Niseko Area – Hokkaido, Japan – 2017

“It is better to travel well than to arrive”

-Buddha

Niseko Area

Once on the island of Hokkaido we started our snow-seeking mission in the Niseko area. Niseko is the most popular of the ski resorts on Japan’s North island. A United Niseko Pass can grant access to four ski areas shared under one pass on a single large Japanese volcanic peak, Niseko Annupuri, standing at 1,308 meters, or 4,291 feet above the nearby sea level. Niseko Annupuri is part of the Niseko-Shakotan-Otaru Kaigan Quasi-National Park and is the most eastern park of the Niseko Volcanic Group. The 4 ski areas on the Niseko Annupuri peak are made up of:  Niseko Hirafu, Niseko Village, Niseko Annupuri and Niseko HANAZONO. We arrived mid day and took advantage of a partial day, single mountain pass to Annupuri to get out and explore for the last few hours of the day. A storm had just cleared that morning and our friends in town were anxiously awaiting the next day’s opening of the upper mountain, which had been closed for the prior three days of snow. We ducked out the gates and found great fresh turns, immediately making mellow, low-angle turns through classic Japanese aspens… just like we hoped for. Boom.

Niseko Area-5Niseko Area-9Niseko Area-7We got in the ‘queue’ and made it to the top just in time to catch up with our new friend-of-friend, Takumi strapping in on the summit. We all quickly dropped into the perfect face and enjoyed some bluebird powder right off the peak!

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Takumi!
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…Lindsay checking out the single chair
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Giant ‘queue’ to the single chair!

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Summit views

Lindsay and I spent the rest of the day climbing to the top of the summit of Niseko Annupuri and skiing long runs all the way back down the mountain. Even though this was by far the most populated ski area we spent time at over the trip, there were powder stashes for as long as our legs could carry us!Niseko Area-20Niseko Area-25Niseko Area-23Niseko Area-24

We were so gracious towards Takumi for showing us around Niseko and taking time from his vacation from work in Tokyo to spend with us, thank you Takumi! (…and of course to Brad Uecker for connecting us!)

Mt Yotei!

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Mt Yotei is an iconic and beautiful volcanic peak visible across the farming fields as one looks out from Niseko Annupuri. A dormant stratovolcano in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park of Hokkaido, standing at 1,898 meters, or 6,227 feet, Mt Yotei is truly a striking peak. We ran into issue having arranged a guide but finding the cost to summit being a bit rich for our blood… Nonetheless we had a phenomenal day of bluebird climbing and skiing. Our guide was a fantastic skier, and clearly deeply knowledgeable of the mountain and the area. Niseko Area-28Niseko Area-29Niseko Area-33Niseko Area-34Niseko Area-36Niseko Area-37Niseko Area-38Niseko Area-39

We held up around 1000 (tortuous!) feet shy of the summit as Lindsay and I vowed to “come back tomorrow, or later in the trip” to get to the top of this enticing beauty. Naoto Seto with Niseko Powder Guides  linked perfect graceful arcs down towards the farm fields of Japan stretching out below us. Then Lindsay followed suit as the three of us flew through the pristine snow back down to the van and on to the local onsen. A Japanese onsen is a spa combined with a hot spring and is a fairly ritualistic part of Japanese culture and life. It was pretty amazing to look back up at Mt Yotei while soaking in the therapeutic pools of the onsen below. A truly memorable day in Hokkaido!

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Black Diamond Lodge Niseko

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While in the Niseko Area we stayed at the Black Diamond Lodge. The BDL is certainly on the ‘skier’s circuit’, being well-known from a few ski films; and the clientele and cost of boarding do reflect this. We had a great time socializing with the mixed bag of riders from around the world in this place and found it a good resource for networking and learning the local scene and snowpack. Having booked our trip later, much of their guided options were already filled while we were there. We were glad to have moved on to more Japanese accommodations as the trip progressed, but also found the great access, helpful staff, friendly bar and networking resources the BDL offered to be an invaluable find.  Check ’em out at Black Diamond Lodge NisekoNiseko Area-35

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The Jewel of the Niseko area, Mt Yotei.

Next we moved our base to Otaru on the coast of Japan. Temperatures were warming in the whole region and the cold dry Japow was turning into, more familiar, ‘Sierra cement’! Looking for more independent (rather than guided) touring, and the coldest snow we could find in the immediate area, we next went to Kokosai Ski area. High winds and relatively warm temps characterized our day at Kokosai. I explored out the backcountry gates finding bowl after bowl of fun, rolling, classic Japanese aspen powder skiing down to a drainage that funneled back into the resort. Powder for days after storms, hot ramen with cold Sapporo for lunch and quick ski tours mixed in…?! I was a happy guy.

Next we hopped in our rental car (on the left side of the road!) and headed up north in search of higher peaks and colder temperatures! Stay tuned for the next post on our trip to Hokkaido, Japan!

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