Our Niseko ski trip was different from any other vacation we’ve taken.
We usually hop from town to town and see something different each day. However, this trip we stayed in one hotel and had a single goal: ski. We spent a total of four full days in Niseko with two days of travel in and out of Sapporo. I was in love with the place before we even arrived at the hotel. I spent most of the three hour drive from Sapporo to Niseko staring out the window. I have never seen snow piled so high! It seemed like we were driving on a sunken road, because the snow towered in walls of four or five feet.
The mountain we skied on has four main resorts: Annupuri, Niseko Village, Hirafu, and Hanazono, but there is also a smaller resort, Moiwa. Moiwa was near our hotel, so we decided to try this closest resort for our first day of skiing. We had heard that skiing on powder is different from other skiing, and we wanted to give ourselves some practice runs at this smaller resort. I enjoyed our hours at Moiwa. It wasn’t a big resort, but it wasn’t crowded and had great powder. There was an easy run that went through the trees which I really enjoyed. It was very calming and so much prettier than an empty hill. I did my first jump on that run. I watched Jared do it, and said, “well, I can do that.” It was not very big, but it was something new for me. Jared told me what to do, and I followed his directions through my jump. I landed on my feet, which surprised me so much that I fell over!
Powder skiing is very different from the skiing in Korea- because it’s awesome! I am sure that more experienced skiers could tell you about how you need to move differently, or angle your skis in a different manner, but I just focus on staying up and don’t really analyze how that happens. I’m not an expert skier, and I didn’t fall any more than usual, so I don’t think you need major changes in techniques. The reason that I loved the snow in Niseko is because it is so soft! I would fall and the snow would billow around me, enveloping me like a cloud. It was beautiful to watch the snow float up as my skis cut a path through. I was able to ski on the easy and intermediate slopes more easily because I wasn’t as scared of falling! In Korea, I always come home from skiing with a few nasty bruises from falling on the snowy/icy slopes. However, the worst bruise I got in Niseko was from falling up the hotel steps (yes, up), and no injuries from the snow. I was delighted that I wasn’t black and blue from my time on the slopes.
Our second day we spent at Annupuri, which we agreed was our favorite resort and the area we will stay at when we return. I loved that the runs, even the greens, wove around the mountain, taking you under the lifts, past groves of trees (and through them if you chose), and constantly crisscrossing with other runs. It seemed more natural, and was infinitely more entertaining than a single hill. However, our first day at Moiwa and our second day at Annupuri quickly taught me why the snow was so fresh and why there were feet of it covering the road. It was ALWAYS snowing. Nonstop. I’m not saying that there were flurries throughout the day, these were blizzard conditions like I have rarely seen. I’ve never experienced a white-out, but that’s what it was like the entire day. I could barely see 20 feet in front of me. Goggles and a face mask were necessities because the wind was constantly blowing snow in our faces. The wind was so strong that the higher lifts were closed during much of our vacation. It made me a little nervous that I couldn’t see much, especially since the runs cross each other. I was apprehensive that I’d take a wrong turn down a more advanced hill.
We survived our first two days of constant snow and were rewarded with perfectly blue skies on our third day, which we spent at Hirafu. This is the most popular resort because it is located in town. There are hotels that you can easily ski in and out. Though it was busier than the other resorts, it seemed abandoned compared to Korea’s packed slopes. Hirafu had the longest runs that I had yet to be on; I loved that we spent more time skiing than on the lifts. However, I did not think their runs were very clearly labeled. We misread one sign and ended up unnecessarily hiking up a hill. I like skiing, but I despise ski boots. I hate putting them on, I hate taking them off, and I loathe walking in them. I was very grumpy to not only walk, but walk uphill, in the snow in my ski boots. (First world traveler problems?) Another time, my friend and I rode a lift up, but could not find the easy green run we were looking for. We glided back and forth for quite awhile before realizing that our only choice was to go down the hill directly in front of us. This is how I skied my first black run, because I was lost. I stood at the precipice for several minutes and whimpered, but then I sucked it up and went down. I went slowly and continually cursed my navigational failure, but I made it to the bottom with no problems. It was comforting to know that even if I didn’t like skiing on such a steep slope, that I was completely capable. Which, I am pretty sure means I just need to stop being a wimp.
The fourth day, Jared and our friends skied at all four main resorts (they connect at the top of the mountain). I took the day off. My legs were quite sore, and I was ready to just take it easy. I went into the town with a friend, went to lunch and visited a few souvenir shops. (I found a hand-painted tapestry!) I spent the rest of the day reading, editing pictures, and being warm. It was a lovely end to the vacation. Jared had a much different vacation than I did. While I stayed to the groomed runs, he wove between trees, skied down and hiked out of gorges, searched the snow for a friend’s lost Go-Pro, and used terms like “shredding it.” The last day he skied from morning to night at four different resorts. He got an epic ski vacation; I got a tapestry. I’m pretty sure we were both winners.
We spent our days skiing and our nights gorging ourselves on food to make up for all the calories we burned. Since the area is full of tourists, we had no problem finding several restaurants to suit our tastes. I was delighted to find okonomiyaki again, but the real winner was ramen. We suffered through a thirty minute wait to eat at Niseko Ramen, and were rewarded with the most satisfying meal of the trip. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Niseko!
Of course, I have to end this travel post like all the others: we plan to return. We haven’t met a vacation we didn’t like, Niseko is no exception. We already know that we want to stay at Annupuri when we return, and Jared is contemplating the need for powder skis. I could return simply for the ramen. Who knows? Maybe we just started a family tradition!