Black Diamond Tours

Japan: Hokkaido

Black Diamond Tours is your choice if you are looking for the real powder experience in Hokkaido/Japan. The guides work professional. Ja Pow!

Black Diamond Tours Gear List

Inbounds, Off-piste, Guided and Unguided Resort Tours

(Niseko Back Bowls Tour incl.)

  • Regular ski/board wear
  • Money (cash) for lunch and possible convenience store stops
  • For tours at Niseko you will also need an All Mountain Lift pass unless otherwise
  • arranged. Lift tickets are included for all other resort trips.
  • On Kokusai trips, please bring a small onsen towel for an optional stop at
  • Jozankei hot springs.

Optional: Shoes to wear in the car before and after the trip.

 

Backcountry Tours

  • Regular ski and board wear
    • Layers are critical to moderate your body temperature for backcountry travel. A good polypro skin layer followed by layers of either fleece, softshell or wool to keep you warm and a good, lightweight, breathable hardshell is the ideal setup. Remember to adjust your layering over the course of the day to fit the conditions and avoid sweating!
  • Spare sunglasses or goggles to hike with
    • Do not plan to hike with the same goggles you ski with as while you heat up hiking, your goggles will fog up and cause endless frustration finding your epic line down.
  • Lunch, snacks and water. Plan for a full day adventure where you will be working
  • hard and need fuel. Lots of high calorie and easily edible items like chocolate bars
  • are best. Plan for at least 1 liter of water to drink over the course of the day.
  • If you are not renting backcountry equipment from us, please remember to bring
  • your transceiver, shovel, probe and touring equipment with you.
  • Small towel to use at the hot springs at the end of the day.

 

 

Tour Guides

Our first priority is always your safety which is why all of our Guides are all highly trained in avalanche risk management, backcountry travel and first aid. All of our guides are involved in ongoing professional training and maintain certifications with their respective associations. Safety always comes first but it is important to remember that there does exist inherent risks in backcountry travel meaning that anytime we leave the ski area boundary, we require all of our clients to be equipped with a full kit of avalanche safety equipment (transceiver, shovel & probe) and ask that any instructions given by our guides are explicitly followed to mitigate risk and ensure an epic powder day.

Each of our guides brings something a little different to the crew but one thing is for sure, they all share a passion for the mountains and and have an intimate knowledge of Hokkaido's best powder lines. We meet daily to discuss current conditions at each area, monitor the weather and adjust the schedule to make sure you are headed to the best snow each and every day.

 

Meet our crew

Toby Washer

Multi-Day Tour Guide

A skier turned snowboarder, Toby grew up in Christchurch riding the mountains of New Zealand before stories of Japan's massive annual snowfalls prompted him to make the move to Hokkaido in 2003. As an English teacher in Sapporo, Toby spent several years learning Japanese and exploring everything Hokkaido has to offer. From ski resorts and secret powder stashes to restaurants, bars, onsens and sights, Toby has Hokkaido dialled. Returning for his fourth season with Black Diamond, Toby is an invaluable tour guide specializing in our multi day adventures exploring Hokkaido's hidden gems.

Qualifications

  • Emergency First Aid Safety (40 hour course)
  • Avalanche Operations Level 1 (Canadian Avalanche Association)

 

Gordon Menzies

Lead Backcountry Guide

After an unusual start growing up on a yacht during his early childhood, Gordy continued to grow up in Queenstown, New Zealand instantly connecting with the mountains and local ski fields.

At first it began by playing hooky from school for powder days and weekends shredding the local slopes. When that wasn`t enough, Gordy made the obvious choice to pursue a winter lifestyle, and started ski patrolling at The Remarkables in 2007.  Over the last 5 years he has continued traveling, working and skiing in the northen hemisphere while returning to Queenstown to each may to complete the annual endless winter cycle.

Gordy made his first trip to Hokkaido last winter and discovered what the snowfall records were about, instantly decideding that a return trip to work for BD tours had to be made.  His plan is to help anyone lucky enough to be on a trip with him track up Hokkaido`s best pow lines....!

Qualifications

  • Avalanche Operations Level 2 (NZMGA)
  • Pre-hospital Emergency First Aid Care

 

Bruce Hasler

Lead Backcountry Guide

 Bruce has resided in Queenstown, New Zealand since 1994 following his dreams after finishing school. He soon began skiing and climbing full time and it wasn't long before he was chasing endless winters around the world, first as an instructor then heli-ski guide. In between Bruce managed to "squeeze in" the occasional Himalayan expedition and has climbed, skied and filmed on some of the worlds highest summits including Everest. Bruce now guides clients with Himalayan Experience along with owning and operating Summits Mountain Guiding in NZ. Bruce managed a visit to Hokkaido last winter to see what all the hype was about and after meeting the BD crew has decided to return for another full winter on the guiding team. Must be the bottomless pow...

Qualifications

  • Avalanche Operations Level 1 (NZMGA)
  • Pre-hospital Emergency First Aid Care
  • Telemark Instructor Level 3 (NZMGA)
  • Alpine Instructor Level 1 (NZMGA)

 

Andy Brooks

Lead Backcountry Guide

After growing up on the icy hills of the US MidWest Andy eagerly headed West in search of bigger mountains, powder, and the general ski bum lifestyle. First it was Montana, then the Teton Mountains of Wyoming where he spent 10 years skiing some of the steepest and deepest lines in the lower 48. Along the way Andy has travelled the world in search of big mountains and new adventures finally migrating North to Alaska where he`s spent the last 7 Spring seasons skiing the Chugach range. This winter he joins the BDTours crew looking forward to a winter of epic pow before heading back to AK for another Spring session of heli ski guiding with Alaska Backcountry Adventures.

 

Qualifications

  • Level III Mountain Guide (American Avalanche Institute)
  • Wilderness First Responder (80 hr. course)

 

Colin Boyd

Lead Backcountry Guide

Colin Boyd has been strapped to a board most of his life.  After growing up in the Northeast of the United States, Colin picked up the urge to travel at a young age and has spent most if not all of his free time on the road.  This has taken him on multiple trips around North America, New Zealand and now the Land of the Rising Sun.  His competitive snowboard background and experience working with Burton Snowboards has enabled him to move fluidly around the globe working as a private snowboard coach, R&D Product Tester, Marketing Coordinator, Event Manager and with other guiding outfits such as FreerideNZ.  Over the course of a 2 month freeriding stint in Hokkaido during the '09-10 winter, Colin hooked up with BD and soaked up knowledge of every nook and cranny of the island and is now coming back as a full time guide for the '10-11 winter.

Qualifications:

  • Wilderness First Responder (80 hour course)
  • Avalanche Operations Level 1 (Canadian Avalanche Association)
  • Saint Michael's College Wilderness Course

 

Ben Johns

Lead Backcountry Guide

Fortunate enough to be born and raised in Banff, Alberta in the heart of the Canadian Rockies Ben has been on skis for almost his entire life. Ever since his introduction to ski mountaineering at the age of 8, it has been his passion. As an avid climber and skier he has accomplished numerous technical ski descents throughout North America in the Yukon, Alaska, Nepal, South America, New Zealand and even Mexico. After graduating from Thompsons Rivers University in 2004 with a diploma in Adventure Tourism Ben became a member of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and works back to back winters ski guiding all over the world. This will be Bens second trip to the land of the rising sun and he's stoked be back riding the deepest, driest snow on the planet.

Qualifications

  • ACMG Assistant Ski Guide
  • Avalanche Operations Level 1 (Canadian Avalanche Association)
  • Thompson Rivers University Adventure Guide Graduate
  • Certified EMT (Alberta College of Paramedics) Graduate
  • Professional Rope Access Supervisor

 

Hayden Buck

Multi Day Tour Guide

A high school snowshoe trip that included a 100 foot ride on a friend's snowboard is all it took for Hayden to get hooked on snowboarding. Now, 18 years later and he is having more fun on a snowboard than ever.  After 8 years based in Sapporo teaching English and freeriding the best of Hokkaido's powder, Hayden re-focused his attention to working in the mountains, joining the Black Diamond crew for the first time last winter. Back for more in 2012-13 Hayden's years of "research" have paid off as he shows fortunate BD guests around his adopted back yard.

Qualifications

  • Wilderness First Responder (80 hour course)
  • Avalanche Operations Level 1 (Canadian Avalanche Association)

 

Andrew Spragg

Manager/Head Guide

Andrew grew up skiing and riding in the Canadian Rockies before moving West to Canada's Coast Range where he honed his backcountry skills before heading further West (or is it East??) to Hokkaido's powder playground. Together Clayton Kernaghan, and Andrew created BDTours as an offshoot of BDLodge in 2005. Today BDtours is now far more than afterthought often keeping Andrew locked up in the office in his role as ops manager but if you're lucky enough to get out on a trip with him you'll be hooked up with one the island's most experienced powder junkies.

Qualifications

  • Advanced Wilderness First Responder (80 hour course)
  • Avalanche Operations Level 1 (Canadian Avalanche Association)

 

 

Media

Our team has over 15 years experience exploring and guiding in Hokkaido . Tell us know what you want and we'll take you there. Below are just some of the media we have worked with in the past few years.

Snowboard, People, Places and Business with Photographer Dan Hudson and riders Karleen Jeffery Andrew Hardingham and Jus Joey Vosburgh

Various writers from UK including Minty Cinch

The UK television program The Travel Show hosted by

Special guest appearance from the Flow team for a

Spanish snowboard magazine with photographer Marc Gasch and pro riders from Spain and Argentina

Poorboyz Productions (Phil) filming for reasons with JP Auclair and Chris Bechetler with phtographer David Levin

German ski magazine Skiing The Next Level with photographer and editor Roman and pro skiers from Amplid

 

FAQ

When is the best time to visit Hokkaido for a ski holiday?

The ski season runs from late November until early May but as with anywhere in the world weather conditions vary from year to year. At the start of the season we need a fair amount of snow to fall in order to fully cover the underbrush (sassa grass) which stands close to 2 meters tall in the summer. Until we have received enough snow to cover the sassa, our ability to ride off-piste powder is limited and options can be restricted; but if you catch that deep early season day, you’ll likely have your pick of lines as the new seasonal staff will be just as unaware of where to find the goods as the short term visitor.

Early December can sometimes bring heavy snowfalls setting us up early but generally conditions are a bit touch and go until about Christmas time when you can usually expect a sufficient base to have developed to get off the main runs and into the terrain you’ve all heard about and seen in the movies.

By January you can expect coverage to be good and powder plentiful on all slopes. January and February offer the most consistent quality powder snowfalls with powder to be expected almost on a daily basis.  Remember though that even in one of the snowiest places on the planet, nothing is guaranteed and there is always the chance that you will catch that unlucky stretch of clear skies. Not surprisingly, January and February are the busiest months for ski tourism in Hokkaido so keep that in mind as accommodation can be harder to find if you are booking late and peak season rates apply to everything. Also the Sapporo Snow Festival and Chinese New Year fall in early to mid-February and these are big draw cards for a lot of visitors to the area. If these events are not of interest to you, then it is advisable to plan your trip outside of this time.

March brings a huge change of pace as the bulk of international ski visitors disappear and we’re left with uncrowded slopes and often conditions equal to or better than earlier in the winter. If you’re interested in backcountry skiing, this is a great time of year to visit as you can count on a little more sunshine, longer daylight hours and a well developed base that facilitates easier entry and exit from the backcountry.

By April, the season is coming to a close and most people are thinking about golfing, bike riding and surfing but the resorts are still open, the parks are well maintained and the long sunny days open the door to knock off some of the bigger ski traverses not possible during the winter months when the weather is too variable and the days too short.

 

I am travelling on my own but want to join one of your trips – what are my options?

Single guests can select any trip from our 1 day trip menu and join on any of these trips at any time through the winter subject to availability and sufficient additional bookings.  Please inquire and we will fill you in on which trips are running on which dates or we will put you down for the trip of your choice on the date of your choice and await additional bookings to meet our minimum requirement of booked clients (3 for guided trips and 5 for unguided).

If you are interested in a package tour, our scheduled package trips are ideally suited to singles or small groups and we can book any of these trips for you regardless of your group size. Multi day trip schedule can be found here.

 

We want to book a trip(s) but want to get the best conditions – is there any flexibility to adjust our plans after we arrive?

At Black Diamond our goal is to take you to the best skiing/riding on offer on any given day and flexibility is a key component of making that possible so the short answer is yes!

The most important thing for us is to have you booked in and on the schedule so that we have a guide available and are thinking about where best to take you. This also means that we will have the ability to get in touch with you prior to the trip to advise you of conditions and alternatives. After you arrive in town we recommend that you give us a call to discuss your trip, weather conditions and what’s happening around the island in terms of snowfall.  We do try to accommodate as many last minute bookings as possible but advance booking is highly recommended - especially during peak season (Christmas – late February) to ensure availability.

On the scheduled trip date, if the tour that you have arranged is not looking like a great option for that day or for safety reasons we cannot run the planned tour, we will offer alternative options, postpone the trip or offer a full refund.

In order to ensure that you are headed to the best possible snow conditions we highly recommend booking our Powderhunter day trip as this is specifically designed with the ultimate in flexibility to make sure we are following on the heels of the latest snow storm.

The bottom line is we want to make sure that you have a better day with us than you could have had without our service.

 

Are your trips run privately?

Our trip pricing is based on a minimum of 3 people in a group up to a maximum of 6 clients per guide. If your group has less than 3 people in it, then we will mix you in with another group. When putting multiple groups together, we make every effort to match skill levels but on the occasion when things aren’t working out well, we have a few options available to split the group up – including sending an extra guide onto the mountain to meet the group or postponing the trip to another date for part of the group.

If you would like to have a guaranteed private trip for you and your group, we offer this option for groups between 1 and 5 people. (Please see individual trips for specific pricing details). For groups of 5 or more, your group will have its own private guides regardless. Pricing starts with the base price of 1 private guide for the first 5 guests, then we will charge regular per person rates up to the point that a second private guide booking results in a cheaper rate. (Crossover point happens between 9 and 10 people for most trips).

 

Is backcountry safety equipment required?

Backcountry equipment is required for all participants on any trip where we will be leaving the ski area boundary. We offer all of the necessary equipment (transceiver, shovel, probe and backpack) for rental (click here for details on rates) or if you have your own please bring it. Backcountry gear rental is not required on trips that do not leave the ski area boundary.

 

What hiking equipment is provided/required for backcountry touring trips?

For backcountry touring trips, we offer snowshoes and collapsible hiking poles for snowboarders. For skiers we offer climbing skins and alpine trekker touring bindings. “Trekkers” are a binding adapter which fit into any regular alpine ski binding and connect to regular alpine ski boots allowing skiers with a standard alpine ski setup to tour in the backcountry. Alternatively skiers can also fit into snowshoes which for first time backcountry skiers can be easier and less frustrating under certain conditions – particularly on steep climbs. Our guides will advise clients of which equipment is most suitable on the morning of the trip.

We do also have a limited selection of dedicated touring skis with Alpine Touring bindings mounted to fat powder skis available for rent. These are considerably lighter and easier to use than the alpine trekker setups and are available as an upgrade if we have sufficient stock availability. We cannot pre-book these skis but will offer the upgrade option to you on the day of the trip. If you would like to ensure AT ski rental, we recommend contacting Rhythm & Beats Niseko Rental shop as they have a much wider selection of AT skis available. If you indicate that you have been referred by Black Diamond Tours you should receive a small discount on your rental.

 

Are your trips only open to guests staying at Black Diamond Lodge?

Our trips are open to anyone regardless of where you are staying. We do offer clients staying at Black Diamond Lodge special discounts off our trips and are able to keep all guests staying at BDL advised of trips running day to day but guests staying elsewhere are welcome to drop by the lodge or our Tours office in Hirafu village to stay up to speed on powder conditions around the island.

 

What time should I schedule my flights to arrive / depart?

Sapporo Chitose airport to Niseko: Buses run regularly through the day so any time will work; however the last bus departs the airport at 9:30pm meaning your flight needs to arrive before 8:30pm in order to make it onto the last bus. If you are arriving later than this there are private transfer options available or you can spend the night near the airport and transfer to Niseko the following morning.

Niseko to Sapporo Chitose airport: The first bus of the day departs Niseko at 7:10am arriving at the airport at 10:25am so flight departure times of 11:30am or later can be reached. If you depart earlier than this, you will need to transfer to the airport the night before staying near the airport or use a private transfer service.

Sapporo Chitose to Sapporo city: Sapporo city is about 1 hour by train or bus from Sapporo Chitose airport so connections to an from the city can be made to meet any flight time.

Sapporo Chitose to Furano: The last bus to Furano departs at 5:20pm arriving in Furano at 8:20pm so you will need to arrange your flight to land before 4:30pm in order to make this transfer. Alternatively private transfer services are available transfer or you can stay near the airport and transfer the following morning.

 

How do I get from Chitose airport to Niseko and back?

After arriving at Sapporo Chitose airport, the hard part is done and if you have booked accommodation or a package trip, we will take care of everything you need from here on out. Unless otherwise requested, we will charge for airport transfers at the time of booking. After you have provided us with your flight details, we will make you`re transfer arrangements and provide you with all necessary directions to catch the direct charter bus to Niseko. Please disembark at the Niseko Village Hilton Hotel stop and our lodge staff will meet you there to bring you back to our lodge.

 

My package trip finishes in Sapporo but indicates that no return airport transfer is included. How do I get to the airport?

Airport transfers from Sapporo city to the airport are readily available on public transport (either by airport bus or train) with connections available to meet all flights departing Chitose airport daily; however it is not possible to make advance bookings for these services so instead you will need to pay at the time of boarding the train or bus (cost is between 1000-1500Yen depending on the service you choose). Your guide will provide all necessary information on available transfer times, where to go etc. prior to your departure so that you are able to easily effectuate the transfer. Also note that our accommodations in Sapporo are specifically chosen to facilitate easy airport transfers.

This is relevant for all PowerTripNiseko White RoomTripender and some Custom package bookings. Please let us know if you have any additional questions or concerns at the time of booking. Both arrival and departure transfers are provided for Hokkaido Unplugged guests.

 

What is the best way to get to Sapporo Chitose airport from Tokyo?

Sapporo Chitose airport is an international airport but has only a limited number of international connections available meaning that most people travelling to Hokkaido and Niseko will need to stop in Tokyo and catch a connecting flight to Sapporo. If you are unable to make arrangements (or fares are too expensive) for the domestic leg of your travel than you can book your domestic flight independently. Skymark Airlines and Airdo are Japan's domestic discount carriers connecting Hokkaido to Honshu and generally offer the best rates; however it is important to note that most domestic flights depart from Tokyo Haneda airport while most international flights arrive at Tokyo Narita airport. Also note that most domestic carriers will not accept bookings more than 2 months in advance of your intended date of travel.

If you have a domestic flight departing from Haneda, you will need to change airports. This is a very easy process and the Airport Limousine bus company offers the most convenient service. When you arrive at Narita and exit the customs control area into the main concourse, you will see bright orange Airport Limousine counters at regular intervals through the airport where you can arrange to transfer between airports. Guest services staff will speak English making it easy to arrange. Buses depart every 10-15 minutes, take about 1 hour and cost 3000Yen each way.

Please note that if you plan to do this, you should leave at least 3.5 hours between your arrival time at Narita and departure from Haneda airport. If you leave this amount of time and your international flight happens to be late causing you to miss your connecting flight, both Skymark and Airdo will rebook you on the next available flight at no extra charge. They will require a printed document from your international carrier stating that your flight was late. This document can be obtained from airport carrier counters in the baggage claim area.

UPDATE!! Several new low cost carriers have recently begun domestic operations in Japan offering cheap airfares and more convenient Narita-Chitose and Osaka-Chitose connections. The new airlines are Jetstar Japan, Peach Airlines and Korean Airlines. Korean Airlines now also offers direct flights from Seoul to Sapporo Chitose airport. We recommend exploring possibilities with these carriers when booking flights.

 

Should I purchase lift tickets in advance?

We highly recommend against purchasing lift tickets in advance as there are no additional cost savings and pre-purchasing lift tickets only serves to limit your flexibility. Due to localized weather patterns, conditions can often be much different at nearby resorts; if it looks like there will be more snow elsewhere, we will advise of this and recommend heading to another area rather than staying in Niseko for the day.

Further, Niseko's lift system is highly subject to closure due to strong winds meaning that on some days only small parts of the mountain are open so you may not be able to take full advantage of your lift pass and a more limited single mountain or partial day pass may make more sense. Last up there is always the possibility that after several incredible powder days you may be tired and want to take a day off. We know that sounds crazy now but it happens!!

If you are staying at BDLodge, we sell discounted lift tickets from reception so you can purchase the most suitable ticket for you each day that you are here.

 

What ability level is required for your trips?

This is an important question as no one wants to be in over their head, holding up a group or conversely spend their day standing around waiting for others to make it down the mountain. We fully understand this and have a number of ways to organize the right people in the right groups and ensure we get the right guests on the mountain together. In general though, our trips are geared towards advanced-intermediate, advanced and expert skiers but within our trip options there is a range of skills that are required to make the most of your time out on the mountain. Through the booking process, we will work with you to find out more about your skill level and get you booked on the right trips but it begins with you making an honest assessment of your abilities. Once you arrive here and join us on your first trip our guide's can provide feedback on whether or not subsequent trips that you have booked are suitable and we will adjust if and when necessary.

For snowboarders, critical skills are the ability to hold a strong edge allowing for good high traverses without losing too much elevation (particurlarly important to make the most of the back bowls trip) and the ability to read terrain effectively - you have to be just a bit smarter than the average skier (hopefully the skiers aren't reading this :) to avoid the ptifalls of deep pow and flat spots. Also many runs will end with winding, bumpy trails through the forest that you will need to be able to navigate.

For skiers, the biggest challenge typically comes with skiing through deep snow and through trees. Most of the Hokkaido's best skiable terrain occurs below treeline so its important that you are able to consistently turn where the terrain dictates. Managing this in deep snow is of particular importance. A great tool to help improve your ability is a good set of fat skis and we highly recommend upgrading with a rental ski for your trip with us if conditions are deep and you aren't skiing a fat ski.

Our most introductory trip is the Niseko Off Piste tour which is geared towards skiers and riders that are just getting ready to leave groomed runs and start exploring off piste powder terrain. If you are unsure of your ability to join our other trips, this is a good trip to start off with so you can get to know our guides and they can recommend whether or not you should join us for additional excursions.

For the remainder of our trips we expect guests to be fairly proficient in off piste terrain - you don't necessarily have to have the best form or style but need to be capable of making your way down.

The following is a breakdown of our main trips and what you can expect with each.

Off piste and sidecountry day trips: This includes our Niseko Back BowlsPowderhunter tours and trips to other ski resorts (including Rusutsu, Sapporo Kokusai, Kiroro and Teine Highland). The main criteria to enjoy these trips is as described above. As long as you meet the minimum levels, you will have a great day but we can also tailor these trips to the more extreme expert skiers out there so if you're looking for drops, chutes, pillows and mushrooms we will find them.

Multi - day Trips: Again these trips are geared towards the same basic level described above but each trip has its own flavour which we attempt to describe with each trip write - up. Please read carefully to make sure you book the right trip for you. Our most free-flowing advanced trip with the fastest pace is the PowerTrip but all of our trips will get you out to great areas. Also we usually have fairly large groups on our multi day trips (maximum of 12 on most trips) and several guides. We will almost never ski as a full group as this is too many people to move efficiently and safely in the mountains but this allows us the opportunity to have several guides on the trip and split the group up so that everyone is skiing terrain suited to their skill level.

Backcountry Trips: In terms of going down, guests booking backcountry trips should be proficient as described above. In terms of going up hill guests should be fairly fit and able to hike for several hours over the course of the day. Experience on backcountry equipment is not required but please advise us at the time of booking how much backcountry experience you have so that we can plan and prepare accordingly.

Private Guided Trips: A private guide is a great way to go and trips will be tailored specifically to your group's level. This is best suited to groups of 4 or more people. All options are open for private guided days and we will work with you to find out your goals for the day. On private trips we can add in some basic avalanche training to the day and even do some beacon searches if that is of interest. We can also focus a bit more on instruction and tips if you'd really like to improve your skills (please see below for more the limitations of this) or if you're up to it, find some bigger lines, pillows or drops.

 

Can BDTour guides provide instruction?

Our guides are qualified as guides and the format of our trips is all based on skiing great lines, great snow and incredible terrain. We are happy to offer advice and tips to help you improve your skills and many of our guides have previous experience as instructors. That said we do not offer straight ski or snowboard lessons so if your goals for the day are specifically to improve your skills we recommend booking a ski lesson with one of the great lesson providers in Niseko... then when you're ready join us to fill your boots with pow!

PP/Night from US$ 50