Iwanai Resort

Overall Rating

Iwanai Resort

Iwanai Resort4.3/513
Iwanai Resort4.3 out of 5 based on 13 reviews
Iwanai Cat Skiing Hokkaido
Iwanai Resort Powder Cat Tours
Iwanai Snowcat Skiing Japan
Morning tea in the snowcat
Iwanai Resort Terrain
Iwanai cat skiing has some nicely spaced trees
Plenty of wide open spaces to let the boards go
Some terrain features to launch off
The terrain includes some open bowls
Iwanai Resort Powder Cat Tours
Top Dog scoring some famous Hokkaido powder
Iwanai Resort offers amazing views on fine days
Iwanai Cat Skiing is located near Niseko
Iwanai Snowcat
The day lodge is a nice spot for morning briefing, lunch & apres
Sushi lunch
Former piste run of Iwanai Resort
Iwanai is very close to the coast
A modern snowcat cabin at Iwanai Resort
Iwanai Cat Skiing

Iwanai Resort

Overall Rating

Iwanai Resort4.3/513
Iwanai Resort4.3 out of 5 based on 13 reviews
Iwanai Cat Skiing at the Iwanai Resort near Niseko offers day cat skiing as well as multi-day cat skiing trips inclusive of accommodation and meals. If you're staying in Niseko, transfers from your Niseko accommodation are included. Iwanai Cat Skiing is located the coast and offers views of the ocean when it's not dumping with snow! The runs are reasonably long and the Iwanai Resort Powder Cat Tours are best suited to strong intermediate to advanced skiers and snowboarders looking for powder.

Where is Iwanai Resort?

Iwanai Resort is 5km south of the town of Iwanai, which sits on the western coast of Hokkaido Japan.

Iwanai Resort is 40km by road NW of Niseko Hirafu, a trip that takes about 45 minutes. Transport to and from your Hirafu Niseko accommodation is provided.

Alternatively you can self-drive if you wish. From Niseko, travel to Kutchan and take Highway 5 north towards Otaru. After a small pass, take Highway 276 west towards the coast. Once in Iwanai town you can follow the signage.

Iwanai Cat Skiing Terrain

Iwanai Resort used to be a small to medium sized ski resort. Now there is only one operational lift near the base area which services 3 courses. But you can leave that terrain to the local beginners, because the Iwanai snowcat will take you up higher to the terrain that the old lifts used to access, approximately 880m above sea level. From there, each run will serve up approximately 325 to 680 metres of vertical powder. And depending on conditions and the speed and ability of the group, you’ll get 8 to 10 runs per day and approximately 4,600m of vertical.

Like most Japan cat skiing, the Iwanai cat skiing terrain isn’t super gnarly but it’s not completely mellow either, and there are lots of good fall line runs.

The guides can cater the runs to the group’s ability, and terrain can include very spacious mellow tree skiing, slightly steeper glades, or open terrain on the former piste of Iwanai Resort.

As a minimum, you should be a strong intermediate to advanced skier or snowboarder, and have at least a little bit of experience at riding powder.

Snow

Iwanai cat skiing scores the best of both worlds when it comes to the snow. It’s got proximity to the ocean to bring masses of precipitation (an average of about 15 metres of snow per season), and cold Hokkaido temperatures to provide light and fluffy snow. And most importantly, unlike at Niseko Ski Resort, you can ski untracked lines all day at Iwanai.

See our Iwanai cat skiing review for more information on the terrain and snow.

Iwanai Terms & Conditions

  • Cancellations 30 days prior to the event can receive a 100% refund, cancellation 29 to 14 days prior receive a 50% refund and any cancellation less than 14 days prior receives no refund, however, you can replace your booking with another client should you find one.
  • All cancellations are subject to a 5% nonrefundable charge, due to credit card fees
  • Minimum group numbers apply. In the case of low numbers, we will attempt to reschedule your booking.
  • We recommend you purchase your own trip cancellation insurance in case you need to cancel for injury or any other unforeseen circumstances.
  • All customers are required to read and sign our liability waiver before participating in the tour. Failure to do so will result in cancellation of the tour without refund.
  • All participants under the age of 16 must have a parent or legal guardian sign their release of liability. All minors must be at least 13 years of age and accompanied by a guardian or parent while on the tour.
  • Iwanai Resort reserves the right to cancel any tour at any time, typically due to weather or unsafe back country travel conditions.
  • Iwanai Resort asks members to be honest about their skill levels. If you have booked and paid for a trip, but your skills are insufficient for the tour, Iwanai will try to accommodate you with another program if possible, but will not issue refunds.
  • Terms and conditions are subject to change at the discretion of Iwanai Resort

Iwanai Cat Skiing Review 2018

It had been really busy at Niseko Ski Resort, so we were more than delighted to head out cat skiing at Iwanai Resort to get away from all that tracked snow. On our first day with Iwanai Cat Skiing we didn’t experience the primo Hokkaido snow, but we returned a week later to experience Iwanai Cat Skiing in all its snowy magnificence!

Despite us having an absolutely superb time, no cat skiing company is absolutely perfect for everyone, and it’s our job to review any minor inadequacies. Our review covers different aspects of the Iwanai Resort operation so you can determine if it is likely to align with your priorities. As a guide to the ratings below, a 5/5 equates to absolutely outstanding, 4/5 is excellent, whilst 3/5 is still a very good score. We’ve reviewed over 45 mechanized backcountry skiing operations around the world and you can check out our cat ski ratings to see how Iwanai Cat Skiing fares against other operations (including the highly renowned British Columbia cat ski companies).

We’ve also compared Iwanai Cat Skiing to the other Niseko and Japanese cat ski operations. They all have some similarities such as small terrain size, and the Hokkaido operations have amazing snow, but Iwanai is probably the best Niseko outfit as an all-rounder.

Iwanai was in its complete infancy as a cat ski operation when we visited in Jan 2018, and with a little more experience to iron out any bugs, it’s set to become a very polished operation for the 2018-19 season.

NB Since this review was written, additional terrain and a second snowcat has been added.

Pros
  • Iwanai, along with its neighbour Niseko, is renowned for receiving huge snowfalls.
  • The vertical skied each day is typically greater than other Japanese cat ski outfits, so it’s great for greedy powder hounds.
  • It’s a great all-rounder Niseko cat ski operation in that it has good terrain for strong intermediates as well as advanced riders.
  • No powder hound really wants gorgeous views because that means it’s not dumping, but on the infrequent bluebird days, the views across the sea are pretty special.
  • The snowcat cabin has been kitted out rather nicely, and it has huge windows so that you can appreciate those views (or at least watch it puking with snow!).
  • Some powder hounds like to snort powder for morning tea, but you’ll also get a nice snack and a fabulous lunch.
  • The day lodge is a pleasant spot to hang at the start and end of the day, and also to potentially have lunch. You can meet some of the charming locals.
  • The proximity to Niseko is a huge pro. You can combine everything that Niseko has to offer with a serene Iwanai experience. And if you stay at one of the local ryokan for a night or two, it provides a lovely quiet Japanese experience.
  • NOASC used to run cat skiing at Iwanai but it only involved skiing on the piste (zzzzzzzzz) and the snowcat had an open platform on the back rather than an enclosed cabin (brrrrr). The current operation is soooooo much better.
Cons
  • The cat skiing terrain isn’t particularly big. At least it’s a little larger than a couple of the Niseko cat skiing operations, and it’s likely to grow in coming years. And thankfully considering the massive snow dumpage at Iwanai, the resets are frequent, so the terrain size isn’t generally that big an issue.
  • The guiding lacked some finesse but this should evolve reasonably quickly over time.
  • There is no super challenging terrain, but this is common to most Japanese cat skiing companies.
Pro or Con Depending On Your Perspective
  • It’s a little more expensive than the other Niseko cat ski operations but you get more vertical for your yen.

Powder Snow
As with the other coastal Hokkaido ski resorts, Iwanai receives a mighty lot of snow. The quality generally isn’t central Hokkaido dry fluff considering its proximity to the coast (you know it’s coastal snow when you can see the sea!). As to be expected, some parts of the terrain have a tendency to become wind affected, but there are plenty of relatively protected spots to enjoy the Hokkaido powder.

A huge pro for Iwanai Cat Skiing is that the slopes are predominantly north facing. The top of the cat serviced terrain is at pretty good elevation. It’s not as high as the top of Niseko Resort but it’s high enough to keep the snow cold, without being so high that it’s fully in the alpine where the wind can play havoc with the snow.

The first day we visited, a big wind event had hit the area and the snow had a wind crust, whilst for the 2nd day the snow was divine and fresh & deep.

Unlike the other Niseko cat ski outfits, Iwanai cat skiing doesn’t have a cancellation policy if it hasn’t snowed in a while, although this is something they may introduce over time.

Overall Terrain
The Iwanai cat ski terrain isn’t large but at least it’s bigger than Chisenupuri cat skiing and a little bigger than the Weiss cat skiing. The operators state that they’ve got enough terrain for 4 days of freshies, but perhaps it’s really only about 2-3 days before having to fossick for fresh lines. Thankfully the powder resets are frequent.

The length of the runs is not what you’d score in BC Canada, but the vertical per run is decent and more than the other Niseko cat ski operators. They claim the runs are 600-800 vertical metres in length but this would only be if you hiked to the peak and always dropped down to the day lodge. In reality, the run lengths are more typically a maximum of 500m (877 to 370m) if the snowcat heads to the top of its snow road.

Despite having to wait for the snowcat on most runs, the vertical per day is pretty good and enough to satiate the appetite of most powder hounds. Notwithstanding starting late (on both days) and also returning to the day lodge for lunch (when conditions are good they give the group the option of having lunch on the go in the snowcat), we managed 4,650 metres (just over 15,000 feet) which is more than other Niseko snowcat ski companies, and typical of what you’d get in BC Canada.

Currently the snowcat only has one road which runs up the guts of the resort. This saves some time with respect to the snowcat getting up the hill, but it means that the outer runs (they sort of feel like sidecountry runs you’d find at a small Japanese ski resort) require a bit of traversing to get in and out.

Alpine Terrain
The cat ski terrain was a former ski resort, so it includes 4 piste runs. Whilst not theoretically alpine terrain, we’ll include the piste runs under this category considering they’re open and treeless. These piste are ideal for strong intermediates getting more practice at riding powder, and also incredibly fun for more experienced skiers and snowboarders wanting to charge at it.

Iwanai Resort also has some sub-alpine towards the top of the cat serviced terrain, and only true alpine terrain if you hike up further. You’d probably only experience this if the whole group was keen for a hike.

As with other Japan cat skiing, there is nothing super steep, no chutes, or anything reminiscent of Alaskan heli skiing.

Tree Skiing
Iwanai Cat Skiing has some fun tree skiing in the “sidecountry” zones on the peripheries of the terrain. The tree spacing varies from sub-alpine where there are just smatterings of vegetation to lovely open trees further down and a small number of evergreens along with the many deciduous trees. Nothing’s particularly steep, but it’s pitchy enough to have plenty of fun.

The trees either side of the piste are generally too tight to ski, and the egress back to the resort from the skiers’ left bowl is very vegetated. Over time, they are likely to glade some of the trees to provide more tree skiing terrain. In addition to this, more points would have been awarded if there were very steep trees (as per some BC cat skiing operations).

Strong Intermediate Terrain


Iwanai Cat Skiing is generally not as mellow as nearby Chisenupuri or Weiss Cat Skiing, but it still caters well to strong intermediate skiers and snowboarders who are getting used to the joys of powder. The four former piste are the equivalent of steep blue runs (by Japanese standards), and with plenty of room to manoeuvre, they are ideal for intermediate riders. The third guide can stay with those who want to take it easy, whilst more gung-ho riders can head off to explore with the other guides.

Advanced Terrain
The Iwanai terrain is rather ideal for advanced skiers and snowboarders. With a little more terrain variety and less traversing, it would rate more highly.

Expert & Extreme Terrain
There were minimal technical trees and no super steeps at Iwanai to provide some challenges for experts. The steepest pitch we hit was 37 degrees, which was probably on the far skiers’ left of the terrain boundary. Nevertheless, most experts should be pretty happy just ripping the powder.

There isn’t really anything in the way of features to launch off: no cliffs, rocks or other hits. If you’re looking to huck it, you’d be better placed at Rising Sun Cat Skiing.

Guiding
The guides had negligible guiding experience (one was primarily a mechanic), but it’s expected that the quality of the guiding should improve significantly with time.

There were a few issues evident on the first day. The guides didn’t provide instructions about decent spacing between riders, and there was a frenzy once the go ahead was given, and there were multiple times where there were near-miss collisions. No feedback was provided to ensure everyone had their fair share of freshies and a couple of powder pigs went first every single time (which would be considered sacrilege at other cat skiing operations). There was also a lack of regrouping (and hooting and hollering) prior to a few big traverses out of bowls, and as the guide didn’t ski the outermost line it was no great surprise that a few people missed the traverse on a couple of occasions. We noticed a marked improvement in the guiding from our first day to our second day a week later (possibly due to our feedback).

A couple of the guides were very personable which added to the fun of the day, and they knew the terrain intimately. Another pro was that there were 2 to 3 guides which enabled some flexibility to break into two groups where there was a discrepancy in ability levels.

Cat
The snowcat cabin was rather lovely, especially the fantastically large windows that allowed 360 degree views including vistas across to the ocean (when it wasn’t snowing). The cabin was spacious and everyone had their own coach seat, and the steps up the back make it easy to get in and out (although it could benefit from a handle on the cat). The luxe cabin was a far cry from the primitive snowcat set up that NOASC had when they previously operated at Iwanai.

The snowcat seemed to lack a little power (compared to some of the beasts in BC), otherwise any other inadequacies were very minor and should evolve with time. This included a lack of storage for drink bottles, jackets and other gear.

Avalanche Mitigation Strategies
The approach to managing any potential risk seemed rather minimalist, probably because the guides felt that avalanche risk is always very low because there haven’t been any slides in the past couple of decades (possibly due to a strong maritime snowpack, mostly mellow slopes, and mostly treed terrain).

Guests were provided with a beacon but not a shovel and probe. Snow safety wasn’t discussed during the day, and the guides didn’t dig pits to assess the snowpack. We were a little wary one day when it was snowing heavily and we were skiing in a decent sized bowl of 30+ degrees (where we could see some glide cracks), and most of the group traversed the bowl together then skied it as a group.

Safety Briefing
The safety briefing was somewhat typical of what we’ve seen with some other Japan cat skiing and USA cat skiing operations (and nothing like the standards of BC Canada cat skiing). An orientation to the area and the day was provided, but there was very little covered about safety such as what to do in the event of an avalanche or the snowcat being a hazard. The orientation to the beacon consisted of how to turn it on and off and between search and receive, but not how to use it or a practical demonstration.

Frills
Iwanai Cat Skiing offered some very nice frills. Firstly having the day lodge at the base was a huge bonus, as it was a comfortable place for morning orientation, après ski drinks, and to utilise the bathroom facilities. And depending on the conditions and the group’s wishes, there was also the option to return to the day lodge for lunch.

Hot doughnuts and coffee were offered for morning tea, and lunch included absolutely amazing sushi. Or for anti-pescatarians or those who were just a bit over fish, there were a range of other hot options. The only thing really lacking was the provision of water during the day so BYO.

Other frills included the transport to/from Niseko, and the option to rent powder skis on site. No photography or video service was provided (unlike some other Niseko cat skiing).

It wasn’t the most polished operation and it seemed rather disorganised in the mornings and again when trying to get people back out after lunch. Assumedly this was just because the operation was in its complete infancy.

Value for Money
The price of the Iwanai day cat skiing was essentially the same as Shimamaki Cat Skiing, minus the accommodation and associated meals. The Iwanai cat skiing was more expensive than other day Niseko cat skiing, but you get more skiing and snowboarding in, so you get decent value.

It’s somewhat difficult to compare value for money on a global scale because it depends on the currency exchange. Iwanai was pricier than most USA cat skiing, but the Hokkaido snow is much better. The rates were similar to Canadian cat skiing but significantly less than multi-day snowcat skiing in backcountry lodges, although the Iwanai terrain is much much smaller.

All in all, it’s money well spent on pursuing Hokkaido powder joy and escaping the tracked out slopes of Niseko Resort!

Accommodation
We stayed a night at the Iwanai Kogen Hotel. It’s a 3 star hotel that’s not really a ryokan but it’s somewhat typical of a traditional Japanese hotel. It’s the antithesis of what you’d find in Niseko with its luxury westernised hotels and condos, and that was a major part of the appeal. The onsen was a highlight and the meals were fantastically Japanese and showcased the local seafood. Dinner consisted of multiple courses and each was a complete surprise package. We stayed in a western room (with ensuite) with a tatami sitting area. The room was a bit dated (which is typical of many Japanese hotels), but very functional. Our room offered a sea view but we couldn’t see it because it was snowing! If you want to go the full Japanese experience, we’d recommend staying in a full tatami room and sleeping on a futon.


Notes Regarding Review

The review is largely based on our experiences, but also on discussions with staff, other guests, and information available on their website. Our review has some limitations as it’s not possible to ski every run and in all possible snow and weather conditions. We acknowledge that everyone’s experience will be slightly different. The ratings are from our perspective only (from reviewing 45+ mechanized backcountry operations). The photos and video have not been filmed using professional riders; they aim to show an example of the sort of experience that average people like us would get.

Further Information & Bookings

Click here to reserve the trip of your life!

Siberian Storms

Simon Berry
28/02/2019
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • RiderType
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Expert
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Home Country
    New Zealand
  • Month:
    February
  • Admin Rating
    5

Siberian Storms

Simon Berry
28/02/2019
Iwanai delivered one of the great powder days for our group of 5 riders.

Situated on a the north west coast of Hokkaido it is prime position to strike regular snow dumps off the Japanese sea, weather systems coming freshly chilled off Siberia and filled across the sea deliver regular powder to this hill.

Iwanai Cat Ski operates on a ski resort that has unemployed lifts, you explore a deserted mountain with professional guides leading into untracked paradise runs. Riding through open tree glade runs, well spaced trees and a superb powder bowl. Length and pitch of runs is fantastic with 700m plus vert, dependent on the cat drop off points.

Terrain is well varied with plenty of trees to provide vis in storms, dress warm though as the storms rolling through pack a punch with wind chill on the ridges plummeting to -30 conditions. Powder poles for boarders also recommended as some of the best powder bowl lines require a decent traverse.

Sizes of groups can vary, however the guides soon align riders ability and if necessary can split groups so everyone rides at the most suitable pace and ability.

Base facilities are excellent, plenty of space to move about and a hassle free ski and board waxing service is on hand. The hosts are the owner/operators who provide Japanese home cooked style lunches and a full bar for well deserved apre ski drinks. Pick up and drop off shuttle services provided to Niseko and other lodgings nearby.

If you want a great day out skiing fresh Hokkaido powder this is a must, book well in advance to ensure you don't miss out, they have a very functional online service available for this. You may pay a little extra than others around, however the terrain and experience is well worth every bit.

Epic day

Toby Buxton
11/02/2019
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • RiderType
    Snowboarder
  • Rider Level
    Expert
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Home Country
    New Zealand
  • Month:
    February
  • Admin Rating
    3

Epic day

Toby Buxton
11/02/2019
Had a pretty full day of 8 runs. Terrain and snow were high quality. Iwanai offers a good steep pitch for Japanese mountains. Our guide Kate was the best guide I've had and knew exactly where to take a group of our ability to get the goods. Lunch wasn't bad either 😉. All in all an epic day of waist to chest deep pow pow!

Such a Shame

Robert
09/02/2019
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • RiderType
    Snowboarder
  • Rider Level
    Expert
  • Rider Age
    51-70
  • Home Country
    USA
  • Month:
    January
  • Admin Rating
    4

Such a Shame

Robert
09/02/2019
- no one checked to make sure beacons were transmitting.
- lead guide would simply say "follow me" and proceed to take take off at full speed into white out conditions.
- the first 3 runs were down 3 exposed courses (trails) with horrible windslab and 3 foot high wind drifts... in next to zero visibility!
- meanwhile to the right and left of us are protected glades.
- on the 3rd run me and another bloke stayed in the trees while the others cut through them to another wind stabbed run. It was an amazing glade that we rode past the mid station cat pick up all the way to the bottom then hiked 5 minutes to the chair and rode it to the mid station.... once at the cat there was a mutiny in the works... us two had just enjoyed the best run on the mountain... and now they were leaving the zone!!
- during our lunch break at the lodge beer and alcohol was being served... umm... never seen that during cat or helicopter tours in the past.
- the afternoon was brilliant riding and amazing bowl with powder for all.
- the staff are all extremely friendly but lacking anyone with actual guide certification and why in hell would they subject paying guests to 3 runs of horrendous wind slab when the best territory in the resort lies just in between them in mellow glades offering a top to bottom perfection!

Iwanai Cat skiing - what an awesome day

Merrilee
06/02/2019
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • RiderType
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Advanced
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Home Country
    Australia
  • Month:
    January
  • Admin Rating
    2

Iwanai Cat skiing - what an awesome day

Merrilee
06/02/2019
I arranged for my husband, his brother and friend to go for a day Cat skiing in Iwanai for his 50th birthday. The company made things very easy to arrange, picked them up, gave them an amazing day skiing fresh challenging tracks all day, then some drinks in the evening to re-live the whole day.

I couldn't have asked for a better day for the guys. They had a ball and kept re-living the day for the rest of the holiday! Wish we (the wives) had gone too!

I'd highly recommend this experience.

Iwanei - Jan 26th

Casey
03/02/2019
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • RiderType
    Snowboarder
  • Rider Level
    N/A
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Home Country
    Australia
  • Month:
    January
  • Admin Rating
    4

Iwanei - Jan 26th

Casey
03/02/2019
Lodge bar
Had a great day w John and crew Jan 26th 2019. Picked up and dropped off by John which was a highlight just listening to his stories. We missed a reset by 1 day so first runs were semi tracked but once we got up top it opened up and we got “those” runs.

Setup at lodge and cat are great so lunch, doughnuts etc all good. Hung around for drinks after and had a good sesh w another rider and the bartender who unfortunately I can’t recall his name. He’s in the back of the picture.

Snow was good, runs good and long particularly when you get up top. So we were very happy with the day. Last runs were the best actually. Going skiers right from top into trees all the way down. Awesome. The bowl at top skiers left also good but found the traverse out longer than turns in bowl so asked to try the other side and was very pleased w that outcome. Bowl has a traverse to get in which on a board saw us eat up time and leave us lower to drop in. Skiers got up much higher on ridge and thus got more out of it than I did. But maybe that’s just me.

I’ve made some suggestions to John from our experience and suspect some if not all will be considered and perhaps incorporated as they grow.

Was great to get out of the crowds at niseko for sure and with more time we’d get down into Iwanei itself. Next season.

We will return.

Very good experience !!

Anjarivo
01/02/2019
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • RiderType
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Advanced
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Home Country
    France
  • Month:
    January
  • Admin Rating
    4

Very good experience !!

Anjarivo
01/02/2019
Iwanai, allows you to ski either on none groomed sloapes and in genuine forest, all in front of the sea !

The Cat Skiing engine is the most luxury/confortable engine among all Cat Skiing companies that I've experimented in Hokkaido . We're in Japan, hence don't expect long and steep courses, but enjoy the best snow in the wordl ! Iwanai provides excelent guides (head / tail) who really garantee your safety. In my case, I didn't turn on the right tree (it was my fault, you know all trees look like each other) and I've landed in a dead zone and completly lost my way ! At the end of the day, the tail guide managed to join me and the rescue shuttle picked us up just right away. What a relief to see this efficient rescue organization !
About food, you get delicious donuts around 10am and Japanaese/international food at noon.
As I stayed 5 days, the booked hotel was a genuine Japaneese one, all in wood. Stunning and very beautiful.
The only issue is that when I came it hasn't snow for the 5 days but just the day I left. I wasn't lucky.

Powder marred by poor coordination

RL
30/01/2019
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • RiderType
    Snowboarder
  • Rider Level
    Intermediate
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Home Country
    Hong Kong
  • Month:
    January
  • Admin Rating
    4

Powder marred by poor coordination

RL
30/01/2019
First, and to be fair, the positives.

The CAT is new, the lodge at the base is comfortable, and the view out to the ocean is unique and stunning when the weather breaks and you can see it. The powder is lovely. The old runs on the resort are pristine and ideal for intermediates (which is what the operation is billed as - 90% intermediates).

However, the negatives mean that we will be unlikely to come again.

The resort is quite far from niseko, which is where we were based. After we booked no one contacted us to inform us when the transfer would come to pick us up, so we had to email and ask before we got a confirmation of pick up and the time.

The day started early, at 7:20. When the transfer arrived we were told to put our ski gear in the open trailer at the back. It was not tied down or secured in any way despite a 1 hour drive to the resort. Our ski gear was not cheap so we like to treat it well and secure it properly when travelling. Leaving it loose in an open trailer is not ideal.

On the way there we were told about how uniquely Japanese the resort was and how iwanai is part of the truly Japanese areas of Hokkaido. Perhaps it is, but the day is spent with the predominantly western staff, and the food served at the lodge is also an international menu, so from that point of view it is not “truly Japanese”. It felt much like a lodge in niseko.

When we got there, the “safety briefing” consisted of little more than handing out beacons and saying “this is how you turn it on”. Then (to quote directly) “if anything happens, we’ll give you more training then”. A bit late if your friend is already trapped under a few metres of snow...

The day works up the difficulty level of runs. So they start off on easy runs and work up to difficult stuff. The guiding was clear when on the old resort runs, but once the group moved off piste it wasn’t entirely clear which was the easier and which would be the harder routes back to the CAT. As a boarder I was at a disadvantage when we hadn’t been warned about a clear gully and there was a long traverse to make it back out. Had we been told ahead of time to stay higher up, that could have been avoided. However the lead guide was a skier, the majority of the group (18 out of 20) were also skiers, and hence didn’t cater for that.

The biggest let down was the transfer back. At the end of a long day, The driver had to drop off three groups all in the Niseko United area. He took the wrong route entirely ending up in the transfer doing a huge loop which added 30-40 minutes to everyone’s journey. He also could have easily dropped off the groups in a different order which would have shortened the drive by at least 20-25 minutes. He ended up passing everyone’s accommodation and stopping at a place where no one even needed to get off. He then had to loop all the way back. It took over 1 hour 30 mins to get back to the hotel after a very long day instead of what should have been 45 minutes.

The whole tour was the most expensive CAT in and around the niseko area. 70,000 yen. For that price we would expect the driver to know where he was going. The group was also quite large, so to that extent the higher price did not pay for more exclusivity.

The powder was decent. But we will be going back to Chisenupuri which is better value.

Fantastically Japanese & Fantastic Japow

04/06/2018

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  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Skier
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Rider Ability
    Expert
  • Admin Rating
    5

Fantastically Japanese & Fantastic Japow

04/06/2018
Having an onsen onsite was a major bonus
Some of the courses for dinner
We stayed in a western room
A relaxing soak in the onsen
Yet another course appeared for dinner
On our second trip to Iwanai Cat Skiing we stayed at the Iwanai Kogen Hotel to get a feel for what was on offer for the multi-day packages.

The Iwanai Kogen Hotel was a 3 star hotel that was very typical of a traditional Japanese hotel. It’s the antithesis of what you’d find in Niseko with its luxury westernised hotels and condos, and that was a major part of the appeal. The onsen was a highlight and it was nice to alternate between the indoor and outdoor baths.

The meals were fantastically Japanese and showcased the local seafood. Dinner consisted of multiple courses (traditional kaiseki) and each was a complete surprise package. One course was perhaps a little too much of a surprise for me but overall the food was amazing. We love seafood so we really enjoyed the meals, and if you don’t adore seafood they can make other cuisine for you. Breakfast was mostly set menu and traditionally Japanese.

We stayed in a western room (with ensuite). The room was a bit dated (which is typical of many Japanese hotels), but very functional. Our room offered a sea view but we couldn’t see it because it was snowing (similarly the onsen was supposed to offer views)! If you want to go the full Japanese experience, we’d recommend staying in a full tatami room and sleeping on a futon.

The proximity to Niseko is a huge pro. You can combine everything that Niseko has to offer with a serene Iwanai experience and by staying in a local ryokan for a couple of nights, it provides a lovely quiet Japanese experience.

Of course there’s all the pros of the cat skiing itself and you can see our fullIwanai Cat Skiing review here. NB Terrain, safety & guiding ratings are relative to the highly coveted BC cat skiing operations.

Iwanai is a must!

Gareth
19/04/2018
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • RiderType
    Snowboarder
  • Rider Level
    Advanced
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Home Country
    South Africa
  • Month:
    March
  • Admin Rating
    2

Iwanai is a must!

Gareth
19/04/2018
It's going to be hard to beat a day like we had at Iwanai. The team behind the operation are awesome and we lucked into the most epic conditions which turned out to be more of a standard than luck. The powder quality is insane and Iwanai itself is something special. If you're in Japan, this is the only cat skiing mission to go on. More vertical, amazing sushi lunch, fresh donuts and an epic cat to boot.

Cat skiing on the ocean

Tim
09/04/2018
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • RiderType
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Expert
  • Rider Age
    51-70
  • Home Country
    Usa
  • Month:
    January
  • Admin Rating
    3

Cat skiing on the ocean

Tim
09/04/2018
While skiing in Niseko we stumbled upon Iwanai Cat skiing and quickly decided to give it a try
Wow we had a great day...it happen to snow heavy the night before and we had a day of deep powder on a private mountain. Great crew from the States who ran the operation and had been there for decades. Great sushi at the end of the day with a refreshing beers.
Give it a try .....you will love it!

A Great All-Rounder

07/04/2018

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  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • RiderType
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Expert
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Month:
    February
  • Admin Rating
    5

A Great All-Rounder

07/04/2018
Up to the eyeballs in powder
Powder on the former piste
Nice views (when it's not dumping with snow)
A good looking cat
Open piste run
We were fortunate enough to go out cat skiing with Iwanai for two days: the first was fun but the snow not primo; whilst the second day we experienced Iwanai Cat Skiing in all its snowy magnificence!

NB Our ratings are relative to international snowcat skiing operations, including BC Canada where the terrain is significantly larger and extensive safety standards are in place.

Pros
• Iwanai, along with its neighbour Niseko, is renowned for receiving huge snowfalls.
• The vertical skied each day is typically greater than other Japanese cat ski outfits, so it’s great for greedy powder hounds.
• It’s a great all-rounder Niseko cat ski operation in that it has good terrain for strong intermediates as well as advanced riders.
• No powder hound really wants gorgeous views because that means it’s not dumping, but on the infrequent bluebird days, the views across the sea are pretty special.
• The snowcat cabin has been kitted out rather nicely, and it has huge windows so that you can appreciate those views (or at least watch it puking with snow!).
• Some powder hounds like to snort powder for morning tea, but you’ll also get a nice snack and a fabulous lunch.
• The day lodge is a pleasant spot to hang at the start and end of the day, and also to potentially have lunch. You can meet some of the charming locals.
• The proximity to Niseko is a huge pro. You can combine everything that Niseko has to offer with a serene Iwanai experience. And if you stay at one of the local ryokan for a night or two, it provides a lovely quiet Japanese experience.
• NOASC used to run cat skiing at Iwanai but it only involved skiing on the piste (zzzzzzzzz) and the snowcat had an open platform on the back rather than an enclosed cabin (brrrrr). The current operation is soooooo much better.

Cons
• The cat skiing terrain isn’t particularly big. At least it’s a little larger than a couple of the Niseko cat skiing operations, and it’s likely to grow in coming years. And thankfully considering the massive snow dumpage at Iwanai, the resets are frequent, so the terrain size isn’t generally that big an issue.
• The guiding lacked some finesse but this should evolve reasonably quickly over time.
• There is no super challenging terrain, but this is common to most Japanese cat skiing companies.

Pro or Con Depending On Your Perspective
• It’s a little more expensive than the other Niseko cat ski operations but you get more vertical for your yen.

You can see our full Iwanai Cat Skiing review here.

Iwanai

Michael Mah
27/02/2018
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • RiderType
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Advanced
  • Rider Age
    18-35
  • Home Country
    China
  • Month:
    February
  • Admin Rating
    3

Iwanai

Michael Mah
27/02/2018
This was my first ever time going Cat Skiing and it was phenomenal. What essentially is a disused/underused municipal ski resort turned into a powder heaven. Without the lifts to take masses of people up to the top, you can have first tracks all day! One would dread the time when a lifts work again and it may feel like a much smaller bit of paradise.

The Snowcat was done nicely and the interior was clean. Look forward to the doughnuts and hot coffee during the break. Also you can have a choice of resort food and sushi from the Town for Lunch.

Iwanai Cat Skiing

N Friesen
01/02/2018
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • RiderType
    Snowboarder
  • Rider Level
    Advanced
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Home Country
    Australia
  • Month:
    January
  • Admin Rating
    4

Iwanai Cat Skiing

N Friesen
01/02/2018
I went for my first ever day of cat boarding with Iwanai and I was completely blown away with the terrain, quality of powder, and enthusiasm of the staff. The operation has just opened up last year and the cat is brand new (when I was there in late January it was only around two weeks old). The day begins with a pick up from your accommodation and quick briefing about the area. You then warm your legs up on some open runs (they run the tour on an old ski resort so the lower parts have open areas previously cleared of trees) and then move up higher to sections with bowls and tree runs. There are plenty of different options to keep you on a different section for the whole day...and all of this includes a view of the ocean below. I had untouched powder for most of the day and the terrain would suit all levels but is perfect if you're an intermediate/advanced boarder who wants untracked powder rather than super steep faces. I really liked the enthusiasm of the staff and they went way beyond what was needed to ensure i had one of the best days ever. I can't recommend this operation enough...I will definitely be back!
Iwanai Cat Skiing Packages
select
Iwanai Cat Skiing Day Package DETAILS
Price p/p Price is per person per day
Base/invoice currency is in Japanese Yen
Displayed price may vary slightly due to exchange rate fluctuations. Price includes 8% sales tax
USD 744

MIXED GROUP DAY CAT SKIING
8 - 10 Runs (Approx 4,600m vertical/day)

Location: Japan | Tour Focus: Guided | Terrain Focus: Backcountry
Ability: Strong Intermediate to Expert
Price p/p Price is per person per day
Base/invoice currency is in Japanese Yen
Displayed price may vary slightly due to exchange rate fluctuations. Price includes 8% sales tax
USD 744
Iwanai Cat Skiing serves up powder runs of 325-650m of vertical bliss, with 8 to 10 runs for the day. Located near Niseko, the Iwanai Resort snowcat skiing terrain scores masses of snowfall. Ideal for strong intermediate & advanced riders. More
View inclusions & Add-ons
Click here for rates, dates & availability
Future rates & dates are currently not yet available for this operator. Click here to enquire.
Custom Booking Period
Min Days
Price
Availability
Custom Booking Period: Dec 15 - Mar 31, 2021
Min Days: From 1
Price: Enquire
Availability: Enquire
DETAILS
Iwanai Cat Skiing Multi-Day DETAILS
Price p/p Price is per person for 2 day 1 night trip
Base/invoice currency is in Japanese Yen
Displayed price may vary slightly due to exchange rate fluctuations.
USD 1,674

MULTI DAY CAT SKIING
2 Days Cat Skiing | 1 Night Accommodation | Meals

Location: Japan | Tour Focus: Guided | Terrain Focus: Backcountry
Ability: Strong Intermediate to Expert
Price p/p Price is per person for 2 day 1 night trip
Base/invoice currency is in Japanese Yen
Displayed price may vary slightly due to exchange rate fluctuations.
USD 1,674
Iwanai Cat Skiing offers 2 day/2 night packages so you can experience Hokkaido powder along with Japanese culture. Stay in a Japanese ryokan inn, soak in the onsen, and enjoy a traditional kaiseki meal. Located near Niseko, the Iwanai Resort snowcat skiing terrain scores lots of snow. More
View inclusions & Add-ons
Click here for rates, dates & availability
Future rates & dates are currently not yet available for this operator. Click here to enquire.
Custom Booking Period
Min Days
Price
Availability
Custom Booking Period: Dec 15 - Mar 31, 2021
Min Days: From 2
Price: Enquire
Availability: Available
DETAILS
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