When Winter Comes
Posted on: Sept. 20, 2019
Every ski holiday needs plenty of snow to make it a memorable experience, and what better way to spend it than at Niseko, the powder capital of Hokkaido?
After months of gold, brown and red dominating the vast landscape, autumn gives way to Hokkaido’s legendary powder heaven. With an average snowfall of 15m, the snow arrives in mid-November and will not relinquish its grasp until early May. Skiers of all levels can enjoy a variety of terrain, from beginner trails to waist-deep powder runs.
This begs the question: where exactly is the best place to ski in Niseko?
Niseko comprises 4 main resorts, all interconnected by access lifts and trails. Grand Hirafu is the most family-friendly option, and there are 3 access points depending on where skiers are staying. The Family Lift provides the best introductory trails, where beginners can learn basic turns and how to stop, before embarking on more difficult terrain. Instructors are a common sight in the area teaching beginners how to turn—although watch out for those long lines of kids snaking their way down! The trails are a short one-minute walk from the Hanazono bus stop outside The Vale Niseko.
However, the gondola provides the best access to the greater Hirafu area, as well as a prime access spot to Hanazono. Intermediate riders can either follow the main groomed trail, or take the moguls directly under the gondola. After a couple of warm-up runs, powder hounds can have their first taste of Niseko’s legendary powder snow through Miharashi. This is a huge tree run where the snow level ranges from ankle- to chest-deep, and is easily accessible after taking just one lift! Head right after getting off the gondola and after a short hike, you will be rewarded with a panoramic view of Mt. Yotei and greater Niseko area—a very popular spot for photos! From there, choose your line through the trees—be prepared for a few tight gaps—and follow the cat track back to gondola base. For those not wishing to hike, ski down and cross to the left of the gondola and you will immediately enter Miharashi. Be sure to keep your speed up on the cat track if you’re a snowboarder, as it flattens out towards the end. For a shorter, less steep option, carry on to the Swinging Monkey lift after getting off the gondola, and follow the trees directly under the lift. Be careful not to head too far left, or risk a long walk back to the lift!
Swinging Monkey is also a prime access spot for entering Hanazono. Follow the trail from the left of the lift and you will soon see Hanazono 3 Lift, although be sure to keep your speed up on the flats! Hanazono offers a variety of terrain to meet all levels. First timers have a steady slope behind the 1st Lift, where parents can keep an eye on them from the Hanazono café. Once they have mastered the basics of turning and stopping, they can head up the first lift for a greater challenge.
Of course, Niseko’s true powder heaven lies off the main trails and Hanazono is no exception. Strawberry Fields is easily accessible at the top of Hanazono 1 Lift. Simply head left after getting off and dive right into the tree line—be prepared for a steep drop, plenty of space and snow like you have never seen before! The course offers enough space for you to choose your line and flattens out near the bottom before linking on to the main trail. For an extra challenge, traverse as far right as you can and will find a (hopefully!) untouched chute—the most secret and powdery part of Strawberry! This is a very popular course after a fresh snowfall, however, and can get tracked out rather quickly in the morning. Be ready for an early start or enjoy priority lift line access with Niseko International Ski School (NISS), who can turn those wanting their first taste of powder into backcountry fanatics. From there, enjoy the wealth of powder and the best backcountry trails only experienced locals know about.
Sunny days are few and far between in Niseko. From 8.30am, die-hard skiers and snowboarders can be seen making the determined climb up Mt. Annupuri to enjoy the very best Niseko has to offer. The peak is a 20-minute hike from the top of the Grand Hirafu single or “pizza box” lift, and the view of Mt. Yotei ensures early riders are well rewarded for their efforts. The peak allows riders a 1000m+, untracked course of trees, moguls and steep faces—the full package! This course is not recommended in adverse weather conditions, and, as this is beyond the ski area boundary, skiers should choose their line carefully to avoid getting stuck.
There is something for everyone in Niseko. So, what are you waiting for?
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