Cat-Skiing in Niseko

11th January 2018 - Kenji Matsuzawa
Kenji Cat-Skiing in Niseko

Out of the many ways to explore Niseko's backcountry, one of the most fun is cat-skiing. I spent a day each with two of the most popular operations - Niseko Weiss Powder Cats and Chisenupuri Cat Skiing - to get to know how they differ so we can recommend the best option to our customers.

Both operations run at former ski resorts on mountains either side of Niseko so you get to ski the piste and off-piste terrain that used to make up the resorts. In fact, at Chisenupuri you can still see the lifts in place!

Firstly, I joined Niseko Weiss Powder Cats on 13 December...

Niseko Weiss Powder Cats - 13 December 2017

Niseko Weiss Free Pick Up

Free shuttle bus

Wherever you stay in Niseko, a free pick-up and drop-off service is available.

The Weiss Cat Tour departs from Hanazono 308, Niseko Hanazono's base lodge where you register and have the safety briefing.

Niseko Weiss - Safety Briefing

Pre-tour safety briefing

The lead guide will explain the tour's outline, and also give you some safety instructions. You will practice how to use the safety equipment both inside the building and out on snow.

Niseko Weiss - Practising Safety

Testing the avalanche beacon

Your guide will test your avalanche beacon and your skill before you jump on the cat.

The cat and half of the guide team have already been up the mountain for a recce before customers arrive.

Niseko Weiss - Boarding the Cat

Boarding the cat

Niseko Weiss - Cat

I have done almost all the cat tours in Hokkaido, and this is the most luxurious cat I have ever seen!

Niseko Weiss - Inside the Cat

Look at this first-class cabin!

Niseko Weiss - Top of the Hill

Disembarking at the top

It was very windy and cold today. One of the many good things about a cat tour is that the tour can't be cancelled by high wind, as long as the cat can go up the mountain! When it's very windy, ski lifts could be closed, but cat tours not cancelled.

Niseko Weiss - Cat Group

Lead guide shows you the way

You might be excited for your first run, but please listen to the guide's instruction. They will tell you where to ski, how long the run is, what the snow is like and where to wait. This is very important for your safety. You could get lost or cause an avalanche if you do not listen to the guide.

Powder runs with Niseko Weiss Powder Cats

Weiss Powder Cats only accept 12 customers per day. Can you imagine, there are only 12 skiers/snowboarders (plus four guides) on the slopes... Powder everywhere from the morning until the evening!

Niseko Weiss - Guide

The rear guide

The guides always watch customers, making sure everyone makes it down and helping anyone stuck.

Niseko Weiss - Happy Stuck Boarder

He was stuck but looked very happy? He couldn't move and a guide came and dug him out!

Niseko Weiss - Rest Stop

We often stopped somewhere safe, as skiing powder takes a lot of energy.

Niseko Weiss - Cat Waiting

The cat has already got to the bottom where it was waiting for us.

Niseko Weiss - Cat Heading Back Up

You can ski from five to seven runs per day, depending on snow, weather and fitness level.

If the all customers are good skiers/snowboarders, and the weather is good, then the guides can take you to somewhere much more challenging!

Niseko Weiss - Cat Cabin

Another good thing about cat tours is that you will enjoy talking with other customers in the cabin on the 10-15 minute ride to the top.

Niseko Weiss - Tired from Powder

It seems he has had enough powder for one day?

Hanazono 308 Coffee

Coffee at Hanazono 308

The tour ends at Hanazono 308. It is one of the most popular restaurants on the slopes in Niseko, but I like here not just for lunch but for the best coffee!

Hanazono 308 Ramen

And of course my favourite, ramen!

Chisenupuri Cat Skiing - 19 December 2017

Chisenupuri Cat Skiing Car Park

Chisenupuri car park and base area

Chisenupuri Cat Skiing also offers a free shuttle service which will pick you up from your hotel around 8 am and take you to the car park before 9 am (I drove there from Kutchan town, which took about 45 minutes).

The base lodge is 100 m from the car park by the slopes.

Chisenupuri Cat Skiing - Base Lodge

Chisenupuri base lodge

Once everyone had arrived, we had a safety briefing in the lodge.

Rental avalanche safety equipment (beacon, shovel, probe and backpack) are provided if you do not have your own.

Chisenupuri Cat Skiing - Safety Briefing

Briefing on the avalanche beacons

Since they only have three or four staff to look after up to 25 customers, they can't guide everyone as they would in a backcountry situation. Therefore, they call themselves "ski patrol" instead of guides, although they act like guides and check everything for safety.

Chisenupuri Cat Skiing - Outdoor Safety Briefing

Outdoor snow safety briefing

If you are not familiar with safety equipment, don't worry! You will have training before you get on the cat, both inside and out.

First, one of the guides showed us how to find a beacon using another beacon and probes, and how to dig it out by shovel and hands. Then, it was my turn!

You would never know if you don't try. It's too late to learn after your friend is buried in the snow!

Chisenupuri Cat

The cat, ready to go

There are two cats in Chisenupuri, taking up to 25 skiers/snowboarders per day.

Chisenupuri Cat Skiing - Skis and Snowboards

Equipment loaded for the first run

Please do not hesitate to use powder skis or a powder board. You can't enjoy a cat tour very much with skinny skis!

Chisenupuri Cat-Skiing - Cabin

In the cabin

The cabin is not as luxurious as Weiss's but is still comfortable enough and it takes only about five minutes to get to the top.

Chisenupuri Cat-Skiing - At the Top

Gearing up at the top

Since Chisenupuri used to be a ski resort but closed four years ago, there are still some runs. Those are wide and steep enough to enjoy, and the best thing about it is almost no avalanche risk!

There are three or four open-wide runs and some tree runs we could choose from.

Chisenupuri Cat Skiing - Wide Runs

Setting off into the powder

Chisenupuri Cat Skiing - Great Powder

Look at the deep snow!

Chisenupuri Cat Skiing - Traversing

Tree runs and traverse lines

There are some tree runs with a lot of drops and pillows on the back side of the mountain, more suited to experienced skiers and boarders.

Chisenupuri Cat Skiing - Tree Runs

Runs through the trees, which are not too close to each other.

Chisenupuri Cat Skiing - Powder Turns

Putting in powder turns

If you keep to a certain speed you can easily control your skis/snowboard on powder, even better if you can read the terrain.

Chisenupuri Cat Skiing - Yuki-Chichibu Onsen Inn and restaurant

Yuki-Chichibu Onsen Inn and Restaurant

Lunch is not included in the tour, and Yuki-Chichibu is the only place to have lunch. You can access the restaurant from the car park, or ski over the onsen pools!

Chisenupuri Cat Skiing - Onsens

Onsen pools

If you ski down the back side of the mountain, you get to the onsen pools at the bottom of the valley.

No words needed!

Chisenupuri - Buried Car

My car park in Kutchan town

After I enjoyed power in Chisenupuri, this is what my car park looked like back in town - about 10-15 cm in only four hours. Time for another shovel party.

Which Should You Choose?

I would like to end by comparing Weiss with Chisenupuri, as both of them have similar price and similar set-up, so it's helpful to know the difference between them to know which to book.

Terrain

Weiss is a bigger mountain than Chisenupuri, with more vertical drop:

Chisenupuri: 260 metres
Weiss: 450 metres

Weiss's runs are much longer, but Chisenupuri's are much steeper so Chisenupuri is a bit more enjoyable than Weiss for advanced skiers and boarders in terms of runs.

Depending on ability, you'll typically do 5 to 7 runs per day on Weiss and 10 to 12 runs on Chisenupuri.

Snowfall

I've found Chisenupuri gets slightly better snowfall, as Weiss is a bit more wind affected.

Safety

Both tours have very good safety briefings and avalanche equipment introduction.

The Cats

Weiss's cat is a lot more comfortable than Chisenupuri's one, but it's the most comfortable I have ever been in, and both of them are based on the same Pisten Bully 300.

Guiding

Weiss has three or four guides for a maximum of 12 customers per day, Chisenupuri has two or three "patrols" for 25 customers per day. They are there for safety and not for guiding so if you're looking to have a guide nearby at all times then choose Weiss.

Pick-up and Lunch

Both operations offer free pick-up and drop-off service within the Niseko area.

The Weiss tour has a lunch break at Weiss Hotel, just a couple of minutes walk from the base area.

Chisenupuri tour does not provide lunch, and customers usually go to a small restaurant called Yuki-Chichibu, about a three-minute walk from the base area where lunch costs 700-1200 yen (£4-7)

So Which is Best?

I recommend the Weiss Cat Tour for powder first-timers or customers who want a bit more comfort and luxury than normal on a backcountry tour.

Chisenupuri Cat Tour is a more laid back operation and has more runs than Weiss, so I would recommend this for more experienced customers who want to ski/snowboard powder as much as possible.

Ski Niseko with Kenji

Join our Niseko Powder Week in February 2018, hosted by Kenji, a Hokkaido local. Running from 25 February to 5 March, when you can expect excellent conditions and quiet slopes, the trip includes seven nights at Always Niseko (B&B), six day Niseko All Mountain Lift Pass, two days professional guiding, a group dinner in town and return flights and transfers. Kenji will be on hand throughout to share some of his favourite secret powder stashes, local bars and relaxing onsens.

To book cat skiing as part of your Japan ski holiday, let us know when you make your booking or speak to your tour co-ordinator.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more updates from Kenji.

Share this post:
Country Manager Japan