Pow­der Bliss

Cristalle Belo-Pitt de­lights in the slopes and après-ski scene of Niseko

Philippine Tatler Traveller - - Contents -

So what is all the fuss about? It has more snow fall­ing early in the sea­son than Euro­pean and Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts. It’s cou­pled with what sci­en­tists call the ocean ef­fect—re­sult­ing in an av­er­age of six inches per day of splen­didly dry pow­der. All that with the mys­ti­cal Mount Yotei, a dor­mant 1,829-me­tre vol­cano, as a breath-tak­ing per­ma­nent back­drop to vir­tu­ally all Niseko ski­ing ad­ven­tures.

To the non-skier, six inches a day is a lot of the good stuff that gives you a soft fall while learn­ing. To the skiers read­ing this, you are smil­ing al­ready and you should be! A one week stay in Jan­uary will pro­vide a me­tre of fresh new pow­der.

It is true that Niseko is not big moun­tain ski­ing at 1,219 me­tres with 61 runs and roughly 29 miles of groomed runs. It is blessed with some se­ri­ous off-piste ski­ing. How­ever, add in the sea­son-long waist-deep pow­der, short lift queue, well-run in­fra­struc­ture and great ski vil­lage vibe it truly has some­thing for every­body.

The moun­tain has sev­eral ski­able faces, each with its own per­son­al­ity. Cen­tral Hi­rafu is the most di­verse and

car­ries the most chair lifts. An­nupuri Vil­lage has long sweep­ing groomed runs and pos­si­bly the best off­piste ski­ing in Niseko with it’s back bowls be­ing things of legend. Not far be­hind is the Hana­zono basin, the new­est de­vel­op­ment and boast­ing a three Miche­lin-starred popup restau­rant at the base by Moliere in Sap­poro, aptly named Asperges.

If you are learn­ing, take lessons or get a per­sonal guide. It made the dif­fer­ence to me. At the end of seven days, I was able to ski a red run from the 1,000-me­tre mark and I left Niseko a fan of the sport. If you’re a ded­i­cated pow­der hound, a few days with a lo­cal or ex­pe­ri­enced guide will help you find the se­cret spots and un­touched vir­gin pow­der.

Our ex­pe­ri­ence in Hairafu makes it our go-to place for fu­ture trips to Niseko and it should be yours. It is a walk­a­ble vil­lage that has been shaped over the years by its chang­ing de­mo­graphic of vis­i­tors. Tra­di­tional Ja­panese restau­rants nes­tle into the moun­tain with bois­ter­ous Aus­tralia Pubs, a charm­ing food truck lo­ca­tion and mod­ern con­tem­po­rary de­vel­op­ments fea­tur­ing in­te­grated restau­rants, bars and re­tail spa­ces.

Speak­ing of restau­rants, our most en­joy­able din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence was in the Miche­lin-starred Kamimura in Hi­rafu. The restau­rant is led by the charm­ing Yuichi Kamimura who cut his teeth as a chef work­ing with Syd­ney’s Tet­suya’s for 10 years. The restau­rant serves de­gus­ta­tion menus fea­tur­ing the best of Hokkaido pro­duce in a mod­ern French style.

A close se­cond to Kamimura was James Gal­lagher’s eclec­tic post stamp­sized Ezo Seafoods. A long and sto­ried jour­ney found James, a Bris­bane na­tive, open­ing a seafood store in Hi­rafu in 2008. To­day, the iconic restau­rant re­quires book­ings a year ahead to se­cure a seat. James proudly pro­claims to walkin guests from be­hind the large dis­play of Hokkaido fish, oys­ters, crabs and prawns, “Sorry we are booked for the

sea­son.” The pop­u­lar­ity be­comes clear when you sit down to im­mac­u­late fresh Hokkaido seafood that is care­fully pre­pared to ex­ten­u­ate its qual­ity. Aus­tralian cof­fee shops are abun­dant with the classy Go­rilla, Syd­ney’s Deus pop-up, Niseko Sup­ply Com­pany all serve qual­ity cof­fee and café fare. Even our favourite mid­ski cof­fee place at the base of Hana­zono, Hanna 1 Café, had a Mel­bourne na­tive be­hind the cof­fee ma­chine pump­ing out some se­ri­ous brew, soy hot choco­late and mulled wine. An­other en­joy­able fea­ture of ski­ing in Niseko is the qual­ity and value of Ja­panese din­ing op­tions around town and on the moun­tain. There is a pleas­ant syn­ergy to ski­ing in Ja­pan and sit­ting down to lunch for a tra­di­tional sushi bowl or steam­ing hot ra­men washed down with

It has more snow fall­ing early in the sea­son than Euro­pean and Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts

warm sake or a Kirin tall boy. Our favourites for lunch on the moun­tain in­clude Alpen Ho­tel Sushi in Hi­rafu, Niseko North­ern Re­sort An­na­puri, Boyo San Restau­rant, Ki Re­sort and the 1,000-me­tre hut all on Grand Hi­rafu Moun­tain.

For a change of pace, the Hi­rafu food truck street is sur­pris­ingly good with our favourites be­ing the fish and chips from Fly­ing Fish.

Après Ski is a big part of the over­all ski ex­pe­ri­ence, where your group, fam­ily or cou­ple join and share their ex­pe­ri­ences from the day, bond­ing over a warm­ing hot toddy or re­fresh­ing beer. Hi­rafu in par­tic­u­lar has some ex­cel­lent Après Ski—op­tions from quiet cosy whisky bars, eclec­tic beer tap houses and bois­ter­ous pubs.

Bar Gyu is the oh-so-cute hole-in-the-wall bar in lower Hi­rafu that fea­tures the now famed re­frig­er­a­tor door en­trance. The Barn by the Odin de­vel­op­ment team is a uniquely de­signed bar and restau­rant, best for happy hour post your ski ses­sions. For late night fun, Big Foot is a two-level bar with Ski Cabin— youth­ful vibes with ski boys and bun­nies blow­ing off steam af­ter work­ing on the slopes.

For a more re­fined Après Ski, the Odin Place de­vel­op­ment fea­tures sev­eral beau­ti­fully de­signed bars and restau­rants. The Alpin­ist for cheese fon­due; Musu, an all-day bistro with a fire­place and large win­dows look­ing over the main street for peo­ple-watch­ing; and Niseko Tap­house with a wide range of lo­cal beers.

An­other au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ence is the in­ti­mate Toshiro’s Whisky Bar run by Toshiro, a for­mer fives­tar ho­tel bar­man, with his lovely wife wear­ing the tra­di­tional Ja­panese ki­mono to wel­come and serve the guests.

Hop­ing to book our Niseko 2018 ad­ven­ture—such was the suc­cess of our first trip cou­pled with the new set of skis Justin gave me for my birth­day. It is a spe­cial place, in that rare zone of de­vel­op­ment and au­then­tic­ity that in­spires the ex­pe­ri­ences!

FROM TOP: Justin en­joy­ing the finest pow­der in Ja­pan; Cristalle at the 1,000-me­tre mark

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: Mount Yotei is also called Yezo Fuji or Ezo Fuji, "Ezo" be­ing an old name for the is­land of Hokkaido, be­cause it re­sem­bles the fa­mous Mount Fuji; whisk­ing across the sparkling snow on a rein­deer sled; the group en­joy­ing a ride; some booze to cap the night

whiskies One of Ja­pan's pop­u­lar

FROM TOP: The Barn by Odin in Hi­rafu; one of the food trucks we vis­ited

Sparkling Strawberry Ja­panese Herb Salad

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