An idea, a window of opportunity and confidence were the three ingredients that underpinned a unique and memorable snowboarding trip in Japan.

  • The Idea – skiing/snowboarding in Japan
  • The Window of Opportunity – having a friend amongst my social circle as justification that the “time is now or never” for this type of trip
  • The Confidence – taking my previous positive travelling experience and believing my own ability to plan something new

I can’t remember where I first heard that you could ski/snowboard in Japan. It was nothing more than a “you could” statement from someone I couldn’t even recall. For some reason, it stuck in my mind and when the window of opportunity arose, the idea bubbled to the surface.

As a social circle, we were a group of longstanding university friends. We had done several ski/snowboarding trips in the past, but always at various locations in Europe. Between everyone in the group, we had arranged something almost yearly. A good friend of mine was working in Tokyo, soon to finish his time there and return back to London. During my RTW trip the previous year, we travelled together and saw Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. I was taken aback by the huge positive cultural differences with the West. For a country where I only learned a few words, travelling in Japan was unexpectedly and refreshingly easy. Everyone goes out of his or her way to help you and do so in the politest way possible. It’s so extreme, it leaves you with that “wow” factor.

Something I learned during my RTW trip was that the best experiences were those that you carve out yourself from an idea. You want to do something, you find out how and you make it happen.

Simply put the recipe is:

DesirePersonal ChoiceCommitmentFulfilment

The rest of this post skips the discovery process in formulating a trip to Niseko. Instead, it shares the summary and description for others to experience something amazing like I did.

What Makes Niseko Special?

  • Costs aren’t so scary compared to European trip
  • Amazing powder almost guaranteed
  • Night skiing/snowboarding experience
  • Ability to double it up with a city trip
  • “Different” to western culture, onsens etc.

 

Costs Aren’t so Scary Compared to a European Trip

In terms of exchange rates, the Japanese Yen (JPY) has devalued by almost 50% in a year compared to the British Pound. To you, this means the costs of a trip to Japan has suddenly become surprisingly competitive compared to Europe. A “long weekend” type trip in a French resort can cost somewhere between £1000-2000. This is a breakdown of costs for a trip to Niseko from London during peak snow season:

Transport Costs (one off) £ GBP ¥ JPY
Flight London ↔ Tokyo
[return, direct with British Airways]
568 96,808
Flight Tokyo → Sapporo
[single, direct with Skymark/Jetstar]
70 11,930
Bus Sapporo → Niseko
[3h, Niseko Ground Service]
14 2,300
Bus Niseko → Sapporo
[3h, Niseko Ground Service]
14 2,300
Flight Sapporo → Tokyo
[single, direct with Skymark/Jetstar]
70 11,930
TOTAL 736 125,268

 

Daily Costs (per day) £ GBP ¥ JPY
Accomodation
[4 people sharing a Japanese style room, 50m from the slopes, including breakfast – Koropokkuru]
34 5,700
Ski Pass
[All Mountain pass, including night skiing]
31 5,300
Ski/Snowboard Hire
[Premium Ski/Snowboard not including boots – Rhythm Niseko]
23 4,000
TOTAL 88 15,000

 

Snow Days 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Variable Costs (£ GBP) 88 176 264 352 440 528 616
Total Costs (£ GBP) 824 912 1000 1088 1176 1264 1352

 

Amazing Powder Almost Guaranteed

Many a time, I hear of stories of people having pre-booked a ski trip to Europe, only to have a lack of snow, meaning at best – icy and dangerous conditions or going off-piste in search of powder.

Niseko Japan Map

Niseko is on the North Island of Japan, near the city of Sapporo. The geographic location means that during the winter months, Siberian winds bring heavy, consistent snow. The best way to describe it is “relentless”. In the past, for the native Japanese, it meant a yearly struggle to survive. For us now, it means near perfect ski/snowboard conditions.

Niseko Perfect Snow

The snow is just SO good it’s unreal. Skiers are provided extra wide skis and boarders are given oversized snowboards. On the slopes, the snow sprays out like water, providing the perfect balance of grip and a decent cushion from the inevitable falls. I gained more technical ability in 2 days of snowboarding in Niseko, than from weeks in Europe. You can also be sure that the softer conditions mean less impact or wear ‘n’ tear on your body.

 

Night Skiing/Snowboarding Experience

The Japanese culture is known for working long hours and squeezing time to the max. In business, it’s common for Japanese to seem “forced” to go home close to midnight because their trains home will stop running. Apply this to the slopes and the Japanese gives you night skiing – many of the slopes are open till 21:00 at night.

If you can bear the colder temperatures at night, the floodlit slopes provide two great advantages:

  • Better Visibility – that’s right, you’re reading that correctly – better, not worse. Compared to clouded, softer sunlight – the flood lights show up every flake of snow. It’s like someone turned up contrast on your vision and makes it so much easier to plan your route down the slopeNiseko Night Visibility
  • Less People – given most people prefer the 08:00-16:00 type day on the slopes, there are far fewer people on the slopes at night. I can only describe the feeling of going down slopes without anyone in your view or having to look over your shoulder as both magical and calming.Niseko Night Empty Slopes

 

Ability to double it up with a city trip

Getting to Niseko doesn’t have to be a straight flight into Sapporo airport. Personally, I opted days in Tokyo either side to experience again the great city that it is.

Japan Tokyo Red

If you’re visiting Japan, you don’t have to stick to Tokyo. You can choose from Osaka (Kansai) and Nagoya too – both fly into Sapporo. Alternatively, use the J-Rail Pass to take the Shinkansen bullet train on the cheap to visit towns like Kyoto, Hiroshima etc. effortlessly in short day trips.

“Different” to Western Culture

Take the opportunity to swap your typical Western culture for something new. Swap a….

  • Western bed for a Japanese roll mat
  • Private shower for a daily onsen style bath
  • Overpriced cheese baguettes for fresh sushi and rice bowls
  • Traditional ski gear for Kigurumi onesies

Niseko Kigurumi Onesies

 

Other General Tips

  • Japan has a culture of paying for good/services in cash. Get some ahead of time from MoneySavingExpert.com.
  • Given the heavy daytime snow fall in Niseko, a ski mask (rather than glasses) and something like a snood to cover all by your nose are a must.
  • Accommodation in Niseko has grown faster than the of facilities can comfortably cope with. There’s an obvious undersupply of restaurants meaning you need to book tables a day or so ahead or go for ones that you can just turn up.
  • Ask your accommodation about lift passes. Ours were able to get about 10% off the list price.

 

Additional Resources

  • Niseko.cc – The best impartial accommodation list around, all listed on a google map. I stayed at Koropokkuru – a traditional Japanese style and one of the first accommodations in the resort (highly recommended). Excellent breakfast.
  • Rhythm Hire – Great gear at competitive prices. The board I hired was truly “like new”. Shop is open early till late and on the main road.
  • Niseko Trail Map – Trails with yellow linings are the night time (flood lit) slopes.
  • Street Map – Contains everything from accomodation, bars, restaurants, hire places.

 

All in all, if money or time was an inhibitor, I’d rather skip years of try-hard trips for experiences like Niseko