European Snowsport’s Harry Mcfadden recently took a trip to the increasingly popular Niseko, Japan to discover the culture and experience some of the world-famous powder for himself.
On 13th January I boarded a plane from Geneva Airport destined for the powder skiing capital of the world, Niseko, which is situated in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan. I was filled with excitement at the prospect of scoring those perfect turns in untracked bottomless powder snow that Niseko is famous for.
I knew that this would be an amazing trip that would change my perspective on skiing forever.
My first impression arriving in Niseko was of total confusion as I had arrived in a very strange place; it was as if an Australian ski town had been transplanted and placed in rural Japan. Australian companies run the whole foreign ski industry with only a small amount of Japanese companies catering to a few locals, and almost all of the ski tourists in Niseko were Australian. I did not expect this. The fusion of the two cultures was incredibly interesting; walking down the streets you could see Australian ski shop chains, supermarkets, restaurants and bars right next to traditional Japanese shops, restaurants and Onsens (Japanese hot springs). The whole town also smells like rotten eggs, as there is an incredible amount of seismic activity in the Niseko area.
I met a friend on the first night at around 5pm and he said, “Come on, get your skis on!” I was so surprised but the mountain is open from 8:30am to 8:30pm every day of the season, meaning you can score powder turns under lights all evening. My first turns were on “Super Ridge”, a classic Niseko ski run. The turns changed my perspective on powder skiing; the feeling of snow blowing you in the face whilst navigating at full speed through Japanese silver birch trees under floodlights was a feeling I have never had before and it set me up for an exciting 10 days skiing in Japan.
The following days were just how I expected – powder run after powder run through mellow and steep tree runs all the way around Niseko’s four main resorts (Annapuri, Grand Hirafu, Hanazono and Village). On the days it didn’t snow there was still a great amount of deep snow to be had in the backcountry, which can be accessed through a series of gates that are open or closed depending on avalanche conditions. The gates are a great system as there is always patrol watching and checking conditions. On some of the more dangerous access points there is usually a mountain guide or patroller standing next to the gate and you can talk to them and find out all about the current conditions and what to watch out for, which is very reassuring.
Aside from the amazing skiing in Niseko, there were some amazing cultural things to explore; a big part was the food. So many different options to try, like the most intriguing sushi and ramen (Japanese noodle soup). In the 10 days I was there I just scraped the surface but I would love to return to Japan to explore this culinary adventure even more.
All in all, Japan was an amazing exploratory trip and somewhere that I would recommend anyone who enjoys powder snow to visit. I will definitely return in the near future to explore the mountain, its people and its culture even more. That’s my story of a quick powder skiing trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Written by Harry Mcfadden