Following our popular post, ‘CAT skiing at Iwanai, Hokkaido’, we are pleased to bring you a review of an alternative CAT skiing option, also based in Hokkaido.
CAT skiing is becoming increasingly popular in Hokkaido, especially in the Niseko area, where more and more people are looking for new and exciting adventures, free from the hustle and bustle of the main resort area. Par Powder Paradise (PPP) tours operates out of Niseko and has been in operation for 6 years. Unlike other CAT skiing operations, PPP don’t use tracked over-snow vehicles. Riders are instead towed up the hill behind a small snowmobile, with the skiiers and boarders trawling behind water ski style.
The review is brought to you by one of our followers, Roger Tarrant. Roger and his buddies experienced PPP tours for themselves on the 16th January, 2016. PPP operate on a private ski hill about 30 km SE of the Hirafu village (the main village area in the resort of Niseko United). Payment is strictly cash only (Y25,000).
I’ll let Roger describe the experience in his own words:
“PPP is led by a Japanese local, Par. Par and his crew offer a pick up service and supply all safety gear (back packs with avalanche transceivers and shovels etc). Lunch and water is BYO. When we arrived, they had five snowmobiles lined up and waiting. We began our ascent behind the snowmobiles, with three people per machine; one sitting on the back holding ski, poles or snowboards across their lap, and the other two towed behind.
From the base to the top of the ski area takes about 15 min up a snow covered logging road through beautiful forest. Other than the noise from the snowmobile, it’s a tranquil ride. At the top the guide and photographer take us on a short ski traverse about 400m to the bowl where you ski. Our guide for the day, ‘Par’, and the other guides take the snowmobiles back down the road to the collection point at the bottom of the bowl. The bowl is like a big amphitheater giving the option of 3 sides to chose from. On this day we were skiing the steepest side closest to the road so when the guide said “We start here”, everyone peered over the edge and uttered a few expletives “Holy Crap”. I reckon the first drop in was close to 40 degrees; so much for the warm up run!!
The photographer goes first sets the line and positions themselves at appropriate spots and then radios the guide to send the first skier down. We had a numbered piece of tape stuck to our skis. The photographer has memory cards with same numbers and changes the card for each skier so at end of the day at the base you can buy your card with all the pics for Y8,000, not compulsory but once you view them it’s hard to say no, each person had upwards of 300 pics – so plenty of choice for the hero shot.
So first run one at a time, down we go. The first 20 m was a rush and you disappeared from sight of the others on top but within a couple of turns got into powder rhythm, snow was waist to chest deep at the top so needed the steep to keep moving!! 1/3 way down the pitch lessens to an ego stroking 30-35 degrees and about knee to waist deep and fear disappears and smiles all around. Everyone stops at the bottom and watches the rest of the group come down. Then the guides turn to join us and to show how its really done – which could be soul destroying or motivating depending on your 1/2 glass full or empty philosophy.
Then as a group we all ski out through the bottom of the bowl, about 800m of fun little jumps and kickers – the guide calls it the ‘powder park’ and then you join another logging road. Par has prepped the road with a snowmobile track down the middle so you ski in track for maybe 1km before meeting the snowmobiles. Its about a 10min ascent back up the logging rd to the starting point. Getting towed pretty easy, Par gives you instructions how not to hurt yourself, its not too demanding on the legs, the younger ones in our group preferred to be towed all day whereas having old creaky knees I opted to sit on the back of the snowmobile.
Depending on the ability of the group you get between 6-8 runs for the day – we finished about 3.30pm to ski out and got back to the base about 4pm. You get your 1st beer complimentary while looking at photos at the base, then money donations gratefully accepted if you want more beer. Back to Hirafu approx 6pm.
The actual fall line in the bowl I reckon would be from 300m up to 700m long depending on where you start in the bowl. The top part of the bowl has trees then once your though that it opens right up to big open meadow. Would be similar terrain to skiing Gate 1 or Gate 5 or Strawberry fields at Hirafu. On our day we stayed on the same face but different entry points so effectively did not ski the same line for 6 runs. Because the snow was so deep that day, steep lines where awesome although the thighs were screaming once you got the bottom. I assume they rotate what face gets skied so the following day the next group gets to ski fresh lines if there is no new snow.
Our group was 8 skiers, 1 boarder. We had 3 intermediate skiers – who did struggle initially, mostly just intimidated as it was a first time in steep deep snow. We got 3 runs pre-lunch and 3 runs post lunch. Three people popped a ski on different runs so that took quite a bit of time for them to first find their ski in the deep snow and then get it on, but everyone was understanding and no aggro from having to wait. The three weakest skiers sat out the 5th run as they were pretty knackered so the rest of us flew down and back up all within 20-25mins. So if you had strong group you can easily get 8 runs in.
In our group, there were 5 Aussies, 2 Swedes and 2 Dutch – all bonded very quickly and everyone was encouraging because it was a new experience for most of us. Par and his staff were excellent, super friendly. Some had pretty good English which made up for our lack of Japanese. Safety was very important to Par and his crew so we felt completely looked after. For a different experience and for Y25,000 I think its worth it.
If your not into hiking up to top Gates at Annapuri then this gives you access to a similar powder but only have to share with max 10 other people. Some people might find being towed behind a snowmobile a bit scary but no worse than taking a poma or t-bar,and certainly more exhilarating. Par is super friendly and has plenty of good stories to share as he has been in Japan for over 30 years. The whole experience was fantastic and I recommend it to those looking for slightly out of the ordinary good value tour. Here is a video that Par produced a few years back which gives you a good idea of the whole operation“