Over 700,000 skiers and snowboarders visit Niseko each season (December through March). Dorothy Veitch finds out why.
SKI STRAWBERRY FIELDS
Niseko in western Hokkaido has arguably the finest powder not just in Japan but in all of Asia. Another plus is that skiing and boarding off-piste is permitted. In popular off-piste areas, like Strawberry Fields, the trees are widely spaced, but thrill seekers head to the tight trees in Blueberry Fields. There’s also extensive night skiing in Niseko, until 9pm every night.
One mountain pass gives you access to the slopes surrounding the main ski villages of Annupuri, Niseko Village and Hirafu. Niseko Village is ideal for families and first-time skiers, Hirafu is the place to eat and drink, and Annupuri is the quietest of the three. In each, you’ll find holiday apartments, lodges and chalets, plus a couple of luxurious ski-in ski-out hotels.
UNWIND IN AN ONSEN
Niseko is well known for its onsen (mineral-rich natural hot springs). Men and women bathe naked – separately. The public onsen get busy but there are quieter, privately owned baths in each of the villages. To soak in style, head to the onsen at Hilton Niseko Village, which is open to the public as well as hotel guests.
LEARN HOW IT’S DONE
Not only is the snow abundant in Niseko, but the flakes have a remarkably low water content meaning the slopes are almost entirely ice free. This is clearly a plus for beginners, who can fall down… and bounce right back up again. There are also many gentle slopes, where first-time skiers and boarders can take lessons and build their confidence.
Surrounded as it is by the Sea of Japan, Hokkaido is known for some of the freshest seafood in Japan, and Niseko serves up some great seafood restaurants. Head to Michelin-starred Kamimura in Annupuri for the locally brewed saké and to have Hokkaido crab, scallop and fish grilled right in front of you.
GET YOUR SNOWSHOES ON
Another way to get outside Niseko’s gates and into the peaceful backcountry is by taking a snowshoeing tour with Niseko Adventure Centre. Snowshoes distribute your weight over a larger area, which means you can glide over deep snow without sinking. Niseko Adventure Centre provides both day and night-time off-piste tours.
GO ICE FISHING
At Big Fight Fishing area, a 45-minute drive from Niseko, the ponds are covered with a layer of ice about 50-centimetres thick. Experienced ice-fishing guides provide all the equipment and set up tents on the ice if temperatures really drop. Keep your line nice and taut and you’ve a good chance of landing a 90-centimetre rainbow trout.
HAVE FUN WITH THE KIDS
Snowmobiling in Niseko is something you really must experience, as is the unrivalled romance of reindeer sledding. With the kids in mind, there’s also igloo-making at Niseko Outdoor Centre and snow tubing at Hanazano Tube Park. Many of the guesthouses provide sleds free for guests’ use, or you can pick one up at a convenience store.
Photos courtesy of www.wikimedia.orgTags: travel, winter, japan, niseko, ski, snow