Exposure

The Best Powder Skiing in Japan Isn't at Niseko

Snorkel in hand, a Polish photographer plumbs endless powder accumulations in the Hokkaido backcountry

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Photo: Piotr Drzastwa

That there’s world-class skiing in Japan is no secret. Hokkaido, the country’s second-largest island, is home to more than 100 ski resorts. The crown jewel? Niseko United, which receives nearly 600 inches of snow each ski season and has been featured in countless ski films.

Last season, Polish photographer Piotr Drzastwa traveled to Niseko for a look. It didn’t take long for the 28-year-old, who also works as a backcountry guide, to conclude that the majority of powder seekers there were missing out on the area’s best skiing. “All these people are riding the resort. But you can go five miles outside it and everything is untouched,” he says. “If you want to find something better or different or unusual, you need to spend some time.” So Drzastwa did what any self-respecting skier would do if given the chance: he went exploring. —Emily Reed

Photo: Mount Yotei, with Niseko Village ski resort’s lifts visible below.

Photo: Piotr Drzastwa

Australian skier Matt Wiseman jumping off avalanche barriers near Niseko.

Photo: Piotr Drzastwa

Norwegian skier Thorkild Ramberg at Rusutsu, a resort southeast of Niseko.

Photo: Piotr Drzastwa

Fresh catch at a market in Kutchan, north of Niseko.

Photo: Piotr Drzastwa

American Zach Paley.

Photo: Piotr Drzastwa

Yotei, an active stratovolcano.

Photo: Piotr Drzastwa

The island’s snowcats can be small, old, and a little unwieldy. Ken Komamiya, pictured, works for Big Wave Snow Cat Tours, a backcountry-skiing operation. “He’s really a crazy guy,” says Drzastwa. “After a terrifying day on the snowcat with Ken, you may want to call your mom just to tell her you love her.”

Photo: Piotr Drzastwa

“This is near a small abandoned fishing village,” says Drzastwa. “There are no paths to get there. But I don’t want to say too much. Some things are better kept secret.”