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