Picture your idea of snowy paradise. Where is it? Canada? France? America? I bet Japan wouldn’t be in your visual, right? Let me tell you right now, it should be. Niseko, located on the northern island of Japan, is fast becoming known for its light, deep and fluffy powder. There are about 5,000 permanent residents there, not including the neighbouring town of Kutchan. Oh, and one of the things I love about Niseko and Kutchan is that their mascots are a skiing and a boarding potato….Hokkaido is known for its delicious spuds.
A paradise of four snow resorts
Before going to Niseko for a whole season, I wasn't the most experienced skier or the best with snow, I had only ever been a few times. Niseko has completely given me a passion and love for icing-sugar like snow, and I haven't looked back. Firstly, let me tell you about each of the four resorts and what they have to offer.
The biggest resort out of the four, and also the most westernised. Living here for four months definitely gave me the insider's perspective.The great thing about Grand Hirafu Is that it also includes neighbouring resort Hanazono, included with the ski pass. Both of these resorts are popular with beginners, with Hirafu housing the Go Snow instructing company (the biggest in Niseko). This resort is a great place to warm up and find your “shredding” feet. It has runs for all skill levels, be aware though that because it’s the biggest resort and the easiest to access, it can get a bit crowded at peak times in winter. Most of the groomed runs get a good dumping of snow, so even if you aren’t ready for backcountry gates yet, you still feel like you’re out there on piste. Miharashi is a great run, for the more advanced, and more of that deep snow. Catch first lifts, go left under the gondola and through the trees and you’ll be on one of the best runs. Another run worth noting, is the Shirakaba or the Center run, accessible a few ways via either king hooded number 4 and to the left, or the ace pair lift number 3. It’s hard to pinpoint specific runs because everyone has their own favourite and to be honest, the snow is great everywhere on the mountain, so go exploring! Access to the other resorts is also possible, so don’t forget to try them all out (buy an all mountain pass).
Hanazono is a fantastic place to find some of that beautiful, untouched power Niseko is known for, even when you get there around midday. Although, be aware there are a few flat bits where you’ll need to keep up your speed so you don’t get stuck trying to pull each other along. A couple of runs worth noting are strawberry and blueberry fields located to the right of Hanazono lift one, and to the left respectively. Strawberry fields is full of widely spaced trees and challenging (well for me anyway) deep snow that is well worth getting first lifts for (imagine chest deep). Blueberry fields is slightly easier, but still has endless amounts of powder, you’ll be shredding up a storm and loving it, without feeling like it’s too crowded. At the bottom of the mountain you can also get some great, famous, crab ramen. There are that many backcountry gates as well, with ungroomed, avalanche controlled areas to explore. I wasn’t experienced enough to try them out, but I have been assured it’s amazing out there with chest deep snow! Be sure to visit the backcountry Rhythm store to hire all the gear to have a fun (but safe) time.
Out on the mountain
Niseko Village for me was very chilled out and a good place to get away from the more crowded Hirafu. Here, the runs are more for intermediate level skiers/boarders. Runs in Niseko aren’t considered very steep compared to the ones in Europe or Australia, but they are equally challenging because it’s more about the quantity and quality of snow. Chest deep turns are well worth the muscle pain the next day, you use different muscles because of the powder being harder to get through (not if you have the right gear to float on the snow!!!). For this resort I didn’t particularly favour any of the runs, it was a good place to explore and the bottom of the mountain is good for beginners as well (so if you’re more experienced maybe avoid the bottom if you can). The gondola also offers some pretty sweet views of the mountain and Mount Yotei
From what I experienced and what I could see, it had a lot to offer. This part of the resort is underestimated, with its wide-open spaces and less crowded runs, it offers deep powder for those that are seeking a bit of quiet time. The red slopes here are a tad harder (in my opinion) than the ones in the other resorts and there is also more of a chance to ski among the trees over at Annupuri. There's also another important aspect to it, a way to ski/board down into a small little resort next to Annupuri, Moiwa. Moiwa is independently owned, so isn’t considered as being part of Niseko United. If you plan on heading to Annupuri or Moiwa from any of the other resorts, take a lift up to the very top and ski over. Be sure to check out the bowl as well, as that’s great for deep snow after a decent overnight dumping. Do your best to get up for first lifts and hike the peak as well, as it offers breathtaking views as well as first tracks. Also be sure to have your go pro handy as you can get some pretty amazing footage in Niseko, and your friends will find it hard to believe how deep the powder gets!
Just a two-hour drive from New Chitose Airport (where you’ll fly into), Niseko is where you will find the best quality powder in the world. Now go ahead and start thinking about all that shredding you can do next winter!!!!