We want the best snow... when should we come?
Hokkaido is home to some of the most consistent powder conditions on the planet and you can generally expect great snow from Christmas through until mid – March.
Snowfall generally starts in late November and we need about 1-2 meters of accumulated snow to begin accessing off piste terrain. In some seasons we`ll get lots of early snow and have fantastic conditions by mid-December, however sometimes it can take longer for our base to develop.
Through peak season (Christmas until mid-March) you can generally count on great snow across the island with an ever increasing snowpack. The heaviest snowfalls typically come earlier in the winter but the shallower, unconsolidated base can make backcountry travel a bit more challenging. By February the base will be well developed and regular top-ups of fresh snow offer great skiing and easier backcountry access.
If you`re interested in getting deeper in the backcountry, then March is the time to visit. A deep snowpack, longer days and more stable weather offer the opportunity to explore new terrain, plan overnight trips and complete longer ski traverses. We also have more guide availability at this time of year allowing us more freedom to leave weather windows open and plan more complex excursions. Please look here for more information on these types of trips.
Want to know more? The Niseko United resort has put together a very accurate article about normal winter weather in the Niseko area. Read it here.
Disclaimer: The weather is the weather and unfortunately we don`t control it. Even here in Hokkaido you can catch a dry spell or even worse a rain event. Joining Rising Sun for a guided trip is the best way to mitigate this risk as if there is good snow anywhere, we`ll find it for you… and if its really not good anywhere we`ll give you a full refund or reschedule at no extra cost. Find out more about our Powder Guarantee.
What are the payment options? Best way to pay?
We work with Flywire as our payment provider. Flywire maintains accounts around the globe allowing you to submit payment by domestic transfer in your local currency. The system also supports credit card payments and will clearly show you the final amount to be charged including all fees for all available payment methods in your home currency prior to submitting payment.
If you have an international bank transfer provider you`d prefer to use, we can supply our bank details for this. Please note that international transfers often come with hidden fees so please check the details carefully and we recommend comparing rates with those offered through Flywire before submitting an international transfer. As a result of the way flywire works, they are typically able to offer the best available exchange rates and lowest fee structure.
What type of skis should I bring?
The best skis for Hokkaido are fat, powder skis (waist ~110mm) mounted with a touring binding. Skiing in Hokkaido almost always involves powder so the need for fat skis is self explanatory but the added versatility of being able to tour is really important. Many Hokkaido ski resorts offer great backcountry access and often a short ski tour can deliver incredible turns in untracked terrain.
You could also bring 2 sets of skis (1 for touring and 1 for resort) but this is a hassle to travel with (both on the plane and throughout your trip) and ultimately offers less freedom to make spontaneous decisions to ski a line that involves some ski touring. Also keep in mind that even on full ski touring days, access to great skiing in Hokkaido is generally fairly quick and does not involve long approaches where super light setups really make a difference.
If you don`t have a touring setup or the “right” setup for Hokkaido, or just don`t want to travel with your skis, Rising Sun has a fleet of top of the line rental skis equipped with touring bindings available for rent. All of our skis have been selected for their suitability to Hokkaido conditions. More info on rentals available here.
What type of snowboard should I bring?
At Rising Sun, we really value versatility and the ability to tour which means that in general we highly recommend a splitboard for your trip. Splitboard`s are available in almost as many shapes and styles as solid snowboards but they also offer the opportunity to split up, get further into the backcountry and find more pow. Modern splitboard tech functions so well that you aren`t compromising anything on the ride in exchange for the freedom to ascend.
If you don`t have your own split, Rising Sun has a full fleet of splitboards equipped with Spark R&D bindings available for rent. More info on rentals available here.
How do I get to Hokkaido?
Most people will want to book a flight to New Chitose (Sapporo) airport or Asahikawa airport. New Chitose airport is Hokkaido`s main airport and accepts direct flights from some major international hubs (mainly in Asia). Otherwise you will likely need to stop in Tokyo to change planes for the last 90 minute leg to Sapporo. Asahikawa airport is an alternative place to fly into and works well if you plan to start your trip in Central Hokkaido.
Several domestic low cost airline carriers are now operating in Japan. These airlines include Skymark, Airdo, Jetstar Japan, Air Asia, Peach Airlines and Vanilla offering cheap alternatives for domestic flights. Please note that baggage restrictions can be tight with these airlines (better with Skymark & Airdo than the others) so make sure to factor in those potential extra costs particularly if flying with ski equiment. Also note that in general these airlines only begin selling tickets 2 months prior to departure date.
Trains are also available and there is now a bullet train connection from Tokyo to Hakodate which is located on the Southern tip of Hokkaido. From Hakodate you`ll have to switch to slower, local trains to get to Niseko. The train option is generally slower and more expensive however works well if you plan to stop on the way North or if you have a JR pass.
Please note that we are not able to make flight arrangements for you. Please contact your local travel agent for air travel booking requests.
How do I get from the airport to my accommodation?
We have two bases of operation – 1 in Niseko and 1 in Furano. Both areas are serviced by frequent, charter bus services that come direct from the airport. If you are booked on a package trip with us, we will book your bus transfer and provide all necessary details to get you direct to your accommodation. If you are booking accommodation independently then we ask that you arrange airport transfers with your accommodation provider to ensure a seamless transition.
Please look here for additional information on suitable flight arrival / departure times that work with available airport transfers. Also note that other transport options are available if the regular buses don`t work for you. Please inquire for more information.
How do I meet my guide?
This one is easy… we`ll come to you. We provide private door to door transport on all of our guided trips so once you have reached your accommodation, we`ll take it from there.
Some of your packages don`t include departure transfers - why not?
We do not typically include departure transfers in our package trips that end in Sapporo because there are two options available at significantly different price points. Please have a read below and advise your departure transfer preference. Departure arrangements can also be made after you arrive. Options include:
- Taxi to train: We`ll arrange for a taxi to pick you up from your hotel and take you to Sapporo train station. Cost is ~1000Yen for the taxi and ~1500Yen/person for the train. Trains are available to meet all departing flights.
- Private transfer from central Sapporo to the airport. Easy and hassle free but expensive and slower than the train. Cost ~15000Yen for a regular taxi accommodating up to 2 people or ~28000Yen for a jumbo taxi which can take up to 6 people with ski equipment.
**Sapporo city is approximately 90 minutes from the airport by private transfer or 45 – 60 minutes by train depending on the service.
Your packages refer to "standard accommodations". What does this mean?
We work with a number of accommodation providers around Hokkaido that offer clean, comfortable and good value accoms. All of our packages are quoted with this level of accommodation but we can also quote upgrades on request.
At ski resort base areas (eg. Niseko, Furano etc) we work with smaller ski lodges (aka pensions). These places are well located and offer hot breakfast in the morning; however its important to note that in most cases facilities are shared.
When we stay in the bigger centers our standard accoms are well located, comfortable, have ensuites and hot breakfast but there are lots of choices in the cities so please let us know if you would like to upgrade.
If you would prefer to stay in an apartment, private house, hotel or just somewhere with an ensuite please let us know and we can quote alternatives.
What skill level is required for your trips?
Our trips are best suited to advanced and expert level skiers / riders capable of negotiating varied terrain, glades, deep snow… and sometimes less than perfect conditions. That said, we only offer private trips meaning that we are able to tailor each day to suit your group`s ability level; this means that we can also offer great ski days`s for advanced intermediate level guests looking to begin exploring off piste powder terrain. Unfortunately we do not offer on piste guiding or instruction so if you are a beginner or intermediate level skier / rider we recommend contacting one of the great local ski / snowboard school providers.
What can I expect on a guided day with Rising Sun?
Your guide will arrive on your doorstep at 8am (unless otherwise arranged) with a clear picture of weather and snow conditions. After a discussion with you, we`ll make a plan for the day and head to the mountains. We`ll ski all day until about 4pm (unless you`ve had your fill and are exhausted earlier) before taking you back to you accommodation.
Sometimes we may stop at a restaurant or onsen on the way home if you are interested and we have time. Please note onsen entry and meals are not included in trip costs. On most day trips you can expect to be home between 4 and 6pm depending on how far we had to travel for the best snow that day.
ABS backpacks... what`s the deal?
ABS backpacks are an excellent piece of safety equipment however it can be difficult to fly with them. Please contact your airline directly for information on their policies on travelling with ABS packs.
Alternatively, Niseko 343 offers ABS cartridge rentals allowing you to bring your pack but leave your gas cartridge at home.
Rhythm Summit offers rental of the Pieps Jetforce style of airbag pack. We also have one Jetforce model pack available for rent.
Please also note that ABS cartridges purchased outside of Japan cannot be re-filled professionally in Japan due to different regulations.
Getting around - money?
Japan remains primarily a cash country so you will want to make sure that you have some cash on hand at all times. Credit cards are becoming increasingly widely accepted but you will still find many places – particularly restaurants – that do not accept cards.
This brings us to the next problem… getting cash. Most ATM`s in Japan do not accept foreign bank cards making this a bit tricky. The good news is that 7/11 convenience store ATM`s do accept foreign cards and are widely available across Japan. So if you need an ATM, look for a 7/11. You can also take out money at the Post Office however these are only open during business hours which is generally when you`ll want to be skiing powder.
Your guide will be happy to take you to a suitable ATM.
Also note that with the exception of the airport it is difficult and time consuming to exchange money. We do not recommend bringing foreign currency to exchange here.
Getting around - language?
In Japan you can expect to encounter a language barrier as soon as you step outside of the airport. The good news is that the airport`s are foreigner friendly so if you have any questions, you will want to take advantage of the English language information services available there before leaving. The other relatively safe area is Niseko where English services are widespread, restaurants have English menu`s and most Japanese staff are bilingual.
Beyond that though, be prepared for world where you won`t be understood and unless the menu has pictures, it will be illegible to you. Most Japanese people are extremely nice though and with a bit of sign language, smiling and patience you should succeed.
I`m a vegetarian / vegan. Will that be a problem?
There aren`t a lot of vegetarians in Japan and almost every dish will have some form of meat or seafood in them. Even if you request a dish without meat, this may also not work. For example, most soup`s will be made from a beef or seafood stock.
That said our guides will be happy to help you order dishes without meat but its important to know that your eating options will be limited and there is the possibility that you may accidentally eat something that has meat in it.
Please be sure to advise us if you are a vegetarian.
Does Rising Sun offer ski and snowboard instruction?
Our guides will be happy to provide tips and advice to help you imrove but our trips are designed to take competent skiers and riders to great lines and deep snow. If you are looking to progress and develop skills we recommend contacting one of Niseko`s great lesson provider`s.
Can I ship my bags to you?
Yes you can. Domestic shipping within Japan is fast, reliable and relatively cheap. If you are planning to spend a couple days sightseeing in Tokyo (or elsewhere) before coming to Hokkaido then we highly recommend shipping your luggage to us to save yourself the hassle of carrying your ski equipment everywhere you go. There are two main shipping companies – Yamato Transport and Sagawa Express and both have depots in most major airports.
It is also possible to ship your equipment internationally however this is either very expensive, very slow or both. In general we don`t recommend this option however if you are in a situation where this is the only option that works, we recommend contacting shipping companies in your home country for more information.
Please ship luggage to:
Attention: Your Name
Rising Sun Guides
115-1 Aza-Kabayama (2F), Kutchan-cho, Abuta-Gun,
*Domestic shipments are usually guaranteed within 3 days however faster services may be available. Please inquire directly with the shipping company for more information.
What is a licensed Japan Tour & Travel operator? and why does it matter?
As with most countries, Japan regulates the travel industry to protect visitors and ensure companies are operating within the rules. Rising Sun is registered with the government of Japan (license #3-744) and adheres to these rules.
This association maintains a contingency fund to protect travellers in the unlikely event the operator is unable to deliver services as booked and paid for. It also allows the operator to receive better rates from hotels, ski resorts and other travel service providers ultimately reducing your overall trip cost.
Membership is a legal requirement for any tour and travel service provider that operates more than one district away from their head office and/or any agent that accepts commissions for submitting bookings.
Additional information about the Japan Tourism Agency and Travel Agency Act can be found here. Even if you don`t book with us we recommend confirming your provider is a member of the JTA and complies with Japan`s laws.
How do lift tickets work on guided day trips?
On our lift assisted trips, we pre-charge for lift tickets to facilitate ski hill access on the day of your booking. We charge a flat rate of 5500Yen/ticket/day which is a small discount off of ticket prices at most resorts we`ll visit. The exception to this is Niseko where full day all mountain passes are significantly more expensive. If we need to purchase this ticket, an upgrade fee will be added to your invoice and charged on the day of your trip as needed.
Should I pre-purchase Niseko passes?
We strongly recommend against pre-purchasing Niseko all mountain lift tickets as this will limit your flexibility and probably end up being more expensive. There are a wide variety of Niseko lift passes available and in many cases you will not need a full day all mountain lift ticket particularly if its windy and not all lifts are operating. There are also a number of other great resorts nearby that you may be interested in (and that our guided trips regularly visit) but you`ll be less inclined to check them out if you have already paid for a Niseko pass.
The last reason is that you may even end up wanting a rest day at some point during your trip. So long story short, we recommend purchasing tickets on site when you know which ticket is best suited to your plans for the day.
I`m an Ikon passholder - what`s the best way to take advantage of this?
Ikon passholders are entitled to 5 days of skiing at the Niseko United resorts. This is a great offer and an added bonus is that unlike pre-purchased multi day tickets, these skiing days do not need to be consecutive. We recommend picking up your Ikon tickets on arrival and using these tickets as needed through your vacation.
That said, its also a good idea to remain open to visiting other ski areas with our guides. Niseko is awesome but there are also a number of other great resorts nearby that we`d like to take you to.
We do typically charge in advance for tickets as part of our trips but we`ll refund in full for any tickets you don`t use or need if you already have a pass to the area we decide to visit.
What is your operating season?
Our regular operating season for guided ski and snowboard trips is Dec. 15 – March 12 dependent on conditions.
We do also run avalanche courses starting in early December.
In late March to early April we continue limited operations for specialty high alpine ski/splitboard touring trips. Please inquire if you are interested in this type of trip.
Our target start date for cat operations is Dec. 20th however we do need a well developed base to build the road to the cat area so it is not unusual for the cat opening date to be delayed. If you would like to go cat skiing during the Christmas period, we recommend booking towards the end of your visit to have the best chance of getting out there. Cat ski operations typically close in early March depending on conditions.
Are tattoos allowed in the onsen (hot spring baths)?
In general, tattoos are not allowed in onsen`s however they are becoming increasingly accepted particularly in areas with lots of foreigners such as Niseko. If you are able to cover up your tattoos with skin patches, this is the best way to avoid any trouble. If you have larger tattoos that cannot be hidden then its recommended to ask at the front desk if they will permit you to enter.
If you are asked to leave the onsen, please be courteous and understanding of the cultural difference.