Japanese snow conditions are simply epic. Powder, powder and more powder! In 2009 it is said that Niseko had more than 18 meters of snow fall over the whole season. That's a lot of fresh snow.
Of course, there are many renowned powder destinations around the world, but very few compare to Japan’s unique environment. As a country that receives one of the highest snowfalls in the world, you’d almost expect the snow to be a little wet and heavy. Think Tahoe or Whistler: huge amounts of snow, but not as dry as their in-land counterparts like Colorado and Banff.
Japan gets the best of both worlds. Northwest winds bring intense cold air streams and strengthening weather systems down from Siberia picking up just enough moisture on their way over the Sea of Japan. And the first thing these systems hit is the mountains of Hokkaido, where they bust their almighty load unleashing some of the driest powder snow in the world.
Not convinced yet? Well, the water content in Japanese snow is often as low as 4%. Compare that to Utah’s usual 7% (another internationally renowned powder haven) and you have quite a difference. Typical temperatures in Japan’s ski resorts can range from -5° to -15° C, during mid-winter months. Whilst not as cold as snowy destinations like Norway or Quebec, this temperature helps maintain the balance between frequent sizable snowfalls and the preserving of the snow’s condition days after a storm.
There has to be dry spells, surely? Of course! Like anywhere in the world the weather fluctuates. Japan will always have periods of sunny weather without any fresh snow falling. But the dry spells in Hokkaido are definitely less frequent than in other winter sports meccas. Niseko recorded snowfalls on 121 days of the 170 day 2009/10 winter season! On the flip side, this means that blue sky days don't occur as often as they would in Europe or North America.
How about the off-piste regulations? The controversy around off-piste in Japan has become notorious throughout the international snow sports industry. There certainly are resorts in Japan that do not allow ANY off-piste skiing or riding. However, there are a good number of resorts in Hokkaido who permit off-piste in certain areas. The amount of terrain available can vary a lot, depending on the resort. Resorts such as Niseko United have very clear permitted off-piste areas that open and close depending on snow stability - and there's some vast expanses there to track. Resorts such as Furano have a more strict approach, where permission has to be granted when heading under the ropes - but there's some awesome spots to be found. Other resorts simply have a more relaxed approach allowing you to go anywhere 'at your own risk'. It's important to note that avalanche control in Japan varies massively, so whilst on-piste areas are always safe those gray zones in the side-country might not be.
At Powder Detours... we know the spots, we watch the conditions and we find the goods. Day-to-day conditions can be affected by wind direction, micro-climates and snow stability, so we utilise local comprehensive knowledge to find the best conditions at any resort on any given day.