Organizing a trip to an unknown destination, far far away, can be a tough job. But things can get a lot better if you contact a mountain guide that takes you to the best spots and goes for that extra mile that turns a trip into an unforgettable local experience.
This is exactly what happened to a group of friends from Belgium, France and the UK that went on an amazing backcountry ski trip in Hokkaido with Daisuke Sasaki, an IFMGA mountain guide and also a renowned Japanese extreme skier!
“Here’s your playground, enjoy!” said Daisuke every time the team arrived at the top of a mountain, ready to ski down and enjoy the fresh snow and deserted landscapes. After an intense day of journey, the guide took them to a relaxing onsen and shared with them a delicious meal at a traditional Japanese restaurant.
Gaelle, Fabrizio, Becky, Thomas and Sophie are a group of backcountry skiers with vast experience in different parts of the world. In fact, they all met on a recent backcountry skiing trip in Finnmark (Norway) and decided to go for a new adventure together!
While some of them dreamt about legendary powder snow in Japan; others had never heard of it before. But when they read the story of a Belgian couple that traveled to Hokkaido with a local guide, they convinced themselves that Japan should be their next destination. And so they contacted Daisuke through Explore-Share to be their guide too.
Last January, they spent 8 days in some of the best backcountry ski spots in Hokkaido. After their amazing experience, Thomas says:
“Every day of the trip we saw different landscapes, each one was more sublime than the previous one. The mountains, the volcanoes, the forests! There were always two things in common: the absence of other people and an the abundance of fresh snow”.
Finding the best skiing spots in Hokkaido
Starting from Niseko, they traveled in the guide’s car to nearby destinations, like Rusutsu and Kimobetsu. Then, they headed to Sapporo ski area and continued to Furano ski area. The end of their itinerary was in the ski areas nearby towns of Asahikawa and Higashikawa, including the famous Asahidake, the tallest mountain in Hokkaido.
The trip was a mix of lift assisted backcountry skiing originating from a ski resort and days in a mountain starting the full hike from the foot of the mountain.
Daisuke decided the itinerary based on the internationally famous spots in Hokkaido: Niseko and Asahidake. “Then, I picked my recommended spots along the line connecting those 2 areas: mountains in the vicinity of Sapporo, Sapporo Kokusai, Kiroro and Tokachidake”, he says. For him, Hokkaido offers “a variety of snow quality, as well as great views and terrains”.
Finding the best snow was one of his main concerns during the trip. According to Becky:
“The weather was not always nice but Daisuke managed to find the right places to go where the snow conditions were the best. He was planning the days so that we could have sun when skiing down”.
That’s probably one of the most valuable things of traveling with a local guide: their extensive knowledge of the weather and the terrain allow them to take clients to extraordinary settings.
Gaelle’s best memory of the trip, for example, was skiing down a volcano just when the sun was going down:
“Daisuke brought us there because he knew the experience would be unique. All the other skiers had gone. We were always at the best place at the best moment”.
Daisuke, an extreme ski legend from Hokkaido
One evening after skiing, they saw Daisuke’s Alaska documentary on the Japanese TV. They were surprised to find out the reputation of their guide in the backcountry skiing community in Japan. “We could feel he was a bit like a star but he never mentioned anything”, says Gaelle. Thomas adds: “He’s a world renowned skier, nicknamed as the Flying Japanese!”.
Daisuke Sasaki was born in Hokkaido. He’ll be 40 years old this year and his biography is already full of impressive facts. He skied for the first time at the age of 3 and began to climb at 6. By the time he was 17, he had travelled to Nepal and climbed a 6000 meter peak: Island Peak.
After graduating from high school, he became an assistant mountain guide in Hokkaido. He also worked as a ski instructor at Miura Dolphins (founded by ski legend Yuichiro Miura, the first man to make a ski descent on the Everest).
Daisuke dedicated his life to extreme ski expeditions and high altitude ski descents. He skied down from 7400 m on Manaslu (in the Himalaya) and from the summit of Denali (the highest peak in the United States), as well as many other iconic mountains from Alaska to Antarctica.
He won twice at the Japan Extreme Skiing Competition and received awards at many worldwide extreme skiing competitions.
In 2014, he became an IFMGA mountain guide. Nowadays, he works closely with the Mountain Guide Association in Japan (JMGA), leading the efforts to raise and maintain the standards and quality of its ski guide qualifications. He is in charge of examining and training new ski guides.
Not only a ski trip, but a cultural experience
To travel around an unknown country, especially when there are language barriers, can be a difficult thing. Therefore, the presence of a local guide is decisive. As Gaelle says:
“The role of Daisuke was much more than just a mountain guide. He was taking care of us 24 hours a day: booking our hotel, taking us to traditional restaurants, arranging visits to different places… Without him the experience would have never be the same. We are so thankful to him!”.
For Daisuke, his job involves “trying to communicate to my guests the very Japan specific rules and unwritten rules”. The truth is he helped them to have an authentic Japanese experience, beyond the sporting adventure. And that’s something that lures every traveler in the world: to feel connected to the place they are visiting. For Becky,
“The cultural experience was greater than I have experienced elsewhere; the food was a huge focus and was truly excellent”.
In a similar way, Gaelle points out:
“It was a real cultural experience: we were wearing Yukata to eat, stayed in traditional hostels, ate real Japanese meals. Daisuke brought us to the best places”.
During the trip, Daisuke adapted the itinerary so that everyone could fully enjoy according to their level. He also took care whenever someone was sick and checked his team’s equipment to ensure they didn’t suffer cold.
That way, his clients only had to worry about “enjoying their playground”, as everything else was under control.
Daisuke is planning a technical ascent of Cassin ridge on Denali and a first ski descent from its south west face for the following months. But you can always contact him for your next backcountry skiing adventure in Japan! According to him, the best time to come for a ski trip is from the end of December to the beginning of March. However, you can also enjoy these places in Spring.
Here are more inspiring pictures of the amazing powder snow and magical frozen trees of Hokkaido: