All you need to know about Cat Skiing in Niseko
The Niseko region is famous for powder snow, the local Volcano Mt Yotei, and amazing food!
But to make the most out of Niseko you really want to get off the main slopes and into a snow cat for a unique snow experience.
what is Cat Skiing?
Cat skiing is a guided backcountry experience which is perfect for those wanting to escape the inbounds ski resort area and have access to untouched fresh powder! Instead of using chairlifts or helicopters to access the snow, you are taken up in a snowcat and then enjoy having the mountain to yourself.
Why Should you go Cat skiing?
From chasing powder snow and fresh lines, to experiencing a quiet and near empty mountain are often some of the top reasons people book a cat ski experience. It's also a great way to improve your powder skiing skills.
If you're travelling alone you will get the chance to enjoy a day of adventure with other powder lovers in town. By the end of the day you will have made some new friends.
Who can go Cat Skiing?
Although you need to have some experience skiing or snowboarding, cat skiing isn't just for the advanced to expert riders. It's the best way to get used to continual powder, and find your rhythm. If you have a coach and a day cat skiing, your powder skills will improve tenfold.
There are many options, with fun, mellow and open terrain, to the technical lines and exhilarating drops that powder junkies crave.
Each mountain offers a different experience, and each cat ski operation does their best to help cater to your experience level and point you in the right direction for the best runs on the day.
Where to Cat Ski from Niseko
Chisenupuri Snow Cats
Get dropped off at 832m on Mt Chisenupuri for some excellent powder runs that average at about 280m per run. Located 30 minutes outside of Niseko Village in a town called Rankoshi this mountain had a small ski field built for the locals in 1977. Today the chairs have been removed from the lift, and the slopes are used for cat skiing.
The terrain mixes wide open pistes, well spaced trees, and glades which means that it's a great place for all levels of backcountry skiers. Experienced riders can explore the trees, ski to the nearby onsen and those who are still getting used to skiing deep powder can make the most of the mellow pistes (which are covered in fluffy snow, not groomed).
Hokkaido Backcountry run this operation at the Niseko Chisenupuri ski resort which is used solely for cat skiing. The amount of runs each day depends on the groups' experience level and the weather. You can get a shuttle pick up and drop off from your Niseko accomodation, and they include lunch to keep you fuelled up for the afternoon. Backcountry avalanche equipment is required, but they do have it for you to use (included in the price) if you do not have your own. The experience is unguided, so a certain level of experience is required.
One of our favourite experiences is skiing down to the onsen with a group of friends, you then have a little 5 minute walk back up to the cat ski pick up point, but it's worth it.
Location: Mt. Chisenupuri
Experience Level: Backcountry beginner to Advanced.
Prices start from: ¥55,000 per person (take advantage of their 2020/21 deal ¥41,260)
Private Cat Ski: You can rent the cat for the day from ¥481,800
Guide Ration: Unguided, however the team will help point you in the right direction.
Inclusions: Cat skiing, hot lunch, onsen ticket, avalanche equipment, pick up and drop off from Niseko (if required).
Website: Chisenupuri Snow Cats
Shimamaki Snow Cats - Multi-Day
Escape to a sleepy coastal village for a multi day cat skiing adventure. Mt East Karabi offers cat skiing from 1319m with an average of 450m vertical on slopes that range from 15-35 degrees. Not only will you enjoy some of the epic powder snow that Japan is famous for, you will get to escape to a new mountain range in a more remote part of Hokkaido for what will be some of the best runs of your life.
Hokkaido Backcountry offer 2, 3 and 4-day trips with overnight accommodation and meals included. It's the perfect trip for powder hounds visiting Niseko.
If you've ever wanted to escape the busy ski resorts and immerse yourself in a quiet Japanese town, this is the perfect cat ski experience for you.
Location: Karibayama mountain range
Experience Level: Strong intermediate to advanced
Guide Ratio: 1 guide to 6 guests.
Prices start from: ¥175,000 per person (2 day experience) - see website for other options.
Private Cat Ski: ¥720,000 per day (minimum 2 days) for up to 12 guests.
Accomodation Style: Japanese tatami style with futon bedding.
Inclusions: Cat skiing, lodge accommodation in Shimamaki, backcountry avalanche equipment, roundtrip transportation from Niseko, breakfast, mountain lunches and Japanese style dinners.
Website: Shimamaki Snow Cats
Niseko Weiss Powder Cats
First tracks guaranteed is how they describe your experience at Weiss. Located just to the side of Niseko Hanazono ski resort, you'll find an old ski resort that no longer operates and has found a new life as a cat skiing mountain.
Because Niseko Weiss used to be a ski resort you have the advantage of wide open runs, perfect for those looking at their first powder snow or backcountry experience. Having the ski guides show you around the mountain will help you make the most of your powder experience.
For those with more experience you can opt for the untouched tree runs and open back bowls to make the most of your day out at Niseko Weiss.
A maximum of 12 guests per day guarantees fresh lines for everyone all day. Several guides and a photographer will join you on the mountain to ensure everyone is safe and great memories are captured.
Location: Niseko Weiss Mountain next to Hanazono
Best Suited: Advanced skiers and snowboarders, although there is mellow terrain available guests should be experienced in deep powder and trees.
Guide Ratio: 3-4 guides with a group of 12 guests.
Prices start from: ¥50,000 per person, or ¥480,000 for the entire cat (1-12 guests).
Inclusions: Cat skiing, powder ski guides, use of avalanche beacon, transport from your Niseko accomodation, lunch.
Website: Niseko Weiss Powder Cats
Iwanai Cat Skiing
Located in the town of Iwanai about 45 minutes from Niseko, this cat ski operation offers some epic terrain overlooking the ocean. Take the opportunity to explore a new town near Niseko and choose between booking a seat on a cat for the day, a private cat for your crew, or the entire mountain (treat yo' self).
With a maximum of two cats on the mountain each day and enough terrain for you to ride fresh lines three days straight, you'll be set for a great experience. Iwanai cat skiing offers some of the longest vertical in the area with 450-680 meters per run with views straight out to the ocean, wide open runs from the old ski field and pillows and drops to keep you entertained for days.
What we love about Iwanai is they operate a chairlift with a few runs at the bottom of the mountain which is perfect for children and beginners to enjoy the day while you shred up the top. Don't leave anyone at home!
Your lunch is provided at the base of the slopes inside their restaurant/bar with stunning large windows, and it's the perfect place for a post shred beer or two after you finish for the day.
Iwanai offer night cat tour experiences for something a little different, enjoy views over the town of Iwanai on an evening adventure which is perfect for family members who want to get on the mountain but don't ski. This is just one of the many unique packages they offer, so don't hesitate to get in touch with them for more information to suit your trip.
Location: Iwanai Ski Resort
Best Suited: Intermediate to Advanced (friends and family can enjoy the chairlift at the base of the mountain and the cafe/bar inside).
Prices start from: ¥80,000
Guide Ratio: 1 guide to 6 guests (each cat has two guides, a lead and tail guide).
Other Cat Ski Options: Private cat ski (have one cat for you and your friends), private mountain (close the mountain for just your group for the day), and night cat tour on the mountain (no skiing). Contact Iwanai for information on these options if you want something a little extra special.
Inclusions: Cat skiing, backcountry ski guides, avalanche beacon and equipment, lunch and soft drinks (tea, juice etc).
Website: Iwanai Cat Tours
Big Wave Snow Cats
Just 30 minutes from Niseko you can enjoy having a mountain to yourself on a day with Big Wave Snow Cats. With some amazing options to suit every type of powder hound you can ski the wide open spaces or fly down steep runs with tight trees.
Each run is approximately 200m of vertical, and you can get some air on pillows and mushrooms throughout the day. Having an experienced local backcountry guide to show you where to go for an amazing powder experience only makes it better.
Location: Yamanashi mountain range (30 mins from Niseko)
Experience Level: Strong Intermediate to Advanced
Prices start from: ¥59,000 per person
Private Cat Ski: Hire a cat for you and your friends for just ¥295,000 for 5 guests (add a 6th for ¥30,000 extra).
Inclusions: Cat skiing, backcountry guide, pick up from Niseko accommodation, avalanche safety kit if required, lunch included.
Website: Big Wave Snow Cats
2020/2021: Who is open for cat skiing this winter?
This winter is understandably a little bit different with borders closed around the world and limited guests able to visit. Each of the cat ski operations have made some changes for this winter, please check each cat skiing website to find out more about their COVID19 policies, and GoTo travel discounts.
Chisenupuri Snow Cats: Open
Shimamaki Snow Cats: Open
Weiss Powder Cats: Closed
Big Wave Snow Cats: Open (currently closed for December due to COVID19, and this could be extended).