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SKIING IN JAPAN - James Cove, Hokkaido, Japan
Wednesday September 25, 2019 - Email this article to a friend

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.

Summer in JapanSummer in Japan

Perhaps THE snowiest.

Summer in JapanSummer in Japan

But it is.

The arrows on the roadside posts give it away.

Summer in NisekoSummer in Niseko















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.

Summer in JapanSummer in Japan

And driving into Niseko... it all looked rather benign with some summer maintenance work going on.

Summer in JapanSummer in Japan

Summer in JapanSummer in Japan

But looks can be deceiving.

I hooked up with Panch Ratnavale, the Niseko Village resort director.

Skiing in JapanSkiing in Japan

"Niseko is the largest ski area in Japan with access to the slopes from four different mountain bases that are all on the same lift ticket," he told me.

"Like Europe we start our season in November/December and ski right through to April with some of the best snow falling in February."

"Most people from the United Kingdon ski here for a week and then also visit other parts of Japan, usually Tokyo or nearby Sapporo like you have done."

"Here in Hokkaido we have dozens of ski resorts that offer some of the best skiing in Japan."

I watched a video from Niseko to see what all the fuss is about:


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.

Skiing in JapanSkiing in Japan

"We have light and dry powder with very low levels of moisture content as the cold takes it out. This really is champagne powder, the genuine article," Raymond said.

"The other main ski areas in Japan are in and around Hakuba to the north of Tokyo on the main island and they tend to get around 5m of snow per season compared to our 15m."

But what about now - the end of September?

This is the view from my hotel window at The Green Leaf Niseko Village.

Summer in NisekoSummer in Niseko

And from the hotel lobby.

Summer in NisekoSummer in Niseko

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.

Summer in NisekoSummer in Niseko

Just think what this is like in waist deep powder snow...

Summer in NisekoSummer in Niseko

Summer in NisekoSummer in Niseko

In winter people hike into the back country if they have the correct local knowledge or hire a guide

In summer there is a helpful staircase.

Summer in NisekoSummer in Niseko

Skiing in JapanSkiing in Japan

And at the top:

Skiing in JapanSkiing in Japan

"Around 50 feet of snow a season falls on Niseko meaning it's a must-visit resort for anyone interested in skiing powder," said the boss of Ski Independence, Michael Bennett.

Ski Independence offers tailor-made holidays to Niseko and beyond and can be contacted on 0131 243 8097 or visit its web site.

"There's terrain to suit all standards and the backdrop is Mount Youtei, a snow-capped extinct volcano."

"Any trip to Japan shouldn't just be about the skiing. We'd recommend taking time to see more of this fascinating country and feel clients should at least add a few nights in Tokyo to their itinerary."

Niseko is less busy in summer than winter, but there is still plenty to do and the resort is becoming increasingly popular.

I prefer ski resorts in the winter, but they have good summer attractions too.

Summer in NisekoSummer in Niseko

There is no cable car in Niseko, but there is one nearby that takes you up Mt Usu.

Skiing in JapanSkiing in Japan

I am not sure if there is skiing off it in the winter.

Probably not.

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.

Hokkaido, JapanHokkaido, Japan














Hokkaido, JapanHokkaido, Japan














A perfect September mountain activity.

I put my hiking boots back on and had the most fascinating hike I can remember.

Hiking in volcano country in Japan.

Hokkaido, JapanHokkaido, Japan















More of that in my updated blog from Japan later in the week...

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