SKIING IN JAPAN
25th September 2019 | James Cove, Hokkaido, Japan
Last modified on September 8th, 2021
We’ve never done a PlanetSKI resort review without skiing there. Well we have now. Check out Niseko. It gets 15m of snow per winter.
This is our first PlanetSKI visit to Japan and it’s September – the snow, all 15m of it per season, is yet to fall.But there is plenty to do – not least hearing about the humongous amount of snow that comes down each season.
As you may have seen earlier on PlanetSKI, we are in Japan for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
And to nose around the country in our random PlanetSKI way.
No real plan, except to have no plan.
Just follow our nose and see what happens.
Mastering the metro in Tokyo was a challenge like no other:
Now it would be rude not to visit a few of the ski areas in Japan as we are here, to see what they look like ‘sans’ snow and just talk skiing with a few locals.
First up it’s Niseko, just a couple of hours from Sapporo on the north island of Hokkaido where we saw England v Tonga last weekend.
And driving into the resort it was hard to believe it is one of the snowiest ski areas on planet earth.
Perhaps THE snowiest.
But it is.
The arrows on the roadside posts give it away.
They are there to mark the side of the road in winter.
Poles in the ground would soon get buried, so the markers go in overhead.
Avalanche breakers are placed for prevention not cure – in Europe you’ll usually see them at the top of the mountain where slides start.
Well there is so much snow at lower elevations here in Hokkaido they are needed right by the side of the road.
There can be that much snow.
And driving into Niseko… it all looked rather benign with some summer maintenance work going on.
But looks can be deceiving.
I hooked up with Panch Ratnavale, the Niseko Village resort director.
Other resorts in Hokkaido and accessible from Sapporo include Furano, Moiwa and Teine.
With some fabulous backcountry skiing in Kuro-dake and Asahi-dake, though, you will need a guide to access the best terrain.
The thought of a winter road trip sprung to mind with a base in Sapporo.
Now there’s an idea…
But back to reality.
The slopes themselves in Niseko are fairly gentle – think hills rather than mountains.
People don’t come here for the steepness and the vertical – they come for the powder.
And it is not just any old snow – it’s light, dry powder with very little moisture content.
It comes from Siberia to the north of here, according to local skier Raymond Rozells from The Green Leaf hotel.
But what about now – the end of September?
This is the view from my hotel window at The Green Leaf Niseko Village.
And from the hotel lobby.
The slopes come right down to the hotel – it is ski in/ski out and from what I can make out it is one of the the perfect bases to hit the ski slopes of Niseko.
Time for a summer hike up the ski slopes and into the backcountry.
Just think what this is like in waist deep powder snow…
There is no cable car in Niseko, but there is one nearby that takes you up Mt Usu.
I am not sure if there is skiing off it in the winter.
But for the rest of the year it takes people up to admire the views across Lake Toya and for those with the energy to hike up to the crater of an active volcano.
I put my hiking boots back on and had the most fascinating hike I can remember.
Hiking in volcano country in Japan.
More of that in my updated blog from Japan later in the week…
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