As I mentioned before, this was the second trip to Niseko this year, and as usual, the 3 sides of the mountain all proved to be in great condition, and a fair challenge. During the whole trip I made very few runs on prepped slopes, with the lion’s share being on tree runs though high banks full of powder.
The single most abused course for me on this trip was the Super Course at Hirafu. It’s often overlooked, being a fairly steep valley with wooded sides down the back of the main run, and from the top, it doesn’t look very hospitable (it’s rated black diamond which doesn’t help it’s public image for many).
What this means in reality then is that powder just sits there and builds up so boarders can do huge powder runs on the sides, waist deep in fine powdered snow, charge through the trees into the valley proper, then shotgun down a short track to the rest of the resort lifts. There is a picture of the course here. I must have run that course a hundred times (probably more), and every single run has been different.
The weather was pretty good for most of the trip, with it snowing for 3 of the days, and the wind stayed low, which can be an issue on the Hirafu side. We even caught some sunshine! If you’re a fair-weather only kind of boarder or skier, then you might want to give Niseko a miss.
We also spent time on the Annupuri side of the mountain, but once again I never made it to Higashiyama – it’s a good set of courses, but not good enough for me to want to spend time there instead of the other two slopes.
Annupuri has a slightly gentler set of slopes than Hirafu, and they’re often wider, with sparse trees and lots of short chair lifts. I spent a bit of time running the jumps they’ve constructed in the middle of the lower slope and I think I might actually be getting better at them now – certainly I was hitting them with a lot more speed by the end of the day.
That said, Annupuri does have a great steep slope at the end of it’s main run for about 80m which is great for just barrelling down after the snow prep machines have run on it, otherwise it’s a seat-of-the-pants affair, where you might want to take it easy if your legs are a bit tired after the previous run from the snow fields at the top of the mountain which are steep, with fabulous powder, but often with virtually no visibility, which just adds to the fun.
Off the slopes we stayed at the Yamada Onsen Hotel again – they have fairly big warm rooms, and even though the breakfasts aren’t great, it’s pretty cheap and relaxed. It’s also next to the slope, so in the morning you can board virtually away from the door, and at night slide to in front of the same door, which is a real benefit if you’re a bit weary!
Over the last year, various Australian companies have bought into the Niseko area and so we’ve noticed an increase in nightlife (and English language menus), though we spent our evenings at our old favourite Jingis Kan yakinikuya, and the Yurt, just outside of Niseko village which serves all manner of Asian food. Personally, I quite like to see a few more people out there, because the numbers have definitely gone down in the five years I’ve been making the trip up there.
I have to say though that the chap I spoke to on the chair lift who said he’d been skiing for six years in Australia, but was having problems in Niseko as he’d never skied powder before definitely gets my sympathy.
The full set of photos are available here. Movies to follow soon.