Chase Hokkaido's biggest storms on the Otaru Freeride Tour
On this tour you’ll stay in Otaru – a lively port town on the Sea of Japan. In winter, big storms roll in and blanket the streets in deep snow. Surrounding the town you’ll find a variety of resorts within driving distance. From world-class Kiroro to old-school local ski hills that are virtually empty mid-week – Sapporo Kokusai, Teine, Otaru Tenguyama and Asarigawa Onsen. Surprisingly, this area doesn’t get the hordes of international guests chasing snow, so you’ll get plenty of waist deep turns with all the perks of staying in a city. Local markets, fresh seafood, great onsen, plenty of photo op’s with the restored canals and warehouse buildings, snow lined streets, locals surfing during the depths of winter and a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Another bonus is that Otaru is probably the easiest destination to reach in Hokkaido. Just 30 minutes by train from Sapporo or 60 minutes by car from Niseko.
This is a fully hosted powder hunter tour with flexible itinerary and a small group of 6 people. You’ll chase the snow and ride at different resorts each day. Your guide is one of the most experienced and qualified professionals working in Hokkaido who has many years of experience riding in these areas as well as reading the conditions and terrain. This tour is perfect for strong intermediate to advanced riders as you’ll get to ride a variety of resort and lift accessed backcountry terrain. You should always expect some of the deepest, lightest and driest powder in the world.
At night Otaru is a buzzing city with plenty of izakaya and sushi shops, where you can try hefty helpings of seafood at very reasonable prices. After dinner there’s plenty of great bars to check out or simply walk back to the hotel and get ready for another big day riding in Hokkaido.
Join the wait list for
Winter 2025 dates
Freeride - resort and lift-access backcountry
2025 prices coming soon
Intermediate to Advanced
WHY TRAVEL WITH MINT
In a rapidly changing travel industry it’s important to know that your travel provider is accredited, accountable and responsible. We are a registered member of AFTA and IATA and conduct business in accordance with the ATAS Charter and Code of Conduct. When you travel with Mint you can have peace of mind that you are booking with a qualified and established travel operator with over 20 years of expertise. And as a full-service travel agent, we are able to take care of your flights, insurance, stopovers and pre or post tour arrangements.
OFF THE TOURIST TRAIL
Given its accessibility, laid back vibe, incredible scenery and vibrant food culture, it’s inevitable that Otaru won’t be a secret for long. Make sure you visit here before everyone else does!
Chase the Snow
We have a flexible itinerary so we can chase the snow. From Otaru we can access numerous resorts in the region such as Kiroro, Sapporo Kokusai, Teine, Otaru Tenguyama and Asarigawa Onsen.
EASY TO GET TO
There are regular trains that run between Sapporo and Otaru and you can get between stations in 30 minutes. If you’re flying into Sapporo a trains from New Chitose Airport twice an hour. If you are coming from Niseko or Rusutsu, it's around 60 minutes by car.
CITY OF SUSHI
Being a port city, it goes without saying that you can’t ignore the seafood. Otaru has over 100 sushi restaurants, so you’re never more than a few steps away from piles of ocean-fresh sushi. During the tour we'll visit Otaru’s sushi “mecca”, a 200-metre long street of sushi shops founded in the 1980s to promote Otaru as a “city of sushi”.
Our guides have decades of experience leading groups throughout the Niseko region. You'll benefit from their extensive local knowledge which will give you access to many of their secret spots.
SNOW LIGHT PATH FESTIVAL
The Snow Light Path Festival (10 - 17 February) sees the canals, streets and shops illuminated by endless rows of snow-crafted lanterns. The festival usually runs at a similar time as the nearby Sapporo Snow Festival, making it possible to visit both festivals on the same trip.
Premium is the new Normal
We'll make sure your stay is premium in every way. You'll stay in a private single room (1 person per room) that’s near Otaru’s famous shopping dining & drinking spots and you'll have private transport on-hand for the entire tour.
Our guides will get you ahead of the pack so you arrive at the resorts before the masses. We'll shuttle you to the best resorts daily in our modern 4WD vans.
Each evening, join your guides to explore the many dining and drinking options in Otaru.
Get in touch for a detailed tour itinerary and more info
On this tour you'll get a unique cultural perspective being based in a lively regional city. By night, you'll have countless food, beer, and entertainment options on your doorstep. By day, your guides will shuttle you to and from the resorts and backcountry zones. There's plenty of variety in resorts to choose from. Where you'll ride largely depends on the snowfall and conditions as well as the groups appetite for adventure. The driving times can range from a 20 minutes to 1 hour.
SNOW & CONDITIONS
From early January to late February is the ideal time of year to ride in Hokkaido. What you can expect is light dry, deep snow, perfect for riding powder. Temps will be cold, with temperatures ranging from -5 to -20°C / 23 to -4°F. Days will be short, with an average of 6 hours of sunlight per day. The actual snowfall statistics aren’t measured and there's no need. This place scores some of the biggest storms in Japan so you never need to worry about lack of snow.
We offer one of the smallest client to guide ratio’s in the industry which ultimately leads to a better experience for everyone. Our small groups allow greater manoeuvrability and ease of access to the best areas a destination can offer. When we are on mountain, our typical guest to guide ratio is 6 people per guide. This also makes for a more personal experience between our guests and guides.
ONSEN & CULTURAL VISITS
The plan for each day differs due to a number of factors, but we'll always make time for an onsen visit or two throughout the trip. There's no better way to recover than to soak in the mineral rich, geothermal waters. Some of the other local activities that are popular are a visit the sake brewery for a tasting, a trip to 'sushi street', or visit to one of the local surf spots.
After you sign up for a tour, you will receive pre-trip emails with specific information about your tour, the arrival and departure day process, information about the destination, packing suggestions, and other relevant information to help you prepare for your trip. In addition to this, you have access to our customer care team who are just a phone-call away. And as a full-service travel agent, we are able to take care of your insurance, stopovers and pre or post tour arrangements.
Throughout the tour you'll stay in a modern, 4 star city hotel with great amenities including a bar, wax station and restaurant. You'll stay in a private single room which gives you privacy and plenty of space for your equipment. Buffet breakfast is included throughout your tour, and each night you can explore the the surrounding area's local ramen shops, sushi and countless izakaya.
Meet your expert team
Meet your expert team
Mint opens doors around the globe. Our long-standing relationships with local guides, local legends, professional athletes, local businesses and resorts allow us special access to places and people. Travelling with us, you go behind the scenes to get a close-up view of each destination. You’re enriched by the knowledge of our experts and local guides.
Meet your expert team
Born and raised above the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland. In winters, Jari is a freeride guide in Japan, the Alps and at his home resort, Pyhä in Finland. Jari established the Pyhä Snow Safety Center where he teaches Finlav courses and operates avalanche forecasting for Pyhä's free ride areas. A qualified snow safety instructor and educator, avalanche forecaster, ski patroller and snowsports instructor in the disciplines of snowboarding, telemark, alpine and cross-country. In summers you’ll find Jari working as a coast guard on the Finnish Archipelago.
Meet your expert team
Tommi has spend many winters guiding in Japan. An experienced backcountry guide, educator and facilitator of avalanche safety courses. Experienced in avalanche forecasting and a founder of the Pyhä Snow Safety Center in Finnish Lapland. Tommi loves to help people start their journey in off piste snowboarding, skiing, telemarking and adaptive skiing.
- 6 nights in a single ensuite room, 4* hotel (1 person per room)
- 5 days of on-snow guiding
- 5 day lift ticket
- Use of avalanche safety equipment – pack, transceiver, shovel & probe
- 5 days of private transfers to and from resorts
- 6 buffet breakfasts
- 1 group dinner (arrival night)
- Mint merch pack
- Arrival and departure day transfers from Otaru Station (1 departure time)
- Fully-escorted tour, guides on hand throughout the tour
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED
- Travel insurance
- All lunches – expect to pay USD $10 – $15 per meal
- 5 dinners – expect to pay USD $20 – $40 per meal
- Onsen entry fee – expect to pay between USD $5 – $10 per visit
- Any meals, drinks, snacks not listed
This tour is suitable for strong intermediate to advanced snowboarders and skiers. You should be comfortable on black diamond runs, be able to ride/ski off-piste at a resort or in the backcountry, can confidently navigate alpine and treed terrain and maintain a continuous rhythm and pace, even through traverses and flat sections.
If you’re not quite up to the ability level for this tour, don’t dismiss the possibility of experiencing the best powder turns of your life! Talk with our team and they will be able to make recommendations for other suitable tours, or how to work towards joining this tour.
When you are ready to book, we’ll ask you to self-evaluate what type of rider/skier you are. This will help us book you on the right tour. The more accurately you’re able to self-assess your on-snow abilities, the more you (and others in your group) will be able to relax and enjoy your tour.
The only way to guarantee the speed and ability level of your group is to book a private tour so you can ride with like-minded friends. If you have a group of 6 people, you can book this as a private tour.
All our Japan Tours are 6 nights and run from Sunday to Saturday. You’ll ride every resort mid-week to avoid the weekend day-trippers and maximise your time on-snow. If 6 nights isn’t enough, then book one of our multi-tour combo’s. Join us in Asahikawa, then start a new tour in a different destination the following day. Ask us about tour combo ideas and multi-tour discount.
Join the waitlist for Winter 2025 dates.
BOOK A PRIVATE TOUR
Book this as a private tour with your own guide and all the benefits of a Mint group tour – for any group, big or small. Booking a private tour so you can ride with like-minded friends is the best way to guarantee the speed and ability levels of your group.
WHY TRAVEL WITH MINT?
In a rapidly changing travel industry it’s important to know that your travel provider is accredited, accountable and responsible. Mint is a registered member of AFTA and IATA and conducts business in accordance with the ATAS Charter and Code of Conduct. When you travel with Mint you can have peace of mind that you are booking with a qualified and established travel operator with over 20 years of expertise. And as a full-service travel agent, we can take care of your flights, insurance, stopovers and pre-or post tour arrangements.
WHAT IS A FREERIDE TOUR?
Our Freeride Tours offer you the best chance to ride deep, Japan powder. Our experienced guides have an in-depth knowledge of the resorts we visit, which gives you the ultimate advantage when your chasing deep, un-tracked snow. On this tour we will ride a mix of in-bounds resort terrain as well as backcountry zones. The backcountry zones are lift-accessed, however there are times when a short boot pack is necessary (typically up to 5 minutes). We’ll aim to snowboard and ski a lot of powder, glades and trees so please be prepared to ride and ski in the trees for 5 days straight. Of course weather and conditions are impossible to predict so guests must be prepared to ride or ski anything.
ARE LIFT TICKETS INCLUDED?
Yes, all lift tickets are included for this tour. Please note that none of the resorts that we visit on this tour are on the Ikon or Epic Pass.
BUDGETING FOR THE TOUR
An estimate of spending money for the week is around USD $250 – $350 to cover lunches, dinners, drinks and snacks. Here’s an indication of what you can expect to pay for meals and activities:
- Lunches – expect to pay USD $10 – $15 per meal
- Dinners – expect to pay USD $20 – $40 per meal
- Onsen entry fee – expect to pay between USD $5 – $10 per visit
- Sushi train visit – expect to pay USD $25 – $45
HOW FAR IN ADVANCE DO I NEED TO BOOK?
It’s hard to estimate when the tour will fill up. That being said, the Otaru Freeride Tour is a popular tour, so our advice is to book as soon as you’ve made the decision to travel. That way you can secure your preferred travel dates and you won’t be disappointed. Bookings close 90 days before a trip departs, however most tours typically fill up well before this.
WHAT IS THE ITINERARY?
For further information, including a tour itinerary send us an enquiry.
WHAT TYPE OF TERRAIN WILL WE RIDE/SKI?
On this tour we will ride a mix of terrain from resort to lift-accessed backcountry. There’s a range of terrain to access from alpine, playful or challenging tree runs, some with features such as pillows and drops. Expect deep snow, soft landings and lots of fun features. Snowshoes/split boards/touring skis are not required.
WHO WILL BE IN MY GROUP?
We decide the group you’ll ride or ski with based on a complex handful of factors — it’s part math, part safety, and part ability and fitness. Know that we always have your best interests in mind when creating the group. As much as possible, we strive to place you in a group with other riders/skiers who have similar on-snow abilities and pace. If you are travelling with friends or family who are different abilities, please let us know when you book the trip.
If you have concerns about your group while you’re on tour, please discuss with your guide at the earliest opportunity. If we’re able to adjust we will try to do so, and if we’re not, we’d love the opportunity to explain why. We want you to have the best tour possible.
Whether you’re a snowboarding veteran or have just booked your first tour, the best thing you can do to get the most out of your Mint experience is to start a pre-trip fitness regime. We’re not looking for you to be an Olympic athlete, but you do need some fitness endurance. You’ll spend five, full and consecutive days on-snow, so you should be physically fit enough to comfortably ski/ride for five consecutive days. Your muscles should be up to this task, and your cardio fitness means you can sustain a consistent pace.
WHAT HAPPENS ON ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE DAY?
Once you’ve signed up for the tour we will send you through a comprehensive guide with details about the tour including the arrival and departure day process, a map of where we meet, recommended arrival and departure times, visa requirements and transportation information.
WHAT IF I’M TRAVELLING SOLO?
The accommodation for this tour is Single Share i.e. you have your own private room for the tour. About 99% of our guests are travelling solo, so you’ll be in good company. Our groups generally mix well due to a shared interest in snowboarding and an eagerness to explore all that Japan has to offer.
HOW MANY PEOPLE IN MY GROUP?
Each tour is different, but we know that by offering one of the smallest client to guide ratio in the industry allows you to ride at your preferred pace, and ultimately leads to a better experience for everyone. Our typical guest to guide ratio is 6 : 1.
WHICH RESORTS WILL WE VISIT?
We keep the tour itinerary flexible so you can ride at the best resort on the day. Each day your guide will make the decision on which resort to ride based on a number of factors including weather, snowfall, group ability and interest. We have many resorts and backcountry zones that we can access. The driving time to each destination varies and can range from 20 minutes to 1 hour from our base.
CAN I ARRIVE EARLY OR STAY ON AFTER THE TOUR?
Yes, we can arrange pre or post tout accommodation. We can tailor the trip to suit your travel plans. Speak with one of our tour specialists when you are booking and they will be more than happy to assist.
WHO ARE THE GUIDES?
All of our tours are guided by friendly, knowledgeable and expertly trained guides who are passionate about the mountains. Your guide for this tour is Jari Valvio who has spent many winters guiding, snowboarding, splitboarding and ski touring in Japan.
Jari was born and raised above the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland. In winters, Jari is a freeride guide in Japan, the Alps and at his home resort, Pyhä in Finland. Jari established the Pyhä Snow Safety Center where he teaches Finlav courses and operates avalanche forecasting for Pyhä’s free ride areas. A qualified snow safety instructor and educator, avalanche forecaster, ski patroller and snowsports instructor in the disciplines of snowboarding, telemark, alpine and cross-country. In summers you’ll find Jari working as a coast guard on the Finnish Archipelago.
ARE FLIGHTS INCLUDED?
No, flights are not included.
DO I NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE?
Yes. All guests on tour need to be covered by comprehensive travel insurance. Once you have booked on the tour, we strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance.
WHAT HAPPENS ONCE I’VE BOOKED?
Once you’ve booked your spot on tour, we will send you through a booking confirmation and provide updates about the tour including the arrival and departure day process, a map of where we meet, recommended arrival and departure times, flight options, visa requirements and transportation information. We will send out a Pre Departure Guide 30 days prior to departure.
CAN I BRING MY PARTNER WHO DOESN’T SKI OR SNOWBOARD?
We can tailor the tour to suit your non-skiing or snowboarding partner. Speak with one of our tour specialists when you are booking and they will be more than happy to assist.
HOW DO I CHECK MY ABILITY LEVEL?
The best way to check if a tour is suited to your ability is by speaking with one of our tour specialists. They will be able to determine if the tour you have selected is a good fit for your ability, as well as suggesting other tour options.
HOW DO I GET TO OTARU?
We’ll provide you with instructions to get to Otaru. If it’s your fist time to Japan or if you’re unsure about travel arrangements, often we can link you up with other tour guests to travel with.
HOW DO I CHECK AVAILABILITY?
Speak with one of our tour specialists. As this is a small group tour with limited availability, it’s best to get in touch early to avoid disappointment.
DO YOU TAKE SKIERS & SNOWBOARDERS?
Yes. We are ski and snowboard friendly. Please note that most of our tours are led by snowboard/splitboard guides.
CAN I RENT EQUIPMENT?
Complimentary use of avalanche safety equipment is included as part of the tour. There is no quality rental snowboarding or ski equipment available in Otaru. Please bring everything you need with you.
WHAT EQUIPMENT SHOULD I BRING?
Otaru can be a very cold place in winter, with temperatures typically ranging from -5 to -20°C / 23 to -4°F. Days will be short, with an average of 6 hours of sunlight per day. The actual snowfall statistics aren’t measured and there’s no need. This place scores some of the biggest storms in Japan so you never need to worry about lack of snow. We strongly recommend that guests dress in layers of clothing specific for traveling in backcountry areas. We recommend that guests have a good quality waterproof jacket and pants, insulated layer(s), merino base layers, merino gloves and waterproof gloves, goggles with low light & high light lenses, sunglasses, balaclava, beanie, and helmet. Guests will need to bring their own ski or snowboarding equipment for the tour (board, boots, bindings & outerwear). Powder boards and ski’s are recommended.
WHO WILL BE ON MY TOUR?
Your group will be made up of travellers from diverse backgrounds and will be varied in age. Our groups generally mix well due to a shared interest in snowboarding and an eagerness to explore all that Japan has to offer.
The Mint team is committed to ensuring that you enjoy the trip of a lifetime. While gratuities are not included in your tour cost – nor are they mandatory – they are gratefully accepted. Gratuities are divided among the guides and team who will take care of you throughout your tour.
Winter 2025 pricing coming soon. Join the waitlist for Winter 2025 tours.
DEPOSITS AND PAYMENTS
To secure your spot on tour a 50% deposit is payable to secure your booking. The balance is due 90 days prior to tour departure.
TERMS AND CONDITIONS
View our terms and conditions HERE