Monday, May 25, 2015

Niseko, Japan

Best For: Powder worshippers with plenty of frequent flyer miles and a taste for hot springs and sushi

executive summary by darmansjah

Thanks to the near-constant storm cycles pumping out of neighboring Siberia, the mountains on the Japanese island of Hokkaido are globally renowned for having some of the most consistent, lightest powder on Earth. Niseko is the preeminent spot here, an amalgam of four independently owned, interconnected resorts that girdle 4,291-foot Mount Niseko Annupuri (skiable with one lift ticket). Averaging a jaw-dropping 590 inches of snow a year, there’s fresh powder more days than not on Niseko Annupuri and its abundant, lightly skied off-piste terrain (the Japanese have been inexplicably slow to embrace powder’s addictiveness). The town of Niseko, population 4,685, is an easy drive from the four separate base areas and features a laid-back, surfing-town vibe and dozens of onsen, or hot springs, for settling into after-ski comas.

Night skiing is huge here, and enormous stadium-style lights brighten 2,560 vertical feet of skiing. Deep-powder runs through illuminated nighttime forest are a Niseko specialty. Given the windstorms that periodically lash the mountain, the mountain’s perfectly spaced birch forests are often the best, most sheltered places to ski and snowboard.

Ask a Local 

Canadian Clayton Kernaghan visited Niseko 13 years ago and never left. He now operates Black Diamond Lodge and Tours, which offers mountainside lodging and guided powder skiing in the area. Here are his recommendations.

Best Digs 

Budget: Powder Lodge is the cheapest place to stay in town. It’s very basic.
Swank: The Vale Niseko has one of the best locations in town, ski-in and ski-out.

Best Eats 

Cheap: Seico Mart, the convenience store. It might sound crazy, but the food in convenience stores here is really, really good. It’s fresh food and it’s cheap.
Gourmet: A-Bu-Cha is really good, traditional Japanese. Try the miso salmon.

Best After-Ski Party Spot 

Gyu+Bar, aka the "Fridge Door" bar, spins vinyl and serves single malts. The entrance is literally a refrigerator door.

Best Rest-Day Activity 

Take the 2.5-hour train ride to Sapporo, the largest city on Hokkaido.

Niseko’s Classic Run 

Ride the chairlift to the top of Hanazono and go through gate four or five and drop through Rob Roy, then through Jackson, and then end up at the bottom of the mountain. It’s a powder run.

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