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Japan - Niseko (Hokkaido): Worth Skiing over Christmas?? What are "normal" snow conditions?

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

Hi,

Can anyone give me some advice on skiing Japan, most likely Niseko over Christmas and first week of January?

 

Having grown up skiing in Colorado, I know that only fools, or the desperate, spend big bucks to go to a Colorado ski resort before mid-January as frequently the snow conditions will be very marginal.  I am wondering if the same is true of Niseko in Japan? (Yes, I know 2005 was a killer season, but what's the typical?)

 

We recently relocated to Hong Kong and Niseko is probably the closest best area with a 5 hour flight and 2 hour bus.  I have a break from 24 December to 7 January and am considering a Japan ski trip with kids.  I LOVE the Steep and Deep, and understand that even Niseko will probably not compare to Aspen Highlands in terrain, but there might be good powder.  So any help on the following questions from someone who knows would be great:

 

1)  How likely am I to get skunked with poor snow over Christmas and New Years?

2)   I assume Niseko Grand Hirafu is the best resort in Japan in terms of the most challenging terrain and best conditions?

3)  Any experience with the kid's ski school?

4)  How crowded should we expect it to be over Christmas and New Years?

5)  What is the best lodge/hotel/condo to stay for 7-10 days with a family?

6)  How does the "expert" terrain at Niseko compare to Colorado/Utah/Squaw Valley expert terrain?  If it snows a metre, can I find steep enough pitches to have fun?

 

Thanks for all the help!

post #2 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cats Meow View Post

 

1)  How likely am I to get skunked with poor snow over Christmas and New Years?

2)   I assume Niseko Grand Hirafu is the best resort in Japan in terms of the most challenging terrain and best conditions?

3)  Any experience with the kid's ski school?

4)  How crowded should we expect it to be over Christmas and New Years?

5)  What is the best lodge/hotel/condo to stay for 7-10 days with a family?

6)  How does the "expert" terrain at Niseko compare to Colorado/Utah/Squaw Valley expert terrain?  If it snows a metre, can I find steep enough pitches to have fun?

 

Thanks for all the help!

I have been to Hokkaido (Niseko and Rusutsu) at Christmas time couples of times. To answer some of your questions:

1/. Generally the snow inn Hokkaido should be OK by Christmas time, powder everywhere.

2/. For Niseko, you have Annupuri, Niseko Village and Grand Hirafu, You will find more hotels, restaurants, bars, Aussie in Grand Hirafu. In terms of challenging terrain, you better off go somewhere else. On a calm day when the chait lift to the top is running, you can ski from Grand Hirafu to Annupuri.

4/. As expected, crowded at Christmas and New Year. You will need to book hotel accommodation very early - this summer.

5/. There is a Hilton at Niseko Village (nothing else in Niseko Village). In Grand Hirafu, the best located hotel is the Alpen.

6/. No comparison at all. Utah/Colorado/Tahoe have mountains, Niseko have small hills, but the powder is light and fluffy.

 

Personally, I prefer Rusutsu to Niseko.

Advantage of going skiing in Niseko (or Rusutsu) from Hong Kong is the short flight time (5 hours) and only 2 hours of land transfer from the airport.

post #3 of 12
Thread Starter 

Thanks!

Why do you prefer Rusutsu?  Whats the lodging/eating situation like there? Crowds?

Where is better for more challenging skiing?

When you say conditions OK, do you mean that 90%+ likely we'll have good/great snow as opposed to the USA which is more like 50/50?

 

Thanks again, it is really hard to find much information on these areas so I appreciate your thoughts. 

post #4 of 12

Rusutsu is a resort, the owner owns the mountain and the hotels there. Personally, I just found the runs more interesting that's all. Unfortunately their website is showing the summer activities at the moment,  http://www.rusutsu.co.jp/. There are various restaurants inside the hotel serving Japanese food, Chinese food, international buffet dinner and a noodle bar.

 

As you can see from Niseko's website, http://www.niseko.ne.jp/en/index.html  you are skiing on different faces of the same mountain, I found that pretty boring.

 

I think the chance of finding good powder at Christmas time is 90%+

post #5 of 12

The beauty of Niseko is the day touring around the area: Iwaopuri, Chisenappuri, etc... and of course Yotei-san. Years ago, Christmas was empty empty empty. I've been there a couple of time in the pre-Aussie annexation era that we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves while it snowed so hard all our tracks would fill during the trip back up. It was just stupid epic. Every once in a great while they'll get skunked at Christmas, but it's fairly rare. I'd say it's a relatively safe bet, and again, if you tour and have gear, spend some time at the areas, then by all means get out for some touring. Yotei is great as are some of the ridges behind Chisei.

post #6 of 12
Thread Starter 

Thanks for those thoughts.  We don't really have any touring equipment or experience, mostly because we have never need to go off Piste for great snow.  I grew up in the Colorado mountains so I am not intimidated by the idea.  Are there guides that you'd recommend or is it pretty straight forward?  Can we rent the tele equipment there?

post #7 of 12

Pretty much as Scavenger said, but I will point out that Niseko does have a pretty good vertical (960m/3150ft), some fine tree runs and loads of side country that not even the Aussie hoards can completely trash. (And thanks to those hoards there are now lots of great dining venues.)

 

I'm also a big fan of Rusutsu, mainly for the even better trees. Also while it doesn't get as much snow as Niseko, it gets plenty and often even a little lighter as it's further inland.

 

Furano, snack in the center of Hokkaido, is another alternative which typically has good cover by xmas/new year. Plenty of others, too, but I'd suggest Niseko/Rusutsu for an initial visit.

 

The mountains on Honshu, the main island, are not quite as reliable for xmas snow but can offer a more technical challenge and are pretty accessible (i.e. no airplane needed) from Tokyo.

post #8 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cats Meow View Post

1)  How likely am I to get skunked with poor snow over Christmas and New Years?
2)   I assume Niseko Grand Hirafu is the best resort in Japan in terms of the most challenging terrain and best conditions?
3)  Any experience with the kid's ski school?
4)  How crowded should we expect it to be over Christmas and New Years?
5)  What is the best lodge/hotel/condo to stay for 7-10 days with a family?
6)  How does the "expert" terrain at Niseko compare to Colorado/Utah/Squaw Valley expert terrain?  If it snows a metre, can I find steep enough pitches to have fun?

Thanks for all the help!

1) Very unlikely
2) Best for Western Visitors.
3) Choose the NISS Ski School - again best for Western Visitors
4) Similar to major US resorts in that period
5) Can't say as I stayed in a private home - There was one called the 'Vale' that looked good. http://www.thevaleniseko.com/
6) You will be disappointed if you're looking for truly GNAR terrain, but it's steep enough and the snow makes up for it.
post #9 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cats Meow View Post

Thanks for those thoughts.  We don't really have any touring equipment or experience, mostly because we have never need to go off Piste for great snow.  I grew up in the Colorado mountains so I am not intimidated by the idea.  Are there guides that you'd recommend or is it pretty straight forward?  Can we rent the tele equipment there?

Takanashi has gear: http://www.toyru.com/.
You can get guide service from him as well. If you're looking for crazy terrain with direct lift access, go to Europe. If you're looking for just really nice terrain, a great experience, and a load of snow, niseko's it. There's also great terrain in Japan, but you have to hike and skin for access.
post #10 of 12

For Niseko, I've heard many good things about the Black Diamond Lodge, including their tours.

post #11 of 12

Black Diamond Lodge is a great place, and they run a very good tour/guide service, and they have a nice bar/restaurant.

It's not hotel/condo-class lodging, however, and perhaps more a perfect place for a group of pals than for a family. Certainly worth a look.

For first-time family visit to Niseko last week of December to first week January, I'd suggest staying in Hirafu.

There are any number of Australian outfits running condos there; do some net-surfing or PM me. As CM said, The Vale is pretty high end.

Hotels in Hirafu include the Alpen, the Kogen, Hirafu-tei & Park Hotel -- all convenient to lifts.

post #12 of 12
I've been to Japan over New year for the past 2 years (part of the Aussie hoard wink.gif

I've had pow both years and of the 2 weeks I was there probably 80% of days had fresh pow overnight. Agree that the terain is not challenging on the whole, but fun playing in deep pow. Problem is that the backcountry may not be open that early due to lack of snow. Also in bad weather the connecting lifts shut. In bad weather often only one lift runs out of the niseko Hilton area and the skiing out of here isn't great.

I went to nozawa onsen last year(get the fast train from Tokyo) skiing is similar to niseko but the town is much nicer and very "Japanese". Also consider hakuba, it's much steeper than niseko. There are some epic small resorts around if you knowwhereto look.
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EpicSki › The Barking Bear Forums › Mountain/Resort Related Forums › Resorts, Conditions & Travel › Japan - Niseko (Hokkaido): Worth Skiing over Christmas?? What are "normal" snow conditions?