanche equipment before riding this terrain. This includes a beacon, shovel, and probe, which are necessary equipment to save lives in the case of an avalanche. With this equipment you are much safer yourself, but more importantly you are equipped to save someone else should something unfortunate happen. It is also paramount to know how to use this equipment before heading into this type of terrain.

More importantly though, we strongly suggest having the skills and knowledge necessary for backcountry skiing or snowboarding. Being able to spot dangerous terrain, hazards and navigate properly are skills that can mitigate a lot of risk in this kind of terrain, which can mean the difference between a smooth ride down and an accident. If you're new to the backcountry, consider hiring a guide or taking a course to ensure your safety and maximize your experience.

Safety Considerations

The Niseko backcountry gates offer some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world, but they also come with inherent risks. Avalanche risk is a real concern, and it's important to stay informed and make informed decisions about which gates to use and when. Always check the NAIC's daily bulletin before heading out, and be sure to carry the necessary safety equipment and know how to use it.

Niseko Backcountry Gates Map
The Niseko United Trail Map with all gates highlighted

Gate 1 - L-Ji Gate

Gate 1 is located skiers right at the top of the Annupuri ski area, just down from the top of the Jumbo Pair #4 Lift. The slope faces west/south-westerly and drops into Osawa bowl. Skiing through the gate will give you access to well-spaced tree runs and plenty of powder during the peak season, making it an excellent place to work on tree skiing away from the busy resort. The bottom of this run feeds into the natural halfpipe/gully that leads back to the base of Annupuri. This gate is recommended for intermediate riders or better.

Gate 2 - Annupuri Peak Gate

Gate 2 is situated at the top of the Jumbo Pair #4 Lift and requires a short hike to exit the gate. This requires a short hike, but gives you access to some excellent terrain if you choose to do so. From here, you can either drop straight down through the trees and enjoy a run similar to Gate 1, albeit from a higher starting point. However we recommend traversing as hard and high right as possible to gain access to the Centre Ridge (Naka-one) for some great open pow fields. This is a shared ridge with the back bowl, so whether you ride the ridge or drop into the bowl, you'll be deposited back into another half-pipe/gully that leads back to the base of the Annupuri Resort.

Gate 3 - Hirafu Peak Gate

Gate 3 is accessed from the top of the King #4 Chair (commonly called the 'meat hook' or 'pizza box'). This gate leads to the summit of Mt. Annupuri, which is a 20-30 minute hike from the top of the lift. The ascent is relatively steep at the start which can be exhausting, however flattens out towards the top where you'll find the hut at the peak. This gate gives the largest variety of run options for backcountry, so you'll commonly see a line of people walking up big powder days during peak season. This is the absolute best place to be when there has been an overnight dump.

From the peak there are multiple directions in which you can head, although some lines do require a hike out or a vehicle to collect you. We highly recommend knowing exactly what you are doing up here, as on a snowy day it can be difficult to find your bearings.

The East Ridge

At the summit (next to the hut), you face back towards the Hanazono Resort and drop into the East Ridge. This is by far the easiest way down as it's a wide-open face, 300m of vertical with not a tree in sight. You'll eventually end up at the tree line, which is commonly accessed via Gate 4 & 5, Here you can head skiers right and end up back at the base of Hanazono #3 Lift, to save yourself a hike out.

For fresher snow or a longer descent, head further to skiers left and you'll find Jackson's Cornice. Fewer people tend to head this way so it's definitely worth the traverse, however the cornice is known to break and cause avalanches below it, so be weary. Dropping in here will lead to many different valleys that lead to the summer access trail. Here you can either walk back up the trail that ends up just below the Hanazono #3 Lift, or continue heading to into Lower Jackson's which eventually leads back to Hanazono #1 Lift.

The North Face - Kita Shamen

From the peak, walk around the hut and look towards Weiss Mountain and you'll be staring down the North Face bowl. This is often wind affected, so beware of hard snow before dropping in here. Also be aware that riding too far down this face will require hiking out (or a car can collect you from route 58).

The Back Bowl - Kozan No Sawa

Where the hike track from Gate 3 starts to flatten out towards the hut, the big bowl on the left is Kozan No Sawa. This is definitely recommended for the advanced rider, as you'll find plenty of convex rollovers, rocks and steep gully runouts.

At the Summit you can walk along the ridge facing Annupuri/Moiwa for multiple steep drop-in points, or you can drop in further to skiers left from the hike track for a more mellow descent. Riding this bowl will give you plenty of options for some of the best turns of your life, as snow tends to collect here from all directions. Ride all the way down to the bottom through the gully which takes you back to the bottom of the Annupuri Resort.

The West Ridge - Nishi One

The least ridden area of the mountain due to the fact it requires a serious hike to get back to the resort. Skins or snowshoes are highly recommended here, as it is quite a lengthy walk toward Hanazono or Annupuri. For the serious powder hunter though, this is where you'll find them as you'll often find fresh snow here days after the last snow storm. To access this terrain, you'll need to walk along the ridge from the hut, with the north bowl on your right and back bowl on your left. At the end of the ridge you'll find the terrain open up into the western face.

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The infamous 'Pizza Box' chair gives access to Gates 3 & 4 - Photo by Jimi Oertli

Gate 4 - Fujiwara No Sawa Gate

Accessed from the top of the King #4 Chair, Gate 4 is a hot-spot on powder days. A small hike uphill is required, although nowhere near as long as Gate 3 (hence why it is generally very busy). It will give you access to the lower half of the East Ridge, meaning large open fields of powder without the downtime of hiking to the summit. This area is however directly below the drop point of East Ridge from the summit, so is directly in an avalanche path, which is something to be constantly aware of.

You can ski straight down from the gate which will take you past the entry point of Gate 5 and down into the gully that leads back to the bottom of Hanazono #3 lift. Traversing across to skiers left will take you further along the East Ridge where you can end up all the way at Jackson's Cornice. Doing so will take you further away from the easy entry point back into Hanazono Resort, but will lead you towards the summer access road or lower Jackson's.

Gate 5 - Hanazono Gate

Easy access from the top of the Hanazono #3 Chair, with a short but flat walk out behind the top of the chairlift out onto the eastern face of the mountain. This is an excellent gate for those looking to dip their toes into the Niseko backcountry, as staying skiers right at towards the bottom of the gully will take you underneath the Hanazono #3 Chair back into the resort.

From the gate you can traverse to skiers left into the Fujiwara No Sawa gully, or further across the mountain. The pitch is relatively mellow here, so is great for some wide open powder turns during peak season. Progress further down into the tree line and keep right to make it back to the chairlift. Otherwise, traverse right from the top of the gate and you'll find some of the best spaced trees in the whole of Niseko.

Gate 7 - E-Sawa Gate

The E-Sawa Gate is located on skiers left of Annupuri Resort, towards the bottom of the Jumbo Pair Lift #3. Being an in-bound gate, Gate 7 doesn't require any hiking and is relatively mellow terrain (besides the entry). All lines lead back to the bottom of the Annupuri Gondola, meaning it's a great spot for intermediate riders to introduce themselves to Niseko backcountry.

Staying right as you enter will take you under the chairlift through a natural terrain half-pipe, which is plenty of fun for freestyle riding. You'll find open fall lines on this side which will lead down to the open powder fields towards the bottom. Skiers left at the entrance will take you towards some steeper terrain, with open trees to ride through. Either direction will point you towards the more mellow terrain at the bottom, which is where you'll find some deep powder to enjoy.

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Gate 7 provides access to excellent terrain without the need for hiking - Photo by Derek Murphy

Gate 8 - Hachi-ban Gate

Travel down from the Annupuri Jumbo #4 lift, along the boundary rope on skiers right and you'll come across Gate 8. This is the last entry point out of the resort into the Osawa bowl, which can also be accessed from the top of the Annupuri Gondola with a short traverse.

The tree runs down into the Osawa bowl from Gate 8 are quite tight, so tend to suit experienced riders. There isn't a lot of vertical from here, so the runs are short. However it offers some excellent powder runs on windy or sunny days given the direction of the face. Adventurous riders will have fun taking time to select the best line through the trees before it bottoms out into the bowl that leads back to the bottom of Annupuri.

Gate 9 - Waterfall Gate

Situated at the top of the Hanazono #2 Lift next to the start of Holiday Run, Gate 9 offers excellent gladed tree runs and is an area that collects plenty of fresh snow. A short walk after exiting left of the lift, this gate is often overlooked given it's location within the resort. You can regularly find fresh lines here in the afternoon and it makes for a great last run of the day.

Drop in straight from the gate for a short, but playful run that exits onto Holiday Run leading back to the Hirafu Gondola. Be wary of your exit if doing this, as you'll need a reasonable amount of speed to make it across the gully before Holiday Run (this can be particularly difficult for inexperienced riders or snowboarders to maintain speed). Traverse to skiers left further and pick a line to enjoy a much longer run through the area. Follow the fall line and you'll have to navigate the creek crossings and will pass the waterfall on your left before being led back to the Hanazono base.

Gate 11 - Mizuno No Sawa Gate

The only gate accessed from Niseko Village, Gate 11 is an inbound gate mid-way down the mountain. Taking the Niseko Village Gondola provides the easiest access, where you'll have to ride down towards the Wonderland Chair to find the entrance. Skiers left of the chairlift you will find a short walk uphill followed by a long, flat trail leading to a powder collecting gully that has some of the best riding in Niseko. This is an excellent spot to ride some great snow during storms, as the low altitude and trees tend to keep it well sheltered.

Once you make it off the flat track, you can head either side of the gully for different levels of difficulty. Heading skiers left will take you underneath the gondola, which at the top is a large open powder field with a relatively mild gradient. You'll be able to get some nice, wide-open turns here on a powder day and carry some speed through before the area pushes you towards skiers right and down into the gully. This area tends to be steeper, but has some excellent snow through the tree glades. At the bottom you'll be spat onto the groomers that will lead you back to the bottom of the gondola.

Skiers right is much more difficult, but has easily some of the best steeps in the whole of Niseko. You'll find ridge line that stretches for around 300 metres, upon which you have plenty of lines down into the gully to choose from. You'll often find fresh lines here throughout the entire day due to wind loading and they all lead straight back to the gondola. However be very aware that a well-known cornice can form on this side from high winds. Cracks also tend to develop on this side during spring due to the sun exposure.

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The turns can be extremely deep at Gate 11 - Photo by Derek Murphy


While Niseko has plenty of in-resort terrain to explore, true powder hunters from around the globe come here to ride the backcountry terrain. You'll often find staff staying for the entire season that don't ski a groomed run until spring has seriously set in around the middle of March.

If you're an intermediate or experienced rider that is looking to step into the world of backcountry riding, Niseko is definitely one of the best resorts in the world to do so. We highly recommend an experienced guide for a proper introduction to backcountry, such as the team at Summit Ski School & Guiding. Their expertise can alleviate any concerns, leaving you to enjoy the deep powder without the need to worry. They'll also pass on plenty of knowledge about the riding technique, terrain and safety which will serve you well into the future.

If you'd prefer to explore yourself, we recommend riding with a group so you have others looking out for you. Starting with Gate 5, 7 and 8 are definitely recommended, given it's difficult to get lost in these areas. It's highly advised to have some level of knowledge about avalanche safety, as risk mitigation is the best way to ensure a safe ride. After you've progressed your deep powder riding, you'll start looking to explore more of the backcountry gates to find your favourite terrain on the mountain.

If backcountry isn't for you, you can still enjoy the Niseko powder from within the resort. Check out our guide to the best in-resort powder runs for some secret spots you may not know about.

Blaize Kelly

Blaize Kelly

Blaize is a photographer and content creator from Australia, having worked for our team during the 22/23 winter season. He has an extensive knowledge of the Niseko area, frequently visiting to enjoy the world-famous powder snow.


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