ASK anyone in Niseko why they’re here and 99.9% will answer “the powder!” Yes, the powder here is amazing, but compared to some of the big mountains around the world the terrain in Hokkaido has been described by many as “pretty mellow”. Well, for those of you looking for more challenging and steeper terrain why not visit one of Hokkaido’s best kept secrets: Kurodake. This mountain offers true big mountain skiing and endless backcountry options.
The resort itself has a 101-passenger tram that carries skiers and riders from the valley floor up to 1200 metres, which is closed for January for maintenance because it is too cold to ski! From there a short, slow double chair can take you a little further up the mountain, but it is only open after March 1. Even though there are lifts in Kurodake, it is pretty much a backcountry mountain for experts only.
Under the tram-line there is one semimarked course that’s not groomed and offers the steepest lift accessed terrain in Japan. Beyond the course is an off-piste haven, but be careful here, there are unmarked hazards, lots of technical trees, and it is littered with cliff bands.
Above the double chair lift looms the peak, and it can be accessed by a 90 to 180 minute hike. From there you can ski or ride one of the longest runs in Hokkaido that ends right in the village. If you’re looking for more, you can always drop from the peak off the back side of the resort and you will find a cozy alpine refuge hut to base yourself from and hike endless backcountry lines.
If Kurodake sounds amazing but you don’t have the experience to explore it on your own, you can hire a guide from one of the many companies that offer backcountry tours with some of the best guides around.