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Mt Hutt ‘all systems go’ for 40th season opening (13-Jun-13)
Immaculately groomed slopes and a genuinely warm welcome await avid skiers and snowboarders.....

Queenstown’s Coronet Peak ski area first to open in Australasia (10-Jun-13)
Queenstown’s Coronet Peak ski area today (June 8) celebrated in style as the first Australasian ski field to open for winter....

Coronet Peak first ski area in Australasia to open on Saturday (05-Jun-13)
Queenstown is officially open for winter as the 2013 season kicks off at Coronet Peak on Saturday (June 8).

Ski Areas Go Out With A Bang! (27-Sep-12)
Season extension and half price passes

Simon's Blog - Niseko (22-Mar-10)

Niseko, Japan, March 22, 2010 - Simon's Blog - Japan


 Niseko where you go for the snow doncha know.



Well we’re here so, snow.  Please.



Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, it’s time to get down to business.  The tryptic of slopes that make up Niseko United have been keeping us amused for a couple of days on old snow but every time you look up you eyes are filled with visions of yourself ripping through the out of bounds.  It’s what lies through the gates that sends people insane when the snow is fresh and deep.  That’s where the virgin, terra nullius terrain drives best friends to become adversaries, a rabid fever in their eyes as they compete to plant their flag by way of fresh tracks.  I repeat, snow please.


Niseko Mountains


Back in the day Niseko used to be four distinct and competing entities.  Thankfully for the modern Nisekite these four have combined to form Niseko United and your lift pass can get you anywhere. This means a massive amount of terrain on a broad range of aspects in which to squeeze the best out of any conditions  The down side is that when the resorts were first formed not only were the lifts not put in to make it easy to get from one area to another, they were originally designed precisely to minimise this traffic.  Sometimes, then, getting around can be a little tricky for the uninitiated.  But this is a minor blemish on an otherwise outstanding hill where the three still independent resorts acknowledge it’s cooperation not competition that should guide policy into the future.



I didn’t expect Niseko to be so much of a mixed conditions clinic.  Super soft springtime slushies, sheet ice (it’s twice as nice to ski on ice??), sugar snow – more one lump than two –  and death cookies, fortunately with enough good turns to keep the Frustro-monster at bay.  To quote Barny – our very own Zen-master Dear Leader (no relation to Kim Jong-il) – “it is what it is”.  The riding then has been alright. At Niseko I’m finding the last runs of the day particularly beautiful.  Cruising down the runs my burning thighs seem to be a little less fatigued for the beautiful view of the volcano Yotei.  What a delight to ski home to with that in your sight.


Niseko Lines


The conditions as they have been have afforded us the freedom to take in a fair whack of what the town has to offer once night falls.  Apparently there’s forty bars, give or take, most of them cool little hole-in-the-wall style joints with their own quirk and character.  I guess that means that we should thank the Japanese government for making it dead easy to get a liquor license.  We’ve cooled down to hot jazz played live, warmed up in an intricately carved ice palace, and imbibed mulled wine in a cozy rabbit warren that you get into through an Alice in Wonderland–style old fridge door set into a snow bank.  Most the bars seem to be innocuously set amongst houses so the real reward comes from wandering and ducking into places as you stumble upon them.


Niseko Ice Bar


Despite Niseko being chock-full of the sort of high-end stuff provided by big corporate entities, the Japanese style still leaves some wriggle room for the little guy, especially in lower Hirafu.  Small, traditional pensions are wedged between apartment stacks, freelance guides promise to take you to untracked paradise and there are a bunch of boutique, rebel-style ski schools operating across the three resorts. Of course, all of the somewhat-clandestine bars add to this vibe but up there with my favourites would have to be the renegade eateries. Buses tricked out with kitchenettes and parked up in snowy nooks selling cheap curies and crepes, steaming soups and coffee.  Not sure how many of them would be operating when the snow is deep and the sky blue.  Probably not many, but then again if it puked then cleared to bluebird, who would be in the car park looking for curries??




Niseko – the delivery.



As described in our latest dispatch, Niseko has been a hill in stasis since we got here. 



Somehow – and somewhat contradictorily in light of the unseasonable heat – we had been cooling our heels; cutting up a little corduroy on the groomers, burning around Hanazano on snowmobiles, looking upwards and outwards longingly, and starting a lot of sentences with “If only…” and “When…”  This was a very odd week we were told again and again.  All of Japan was melting in a heat wave.  We beseeched all the relative gods, spirits and ancestors for a change in our favour. Then the temps dropped and it came.  The snow.



There’s something eerily unsettling in a The Shining kind of way about being in a Ski resort without snow so when it started to fall during the early evening the entire vibe in the village changed.  Concrete was quickly covered in a white blanket that promised a great tomorrow and everyone’s steps seemed to have springs put in them.  Dinner was tastier, the sake more intoxicating, and we slept the excited sleep of those who know Santa is on the way.

Downtown Niseko


In the morning the view of the perfectly conical volcano Yotei was obscured by cloud that was still puking out snow. We kicked into gear and filled up on the sweet power of coffee in a can bought from a vending machine and dashed to the gondora.  By the 8:30 opening there was an expectant crowd in a mostly well-behaved line licking their lips and hopping from foot to foot.   There were lots of greedy eyes in that line but we were confident in the beta given to us by Chris from the Niseko United tourism board.  Sage and usually closely guarded advice on where the best stashes – probably the second best, I wouldn’t give away my best either – were to be found.



For some reason most of our competition for tracks couldn’t see the payoff from the short 20m hike up to the ridge immediately to the right after you exit the Hirafu gondola station.  Pity the fools. Despite there being a somewhat tricky layer of ice under the 40cm of POW the riding was delightful.  Freshies can be like a holy experience and I don’t just mean in the transcendent sense, it’s amazing how curative they can be and as we tracked out the trees off the ridge line largely unhindered by the masses, injuries were miraculously healed and sore spots forgotten.  Real water to wine stuff.  The thanks for the day’s best turns though go to Hanazano, which in the early afternoon unveiled what were to date the unchallenged lines of the trip.  With so much terrain to be taken on, the slightest deviation from the well-beaten path can bring glory.



So a great day is in the bag, there were probably an equal number of snow-eating, face shots and retardo-deep-snow-what-the?-falls.  The gates stayed closed all day but that just means a bigger tomorrow!! KaPOW!


Irish Pub Niseko


Niseko – the final two days.



Yeow! Blue skies.  Fresh snow. Strong(ish) legs.



Yup, we have been blessed with two more great days. 



And yesterday as predicted/hoped the mountain’s powers that be opened the slack country and the people poured through the gates like they were the gang hordes of Mad Max 2. The Gate! The Gate!  Once you unload from the highest lift you click out of your bindings, shoulder your arms and start the march to the tipy top. It’s by no means an arduous trudge but the way up is littered with the wheezing, hunched shapes of those who generally know only the more civilised services of the resorts.  The types who may not be so used to hiking for their turns as well as those whose excitement got the better of them inspiring them to go too hard too early.  That’s great though, you think as you go past them, they wont be taking your line.


Niseko Accommodation


At first glance it would be easy to be critical of the mountain both for only having an old rickety single-seating going to the Gates 3 and 4 – aka the peak – as well as not opening the lower gates early on.  But you have a lot of time to think about the whys as you are trying to keep your excitement in check on that single.  Having a high speed detachable quad to the top would put far too many people up there and that would be bad all round.  And opening the lower gates would mean the premier lines from the peak would be killed by those that traversed in from lower down.  Big ups to the management of the hill I say.



Getting clear skies and fresh snow was an absolute treat. The summit offered amazing, uninterrupted views of the range that spread to the ocean on one side and contrasted with the now-familiar isolated cone of Yotei on its opposite.  A more beautiful place to catch your breath you’d be hard pressed to find. Not wanting to spend too much time enraptured by the view we got moving and right as we were clicking back into our skis Chris from the Niseko Tourism Board lobbed beside us and like a true host took us straight to good stuff. It must be good turns if the big wigs are out!  The skiing itself was whoop-worthy, you come off the rolling top onto an open face which steepens as you duck amongst the trees.  The trees tighten, the legs burn a little and then you’re on the cat track.  Eyes wide with adrenalin and the glory of it all.  Apparently you can drop further down and hook around to the lodge at Hanazano but we wanted the top again.  Getting back in bounds is no major drama with an easy hike taking you to the groomers and lifts so that you can do it all over again. And again.



The next day the snow returned with a vengeance and with the weather closed in we spent most of our time out Gate 1 on Annupuri.  While not as expansive as the terrain from the peak, its all the silence of trees that was made even better by the fact that we were all alone for the entire morning.  I’m a huge fan of the gate system at Niseko and it served us well.  Whereas in the rest of Japan you risk your pass if you are bold enough to tackle the out-of-bounds, Niseko has embraced the idea – though obviously in a very controlled Japanese kind of way – and used it as a selling point.  Alas with the weather tide turning and more to come this was our last day.  A fitting tease of a send off from a mountain that I know I’ll be back to.  At least I was still getting freshies as I squeezed in one final run before our 1pm bus back to Soporro.

For more from Simon, visit his Ground Crew Page

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