Where to go cat skiing in Japan for first tracks every time

Hikarigahara Cat Skiing

Everyone knows Japan dumps shipping container loads of powder per hour in peak season but not everyone knows that when the chairlift is buried, or the resorts are tracked out, you can take a cat to get to it.

Japan may not be known for super steep terrain or mega long runs, unless you explore the backcountry of Hakuba and Tanagawadake, but it is known for gallons of the white fluffy stuff and for many, just tackling the powder itself is an exercise in extreme skiing.

So when you combine rolling terrain, pitches of well spaced trees and that giggling powder joy then you have some of the best intermediate to advanced cat skiing terrain in the world. Add the bizarre quirks of Planet Japan and expect to lunch in yurts, climb into snow cats built for 8 people, dine on bento boxes and have some of the best days of your lives.

Try these cat operations for strong intermediates and above on for size for a Japan powder experience like no other.

Hokkaido

NAC Cat skiing

NAC Otoe Powder Cat

You’ll find this crew in central Hokkaido, not far from Furano in the Asahikawa region. Known as Otoe, the area is known (like most of central Hokkaido) for super blower smoke powder snow. You’ll get trees, open bowls and lunch at NAC Cat Skiing. The terrain won’t satiate the self appointed ‘pro’ skier but you’ll be guaranteed fresh tracks every time. Choose from a group tour with fellow power hounds or book the cat out for yourself and 11 friends.

Shimamaki

If you’ve cat skied in Canada then you know the joy of multi day lodges deep in the powder filled mountains. Sleep by night, cat ski by day. Japan powder is akin to interior British Columbia, super light and dry and lots of it. The two areas have similar snowfall levels each season so it makes sense to set up a cat ski operation of a similar nature.

The team at Hokkaido Backcountry Club have done just that, with steeper terrain than your average Japan ski resort to keep the advanced to expert skiers happy. Runs aren’t your big mountain Canadian length more 400 meters of vertical You’ll dine on Japanese fare and sleep in a Japanese lodge on the South West coastline of Hokkaido at Shimamaki. Choose from 2 and 4 day cat skiing.

Tengu Snowcats

You’ll find this Japanese snowcat company in central northern Hokkaido. Their website is Japanese so get someone to book for you. The cat skiing is, like many in Japan, on a defunct ski resort and the snow is cold blower smoke deep north facing powder in the Daisetsuzan National Park. They run on weekends and holidays and book out quickly.

Tomamu cat skiing

Tomamu is so hot right now with a swanky new Club Med Resort and a ski in ski out shopping village with Hoshino Resorts. Stay here this winter and you could get yourself some backcountry cat skiing tour at Mt Karifuri including lunch in a yurt.

Niseko Photography and Guiding

Cat skiing in Niseko with Niseko Photography and Guiding.

Don’t be fooled by the name, Niseko Photography and Guiding is an actual cat skiing company (with a photographer). They operate out of Hirafu and include a professional photographer with each tour, along with a fully-qualified guide. This is true backcountry goodness – no day lodges or mulled wine in sight – but that also means you’ll get the best powder on offer. Suitable for strong intermediate and above.

Niseko Weiss Powder Cats

Speak to anyone who’s been to Niseko and they’ll insist that the best powder in the world is found within this resort’s boundaries. Due to Nis Vegas’ popularity, you’ll want to make the most of it, you’ll need to get into a cat or head into the backcountry with a guide. Niseko Weiss Powder Cats is pretty much a private ski resort just for yourself (and some friends). Take a cat for untracked powder, and the mellow terrain is perfect for newbies to the powder delights of Japan. The terrain used to be a ski resort on the edge of the Hanazono area of Niseko.

Chisenupuri

You’ll find Chisenupuri Cat Skiing on an abandoned ski resort near Niseko in the onsen town of Rankoshi. Runs are short (282 vertical meters) and the terrain is suitable for intermediate to advanced skiers or first timers to powder skiing if they stick to the powder laden old cleared ski runs.

Rising Sun

Rising Sun Guides

The Shiribeshi mountains are thirty minutes from Niseko and the home to Rising Sun Guides Cat Skiing. Vertical is around 200 meters per run and you’ll have powder bowls all to yourself to make your mark in while others are still waiting for a chairlift back in Niseko.

Honshu

Hachimantai CAT Backcountry Tour

New this season, just outside of Appi Kogen, you’ll find the Hachimantai CAT Backcountry Tour. We’ll let the YouTube video above do all the talking on this one.

Hikarigahara cat skiing

Hikarigahara Cat Skiing operations owner Masa Takeuchi is a former Burton pro rider and his cat skiing team are all local Japanese guides so you’ll get an authentic Japanese experience. They operate about half an hour from Myoko and boast bigger lines with 400 meters of vertical.

Mikuni Cat

Mikuni Cat is a boutique cat ski operation in Niigata near the Naeba Ski Resort. The cat skiing is on an abandoned ski area where the lifts and resort structures have been removed, leaving clear open runs, trees and untouched backcountry terrain with more challenging slopes. The cat skiing operation is ideal for first time backcountry skiers to upper intermediate backcountry skiers, there is some advanced terrain for those wanting more of a challenge.

READ MORE: Where to get your cat skiing on this northern winter

READ MORE: Backcountry, cat and heli skiing

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Rachael is the name behind @misssnowitall and the founder of SnowsBest.com. A long time journalist and ski writer, she's been published in ESPN Freeskiing, TIME, Powderhound, Sydney Morning Herald, Action Asia, Inside Sport, Australian Financial Review, Emirates Open Skies, Conde Nast and more.

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