Satisfy Your Fresh Powder Cravings In Niseko

26 April 2015

Tell people you are going skiing or snowboarding in Japan for the first time and they will go on and on and on about the powder snow and tell you to pack your snorkel.

Having never skied in powder deeper than my ankles, this was rather alarming.

Snorkel-less, we ventured off to Hokkaido, checking out Niseko and Rusutsu.

Niseko is usually first port of call for Australians skiing in Japan, as it is well set up for English speakers and has a lively apres scene.

Niseko United consists of Annupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu and Hanazono, with 27 chairlifts between them. You can ski from one resort to the other plus there are gates to amazing backcountry – best explored with a qualified guide.

.........................................................................................................................................................

You'll Find 'Freshies' All Day And Night

.........................................................................................................................................................

Rusutsu is about 40 minutes away and has three mountains – Mt Isola is the pick – and a Las Vegas-meets-Disneyland hotel vibe.

It snows. A lot. Storm systems straight off the Siberian Peninsula deliver it on a grand scale with the sheer volume of the stuff almost overwhelming. When we are there it dumps over 50cm a day several times – more up the mountain – with the total now up well over 10m. Crazy!

 Night skiing at Grand Hirafu

The light, fluffy and dry powder is delightful to ski or board on, whether you like skiing on groomed runs with a thick, soft pillow top of pow or zipping between the trees with snow up to your waist.

There is so much snow that the on-mountain restaurants have little air guns so you can blow snow off your clothes and boots before you go inside.

Because it keeps snowing, you can find some “freshies” all day – and even at night.

The night skiing in Japan is phenomenal – both Grand Hirafu and Rusutsu’s West Mountain are lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree, with Grand Hirafu boasting the most night skiing terrain in Japan.

Hirafu is the best place to stay in Niseko with a big selection of places to wine and dine and lashings of all things Japanese.


Niseko tops our list. 7 Unmissable Ski Destinations Around The World

Why you should visit. Japan – One Of The World’s Great Ski Destinations


.........................................................................................................................................................

The Hot Pool Is No Place For Clothes

.........................................................................................................................................................

Stay slopeside for easy access to the slopes or bunker down in the lower village, which has a wonderful assortment of quirky and traditional restaurants and bars including Bar Gyu (the Fridge Bar), which is accessed through a ’70s-style fridge door, and Kobito Restaurant, which has a tiny little doorway that would be quite at home in Hobbiton.

Dining here is Japanese style, sitting on mats on the floor.

Having an onsen (a pool fed by hot springs) is a must in Japan and it’s important to follow the etiquette of each one.

 The powder is more than plentiful

There are several in Hirafu with the Yukoro in Lower Hirafu village quite traditional, and with indoor and outdoor onsens. Most have separate sections for men and women and you must strip right off to your birthday suit. While a little disconcerting at first, you soon get used to it.

Interestingly, most won’t accept people with tattoos.

Rod White has been a ski guide for SkiJapan.com in Niseko for seven years. He says it is the amount of snow that sets Niseko apart. “It’s the crazy amount and because it is the consistency of dry diamond dust. During December it snows for approximately 25 to 28 days – the same in January. In February we get about 20 days and about 12 to 15 in March.

“The entire four-mountain Grand Hirafu Resort is great for powder skiing, and for the advanced guests, I recommend out of the gates to backcountry via lift service.

.........................................................................................................................................................

Niseko Has The Whole Package

.........................................................................................................................................................

"The peak out of gate 3 down through Fujiwara is one of the best hits in Japan. Out of gate 2 through Annupuri bowls 1 and 2 is amazing, as is out of gate 4 through Fujiwara.”

White says that although resorts in northern Honshu can also get huge amounts of snow, Niseko has the whole package.

“Niseko has huge amounts of almost daily fresh powder on world class terrain with two to five-star ski-in/ski-out accommodation. Add the great food, culture and the ever-so-kind and courteous Japanese hospitality and it’s unbeatable.”

Eight tips for skiing or boarding Japan

  1. Japan’s snow season generally starts in December and ends in April.
  2. Terrain breakdown for Niseko and Rusutsu is 30 per cent beginner, 40 per cent intermediate and 30 per cent advanced.
  3. English is spoken widely enough but it would be helpful to learn some key phrases.
  4. Check your baggage allowance carefully.
  5. Don’t rely on credit cards – Japan is a cash-heavy society so you will need cash on mountain and in most restaurants.
  6. Do wear apres ski boots, as the streets can be very icy – locals call it being “hit by the Niseko sniper”.
  7. If venturing out, book certified qualified legal guides who have the correct insurance for the backcountry and detailed knowledge of this region.
  8. Remember to bow back if someone bows to you.

More resorts known for incredible powder

  • Jackson Hole, in Wyoming in the US, is on the wish list for any powderhound, with plenty of challenging terrain.
  • Vail, Colorado, has its infamous Back Bowls while in Utah, Alta and Solitude are steep and deep.
  • Steamboat, Colorado, is another known for its deep and fluffy snow.
  • In Canada, Big White and Revelstoke rate highly.
  • In Europe, it’s hard to bypass Chamonix, St Anton, Verbier and La Grave.

Helen Hayes

When not at home chained to the computer keyboard, I love nothing more than checking out ski resorts here and overseas, tropical islands, country towns, big cities, beautiful places to sail, and anywhere I can ride a horse. Twitter @helenhayes4 Instagram @helenhayesmedia