Our Review

Our Review

Hokkaido Fix Tour - Niseko, Central Hokkaido & Sapporo Areas
World Nomads Travel Insurance
For general information on this cat ski outfit, check out the NAC Otoe Cat Skiing overview, or you can make a booking enquiry with NAC Cat Skiing here.

NAC Otoe Cat Skiing Review

As is often the case, it was dumping in Central Hokkaido the day we went NAC cat skiing on the Otoe Powder Cat tour. The powder was deep and divine! The NAC cat skiing used to be based in Niseko, and they’ve moved it to the Otoe location (near Kamui Ski Links). The terrain is certainly a little steeper than the old Weiss terrain, but perhaps there isn’t as much fall-line skiing available at Otoe.

Considering the amazingly deep dry powder at Mt Otoe, we had a really fun day with NAC cat skiing. However no cat ski operation is completely perfect for everyone. Our review covers different aspects of the cat skiing so you can decide if NAC Cat Skiing is likely to suit your needs. As a guide to the ratings, a 5/5 equates to absolutely phenomenal, 4/5 is excellent, whilst 3/5 is still a very good score.

NAC Otoe Cat Skiing (and most other Japan cat skiing) is very different to the majority of Canadian cat skiing operations (and some in the USA) where the terrain is more sizeable, the runs longer and steeper, and they are well geared up to experts. Don’t interpret that NAC is not a good operation based on some of the terrain ratings below. It’s just that the main target market of Otoe Powder Cat is not the expert rider who is looking for a big day of max vert skiing or snowboarding.

Pros

  • The snow quality is highly likely to be superb, and it may be delightfully deep too.
  • The transport option from Furano is a huge pro so that you can combine everything Furano has to offer with the cat skiing.
  • Otoe Cat Skiing is good as an introductory tour for those new to cat skiing, those reasonably new to powder riding, and low-end advanced riders.
  • The guides are very enthusiastic and patient, and keep the stoke going all day.
Cons
  • A day of Otoe cat skiing doesn’t involve a lot of vertical. The vertical is fine for lower advanced riders particularly if they fall over a bit and use a lot of energy in the powder, but upper advanced to expert skiers and snowboarders may feel that their powder appetite hasn’t been satisfied.
  • As is common to most Japan cat skiing, there is minimal expert and no extreme terrain.
Powder Snow
Central Hokkaido is renowned for abundant and high quality snow, and this is exactly what we found at Otoe Cat Skiing. The powder quality was phenomenal and it snowed heavily most of the day, giving us knee to waist deep, delicious powder. For those of us acquainted with deep powder it was absolutely heavenly (but perhaps for a few people there that day, the deep snow was hell!).

The top of the terrain goes up to about 800 metres altitude (a little higher than Kamui Ski Links), which is high enough for the region without being too high for the snow to get battered by the winds. The north facing aspect of many of the runs is also a huge advantage for the Otoe snow quality.

Overall Terrain
The old Otoeyama ski resort is tiny, but NAC also operate in zones outside of this. As is typical to Japan cat skiing, the overall terrain size is not particularly large. Further limitations include very limited vertical for the day, short runs, and a lot of traversing to get out to the cat track. This is somewhat different to what NAC states on their website “The mountain is a fantastic mix of long bowls … we have a huge area with a maze of runs all over the mountain. There is no long ski outs as the cat is waiting at the bottom of each run.”

The NAC website doesn’t indicate how much skiing to expect, but the day we went out we did 7 runs (which the guides said was pretty standard) and a mere 1,700 metres of vertical. To put that into perspective, that’s the equivalent of only 1.75 top to bottom runs at Furano Ski Resort. There were multiple factors that contributed to the small amount of vertical:
  • The runs were mostly very short (see below).
  • The powder was ridiculously deep.
  • The transitions to get on and off the snowcat were very slow and the guides didn’t encourage guests to keep it moving. It didn’t help that on a couple of occasions the snowcat driver didn’t pack down a track and then reverse back, so we were wading through waist deep powder and trying to put equipment on in deep powder instead of a nicely packed down cat track.
  • The guides made us ski one at a time on the approach to a run (ie before the slope had any pitch), which seemed a little unnecessary.
  • The layout of the terrain and the cat tracks is rather inefficient.
  • At times, they could have foregone taking photos on part of a run and sent the photographer down earlier to cut a traverse track.
  • We lost 2 hours by returning to the base area for a sit down lunch. There was an incredibly long and flat run to go down to lunch which was a big push considering the fresh powder and hell for snowboarders. We then had a long lunch and it was a 40 minute snowcat ride to get back up to go skiing.
  • A couple of snowboarders didn’t meet the minimum ability and fitness level, which is somewhat common on a group tour.
Due to the weather we didn’t go to the top and we were mostly skiing between elevations of about 690m and 400m. A few runs had about 100 vertical metres of fall line and then mucking around and a traverse to get out because the cat roads weren’t at the base of the run but rather off to the side. On one run the snowboarding tail guide set the track out, which wasn’t the best idea on a deep day, because he set the track way too high and we missed more precious vertical.

Despite these elements, we still had a fun day and the above factors are highly unlikely to bother first or second time cat skiers.
Alpine Terrain
The top of the terrain is in the sub-alpine (ie very light trees) which is slightly steeper than other parts of the tenure and a great place to let the boards rip, weather permitting.

We’ve also categorised the handful of old piste as “alpine”, which are the equivalent of a standard blue run. We also did an old lift line which we’ll include under “alpine”. It was plenty of fun, but it was narrow so after 2-3 people had skied it, it was pretty much trashed.
Tree Skiing
Most of the terrain we rode was in the trees, with a focus on riding bowls that were reasonably open. In other areas, the trees were a lot of fun but some inexperienced snowboarders might potentially find them too tight.

Strong Intermediate Terrain


The open piste would be ideal for strong intermediates but there are only a few runs, so most of the group would get bored of that pretty quickly. Fit & strong intermediate skiers with a little powder experience could cope with the rest of the terrain considering the various open areas and the mostly low angle slopes, but the terrain would not be good for strong intermediate snowboarders due to the tightness of the trees and the speed required to get onto some of the traverses (and that others may get very cold waiting for them to put themselves back together after falling).

A huge plus for intermediates is that the runs don’t go on and on (except for the one down to lunch) and it’s not a big day of skiing, so complete exhaustion is unlikely to set in.
Advanced Terrain
The Otoe cat skiing terrain is most suited to advanced riders, particularly skiers and snowboarders at the lower end of advanced rather than being almost an expert. The terrain has some short pitches in the low 30 degree domain, and the trees have enough challenge to provide some merriment. If the runs were more fall line and longer, it would score more highly.
Expert & Extreme Terrain
Like most Japan cat skiing, there isn’t a lot of expert terrain, and no challenging chutes or cliffs for pro riders that are reminiscent of Alaska heli skiing. If you like to huck off features, check out the Rising Sun Guides cat skiing outfit.
Guiding
The guides had a snowsports instructor background and were very enthusiastic, friendly and patient and kept the stoke going all day. They were very good at explaining the run and where to go, and where required, regrouped in an appropriate safe zone. The tail guiding was very strong and clear directions were provided about spacing, and the communication between the two guides was excellent.

As outlined in the overall terrain category, there were a few things the guides could have done to improve the flow of the day and enable more skiing.
Cat
The NAC snowcat cabin had a simple set up with lots of coach seats. As a plus, they all faced forwards to maximise comfort, but there were no hooks or other storage contraptions to hang things up. There was no heater which isn’t always essential, but in Central Hokkaido where temps are often frigid and you’re not pumping out a lot of vertical, a heater would be a nice-to-have. The snowcat also loses half a point for the side door entry, which was a little difficult to get in and out of, and there is no snowcat back-up so in the event of mechanical failure there’s no more skiing.

This may all be a moot point as NAC is getting a new snowcat for the 2018-19 season.
Avalanche Mitigation Strategies
The guides did a reasonable job of conveying to guests the choices they were making to ensure safety. Sometimes this was a little over the top, such as skiing one at time to get to the start of a run which just wasted additional time. Interestingly they dug a pit towards the end of the day, and in a flat spot near the cat track. Backpacks with shovel and prove were not provided to guests, only an avalanche beacon.
Safety Briefing
The safety briefing covered the snowcat risks well and a little regarding what to do if caught in an avalanche (including switching your beacon to search if not buried), but they didn’t actually cover how to use the beacon so some people might not have known how to switch it to search. A scant briefing is somewhat typical of Japan cat skiing.
Frills
The Otoe Cat Skiing includes some nice accompaniments, including the Furano transport service. The meeting spot in the morning was a nice warm room for the briefing, and the lunch restaurant nearby was also a nice place to retreat from the elements outside (albeit potentially not worth the time involved to get there). Lunch consisted of a pork cutlet, soup, rice and salad, and tea and coffee. During the day the guides gave us a cup of tea, but you’ll need to BYO any water or snack requirements.

It’s nice to have a photographer along, and you can look at thumbnails of the photos at the end of the day in the restaurant, but you’ll to pay if you want any of the photographs.

You can also have an onsen at the end of the day, but not if you’re on the transport back to Furano.
Value for Money
The NAC cat skiing is well priced relative to other Japan cat skiing operations, and whilst you may get plenty of snow for your dough, you won’t get a lot of skiing and snowboarding, which may or may not bother you.

The photography service is included but not the actual photographs. This is quite common with North American cat ski operations, but it seems a lot of money to pay 2,000 yen for each photograph instead of paying a set fee for a thumb drive with multiple photos.

Notes Regarding Review

The review is largely based on our experience, but also on discussions with staff, former 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. Every guide is not the same and we acknowledge that everyone’s experience will be slightly different. The ratings are from our perspective only. The photos were not taken using professional riders, but rather aim to show an example of a real experience.

Further Information & Bookings

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