It’s been a while since we went skiing in Japan (like 6 months!) but a lot of people have asked us about it and, since we really loved it, I thought I’d put up some photos and info. I have listed a couple of useful websites at the end in case you’re interested.
In mid-March 2012 we went skiing in Niseko Harifu which is a popular ski resort on the island of Hokeido in northern Japan. We’d heard that the tourists were keeping away because of the effects of the Fukushima disaster last year but we figured there was nothing to worry about. The flight with the best connections happened to be Air Asia and was, of course, by far the cheapest option so that was a win:win. We spent a night in Osaka on the way out then flew on to Hokkaido the next day then it was a short bus ride to the snow.
We’d heard a lot of good things about Niseko from Aussie friends who had been there and their recommendation was to stay at “Full Note”. Tohsan is the owner and was there to collect us at the bus stop in his charabang and drove us the 5 minute ride to the pension. As it was coming towards the end of the season the pension and, in fact, the town and the slopes as well, was almost empty and we were given our own log cabin!! It was lovely and cosy and we watched sumo wrestling on TV every night!
Tohsan and his wife were warm and friendly hosts, lovely people to meet. We were able to hire skis/snowboards and equipment from them which was really convenient and remarkably cheap. They even organised “all mountain” ski passes for us which cover all the lifts and bus rides between the lifts and around town and even a trip to the onsen in the evening.
Niseko lies at about 400m on the lower flanks of a volcano so the beginners slopes (red) are at the bottom where the gradient is more gentle and the slopes grade from green to black as you go up. The top is only at 1300m but they’ve had over 17m of snow this year. There was about 5m left in the town and it was snowing for the first 3 days of our visit. The one thing to note regarding weather is that it seemed to be windy on the slopes all the time so we needed warm fleecy mufflers to protect our cheeks, chin and neck.
Although we were late in the season the snow was fantastic, light and powdery and often almost virgin as there were so few people up there. The slopes are well marked although it’s not a problem to ski between the trees beside them. There are five gondalas serving the pistes but otherwise the other lifts are a bit short. Hanazono requires four lifts to get you to the top so you spend more time in the lift than on the snow but,on the good side, we never once had to queue at all. The pistes are all interconnected at the top so once we had built up the courage to go up there we could move between ski areas quite easily. All in all the skiing/snow boarding was superb. In the last couple of days it warmed up and the lower slopes soon became unpleasantly icy so we stayed on the upper slopes – not a problem.
Needless to say a visit to the onsen to soak in a steaming hot geothermal spring was a must at the end of the day. Apparently they are less sulphurous the further down slope you go! We chose one close the pension, the pools (separated for men and women) were outdoors so you could jump into the snow when your bits began cooking and snap freeze them. Yay – felt soooo good!!!
As well as running Full Note Tohsan is also a musician and is passionate about music. He has a bar/lounge in the basement of the pension with a full drum kit and a grand piano! Neil loved it. One evening he had invited a group of students from Hokkaido University who were interested in music to stay and have a jam concert in the basement. He invited us to come down and we had a cool evening listening to the bands playing, some of the kids were pretty talented.
Anyway I just thought I’d share all that with you. The skiing was amazing and really good value compared to Europe. We loved it and plan on going back in February next year – anyone want to come along?
Suzy and Neil
Pension Full Note: email@example.com
Hotel Nikko Kansai Airport (Osaka): +81 724551117, firstname.lastname@example.org
JAL Domestic reservations: +81 570025071, www.jal.co.jp.com