Explore some of the most enchanting winter events that Hokkaido has to offer for you to immerse yourself in the beauty and wonder of this snowy wonderland.
A Guide for the Advanced Rider
While Niseko is known world-wide among powder hunters for it's extensive lift-accessed backcountry, you'll also find plenty of pow hidden within the resort. The entire mountain is basically begging for you to "read between the lines", with the best snow inbound the resort found off-piste. In this guide for advanced riders, we'll walk you through some of the spots around the resort that collect plenty of snow for you to throw some excellent turns. You'll want to be comfortable with tree riding for most of these spots, so make sure you've got some experience. Otherwise a ready to learn mindset will see you riding tree runs like the local in no time!
We recommend familiarising yourself with the Niseko United Trail Map so you can find all the best spots listed below.
A wide open powder playground with well-spaced trees, Strawberry Fields is a hotspot after a big snow storm due to its easy access and low altitude. The entry to this area is found by exiting left at the top of the the Hanazono #1 Chairlift and requires a short traverse. The entire area starts on top of a ridge line and filters down through gladed trees into the flats at the bottom of Hanazono that lead back to the bottom of the chairlift. If winds are coming from the Annupuri side of the mountain (West North-Westerly), this is well protected and can provide some excellent riding. All roads lead back to the chairlift which is another reason this is a popular spot, as you can get multiple laps in very quickly on a fresh powder day.
Just after you enter the gate, you can take a left turn which will bring you out underneath the top of the chairlift (the easiest option for snowboarders). From here, you can drop straight in and follow the chairlift down for an open powder field with a mellow gradient. This is an excellent option for intermediate to advanced riders, as you'll find nice open spaces to get some turns in. Halfway down the run where it starts to flatten out, we recommend dropping off to skiers right to continue a nice powdery ride. This will take you into the trees towards the bottom of Strawberry Fields, but the gradient flattens out before you hit the trees. This will bring you out onto the bottom of Silver Dream which leads back to the chairlift. Failing to drop right after the chairlift line flattens out will bring you out at the top of the Hanazono Park run, meaning you miss the lower half of Strawberry Fields.
From the top of the chairlift, you can also choose to go straight ahead after the gate and ride across the top of the ridge line to find a desirable spot to drop (you'll pass by the famous Strawberry Fields bell on the way). This is especially difficult however for snowboarders with fresh snow, as it is relatively flat up the top until you pick a drop in point. The further you traverse across here, the steeping the gradient becomes down into the powder fields. The entire way across you'll find plenty of natural features that locals ride every year, including some seriously large drops that are almost fool proof in deep conditions. The upper part of most drop-in points is quite steep, but has minimal trees meaning you can pick some serious lines on the way down. Towards the bottom you'll find more trees, but the pitch starts to flatten out as you enter through. The area all leads to the flats at the bottom which then shoots you out onto the bottom of Silver Dream, much like following the chairlift on the way down.
A lesser known area in Hanazono, but still worth riding nonetheless, Blueberry Fields is a haven for fresh powder when conditions are favourable. While it is far smaller than Strawberry Fields, you'll tend to find less people here after a storm as it is a lesser known spot. Take a hard right after getting off the Hanazono #1 Chair and you'll be staring down a short yet steep groomed run, with Blueberry Fields being the trees directly in front of you where it flattens out. You'll find two groomed runs either side, so as long as you stay in between these you'll find some hidden powder stashes that most people tend to miss.
Upon entry, Blueberry Fields is relatively flat, so you'll want to keep some speed up coming off the groomed run on a powder day. However the gradient increases quite quickly into a steep but short run through some well-spaced trees. In here you'll find plenty of powder pockets after a storm that are begging to be ridden. The slope mellows out towards the bottom and will continue through gladed trees for a bit before exiting underneath the Hanazono Gondola for a flat track along Juicy Fruit to the base.
For inexperienced riders, you can stick closer to either side of Blueberry Fields and dip in and out of the trees as you please. Most people tend to ride here closer to the middle, so you'll still find plenty of fresh powder by doing so. Being able to exit in and out of the trees is great for beginners as it allows you to control your speed and help with a sense of direction on the descent.
Being quite a short run means you can get plenty of laps in quickly on a powder day. The Hanazono #1 Chair will get you back up to the top quickly seeing as it sits 6 people, so you can continue heading back through Blueberry Fields as you please, or change the pace up with a ride through Strawberry Fields.
At the top of the Hirafu Gondola, you'll find a small hill on your right as you exit the building. This short 5 minute hike will take you to the top of the Miharashi black run, however the gladed trees are where you will want to ride here for the best snow. Locals refer to the entire area at the top of the hike as Miharashi, and there's plenty of different lines you can take which lead back to the bottom of the Gondola. You can also access this area by looping back around underneath the Gondola and traversing to skiers left, however you'll lose a fair few drop-in points by doing so (you'll find plenty of people doing this when the hike up is closed). The hike is enough to turn most average riders off straight away, so even on crowded days you'll find fresh snow here tends to last longer than the rest of the resort.
At the top, you'll find a junction in which you can head left or right. Skiers left will give you plenty of drop-in options through gladed trees that lead down onto Holiday Run. If you arrive here early in the day, you'll be able to ride along the left side until you find a spot that suits you. The ride down is more mellow at the top and tends to get steeper towards the bottom. On a fresh powder day though you'll have no trouble riding at your own pace, as plenty of snow tends to build up here making it quite deep. Make sure to keep some speed up though when you reach the bottom, as the ride along Family Run does have some flat and even slightly uphill spots that can catch you out.
Keeping further right will lead you towards longer tree runs that follow alongside the Miharashi black run. There's plenty of terrain to explore here, including big natural features like jumps, cliff drops and a ridge line that begs to be shredded. If you head too far to the right, you'll end up on the black run which is basically a wide open powder field (it doesn't get groomed). After a big dump this is also a great option to ride, however you'll generally find more powder in the trees seeing as the terrain is protected from the wind.
While riding underneath the Hanazono #3 Chairlift is technically outside of the resort boundary, you'll find plenty of powder here after a storm through gladed trees to enjoy. We highly recommend keeping the chair on your left for a sense of direction, and you won't have any issue finding your way back to the chairlift (this is especially a good idea during a Blizzard). If you venture too far to skiers left here under the chairlift, you'll end up technically riding in the Fujiwara No Sawa gully. If you ride too low here without coming back underneath the chairlift, you'll have to hike back up into the resort to get on the chair.
After exiting the Hanazono #3 Chair, you'll find the groomed run straight ahead that takes you straight down to the bottom of the chair again. On skiers left up the top, you'll find a boundary rope along the side of the groomer. Follow this down around 150 metres and the rope will end, where you can head into the trees towards the chairlift. Traversing across the mountain will eventually bring you out under the chair, in which you can enjoy a nice open line all the way down onto a cat-track that heads back to the base of the chair. This is an excellent choice for inexperienced tree riders as the trees have been cleared for the path of the chairlift.
Traversing a little less around the mountain will keep you within the trees, which is where most people tend to ride. Up the top they are relatively closely spaced, so keep this in mind if you haven't ridden here before. Towards the bottom as the gradient decreases, the trees open up and you'll find plenty of nice lines to enjoy on your way down. Keep in mind that you will want to keep the chairlift on your left for an easy exit.
An excellent beginner option here is to follow the groomed run past where the boundary rope ends and continue following the tree line along the groomed run. Eventually on skiers left, the trees will end and you will find an open, ungroomed powder field to enjoy. This is a great spot to dip your toes into some deep powder without the hassle of having any trees nearby. It's only a short run before you reach the lower tree line, but offers a great area to get some turns in. You can either head back onto the groomed run that leads back to the bottom of the Hanazono #3 Chair, or ride through the well-spaced trees at the bottom before hopping on the chairlift.
Located in Hirafu, Super Ridge is definitely not for the faint hearted. You'll find this area to skiers right of the Ace Quad Lift #2, where you can access it by heading straight under the chairlift as soon as possible and traversing across the mountain to the gate. This area is quite steep and is among the first places in Hirafu to experience slides in the spring time, so be careful if you arrive late in the season.
If you like steep, wide-open turns, you'll be inclined to drop straight in as soon as you head through the gate. You'll have an excellent yet short run down onto the Super black run which will take you back down to the bottom of the lift. However if you traverse skiers right further along, you'll plenty more drop-in points with a longer run down to the groomer. The gradient increases as you make your way further across though, so keep this in mind before exploring out here.
Traversing all the way across the face will eventually lead you to the ridge line on top of this area, which is met by the resort boundary rope. Under no circumstance should you cross under this rope, as the area on the other side is the Haru No Taki zone which is strictly off limits. You can ride down the ridge line which is a much more mellow gradient where you'll find plenty of trees to ride through. You'll also tend to find much better snow here, due to the gradient and the fact that not too many ride this far across the hill. Eventually on your way down you'll be forced to head back into the steep section, as the resort boundary pushes you back towards the resort. If you stay as far to skiers right as possible, you'll find another well hidden tree section that collects plenty of powder. Keep a note of your bearings as if you venture too far down, you'll find yourself having to hike out. If you pick your exit point perfectly, you'll end up crossing a little valley and end up just below the bottom of the Ace Family Lift #1. From here you can still make your way back to the bottom of the Ace Pair Lift #2 for a ride back up to the top.
By far one of the most popular chairs for intermediate riders, the King Hooded Lift gives you access to some excellent short tree runs that are great for those looking to explore a little more than just the groomed runs. On both sides of the chair you'll find excellently spaced trees that are easily the best introduction into off-piste riding in all of Niseko. No matter where you choose to ride here, you'll always find yourself back at the bottom of the the lift for a ride back to the top.
On skiers left you'll find a more open aspect with small bamboo trees towards the top. You can drop into here right from the top of the King Hooded Chair or follow the groomed run around to the bottom of the King #4 Lift (Pizza Box) and ride down from here. Either way you'll have some fun turns with a mellow gradient on your way down towards the chairlift boundary rope, which will push you towards the Rinkan run that is in the middle of the valley. Follow this groomed run back to the bottom of the chairlift.
Heading skiers right will take you down a cat-track towards the 1000m Hut. Before you reach the hut you'll want to head skiers left off the groomed run and into the bamboo trees up the top. This will put you on the ridge line above Rinkan, where you'll find gladed trees with a slightly steeper descent than the opposite side of the valley. You can play as much as you want through the trees and you'll have a longer run if you keep heading skiers right instead of dropping straight down onto the groomer. If you explore enough through this area, you'll also find an open powder field hidden in the middle of the trees that begs for some speedy, wide-open turns. There is also a natural half-pipe feature hidden right at the very end of this tree section that you can see when riding the chairlift. All lines lead back to the bottom of the King #3 Chair so explore as much as you want in this area.
There is an absolute plethora of off-piste skiing to do in Niseko, ready for you to explore. It only takes one good powder day and a positive mindset to turn an intermediate to advanced groomer rider into an avid powder hound. Once this transition has taken place, the entire Niseko mountain becomes your playground, begging for you to find new spots to shred.
As always, we highly recommend you to ride within your limits and if you come across daunting terrain, take your time. Skiing off-piste does have higher risk of accidents or injury, so it is important to make sure you are prepared. If you aren't up to the task, but want to push yourself to learn, we recommend booking a lesson with one of the many reputable companies within the Niseko resort. With little experience, the powder snow can be difficult to ride during peak season and having an expert teach you some tricks and tips before exploring is definitely worth the money.
If you're experienced and confident riding powder and trees, but looking to shortcut your way to finding some of the best places to ride, we highly recommend booking an experienced guide. The team from Summit Ski School & Guiding are an excellent choice, as they can give you an introduction to off-piste skiing, or take you further into the backcountry. See our extensive Niseko Backcountry Gates Guide below if you want to start exploring outside of the resort boundaries.
An extensive guide to the Niseko Backcountry and Side Country Gates located around the Niseko United Resort for expert skiers and snowboardersRead More
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.
In essence, Furano embodies Hokkaido's hidden charm, offering a tapestry of experiences that captivate visitors year-round.
Ski, savor, and explore! Dive into Niseko's culinary scene with Roketto, Niseko Naniwatei, R Pizza, and Elements. Follow @nisadejapan for Foodie Fridays