Have been planning this trip since last March - when a ski patroller at Alta told me - "The only place that gets more powder than here - is Niseko, Japan". How true.
Flew from SFO to Sapporo, Japan via Tokyo - JAL. 3 hour bus ride later - I was in Niseko. I stayed in a Pensione - a B& B basically. A 5-10 min free shuttle ride from the lifts. Leading up to my arrival it had snowed 6-8in each of the previous 4 days - with another 6 inch - the day I arrived.This is the day of arrival.
For those who are unfamiliar with Niseko United - There are four interconnected resorts. Annapuri, Hirafu, HIgashiyama and Hanazono - with a combined lift ticket (more on that later). The inbounds is probably about the size as Jackson Hole. Like Jackson they have a number (10, I think) side country gates - that gives you access to many more acres of unpatrolled backcountry skiing. SOme of which funnel back to the resorts, others require some hiking to get back. In addition there are at least 5 other resorts within 45-60 min - Moiwa, Kiroru, Rusutsu etc etc - with tons of other BC opportunities.
Day 1 - I signed up with Hanazono Powder guides - they have a Fresh Tracks program that starts at 730am - an hour before lifts start turning.
Slayed the front side first
By 11 - they opened the Annapuri Peak gates
Dipped down into the Back Bowls
Dinner my first night. The food in Niseko is frickin amazing and inexpensive.
Day 2. I explored around the resort myself
Day3 - Stormy Day - More powder. Spent time in the trees
Day 4 - I signed up with Niseko Powder Guides - they took me to Moiwa - a nearby resort. PLenty of fresh tracks to be had out
the sidecountry gates with a little traversing and hiking
Day 5 - Spent most of time in Annapuri - off of Gate 1, 2 - by now I was little familiar with finding my route back to the lift.
Day 6 - Signed up with Black Diamond Guides An outfit run by a bunch of Canadians from BC. They took me Skinning up the backside of a nearby resort - Kiroru. More fresh tracks.
Day 7 - R & R
Gyu Bar - or refrigerator door bar
Menu at Rin
Grilled local fish
Day 8 - Skiing by myself in Hanazono - off gate 4, 5
Day 9 - More snow, More Powder. Mostly Gate 3, Gate 4, Gate 5
A word about the snow - Looks like they average about 650-700 in a year. Unlike the US - where they tell you - you will get 30 inch, you get 10in and they report 20in !!! In Niseko, on days they tell you there will be no snow you get 2-3 inches. On days they tell you 10-15 cms - you get 20-30cms. It snowed everyday- I was there. Of course - luck has something to do with it.
About the town- I would say Hirafu - the center - is as big as whistler main village. Tons of nice bars and restaurants - mostly serving excellent Japanese food. There are few serving pizza, pasta and burgers. Couple of food trucks selling Burritos and Tandoori.
The people - 80% are Australians. 10% Japanese. Remaining 10% are Americans, Canadians and Europeans. I have been on 3/4 solo trips to SLC before but never so far away for 9 days. I was a little apprehesive. I met so many interesting people. Everybody is supremely friendly. Met people from Montana, Vail, SF, Southern Alberta. Met a bunch of Uber employees who were on a "business trip". Had a fun fun time. I could easily spend a month here.
Lift Tickets - combined all mountain lift ticket is only $45-50. You can also buy 4 hours, 6 hours per day. Or you could buy
30 hours, 60 hours - cumulative tickets.wish US resorts would do this.
I will leave you with a photo of Mt Yotei - from my bedroom window. It was socked in most of my trip - except for this one time. A number of people were organizing BC trips to Mt Yotei. Apparently it is a 4-6 hours of skinning up. You ski down also into the caldera. Maybe next time - but I need to get in better shape first.
One last thing - I know I compared Niseko to JH above. It is only as a point of reference to point out the BC - sidecountry possibilities. Not suggesting that the two are similar. Pl don't send me any hate mail.
Finally - Get out there. Put it on you bucket list. The distance is only in your mind. It is an amazing place.