Back-country and safety as a Niseko winter staff

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

You put a lot of effort into coming here; applying for a Visa, packing your stuff and perhaps learning the language. Make sure that you go back home in one piece at the end of the season! Every year about 10% of our staff see their, very likely only season in Niseko, shortened due to injury.

So we advise you to remember the following tips:

Niseko United doesn't approach the Alps in height, but they are still dangerous

It is true that one thing lacking in Niseko is steepness. So initially Annupuri and surrounding mountains don't seem too dangerous. However, all that snow is sitting on top of bamboo shrubs incapable of anchoring the snow pack leading to potential avalanche. So don't feel overconfident and make sure you stay safe outside of the gates. As of next season, 2020-21, new Niseko Rules will be enforced. What does this mean? It means that taking a helmet and a beacon is mandatory. Without them, your pass will be revoked. Furthermore having training, a shovel and a probe is advisable. Going with other people and making sure that everybody in your group knows how to use avalanche gear definitely best practice.

Mount Yotei is amazing, but ...

A recent season saw the first fatality on Mount Yotei. The skier didn't have a beacon, got trapped in an avalanche. The local authorities found the body after searching for a few days. Having a beacon would have increased the chance of survival. So back to point one, nasty things do happen around here. Read this cautionary tale of survival here!

No insurance, no problem ... really?

In 2013, an Australian guy was caught in an avalanche on mount Yotei. He was found, luckily, a good 1000 meters lower. Turns out he didn't have insurance so had to organize, from his hospital room, fundraising events to pay for his bills.

In short, if you go out in a back-country, make sure you have the proper insurance.

Skiing trees is great, but ...

Skiing trees is awesome. And Niseko being at such ridiculously low altitude offers plenty of tree runs. The issue is, if you miscalculate and hit a tree, the tree will not move a centimeter. But you will have to be sent to the hospital. Every year we have staff whose season is shortened because of broken kneecaps, torn MCLs among others.

And each year unfortunately there are a couple / handful of fatalities due to a collision with a tree at full speed. So make sure you know what you are doing before going full speed into tree runs.

It's a slippery slope ...

Hirafu village is built on a slope (surprise, surprise) and streets can be pretty treacherous at night. Every year some people skid on ice and injure themselves.

Tips regarding walking in the streets at night:

  • Don't drink too much, it doesn't help with balance

  • Try to walk where there is fresh powder. It might be slightly tougher, but fresh snow actually doesn't skid as much as compact-and-re-iced-one.

  • You can buy rubber spikes to put below your shoes, it does help. (But make sure to remove them before you enter anywhere! Nobody likes to see their flooring destroyed by people who keep shoes inside...)

  • On the flat, try to put more weight on the front of your body (as if you are about to run), It is much easier to recover if you skid forward than if you skid backward. It is sightly more complicated when you are going downhill.

Stay fit and out of trouble - and enjoy your season!

Nothing surprising there, but given that the season is actually quite long, and there are powder days up until March, take it easy and rest when needed. Get the proper amount of sleep, and try to eat healthy. A whole season in Niseko is something to enjoy, from the early excitement in December, to the deep night runs in January. On to wrapping up with the blue bird days of March with their early runs, long afternoons and a local bevvie on top of Yotei while enjoying the landscape!

#backcountry #niseko employment #safety #deepdays #snorkelsilliness

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