Our Cat Ski Review

Our Cat Ski Review

Hokkaido & Honshu Tour
For general information on The House of Powder Chisenupuri Snowcat Tours, see the Chisenupuri Cat Skiing page. Or click here to make an enquiry or to book your cat skiing trip.

Chisenupuri Cat Skiing Review 2018

The snow that we scored at Chisenpuri was potentially the best combination of quality and quantity for our whole 9 week ski trip in Japan. The powder was phenomenal, it was a magic carpet in places, and we had an absolute blast with The House of Powder. The sun came out a couple of times during the day, but in classic Niseko style the sunshine didn’t last long, and it was interspersed with some intense snow showers.

Think of The House of Powder as snowcat accessed skiing and snowboarding at a small private ski resort, where there’s only a maximum of 24 guests per day. There are staff there to give you support if you need it and to watch your back, but otherwise you can do what you like at your private ski resort.

Our review covers different aspects of the cat skiing so you can decide if Chisenupuri 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. Don’t be discouraged by the ratings below. We’ve rated The House of Powder against our standard cat skiing criteria (which scores against the highly renowned Canada cat ski operations that have strict safety guidelines, big terrain, long runs, and plenty of expert terrain), and Chisenupuri Cat Skiing is a very unique product. If you go with expectations that it’s nothing like BC cat skiing and even not quite like Shimamaki Cat Skiing, then you’re likely to have a fabulous time.

  • The Chisenupuri cat skiing is quasi guided so you’ve got the ultimate freedom to explore or shred as much or as fast as you like.
  • One of the great reasons you want to go to cat skiing in Niseko is for the snow quality and quantity.
  • Being based near Niseko is a bonus so that you can do a day or more of Chisenupuri cat skiing, and also enjoy everything else that Niseko has to offer.
  • The House of Powder is ideal for intermediate powder skiers and snowboarders because there are mellow slopes and you have the flexibility to go at your own pace, without the fear of holding up experts.
  • The warming hut at the base is a comfortable and cosy spot to have lunch, or to pop in to warm up or use the bathroom facilities (this may seem like an insignificant advantage, but for some it sure beats using the “powder room”).
  • YukiChichibu Onsen at the base of Chisenupuri is up there as one of the nicest onsens I’ve had in Japan considering the water quality and the gorgeous views of the mountains, although the smell on my skin did take a couple of days to dissipate!
  • It’s a small ski area so freshies won’t last for days.
  • Many of the lines with decent pitch require a traverse out. Chisenupuri is mostly a very mellow ski area and there are lots of spots where you may find yourself straight lining it when there’s fresh powder (get your boards waxed).
  • And as is common to most Japan cat skiing, there is very little in the way of expert or pro terrain.
Pro or Con Depending On Your Perspective
  • The best side of the terrain requires a 5-10 minute walk back to the snowcat pick-up, so you’ve got to partially earn your turns if want to do laps of the onsen run.
Powder Snow
This is the Niseko region where manna from heaven comes in the form of bountiful Hokkaido snow. Powder resets are frequent and often big, and the snow quality is excellent considering the cold Hokkaido temperatures. In the height of winter, the snow quality is well maintained, but due to a mostly southerly aspect the snow can turn to snot during the fringes of the white season. The elevation of the snowcat accessed terrain just below the treeline is a pro, in that it’s adequately high but not so elevated that the wind can turn the snow into a crusty mess.
Overall Terrain
The snowcat track runs up parallel to the old lift and there is an old piste that runs straight down the fall line. Skiers’ right of this is the in-bounds terrain of the old ski resort which includes 3 mellow piste and gentle tree skiing. Skiers’ left is the old “sidecountry” terrain that’s slightly pitchier and funnels down to the onsen and is subsequently called the “onsen run”. Depending on the fresh snow depth, the walk from the onsen back to the snowcat pick-up is 5-10 minutes. A little to the left of the lift line is “nudie run” which is a small no go zone, possibly because it has a few fumaroles, but more likely because it overlooks the ladies outdoor onsen baths!

At The House of Powder you can ride fall-line, but the more freshies you want, the bigger the traverse you’ll need to do so skiers may enjoy the terrain more than snowboarders, especially if the powder is deep.

Essentially the terrain doesn’t score high marks because of its size and the lack of variety with respect to pitch because it’s mostly very low angle terrain with the occasional short moderate pitch. The Chisenupuri ski area is pretty tiny and fresh tracks in the low hanging fruit zones only last half a day. Luckily powder resets are frequent, they don’t operate every day of the week, and occasionally they’ll cancel the day if there hasn’t been fresh snow.

The runs are pretty short, with a range of 275 to 290 vertical metres per run. Regarding a daily tally, it’s up to you regarding how much skiing or snowboarding you want, but if you didn’t muck about much, you could easily get in 3,360m vertical metres (11,000ft, 12 runs) and as much as 4,200m (approx. 14,000 ft, 15 runs).
Alpine Terrain
We’ve classified the old piste trails as “alpine” due to their openness. These are very mellow and ideal for intermediates who need plenty of space to practise powder turns. There are also various small open faces on the far left side that are plenty of fun for advanced riders.

Of course you’ve also got the liberty to spend part of your day skinning up into the alpine of Mt Chise (it takes about 70 minutes to skin to the summit) which has more pitch and is a popular Niseko backcountry route.
Tree Skiing
The tree skiing is fun and the tree spacing varies from mildly tight to loose as a goose. If there were steep trees, and much bigger terrain, Chisenupuri cat skiing would score more points here.

Strong Intermediate Terrain

The House of Powder cat skiing is very well suited to intermediate skiers and snowboarders that are still getting acquainted with powder, and the small terrain size is unlikely to bother intermediates. The open piste as well as some of the mellow trees on the right side are ideal for those on “learner plates”.

And you won’t hold up the whole group up if you fall over and take a while to get back up, or you just want to take it slowly. If an intermediate felt a little tentative on the first run or two, they could seek the support of the staff.
Advanced Terrain
Most of the terrain is well suited to low to mid level advanced riders. If your route finding isn’t well developed, you can’t go too wrong if you stay within the boundaries of the traverse tracks set by the staff. The main lines track out pretty quickly but if you’re a skier (or got poles and with a skier) you can push out laterally and traverse lower and get ongoing freshies.
Expert & Extreme Terrain
There isn’t much in the way of steep or challenging terrain, which is typical of most Japan cat ski outfits. With a 5-10 hike, you can access a little ridge cornice and cliff-ette on the right side, which would provide some hucking fun.
Guiding not rated
Due to the relative safety of the terrain, the cat skiing experience is only semi guided, which gives you the complete freedom to go as fast or slow as you like, or to explore a bit. The staff are sort of like ski patrol (but not the unpleasant type that blow their whistle and chase you if you’ve been naughty!) whereby they look after safety, keep an eye on you, and can give you tips on where to go.

The staff were incredibly enthusiastic and very affable, and helped to ensure everyone had an amazing day.
There were two snowcats, so any waiting time for a lift to the top was very minimal. The snowcats themselves were very good whilst the cabins on the back were functional without being OTT spiffy. It was easy to get into the snowcats because they built a platform and little bridge, and the black cat had two doors which was good for fast loading and unloading. Getting out was a little more difficult for those of us not super nimble (and with short legs), particularly the red cat which had no handles.

The snowcats had simple wooden bench seats (all facing forwards thankfully), Perspex windows (none that opened), nowhere for storage of items, and no heating.
Avalanche Mitigation Strategies
Information about management of avalanche safety such as forecasting or slope testing wasn’t conveyed to the guests, but this isn’t to say that the staff weren’t managing the safety aspects. This is probably largely due to the very low avalanche risk in the main zones due to the combination of low angle terrain and high levels of skier compaction.

A little surprisingly, there were a couple of fumaroles on the slope above the onsen that the staff didn’t seem to know about or weren’t too worried about.
Safety Briefing
A short briefing was provided which was somewhat similar to most other Japan cat skiing outfits. The staff provided an overview of beacon use to those without their own gear, but otherwise didn’t cover too much about avalanche risk, possibly due to the perceived low risk. They didn’t stress about the need to look out for each other considering the cat skiing was unguided, or cover risks about the geothermal activity, but they did outline the snowcat as a major hazard.
The warming hut at the base was a comfortable spot for the morning briefing and for lunch, and it was a bonus if you wanted to pop inside to warm up, grab a drink or snack, or use the bathroom facilities. Fare for pre cat skiing included very basic tea and coffee and biscuits. Lunch was also not a grand affair but at least it was a hot lunch which was nice on a cold day. For an après ski beer, you had to wander down to the onsen to use the vending machine.

Accommodation pick-up was another accompaniment, but the highlight of the frills was a soak in the onsen if you were willing to forego a little skiing at the end of the day (a small The House of Powder onsen towel was provided). In addition to the indoor baths, the gents had a couple of outdoor pools, and the ladies onsen had half a dozen gorgeous pools that looked up to the slopes and Mt Nito. The water quality was very high (supposedly it makes you gorgeous or something!) but the sulphur smell was very overpowering and despite 3 showers and a good scrub, it was hard to get the stench off. Nevertheless the smell was worth it, because the soak in the onsen was sensational.
Value for Money
It’s difficult to compare value for The House of Powder Cat Skiing, because it’s a very unique product. Of the Niseko cat skiing operators, it costs the least but the terrain size is also the smallest.

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 and video footage were not taken using professional riders, but rather aim to show an example of an “every day” experience.

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