Honshu , Japan

Akikos Favourite Ski Tours with Nick Parks

Akiko has been the logistical maestro behind our last three powder skiing trips to the land of the rising sun. She is a “fixer extraordinaire” who spent twenty years working as a construction engineer in Tokyo before turning her back on the corporate world to assist visiting backcountry skiers to get the best out of their off-piste and ski touring holidays in Japan. 

In the ten years, we've been visiting Japan much has changed as it has become the “must ski” destination. Frustratingly hordes of Western powder addicts are becoming a common feature of some of the better-known resorts that we have been basing our recent “Best of Japan” trips around. So following last season’s trip, we asked Akiko if we could plan an itinerary around her personal favourites.

The result is a very special itinerary below.

We focus on off the beaten track destinations on Japan’s main island Honshu. Skiing in Japan revolves around four main focuses; unrivalled powder, fascinating cultural history, awesome food and end of the day relaxing thermal pools or ‘onsens’.  Akiko’s “favourites” ticks all these boxes and more.

The mountains of Honshu receive huge quantities of light powder each winter and the snow-chocked forests are beyond idyllic for ski touring. The skiing emphasis on this holiday will be on ski touring with some lift access rather than lift access with some ski touring. In other words, we often use lifts to gain height access at the beginning of the day enabling us to venture further into the wild, uncrowded Japanese backcountry but from then on its skins on to earn your turns!

Day Itinerary

  • 29th January

    Our group meets up in Japan, either at Narita Airport or Nagano Railway Station (tbc). 

    From Nagano station we will drive to Hakuba where we will stay for three nights at the Hotel Taigakukan http://www.taigakukan.jp/eng

  • 30th January - 01st February

    Three days of sampling the best backcountry ski tours in the Hakuba region.

    I often hear folk saying there’s ‘no steep stuff in Japan’. No ‘real’ mountains. No ‘challenging terrain’.

    The Hakuba backcountry will dispel that rumour straight away.

    After skiing all day on the 01 February we will transfer by minibus to Hirayu where we will stay for two nights at the Nakanoyu Onsen

  • 02nd - 03rd February

    Two days of skiing in the Hirayu resort area.

    After skiing on 03rd February we will transfer by minibus to Shirakawa-go and stay at the eco institute just outside the World Heritage village, the Institute website is only in Japanese see https://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/hotels/toyota-shirakawa-go-eco-institute/a/lod/01133d83-9fc5-47d5-9d99-62c6f50f6d53/356635

  • 04th - 05th February

    Two days skiing in the Shirakawa-go region before an evening transfer to our fourth ski destination Nozawa Onsen and two nights staying at the Haus St Anton http://st-anton.jp/eng

  • 06th - 07th February

    Two days skiing in the Nozawa Onsen area. Nozawa Onsen is famous for not only being one of the best skiing areas in Japan but is also famous for its rustic village, cuisine and public hot springs (onsen).

    After skiing on day 10 we will mini-bus transfer to the Zenko-ji Temple in Nagano city, where we stay in unique Jyochi-in temple lodgings.

  • 08th February

    This is a day for sightseeing in Zenko-ji Temple, a 7th-century Buddhist temple around which Nagano city was built, and Tokyo itself which is reached in just two hours on the Shinkansen (bullet train).

    For our final night we stay at the conveniently situated (next to the train station) Hotel Metropolitan in Marunouchi part of Tokyo City https://www.hotelmetropolitanmarunouchi.jp/en

2020

Dates

Price

Wed 29 Jan
- Sun 09 Feb
£3400 Book
Flexible From £3,400 PRIVATE GROUP Enquire

The price includes: 

9 days backcountry guiding with Nick Parks (IFMGA) and Akiko Nakae, 1-day sightseeing Zenkoji temple and Tokyo, 10 nights accommodation (4 hotels, 1 temple lodging), All breakfasts and dinners except last night dinner in Tokyo, local transfers – bullet train and mini-bus, Ski Lift passes


The price does not include: 

 flights, lunches, drinks etc, dinner in Tokyo, insurance, equipment hire

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This is an extensive list of the recommended clothing and equipment you will need if you are coming on one of our Off-Piste Adventure trips.  On all our weeks you’ll be staying in comfortable catered chalets or hotels. When skiing you need to carry just a day pack, which contains your safety equipment and any personal items or extra clothing layers you may need.

  • We continue to see big changes in ski, boot and binding design and technology, which make off-piste skiing and ski touring much more accessible. For our Adventure courses, we prefer you to ski with” freeride” skis, ski touring boots and ski touring bindings. If you have your own skis but they do not have ski touring bindings but are suitable for off-piste then you are welcome to bring them with you. Downhill boots are also acceptable but please bear in mind that you will do some touring on ALL our Off-Piste Adventure courses so you made need to hire suitable skis and boots in a resort.

    Skis

    This winter our lead guides are using Salomon Explore MTN and Salomon QST touring skis. The MTN 95 is an award-winning ski with great stability at high speeds whilst the MTN 88 is a best-selling lightweight touring ski. The QST’s are slightly heavier and therefore suited to charging; perfect for day-touring. 

    Lockwoods Ski and Outdoor are supporting our guides and we suggest that if you’re interested in any of the MTN or QST skis, you should make Lockwoods your first point of call. This winter our lead guides are using Salomon Explore MTN and Salomon QST touring skis. 

    There are many ‘all-mountain/freeride’ skis to choose from and we highly recommend skis from Salomon, Dynastar, Movement, Black Crows, Trab Skis, Scott and Volkl. Look for a ski that is the right size for your height, typically the tip of the ski should be somewhere around your nose height. As for the width of the ski or “side cut” a mid-fat ski – 90-110mm under the foot is a good place to start; this offers plenty of flotation off-piste while remaining suitable for day tours and they should also handle reasonably well on piste and mixed terrain.

    Dynastar Skis: www.dynastar.com 
    Movement Skis: www.movementskis.com 
    Black Crows Skis: www.blackcrows-skis.com/
    Trab Skis: www.skitrab.com/en-us/
    Scott Skis: http://www.scott-sports.com
    Volkl Skis: http://www.voelkl.com

    There are plenty of other great skis to choose from so if you’re planning on buying skis for ski touring or general skiing and have any questions do not hesitate to call us, or Lockwoods, to discuss the options available.

    If you are planning on buying skis for ski touring and general skiing and have any questions do not hesitate to call us to discuss the options available to you.


    Boots
    For our Off-Piste Adventure courses its best to have a pair of ski touring boots – they have great skiing performance and with the vibram soles, they are much safer for scrambling around on the rocky or icy ground. However standard downhill ski boots are also acceptable. We do not recommend you come on a trip with brand new boots.

    If you are going to be getting into off-piste and ski touring, then rather than having a pair of downhill boots and a pair of ski touring boots, we strongly suggest that you opt for a good pair of ski touring boots. With advances made in plastics, mouldings and materials in recent years you can now get a ‘hybrid’ touring boot that offers as much downhill performance and stiffness but they come with a walk mode and good flexibility for the uphill too. Many boots fall into the category "hike & ride" so a 3 or 4 buckle boot, walk mode, vibram/grippy sole and possible Pin binding compatible.
    It just makes more sense - not only are they much more comfortable to walk in compared to ordinary ski boots, they are great to ski in too.

    Scarpa has lead the way in touring boots for many years but they have been joined by other manufactures like Dynafit, Salomon, Scott, Black Diamond, Dalbello and K2; all producing their own versions of a ski touring boot.

    • Scarpa’s Freedom boots are their Hybrid offerings, great ski performance, a walk mode and vibram sole. Their Maestrale (men’s) and Gea (women’s) boots are also highly recommended.
    • The Scott Celeste and Cosmos boots have stood the test of time and are good all-round choices.
    • Salomon’s Quest Max series offer boots with a walk mode in various flex’s with good downhill performance.
    • Dynafit offer the Mercury or Vulcan boots plus a range of lightweight options like the TLT6.

    The best of the rest are:
    Fischer - Transalp
    Black Diamond – Quadrant and Factor
    K2 – Pinnacle boot
    Dalbello – Lupo or Sherpa
    Langue – XT series offer a ski boot with a walk mode in various flex options

    Boot Liners
    These days many manufacturers offer ‘thermo-fit’ liners as standard equipment. You may also want to consider a custom liner. Heated and moulded to your foot and boot for a perfect fit, they can make all the difference especially if you have trouble finding really comfortable
    ‘off-the-shelf¹ boots. Zipfit liners are a great option for anyone seeking total customisation in fit and comfort. They will replace the original liner.

    Custom Footbeds
    Essential kit – to provide additional comfort and ski control. If you want to get footbeds made or a pair of new boots fitted then we suggest you visit somewhere like Profeet for a professional fitting. Don’t forget if you have footbeds in your downhill boots but need to rent touring boots then you can bring the footbeds with you and put them in the hire boots.

    Bindings
    We prefer you to have ski touring bindings on your skis for our adventure courses but if you have downhill bindings mounted on your skis then this is perfectly acceptable. The new touring bindings are every bit as safe for downhill as alpine bindings, yet you have the additional advantage of being able to walk uphill with them to access the real off-piste. Fritschi Diamir and Marker both have great bindings which can be used with ski touring boots and downhill boots. Many more people are seeing the advantage of the “pin” binding system now offered by a number of manufactures; they are light and offer ever improving security despite their minimalist looks!

    Although Pin bindings have been around since the Dynafit Low Tech bindings over 30 years ago. Since their patent expired the technology has advanced substantially. Salomon, with their Shift Binding, are at the forefront; they’re ‘multi norm compatible’ so fit a selection of boots and are lighter than most freeride bindings. Our lead guides are using the Shift binding this winter, so if you’d like to know more about them give Lockwoods a ring.

  • Although our Off-Piste Adventure courses rely heavily on the lift systems in resorts, access to and egress from runs sometimes involve climbing and walking a short way and you may undertake 1 or 2 day ski tours, for this reason its best to have skis with ski touring bindings, skins and ski touring boots.

    • Ski Skins – these are skins which, now made of artificial fabric, stick to the bottom of your skis and allow you to walk up hill. They must be cut to fit your skis exactly, so if you are bringing your own skis you must provide your own skins.
    • Ski Crampons (aka Couteaux) - most ski touring bindings have ski crampons specifically designed for the binding. We always carry these just in case. Again if you are bringing your own skis and touring bindings you must provide your own ski crampons.
    • When skiing on glaciated terrain you will need a harness and occasionally boot crampons and possibly an ice axe. Your can guide can supply you with these items if you do not have your own.
  • This season, we’ve partnered with Ortovox to provide us with the very best safety kit and clothing. Our guides will all be decked out in the latest Ortovox jackets and trousers and will keep warm, dry and comfortable thanks to their technical wool base- and mid-layers. Our guides couldn’t recommend their kit more highly.
     
    • A good quality pair of ski trousers. They must be made from a waterproof and breathable fabric like Gore-Tex or similar. It’s useful to have some venting zips on the legs either inside or outside thigh or full-length side-zips. Integral snow gaiters and some pockets for handy items are good features.
    • An outer shell jacket made of waterproof and breathable material like Gore-Tex or similar with a built-in hood. We advocate the ‘layering principle’ and so a shell is recommended rather than an insulated jacket.
    • Comfortable underwear with good wicking properties. Very popular at the moment are the wool based layers from companies such as Ortovox. They are comfy, breathable, warm when needed and can be worn for days without your friends catching a whiff!
    • Several thin (rather than fewer thick) layers between your skin and the outer shell - an approach that gives better heat retention and good flexibility. These tops are known as ‘mid layers’.
    • Insulation layer like a down or Primaloft jacket is a good item to have ready to wear in the event of cold weather, it can live in your rucksack as a spare layer and can come in very handy for sudden changes in the weather.
    • Roll neck rather than a scarf. We use and recommend the ‘Buff¹ ¬ a light, stretchable tube. Excellent despite the name! They do both a fleece/cotton version for warmth or just a cotton one (to keep the sun off).
    • Headwear to include warm hat and sun-cap or wide-brim hat for extra protection from the sun. Mountain Tracks fully supports the wearing of helmets for skiing, although not mandatory for any of our trips we do recommend them.
    • Good quality, ski gloves or mitts if you suffer from cold hands and 1 thinner pair of gloves made from a softshell or fleece material if the weather is warm. These are particularly useful if you do any ski touring or hiking on the trip as thick gloves quickly become too hot.
    • Silk inner gloves can be useful if the weather is cold and you suffer from cold hands.
    • Technical Socks - Investing in good quality ski socks will improve fit, warmth and feel when skiing for long periods. Bring along a few pairs.
  • The “Safety Trilogy” - applicable for all our off-piste courses and ski tours.

    Avalanche Transceiver/Beacon 
    Snow shovel
    Avalanche probe

    We recommend simple and intuitive ORTOVOX AVALANCHE RESCUE KIT 3+.

    Avalanche airbags/rucksacks – if you wish to ski with one of these on our courses you are welcome to do so, they are not mandatory but we always support the use of available safety items.
    You can hire avalanche rucksacks in a lot of resorts, makes are usually Snowpulse/Mammut, ABS or Ortovox AVABAG. Prices vary from shop to shop and resort to resort but a guide line price would be from €20-30 per day or around €100-120 for 6/7 days.

    Remember it is not enough just to carry this equipment; you have to know how to use it.
    How about joining one of our specialist avalanche courses – check out https://mountaintracks.co.uk/discipline/winter-mountaincraft

Best of Japan 2016-13

Honshu

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Honshu is Japan's main island. Located south of Hokkaido. It separates the Sea of Japan from the North Pacific Ocean to its south and east. It is the seventh largest island in the world and with a population of over 100 million, one of the most populous. Honshu is linked to the other three major Japanese islands by a number of bridges and tunnels. Its climate is humid and mild.

  • Insurance

    It is a condition of booking that you are insured for your chosen activity and the cover must include medical expenses, personal accident, personal liability, third party risks and rescue (including helicopter rescue). You are strongly advised also to take out cover against cancellation and curtailment.

    For UK residents Ski Club Travel Insurance may be a suitable option.

    For more details and to purchase a policy online visit http://www.skiclubinsurance.co.uk/
    If you need assistance arranging your personal insurance please let us know.
     

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