Trip report Niseko 2017: A good week in a shitty season

As the 2016/2017 season draws to a close I think we can safely conclude that it was one of the worst seasons ever for Niseko with less than 8m of cumulative snowfall. Was lucky enough to squeeze out 3 pow days out of my week there in Feb 2017.

Rode for 5 days this trip, mostly in trees or out the gates. Seeing Niseko through new eyes after a few seasons away and the 6-week bootcamp in Canada. Here are some thoughts about the trip.

The view from wonderland chair

Like Bali, but with snow
Haven’t been to Niseko for 3 seasons now, and although I’ve *heard* about it becoming an Aussie town, I hadn’t actually felt it myself until this trip. Everyone speaks English now- like, you can’t even order from Niseko Pizza in Japanese ‘coz the bloke who answers the phone only speaks English. Huh, seriously? What if a Japanese visitor wanted pizza? Not that there are many Japanese here these days. There wasn’t a single Japanese on my airport bus from Chitose airport.

Airport bus queue- wait, are we in Hokkaido or Sydney?

While I am (sort of) grateful that I can finally get a real espresso, I’m definitely not thrilled about seeing trash everywhere- bottles jammed into snow banks or simply discarded on the road (it was NOT like this before). And don’t even get me started on people who don’t shower before soaking in the onsens. Also, making restaurant reservations months in advance is just annoying. Are we in NYC or what?

Serious overcrowding

With all the new construction, Hirafu has totally lost its small town Japanese feel and in fact many of the locally owned restaurants have had to move out of town to make way for the hipster cafes and bars. If Niseko didn’t have its sick tree runs, I doubt I would even consider visiting again. Next we’ll be seeing Macca’s on the Hirafu intersection. Can’t help but feel nostalgic about the old (and clean) Niseko.

Niseko Ramen: So far away now

Sessa: Also a hike away

Hiding out in this cafe to feel like I’m in Japan again

Secret trees
This trip I was lucky enough to meet a friend of a friend who showed me a couple of secret runs, which she got to know because she was doing a whole season in Niseko. It’s always awesome to have a pow guide because you don’t have to stress about where to drop in and out. No one wants to hike out of the gully, right? I should really write this stuff down for next time. If there is a next time.

The keeper of secrets

Dropping in

Finding my own secrets

It was nice to be able to explore the trees this trip as I was not riding off-piste the last time I came to Niseko. Since the pistes are so busy these days, the trees are really the only places where the pow doesn’t disappear after an hour. Tried some of the gates and found them perfectly manageable even for an intermediate rider. But still, I drew the line at hiking the summit. Hiking is still a strict no-no for this comfort-minded (lazy) snowboarder.

Hunting for strawberries

Goodbye world

Read instructions or get a babysitter

Yay for practically flat terrain
LOL at the black runs in Niseko which are mellower than Revy’s blues. See? Told you I was seeing Niseko through new eyes. Anyways why would you want to kill yourself on icy steeps? To be fair the BC resorts had a great March (after I left), but NOTHING will persuade me to do that again. Traumatized for life.

Still can’t beat japow

This.. is black ?

It’s also nice not to be last in the group. I guess I’m now fairly decent for a snowboarder who lives in the tropics. The quads I developed after Revy totally went to waste in Niseko though, since the runs are so short, but I’m sure they will revert to fats by next season.

Where is everyone?

Seicomart is a godsend for the destitute
Since I’ve been on sabbatical for a while (read: unemployed), Seicomart was pivotal in balancing the very precarious budget. I’m not destitute YET, so I did eat at some of my favorite haunts, but some nights I just bought my dinners from Seicomart. Seicomart has expanded since my last trip and now includes a hot food section. If you want to cook, they even sell basics like chicken and fresh vegetables, so no need to go to Kutchan supermarket anymore.

3 “courses” for less than JPY1000

Can’t get enough of the Seicomart gyoza (JPY208)

Okonomiyaki for paupers (JPY498)

General drop in food standard
While we’re on my favorite topic of food, I felt that the standard in food in Hirafu has dropped. Even my most trusted izakaya was a half-disappointment when the grilled hokke came out overcooked.

Sessa now open for lunch but very average (JPY800)

Somewhere out there: Overcooked hokke (JPY1500)

And I re-iterate that one should NEVER eat at Hanazono 308 (i.e. the large cafeteria at the base), there are much better on-mountain options. Unless, of course, you need to order the gluten-free curry (say wutttt???)

Hanazono 308: Expensive and horrible omu rice (JPY1500)

The new internet lift pass did not work for me
This season (2016/2017) Niseko United introduced a new internet lift pass which works like a stored value card where you can top up 10/20/30h. Previously they only had the 50h pass. For me, multi-hour lift passes work out cheaper rather than day passes, because the hours I ride depend on snow and visibility conditions (I wouldn’t bother going out on shit-viz days). Ordering the pass is a breeze- just fill in the online form and pay JPY1000 when you collect it at the Hirafu welcome center (i.e. where you get off the airport bus). The difficulty I encountered was in topping up the card online using my credit card. The credit card payment webform fixes the billing address country as Japan (it’s a drop down menu that has no other options). Since I’m a tourist and my credit card billing address is not Japan, the bank won’t let the payment through. Anyone managed to get it to work?

This doesn’t work

Still loving it after all. Japan, not snowboarding!

Date of activity: 23 Feb – 4 Mar 2017
Location: Hokkaido, Japan
Operator: Niseko United
Rate I paid (accommodation): JPY56,100 per night for a 3BR apartment (with early bird discount)
Booking (accommodation): Niseko Central (agent managing Shirakaba apartment)


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