Snowshoes, Sake, and Secret Onsens: An Interview with Rob Evans of Niseko Snowshoe Tours
Rob Evans may be one of the luckiest men in the world - he spends half the year basking on the beach in Okinawa, and the other half trekking through the best powder in the world, in Niseko, Hokkaido. As the man behind Niseko Snowshoe Tours, Rob sat down with Taiken to tell us a bit about what life is like as a guide in one of the top winter destinations on the planet, and why you shouldn’t fear the bears.
Okinawa and Hokkaido are polar opposites - how did you end up in Niseko?
I first heard about Niseko in 2004, but didn't visit until 2012! Wish I had come here sooner, but hey, I made it and am still enjoying it.
Out of all the tours you run, what is your absolute favorite hike in Niseko?
The trek around Half Moon Lake is a real crowd pleaser. I have a few other trails to take guests on but I'd say 80 percent of the time we go around the lake. When the visibility is good, we can see the peaks of Annupuri and Weiss ski areas and also have awesome views at the foot of Mount Yotei also know as Ezo Fuji (the Mount Fuji of the North). Half Moon Lake was formed the last time Mount Yotei erupted about 3,000 years ago. Sometimes we hike down to the lake and enjoy a hot yuzu (Japanese citrus) drink on the middle of the frozen lake — it allows for some wonderful pictures. But honestly, snowshoeing is becoming popular everywhere there is snow. You can go out your back door if you want but it's always better to have someone showing your good trails where you'll have more fun and fantastic views of the landscape.
Can anyone do snowshoeing? How hard is it?
If you can walk, you can snowshoe! It's great exercise. You can go for time, distance, or climbing so it pays to be fit. Tours can be customized for all levels. So as long as you have a plan or trek in mind and what you want to get out of it, we can make it easy, moderate, or difficult. The trek around Half Moon Lake (aka Lake Hangetsu) I would rate a difficulty of 3 on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the hardest).
Where do most of your clients come from?
Early in December we take out a lot of clients from Singapore and Hong Kong mostly. We get a lot of Australians from January through March. However, we are seeing more guests from Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines as well as Europe and North America!
Who were your youngest and oldest clients?
I've take ages 10 to 82 out snowshoeing and also a 6-month pregnant woman and they had a blast. I always have to remind people to slow down and enjoy the fresh mountain air. Sometimes they think it's a race and I have to set a slower pace. I always remind guests to look around and take in all the views.
Do you ever encounter wildlife?
We see a lot of fox tracks, hear a few Great Spotted Woodpeckers and swallows, and if we're lucky we'll see some Hokkaido red squirrels or snow rabbits. People always ask me if we need to be worried about bears during a trek, but there aren't many bears in this area of Hokkaido actually.
What’s up with the night time snowshoe tours?
Night snowshoe tours are gaining popularity for the more adventurous crowds. They are so much fun. You tend to move a little fast because there is less to see. Being in the forest with a headlamp and trouncing through snow with your best friends is an amazing experience.
Niseko is known for its incredible amount of snow - when it comes to snowshoeing, is there such a thing as ‘too much snow’?
Just as skiers and snowboarders love the powder snow, pow, japow, etc., snowshoers like it too. It's much more quiet when you're marching through it than it is if it's crusty. The deeper the snow, the harder you work. And if you're out front cutting the trail you work the hardest so we usually take turns out front.
Tell us about the natural onsen you stumbled upon – did you find it by chance?
A friend of mine showed me the secret onsen in the woods. You sort of learn about it by word of mouth. It looks a little too hot to jump in and you would need a really good escape plan to get out of it because it's muddy. However, there is a nice public onsen down the road that we can snowshoe to after a long trek in the woods – this is one of the tours we offer, it's called "Backcountry Snowshoe Tour and Onsen".
What’s your favorite thing to eat after a few hours in the snow?
How much time do we have? I can go for soup curry with coconut milk and meatballs which is a real staple in Hokkaido. Or udon noodles, venison, Chinese dumplings. The food choice in Niseko is incredible. We have so many great restaurants, the trick is knowing when and where to go to get a table.
Do you also do the whiskey factory tours? What’s your favorite whiskey?
I work with Explore Niseko and they can do tours to the Yoichi Distillery which is famous for Nikka Whiskey. It's an interesting story about the father of Japanese Whiskey and his Scottish wife who established the world famous distillery in 1934. I personally prefer the Yoichi 12-year.
Want to go snowshoeing with Rob? Visit Explore-Niseko.com and book one of their many snowshoe and other outdoor activity tours.