Features

2013
ISSUE
46
Niseko Cats
By Aaron Jamieson

Niseko snowcats are found deep in the snowy mountains of the north island; they detest crowds, preferring to travel in small groups, away from busy ski resorts in search of bottomless powder and steep, forested terrain. Follow their tracks, and you’re in for an unforgettable adventure.

Okay, so the Niseko Snowcat is not a real animal. However there is nothing fictitious about the volume of snow that falls in Niseko annually; the amount of lift- accessed powder you get at the resort is simply incredible. While it’s indisputable Niseko gets more than its fair share of light, fluffy snow, it’s for this same reason the area has attracted an increasing number of snow enthusiasts.

Although there’s plenty of powder to go around, those searching for untouched perfection must venture further afield. Luckily, much of the steepest and deepest terrain is out of reach unless you really like hiking in the snow or you get yourself a snowcat.

A couple of long-time Niseko locals chose the latter. Nick Gutry and Aaron Jamison have combined their passion for diesel-powered engines and machines with their penchant for skiing fresh tracks in the backcountry. Nick has been exploring and guiding in the mountains in and around Niseko for more than a decade, and his experience with snowcats spans 21 years.

Aaron, a professional photographer based in Hirafu Village for the last seven years, was drawn to the area by a love of snow and the outdoors. He is the founder of Niseko Photography and is an oft-published ski/snowboard photographer. His passion for photography is second only to that of skiing untracked powder, and he’s found the perfect way to do both.

The two joined forces to create a professional and proficient cat skiing operation that takes small groups into the Yamanashi Range, an inaccessible powder paradise unless you have a snowcat.

Their tours traverse frozen rice fields, navigate through forests and climb some steep faces to get to the good stuff. As the snowcat rumbles to the top of a ridge line, panoramic views reveal terrain from Mt. Shiribetsu to Mt. Youtei and all the way across to Mt. Annupuri—without a ski track in sight!

The remoteness of this place becomes apparent when the cat rumbles away, leaving you standing in silent awe if not for the occasional crackle of the guide’s radio. As you watch your guide ski off into the unknown, your stomach twitches with excitement and a nervous anxiety of what lies below. The radio call comes through and you’re all clear...“Three, two, one...dropping!”

The ridge rolls away to gentle north facing slopes, speckled with mushrooms and trees, then juts back around to steep southern facing slopes of technical tree skiing. It’s a wonderland for experienced powder skiers.

If you join a tour, it’s just you, your personal guide and photographer, and a professional cat driver. The tours are steep and deep, for advanced skiers/boarders and limited to five persons. All safety equipment is provided, and every customer is fitted with a beacon, with guides carrying avalanche safety equipment. This tour is not for the faint-hearted; it is true backcountry skiing. No cozy day lodges, no popping in for a hot wine (some good hot coffee, though), no getting your boots fixed between runs...and no lift lines either!

The day draws as the light fades and Youtei turns pink. Loading into the cat and leaving so much untouched powder behind may seem like a crime, but you can take consolation knowing you’ll soon be sharing stories in the bar about getting neck deep in Niseko. You’ll also have some great photos (or video) by professional photographers.

If you’ve visited Niseko before and think you’ve skied it all, this is for you. If you’ve never been to Niseko, you don’t know what you are in for. Powder so deep you might want to bring a snorkel.

NISEKO SNOWCAT TOURS

Area: Yamanashi Range
Guide Ratio: 1 to 5 persons per guide
Level: Advanced
Tel: (0136) 22-5764
Web: www.nisekophotography.com

* Contact Niseko Photography for bookings and inquiries.

OTHER SNOWCAT TOURS IN NISEKO

For those who want to try cat skiing or snowboarding but aren’t quite ready to go too extreme, the Niseko Adventure Centre (NAC) has started a new service for the 2012- 13 season that may be the answer. Join a tour and have an entire (closed) ski resort in which to play. NAC is a pioneer in outdoor tours in Niseko, and they’ve acquired the whole of Niseko Weiss Mountain for guests’ cat skiing pleasure.

Weiss is the last mountain of the Niseko mountain range. The snow falls here from all directions, making for many deep days. Weiss has a lot of open treeless bowls; great for intermediate and some steeper tree runs for the more adventurous.

A photographer is on hand to document all your fun (photos and video), and lunch is served in the comforts of the Niseko Weiss Hotel. The hotel was recently redesigned for the 2012-13 season by photographer Neil Hartmann and features all the comforts a snow lover could want.

NAC SNOWCAT TOURS

Area: Niseko Weiss Horn
Level: Intermediate and advanced level (13 years old and over) Guide Ratio: 1 to 12 persons per guide
Tel: (0136) 23-2093