Snowboarding in Japan is amazing. We visited Hokkaido which is the northern island of Japan. Hokkaido has without doubt the best snow in the world.
This is due to the Siberian cold winds sweeping across the warm sea of japan and picking up moisture, as soon as it hits land it dumps as snow. These Siberian winds are like a conveyor belt constantly dropping snow, metre after metre. It is not unusual to have well over 20 metres in a season, for comparison most European resorts average 4 or 5 metres, the best in Canada average about 14m. The powder in Japan is champagne of the finest type, it has to be consistently not only the deepest but also the lightest in the world.
After a quick stop in Tokyo to celebrate New Year, which was surprisingly low key, we headed north. It seems the Japanese exit the capital city for New Year, so it was a bit like a ghost town in large parts. We flew north to Sapporo, cunningly using our BA airmiles on JAL to get free flights, from our base in Sapporo we planned to explore 6 or 7 ski resorts. Sapporo is a very city modern, much like a small Tokyo with its bright lights and flash neon buildings it isn’t a particularly exciting tourist hotspot but there was a genuine Japanese normal working city feel. However the place comes alive in February when there is a huge ice sculpture event. All winter there are cool snow sculptures and light displays going on but the event in February is huge with so much going on. The city is also famed for it’s Sapporo beer that has been brewed there for decades, it is a fresh crisp lager, which is probably wasted on me.
Teine Highland and Kiroro were near Sapporo, both small resorts with views across the city and the coastline, we got buses out of the city to visit which given everything was in Japanese proved a challenge, but we made it. The great thing here was that the locals all stay on piste meaning the off piste was untracked and epicly deep. Technically off piste is banned but no one said anything to us as we safely ducked boundary ropes and headed off into the trees. We toured these few resorts from the city before moving over to Niseko Hirafu. Niseko unlimited is made up of 4 resorts and together it is the largest area with the highest average snowfall in Japan and second in the entire world, only to Mt Baker in the USA as far as I know. It snowed 3 metres of fresh light champagne powder during the 2 weeks we were there, just to give you an idea of how epic it was that is as much as many European resorts get all winter!!
People say the costs are high skiing in Japan, it’s not cheap but we stayed in a youth hostel and a B&B which didn’t break the bank. I think it was about £30 each a night on average for the entire trip. That was after much effort trying to find the cheapest spots. In Niseko it was ski in ski out from the door too which is not bad for the price. The lift passes compare favourably to Europe or N America at about £35 a day.
The night skiing in Niseko is unique, the whole area is lit up so you can even ride off piste in waist deep fresh snow at night. It is an odd experience to say the least, but if you still have the legs after the entire day riding, then it is well worth doing. Some days we had a nap then went back out again to ride in the evening!
The terrain is generally quite flat, with enough gradient to ride the deep stuff but not many cliffs to huck off, nor steeps to fly down, it does make it safer as this much snow on steeper stuff is a recipe for disaster. That isn’t to say nothing happens in resort it still has steep sections and areas: a chap was killed in an avalanche the week before we arrived. The snow slides easily in the early season when it is directly on the slippery bamboo leaves. The resort next to Niseko is Moiwa, an entirely off piste resort that is great fun, although again never too steep but endless opportunities for fresh tracks. It felt like a lot of effort getting here and arranging the trip but it has to be done, if you get lucky you will experience snow like you could only dream of! It has made us int snow snobs though, if it ain’t 1m deep out there I’m staying in bed 🙂