If powder is your love and spending 30 hours traveling is not a big deal to shred some, than Japan is definitely your next destination.
Below you will find a couple of hints of what it is like to be in that beautiful part of the world. When deciding on the location within Japan, I was being told that Hokkaido has less steeper terrain but the best snow in the whole country. Niseko is the place I’ve heard the most about and that was my little paradise.
If you wanna save some time, very helpful links and very friendly people are here:
Leave your expectations at home. I made the mistake of having them but I have to admit, I do it pretty often. I was expecting tons of powder being delivered over night, next day morning bluebirds only. Turned out that for the first week, just got the bluebirds. The snow was melting during the day, freezing at night. You can imagine how much powder that produced… Go for at least 2 weeks! Second week was magical. On average we got 50 cm over night, but our host said that it was still nothing what he was used to. There is powder in Japan. It gets above your head fairly often. And yes, it does create huge amount of joy and happiness.
The terrain is a lot less steeper than any Alpine equivalent, however Japan has its own, unique climate. There are some open areas (you need to hike or traverse a bit) for pretty long runs. Skiing among Japanese trees is so much different than any other forest in Europe or in North America. You get a lot more space between each one. Pillows, little drops, and natural kickers can be found within 30 seconds from getting off of the lift.
Lifts? Pretty oldschool but still fun. Some of them are open, so you are sitting on a little single chair and nothing more, just a chair. Sometimes you got to wait for a bit in a line, because people like you arrive there from all over the planet and sursprisnigly every single person has powder skis… 😉
Freeride zones are marked with gates that you can access in specific locations in the resort – super easy to find. If there is a big snow fall over the night and you arrive to your favorite spot at 10 am, you are already late because dozens of people skied your fresh powder ahead of you.
Wherever you look, just tracks… all powder is gone within 2 hours from opening the lifts. But no worries there is still a lot left, you just have to skin for a while to get an access to the area that no none has visited yet. Mt Yotei – local active volcano, hard to miss it when you are there (the symbol of Niseko). Remember you can climb on it and ski into the crater of an active volcano! There is also an amazing place in Niseko, where you can ski to the natural hot spring… imagine that!
The VILLAGE / ACCOMODATION
Niseko is super small, try Hirafu instead – has a lot of dining possibilities, a small supermarket, and some night life too if you’re interested.
There is a shuttle bus operating between those villages, which works with your ski pass. Japanese precision is even more advanced than the German one, so you will be surprised not only once how amazing those people are. The connection from the Chitose Sapporo Airport by bus is also very convenient and gets you straight to the village. Locally, everything is in a walk able distance.
Accommodation depends fully on your budget. If you want to save some cash, try Pension Fuu with an amazing host – Mia.
If money is not a big deal, go straight to Alpen Ridge, where apartments are simply beautiful, plus you sleep right on the slope.
Japanese food is just stunning. I am a very picky person regarding food, but anything I tried, totally loved it. (Maybe apart from dried fish snack.) Sushi is almost everywhere, but the best one is in Kutchan opposite the gas station. Seafood becomes part of your everyday diet, plus the green tea. Sweets if you are a chocolate person are super nice too.
People are amazing. Super friendly, very respectful and helpful. Spent some time in Hokkaido, later flew to the other island and spent some time around Osaka and I wish we had a similar attitude in Europe.
ONSEN / MASSAGE
After the whole day of skiing in powder your muscles will require some rest, regardless of how fit you are. You have two options, both are superb. First one is an onsen. A natural hot spring, where you sit naked in warm water outside with snow around. Unfortunately did not find mixed version (for both sexes) so ended up among boys…
Second comparable option, is the massage. On average it lasts around 60 minutes, done by a professional with relaxing music in the background killing any pain within a session.
The best option is definitely when you can combine those two. Start with an onsen, than go to the massage. You will thank me later 🙂
Before arriving to Japan, you should check if your international driving license is valid there. Even though it is an international license, still they might not accept it when renting a car. However the car is not a necessity, if you are traveling to Niseko. Talk to the locals, there is always a way of organizing a car. Police will never stop you if you obey the rules and don’t attract their attention. Speed limits around 50 km/h almost everywhere but that is rather „symbolic”. Take a car, go see the ocean. Surfing in Otaru is apparently very good.
If you think you like your toilet at home, believe me, you are already mistaken. Any Japanese toilet is a rockstar compared to the European one. They are warm, have showers and music included. Pay attention to the buttons before you start enjoying it!
Japan is becoming a little Mecca for powder skiing for sure, however its worldwide recognition came from other discipline, that includes petrol, adrenaline and rear wheel drive cars. Drifting was born in Japan long ago, and then influenced the driving around the rest of the planet, but still the Japanese drivers are the best drifters in the world.
So summing up, if you are still wondering if you should or shouldn’t go, stop thinking ! Just go ! Skiing is superb, the country is mind-blowing, people are amazing and the food is yummi. Go ! Experience Japan yourself 🙂
Hokkaido, Japan – Igor Bucki