If you are thinking of skiing in the northern hemisphere in 2016 take a serious look at Niseko, Japan – it has the best snow and an uplifting cultural experience.
But it’s not just any snow. The cold air dries the snow making it light and that’s why it has the best powder. During the height of the season, the standard day temperature is -12 degrees celsius…really cold.
But you don’t get 16 metres of snow when the sun is shining so be prepared for grey, overcast skies with frequent snow falls.
The ski facilities
Niseko is the largest of Hokkaido ski areas. With four interlinked resorts; Annupuri, Hirafu, Hanazona and Higashiyama there are over 2000 acres to ski, with 37 gondolas and ski lifts to get you about. It’s open from 8 30am till late … 9pm daily.
Niesko also has the largest lit area for night skiing in Japan but be weary, the night temperatures can get as low as -20 degrees celsius. Face masks are essential to prevent frost bite.
The main accommodation and entertainment village, Hirafu has a good range of apartments, pensions and hotel to meet all budgets.
On and off the mountain the food is affordable and delicious. A satisfying bowl of noddles and a beer can cost a little as $20, but the option of fine dinning is also available.
Our favourites were the miso Raman noodles and pork curries, but there is also a great range of seafood. Being an island, Hokkaido is very proud of their fresh seafood.
Other ski fields close by
There are several other ski fields close by. I have skied at Rusutsu Resort which is a 40-minutes bus ride from Niseko.
As well as the skiing, the Rusutsu Resort Hotel is worth a look. Its Disney approach will have you laughing as well as a theme park in the middle of the ski resort. Funnily enough, it is only open in the summer.
One of the highlights for me in Niseko are the onsens. They are public baths with water sourced from hot springs.
It is a wonderful authentic, traditional Japanese experience with many of the old rituals still adhered too. There is an ‘onsen etiquette’ you need to know about.
First and foremost, you bathe naked, but thankfully the majority of them have separate male and female areas.
While it is not the norm for westerners, Japanese perceive bathing as a great social leveler and all revel in the anonymity that nudity allows.
Be mindful you wash yourself well before getting in the baths and keep your head cloth on your head. Take a lead from the locals.
Our favourite onsen in Niseko was the Yumoto Niseko Prince Hotel, right in the middle of the main street, in Hirafu.
Air New Zealand have daily flights to Tokyo with connections to Sapporo, offering very reasonable airfares during the ski season. A bus ride from Sapparro Airport to Niesko will have you there in an hour, condition allowing.