Monday, 24 February 2014

Hokkaido Skiing

Japan' second largest island, Hokkaido ^, is the northernmost prefecture ^ of Japan. In winter this means minus degrees and snow. This January visited the island and some of it's ski resorts, with some friends.

Unusual heavy snow in Moiwa ski resort, next to Niseko (src ^).

Feather light powder snow in Kiroro (src ^).



Niseko
Niseko is known for being one of the snowiest places on this planet, with an yearly average of 15 meters snow (src ^). It seems also to be the best known ski resorts outside Japan. Something that is not too positive, as the resort is crowded with people craving for powder. January might be the busiest time of year, as that is when the Aussies have their summer holiday. There are obviously a lot of Australians that go to Niseko both for skiing and getting wasted, loud and annoying. Something that is confirmed many Internet forums, like forums.ski.com.au ^ and snow-forecast.com ^. A couple of examples taken from those pages below.

Example one
Great area, but do not visit during Jan, especially early-mid, because there are far too many Aussie high school/uni students. Drunk on the street, verbally harassing bystanders, turning on their boombox in public restaurants during the day are just some of the antics they're involved in. I disagree that we should indulge in their behaviour "just because they're on holiday and we should expect it". I also regret that someone has revealed Anna and Moiwa as quieter spots...I've retreated there for many years and now you've given it away! ;-)

Have found Niseko to be wonderful place otherwise. Recommend going Feb onwards, for reasons stated above.

ref: http://www.snow-forecast.com/resorts/Niseko/reviews ^

Example two
To be honest some of the behaviour from a few Australians last night was bloody disgraceful. It was embarrassing.

These were my beefs:
Quite a few people loudly and continually saying f###, c###, etc. etc. I'll have to put a music track over my video to cover it! Something like live version of The Angels "Will I ever see your face again" 
One group pushing really hard to get through to the front. Some of the locals were just staring at these rude gaijin and saying nothing.I told them to take it easy and got a mouthful of abuse. I let it go because the next thing the fight will start.
The last one - and this really angered me, they have calligraphy written and hung up with all the names of the babies born in the last year. Two Aussie girls decided to go over and souvenir some. These are special for the family for **** sake. Of course they would say didn't realise, but just don't do it. The Japanese people walking next to me were absolutely gobsmacked.

Anyway I will say that the vast majority of the crowd were lubed up, happy and having fun. As usual it's just a few dickheads that stand out and reflect badly upon the rest of us.


The Niseko area consists of the connected resorts Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Village, Niseko Grand Hirafu and Niseko Hanazono. When buying a lift ticket the "all mountain" ticket is valid for all these places.

Stay
We decided to stay in the Niseko Grand Hirafu area, renting a studio apartment through the non Japanese company Holiday Niseko ^, with space for all eight of us. The apartment was nice, but not at all big enough for all of us. In general Holiday Niseko was quite a slack company. They had not informed us that the apartment was slightly small (they knew very well we were eight people). The were not on time when we arrived, so we had to wait for them outside our rented apartment, in the cold. The gave us six dunas, instead of eight. That is just not the kind of service you expect. Especially not when you pay a very high price for the accommodation.

Snow
Snowfall in Niseko during the period I was there (18th to 24th). src ^.

During our period we didn't get as much snow as expected. There are seldom bluebird days in middle of winter, but we had two of them. Not what we wanted. There were far too many people in the area for us getting many good runs in fresh powder, even after the 15 and 20 cm of snowfall on the 22nd and 23rd.


Going out
Didn't go out more than once. I went to the very nice bar, or "Bar Gyu+ ^", that is also called "fridge door bar". Eating out was in general quite disappointing, mainly due to it's high prices, crowded places and many western restaurants. And do stay away from Tamashii Bar, it is the worst bar / restaurant I've been to in Japan.

Other
- Visit Yutaka Takanashi ^'s telemark shop in Gran Hirafu, named Toyru.
- Know about the gate system ^.

Verdict
Overall Niseko was disappointing. However, with more snow and less people I'm sure it can be pretty sweet.

Resources
http://www.snowjapan.com/japan-ski-resorts/area/niseko-hokkaido ^
http://www.niseko.ne.jp/en/ ^
http://www.snow-forecast.com/resorts/Niseko ^
http://niseko.nadare.info/‎ ^



Rusutsu
About a one hour bus drive from Niseko you find the Rusutsu ski resort. We didn't have much fresh powder when we were there, so it was not the best skiing experience. However, I do assume it is a good alternative to Niseko on powder days.

http://www.snowjapan.com/japan-ski-resorts/hokkaido/rusutsu/rusutsu-resort ^

Overview of Rusutsu ski resort (src ^).



Kiroro
My favourite place was Kiroro. Despite of short runs (which is normal to Hokkaido) skiing there was quite effective. I had the best snow here, and the best overall experience.

http://www.snowjapan.com/japan-ski-resorts/hokkaido/akaigawa/kiroro-snow-world ^

The best powder day I've ever experienced. In Kiroro with Mr PL and Mr MaEg. It should have been steeper though (src).


Pictures
For more pictures from my trip check out this link ^.



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