Skiing vacations make perfect family holidays as it is not only an individual sport, but a social activity enjoyed with family and friends. During the day you are out and about, and after sunset, lots of quality time together socialising. I happened to go for Skiing in Niseko.
Over the decades, I have had the opportunity to ski and holiday in many countries. Each ski area I visited had something unique to offer and a few memories that jump out are as follows:
Obergurgl in Austrian Ötztal Alps in Tyrol, is a good high-altitude ski village with assured snow as it is located at a height of 1930 metres (6330 feet). I remember the Austrian ski school was rigorous but great in helping me improve my technique. A great place for dancing on the tables, with your ski boots on, after a hard day of skiing!
Although Adelboden is not a very popular ski destination In Switzeralnd, the Bellevue Park Hotel and Spa in Adelboden is an outstanding place. The snow-clad mountain views are breath-taking while lying in the hot outdoor pool. A memory I will cherish all my life. The food and personalised service is unmatched! It is truly a hidden gem and a place to visit in one’s lifetime.
Tahoe in the US offers some great skiing and long runs through trees. The views of the lake in the background just adds to the feast for the eyes. However, it is the entertainment in Heavenly with major casinos nearby that stands out. A real party atmosphere after skiing.
Niseko at the southwestern side on the island of Hokkaido, northernmost of Japan’s major islands is the outright winner for the quality of snow. Skiing in Niseko was a blissful experience.
The snow here is dry and light. Unlike other part of the world where the snow can be a bit heavy due to the moisture content, the snow in Niseko does not seem to have any moisture; dry as powder! As a skier this makes for easier and more enjoyable runs down the slopes and one feels less tired.
Niseko is also the most foreignfriendly ski area in Japan as almost all hotels, ski schools and restaurants can communicate in English; something of a rarity in other ski locations, (e.g. Shiga Kogen the largest ski area in Japan, and another one of my favourites). Most establishments in Niseko have international staff from Australia, Malaysia or the Philippines working alongside Japanese counterparts.
There are four ski areas in Niseko i.e. Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village and Niseko Annupuri. They are interconnected, as they are all around the 1898-meter (6227 feet) Mount Yotei. Mount Yotei is an active stratovolcano and is also called Yezo Fuji or Ezo Fuji, because it resembles Mount Fuji. “Ezo” being an old name for the island of Hokkaido.
Individually, the ski areas are not very big but have a variety of runs for all levels of skiers including beginners or first-time skiers. Hirafu & Niseko also offer night skiing, something not found in most ski resorts.
The Niseko Village is more for families whereas teenagers and young adults may prefer Grand Hirafu area with all the shops, bars, cafés and restaurants. Between Niseko village and Hirafu there is a shuttle bus at regular intervals, and it takes about 15- 20 mins. Breaking your journey at Kobo Milk for an ice-cream cone or a freshly baked tart is highly recommended.
The Green Leaf and The Hilton are the two main hotels in Niseko Village and offer quality western accommodation. The Hilton is bigger and busier, whereas Green Leaf is quieter and has a large ski hiring equipment store within the hotel. It is suggested that you hire and try your equipment on arrival, the evening or night before, as it can get busy in the mornings. You can also book your ski lessons at the hotel.
Both the hotels are at the base of the ski lifts and allow for skiing in and out of the hotel. The Hilton is better located for the beginner ski lift.
An important criterion for me when selecting a place to stay on a ski trip is the availability of a Hot Tub or a heated swimming pool. In Japan, it is the ‘Onsen’.
An Onsen is a natural hot water from geothermally heated springs. Japan being a volcanically active country has thousands of Onsens scattered throughout all its major islands. Sitting and relaxing in an outdoor Onsen, surrounded by snow, after a day of skiing is bliss!
Onsen’s are basically public baths and have a very strict code of conduct. Bathers with tattoos must cover their tattoos with a patch or sticking plaster or may not be allowed to use the facilities. In addition, bathers are not normally allowed to wear swimsuits in the baths, no jewellery or body ornaments are allowed.
Guests are expected to wash and rinse themselves thoroughly before entering the hot water. Bathing stations are equipped with stools, faucets, wooden buckets, and toiletries such as soap and shampoo; nearly all Onsen also provide removable shower heads for bathing convenience. Entering the Onsen while still dirty or with traces of soap on the body is socially unacceptable.
A visit to Japan would be incomplete without having bathed in a Onsen. Many a reluctant friend has fallen in love with the Onsen experience after the initial hesitation about his or her modesty. Most Onsen’s have separate bathing areas for men and women.
Niseko United Skiing Area is about three hours by bus from Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport with multiple daily flights from Tokyo and Osaka. Being an international airport, you can fly direct from Singapore, Bangkok, Hongkong or Shanghai if you prefer to avoid a transit in Tokyo or Osaka.
In Japan, most ski resorts are places of natural beauty and weather permitting, offer breath taking views. Japan, being an expensive country, is not a popular destination among foreigners for skiing, although it has some of the best snow conditions to offer.
Having skied in Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, Principality of Andorra, America, Canada and India; I can vouch that Niseko’s claim to the finest powder snow in the world is not a boastful marketing ploy, but a fact.
The snow is unmatched, it is light and dry as powder!