Hokkaido Backcountry Club

Overall Rating

Hokkaido Backcountry Club

Hokkaido Backcountry Club4.7/53
Hokkaido Backcountry Club4.7 out of 5 based on 3 reviews
Want to ski Hokkaido POW like this?
Hokkaido Backcountry Club: Shiribetsu Heli Skiing near Rusutsu
It snows a lot at Shimamaki, the cat skiing location
The heli skiing is located near Niseko and Rusutsu
Hokkaido Backcountry Club: Shiribetsu Heli Skiing
Shiribetsu heli skiing terrain
The heli skiing terrain overlooks Mt Yotei
HBC Heli Skiing
The heli ski terrain includes sub alpine terrain
Shimamaki Cat Skiing
The cat skiing lodge is located right on the coast
Shimamaki Snowcat Skiing
It dumps a lot of snow at Shimamaki
Staying at the cat skiing lodge provides a great Japanese experience
The cat skiing tenure will continue to expand
Shimamaki Snowcat Skiing
Comprehensive safety briefings are included
HBC Heli Skiing
Fantastic Hokkaido powder!
Heli skiing terrain

Hokkaido Backcountry Club

Overall Rating

Hokkaido Backcountry Club4.7/53
Hokkaido Backcountry Club4.7 out of 5 based on 3 reviews
The Hokkaido Backcountry Club is Japan's first modern, helicopter, snowcat, and snowmobile adventure company. The Hokkaido Backcountry Club is unique in that they offer helicopter, snowcat, snowmobile, and backcountry touring under the supervision of professionally-certified mountain guides (ACMG, IFMGA, AMGA). HBC is the only Hokkaido heli skiing club, and the only club in Japan to combine both helicopter and cat skiing for members.

With the combination of highly qualified and experienced guides, thorough safety protocols, and impressive terrain, Hokkaido Backcountry Club offers Canadian-style heli skiing and cat skiing - something very unique for Japan.

The Hokkaido Backcountry Club is a spin off company of the very reputable guiding company, Black Diamond Tours.

Niseko Heli Skiing

After searching for suitable Niseko heli skiing terrain, HBC selected the main peak of  Shiribetsu-Dake (1,107 m / 3,632 ft) as a location for its new helicopter skiing program. Adjacent to the Rusutsu Ski Resort, Shiribetsu is a dormant volcano that offers runs varying in length from 550 to 850 vertical metres, and with some pitches between 40 and 50 degrees.

Niseko Heli Skiing can be fabulous because it offers the perfect combination of the best powder in the world and the ultimate lift, a helicopter! Unlike a couple of other Japan heli skiing outfits that offer very lame helicopter accessed skiing, Hokkaido Backcountry Club offers “real” heli skiing that includes qualified backcountry guides and some fabulously steep terrain and long runs.

Cat Skiing

Hokkaido Backcountry Club also offers Japan cat skiing at its finest from the tiny town of Shimamaki in southeast Hokkaido, which is about a 2 hour drive from Niseko. With a population of less than 2,000, Shimamaki is a sleepy, seaside fishing village that is vastly different from the bustling Niseko. The cat skiing area is flanked by the beautiful and impressive Kariba mountain range, shooting up 1,489 m / 4,885 ft to the main peak of Kariba-yama from the nearby Sea of Japan. The area is also home to world-class offshore salmon fishing along with traditional Japanese hot springs.

The Shimamaki Cat Skiing is an amazing opportunity to ride some of the deepest untracked powder away from the ski resort masses!

HBC also run the Chisenupuri Cat Skiing near Niseko.

HBC Terms & Conditions

HBC requires all fees at the time of booking for all trips if booking within 60 days of the trip. If booking in advance of 60 days we will take a 25% deposit. We will require the full amount if you are getting an early bird discount.

Full payment for Shimamaki Snowcats is due by October 15th.

HBC does not offer refunds on snowcat tours for weather related problems (extreme avalanche condition, torrential rain etc)

If HBC is asked to find a replacement for the cancelling guest, payments will be refunded once the seat is filled with another guest less an administration fee of 25,000yen You may sell your seat to another guest, but in order for HBC not to charge you the 25,000yen administration fee, you must collect the money directly from the replacement guest. HBC will not be involved in the transaction.

For non-mechanized tours, cancellation between 60 and 30 days before the trip will result in a 50% cancellation fee. Cancellation within 30 days of the trip for any reason, including injury, will result in a 100% cancellation fee.

Heli bookings cancelled on our part for reasons of weather or safety qualify for a backup lift assisted tour at Rusutsu for 35,000yen. The remainder will be refunded. If you decide not to join this program, you will be refunded 20% of the total.

Runs not skied in our helicopter program qualify for a refund of 13,000 yen per run for 6-run guests and 8,580yen/ min for private charter guests.

Additional heli runs will be billed at 16,000 yen per run for 6-run guests and 8,580yen/ min for private charter guests.

Heli guests not flying or delayed due to weather will be offered a backcountry / resort / or slackcountry tour with the prospect of flying if the weather changes. Guests can also re-book for the following days if there is availability.

Minimum group numbers apply for all tours. In the case of low numbers, we will attempt to reschedule.

Included in all ski packages is the use of backpack, avalanche transceiver, probe, and shovel, as well as avalanche and helicopter safety briefings.

A set menu lunch and apres ski appetizers are included in all heli programs.

We recommend you purchase your own trip cancellation insurance in case you need to cancel for injury or any other unforseen circumstances.

PAYMENTS

You will receive an invoice email with payment instructions via international bank transfer or PayPal credit card. You do not need a PayPal membership to use this credit card service.

Due to service fees, our preferred method for larger transactions is international bank transfer. All bank transfer details are available on your electronic invoice.

If you choose to complete a bank transfer, please ignore any service charge listed on your invoice and only transfer the amount owing on the balance line of your invoice.

All customers are required to read a release of liability waiver and medical information form before departing. Failure to do so will result in cancellation of the tour without refund.

All participants under the age of 19 must also 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.

All tour pricing listed on this website is based on a minimum group size of 3 people, unless otherwise stated. If your group is smaller or larger than 3, please ask about availability.

HBC reserves the right to cancel any tour at any time, typically due to inclement weather or unsafe backcountry travel conditions.

We ask members to be honest about their skill levels. If you have booked and paid for a trip with HBC, but your skills are insufficient for the trip you have booked, we will try to accommodate you with another program if possible but we will not issue refunds.

Hokkaido Backcountry Heli Skiing Review

The weather gods could not have been kinder to us when we reviewed the Hokkaido Backcountry Club heli skiing. Two days earlier out cat skiing with HBC, it had been absolutely puking with snow, whilst the bluebird day we scored for heli skiing was one out of the bag. We had the most phenomenal day out heli skiing with Hokkaido Backcountry Club. It was the last day of our 2 month Japan skiing research odyssey, and what a finale!!

Despite us having a superb time, it’s our job to review and find any minor little inadequacies in an operation, because no heli skiing company is absolutely perfect for everyone. Our review covers different aspects of the HBC operation and hopefully you can determine if HBC 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. You can check out our heli ski ratings and cat ski ratings to see how Hokkaido Backcountry Club fares against some other mechanized backcountry operations.

Pros
  • This style of (real) heli skiing is very unique for Japan.
  • The proximity of the heli skiing to Niseko and Rusutsu is a huge plus so that your Hokkaido trip can include a mix of resort skiing and heli skiing.
  • The guides are highly experienced and qualified, and the safety protocols are excellent.
  • There is a very low guest to guide ratio.
  • The area is renowned for fabulous snow quality and quantity.
  • Whilst Hokkaido generally has the reputation of being deep not steep, this is not the case with Mt Shiribetsu – it’s definitely pitchy!
  • The 360 degree views on a fine day are pretty impressive across to Rusutsu, Lake Toya, the Sea of Japan, and to the imposing Mt Yotei. It’s just that there might not be that many fine days ….
Cons
  • Akin to Alaskan heli skiing, abundant snowfall and lots of foul weather go hand in hand. Weather windows to fly the helicopter are generally not that frequent or long in the peak of winter. Thankfully unlike Alaska heli skiing, you don’t have to sit around playing cards when the heli can’t fly.
  • The terrain isn’t huge and sometimes it’s shared with a handful of ski tourers. Fortunately powder resets are very common.
  • If you’re into heli skiing from a secluded backcountry lodge in a remote location, you might need to go to BC Canada for that.


Powder Snow
It’s well known that it snows A LOT in this part of Hokkaido. HBC hasn’t been operating enough seasons to have stats on the average snowfall, but let’s just call it massive amounts! It’s also well accepted that Hokkaido has awesome powder, so it’s no surprise that HBC were keen to set up a heli ski outfit in the path of the chilly Siberian weather patterns.

The top elevation at about 1,100 metres isn’t too dissimilar to some of the nearby resorts, and a little lower than some of the Central Hokkaido resorts. However with such cold weather patterns hitting the area, this sort of elevation wouldn’t usually pose a problem with respect to snow quality.

As to be expected, the snow quality varied somewhat between the many different aspects of the 360 degree mountain. The south facing slopes were soft and got a fraction too sunny by lunch time, although this probably wouldn’t be too much of a problem because it’s not sunny that often! Meanwhile over on the north facing slopes, the powder was absolutely delicious. It was amazing to ski such lovely powder and it was also fabulous to watch a snowboarder coming down the mountain leaving jet streams of cold smoke in his wake!

Overall Terrain
Don’t be disheartened by the score, because the volcanic cone terrain of Shiribetsu is mostly fabulous. Steep open spaces, naturally gladed trees – it’s a powder hound’s paradise. The terrain only loses points because it’s not particularly large, especially when you compare it to the hundreds of thousands of hectares that some of the Canadian heli ski outfits have.

The smaller size results in less terrain variation potential if you want to do multiple days of heli skiing, but a greater consideration is the number of freshies on offer. After a handful of days without fresh snow, the slopes could become somewhat tracked and terrain choice more limited. Ski tourers and split-boarders can readily access the area too, so this has the potential to put a few more tracks in the mountain. Of course, the time between snow storms is rarely very long in the Rusutsu/Niseko area, so resets occur frequently.

Another small limitation is the rather long mellow run-outs to the road or heli LZ.

We scored more turns than the advertised vertical, with an average of 800 metres per run (range 640 – 890 m).

Alpine Terrain
The mountain doesn’t really have “alpine” terrain per se, more like sub-alpine. Towards the top are a few trees attempting to become snow ghosts, and a smattering of other trees, leaving some deliciously steep open terrain, tempting cornices and the odd spine-ish ridge. The sub-alpine doesn’t last long before it gives way to the treeline, so it may be short but it’s very sweet.

Tree Skiing
Shiribetsu has amazing terrain for tree skiing. Mostly it consists of well spaced birch trees, with the trees only becoming tighter towards the bottom where it mellows out a lot. It would score full marks it there were some steep tight trees to increase the terrain variety, but really, you could never complain about all those amazing powder turns!


Strong Intermediate Terrain


Strong intermediates with off-piste experience and without a fear of steeps should cope because the higher gradient pitches at the top are wide open and don’t require much technical ability. However for snowboarders in particular, the tight mellow trees at the base require a little skill because you have to keep up a lot of speed on the flats whilst simultaneously avoiding the trees.

Advanced Terrain
Woo hoo! The terrain has lots of amazing ingredients to make it the ideal playground for advanced riders.

Expert & Extreme Terrain
Somewhat unique for Hokkaido (and Japan for that matter), Shiribetsu is rather steep. On one run we hit 46 degrees. There’s nothing super gnarly, but it will keep experts pretty happy. When stability is good, there are some cornices for leaping and the occasional rock feature, but unfortunately (or fortunately) most of the rock features for extreme riders are buried under the deep snowpack. There are generally a few small powder lumps and bumps if you’re keen for some air time.

Guiding
The guides are highly qualified and have extensive experience with heliski guiding in North America (Canada and Alaska) and South America. We felt in incredibly safe hands.

The guest to guide ratio was very low compared to most heli operators (which further enhanced safety), and we sometimes skied with another group so that we had a tail guide. The communication between the guides was well coordinated, and the instructions to guests were very clear and specific. They were fabulous really!

Heli
The use of the helicopter should evolve over time when HBC is able to obtain a permit for a basket on the side of the heli. Most helicopters are rather squishy but this one felt “Japanese-sized”, probably due to the need to put all the skis and snowboards inside the heli along with 4 passengers. The upside was that there was no passenger sitting in the front of the heli so the amazing views were unimpeded (and it kept the guest to guide ratio low).

Use of the helicopter should also improve as HBS obtains permits for more LZs. The helicopter picked us up from the base of some of the northern aspect runs, but we skied down to the road for the south facing lines and were picked up in a van to get back to the restaurant/heli staging area. There was something pretty cool about skiing down to the road, but using the van reduced the efficiency of the day somewhat.

NB from 2020 HBC has a brand new B3 helicopter with an equipment basket and it flies from a hangar at the base of Shiribetsu.

Avalanche Mitigation Strategies
HBC follow HeliCat Canada avalanche safety procedures and this was evident in all aspects of the experience. A snow safety team was sent out in the morning to evaluate the snowpack, and additional snowpits were dug during the day. All guests were provided with a beacon and backpack with shovel and probe.

HBC heli skiing has some additional safety aspects relating to the helicopter, some of which are mandated by Japanese-isms! Firstly the heli landings are incredibly safe because they are completely flat – there are no gnarly knife-edge ridges for the heli to teeter on like you find with most heli skiing outfits. A Japanese guy is required to stand at the top of the mountain (and at the main base) all day to assist in guiding the heli in to land. We were waiting for a little bow from these men in true Japanese style, but it never arrived!

Safety Briefing
A comprehensive briefing (for a day operator) was provided regarding safety in the backcountry, what to do in the event of an avalanche, and use of the safety equipment which included practical application.

Frills
After being transported from our Niseko accommodation to the Mt Potato restaurant (the base of operations), we were provided with a nice coffee (which can be hard to find in Japan) whilst the guides did a good job of outlining what to expect of the day. The restaurant was rather quaint, it felt delightfully Japanese and afforded views so we could salivate over the terrain we’d be skiing that day. One bottle of water and a few snacks were provided for us to put in our backpack.

It was very nice to come back to the restaurant for lunch and sit down in comfort (and use the restrooms). Lunch was a 3-course affair and included soup, a substantial main course of chicken, and cake to top it off. At the end of the day we returned to the restaurant where we could purchase beers.

No other frills were included as part of the package.

Value for Money
You’d expect to pay a lot of yen for what could potentially be one of the best days of your life! In addition to all that quality powder and a decent amount of vertical, you get a very small guest to guide ratio, and you also have to pay for the “privilege” of having the additional staff to fulfill the safety aspects mandated by the local government (!!).

It’s difficult to compare value for money to other Japanese heliski outfits considering this is one-of-a-kind. To rate value on an international scale, it really comes down to the currency exchange at the time. Compared to a similar day heli ski operator in continental USA, HBC heli skiing was 85% of the cost (at the time of writing this review) whilst providing almost double the amount of vertical. Meanwhile HBC cost about 20% more than a comparable Canadian day heli ski operator.



The ultimate ski lift...

..Shiribetsu terrain...

..easy flat landings on top.

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 somewhat different and we acknowledge that everyone’s experience will be slightly different. The ratings are from our perspective only.

The photos and Powderhounds 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.

Phenomenal

POWDERHOUNDS.COM
06/04/2016
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Expert
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Month Visited:
    February
  • Admin Rating
    5

Phenomenal

POWDERHOUNDS.COM
06/04/2016
Cold powder
Our lift
We had an absolutely phenomenal day out heli skiing with Hokkaido Backcountry Club. It was the last day of our 2 month Japan skiing research odyssey, and what an amazing finale!!

See our comprehensive HBC heli skiing review for more information. Keep in mind with our ratings, that we are comparing the operation on a global scale, and 5/5 equates to absolutely outstanding.

The fun factor wasn't a 5/5 - it was off the Richter scale!

1st experience in Heliskiing

Max
22/03/2016
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Advanced
  • Rider Age
    51-70
  • Rider Country
    France
  • Month Visited:
    March
  • Admin Rating
    3

1st experience in Heliskiing

Max
22/03/2016
First ride March 15 2016
Shiribetsu March 15 2016_A nice group
Shiribetsu March 15 2016_A sunny day
Finally, I did it. Moreover with a very good friend, and the day of my birthday (63)! First Heliskiing in my life, first time in Hokkaido ... Great time, good weather conditions. Sure, I would like to do it again. Hopefully next winter.

Thank you to Shin, and the HBC Team.

Best day of my life

Andrew Snelleksz
09/03/2016
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Snowboarder
  • Rider Level
    Advanced
  • Rider Age
    18-35
  • Rider Country
    Australia
  • Month Visited:
    February
  • Admin Rating
    5

Best day of my life

Andrew Snelleksz
09/03/2016
Easily the best day snowboarding in my life.

Not only was the snow and mountain incredible but we pulled a perfect bluebird day in a fortnight full of overcast snow storms. Unbelievable!

We got picked up from our hotel by Keith and Shin and headed off. At the heli zone and were kitted out with transceiver and backpack with a shovel and probe. After some Av training we were on our way.

Groups were split up into twos and threes according to weight and friends. My group went first and loaded into the chopper.

Our guide Sandy was a champion and seeing someone that does it for a living being stoked sealed the deal that we were on a winner.

The mountain was amazing. The terrain varied from open runs to small gullies and amazing tree runs.
The powder was boot to knee deep and magic to board on. Although we were lucky to go first a few times it didn't matter. You could go last and never cross someone else's line. It was an epic free-for-all.

Some pickups were by heli but the majority were pickup by van that took us straight back to the heli. There were nine guests that made four groups. And how the HBC team made the pickups work like clockwork is beyond me. We did the six runs that was included and bought one extra for 12000 in the afternoon once we knew it was on. Five runs in the sun and two in the shade all up.

Did I mention it was Bluebird!!

Lunch was provided at the restaurant back at the Heli zone and was good. I could easily have skipped the meal for an extra line in the sun. But no complaints. This was a well planned day that was run efficiently and professionally and was just awesome.

Everyone was peaking. And we all had a beer together at the end on Greg. The Top Dog here at Powderhounds who was on the same Heli trip as us with the unforgettable Lyndell.

I'll be chasing another perfect day like that for years I think................ or I could just book in again next season.
HBC Skiing/Snowboarding Tours
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Shiribetsu-Dake Day Heliskiing DETAILS
Price p/p From price based on 6-run heli ski day 2019-20 rates.
Base/invoice currency is in JPY in taxes.
*Displayed price may vary due to currency fluctuations.
USD 1,456

DAY HELI SKIING RUSUTSU - 6 RUN PACKAGE
Includes Niseko pickup & lunch

Location: Japan | Tour Focus: Guided | Terrain Focus: Backcountry
Ability: Advanced to Expert
Price p/p From price based on 6-run heli ski day 2019-20 rates.
Base/invoice currency is in JPY in taxes.
*Displayed price may vary due to currency fluctuations.
USD 1,456
At last, a Niseko heli skiing operation! Make this one of the best days of your life skiing Hokkaido's deep dry powder on a dormant volcano (adjacent to Rusutsu and not far from Niseko). More
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