In many ways our recent trip to Niseko was similar to our first visit. The purpose of the trip was the same- to ski. We ate many of the same foods- ramen. And the area looked exactly as we remembered it- white. However, there were several differences that set this trip apart. One of the major changes was my attitude. Last year was my first year to ski. I was still learning basics when we went to Niseko, and I often felt like I was holding up Jared and the friends we were with. I didn't like skiing by myself, and felt a little down about my lack of skill. I believe that my skill improved some for this season; I wasn't as afraid to go faster and felt that I had better control. The major difference is that I realized I was comfortable with my ability level. Greens are easy for me. I've done blacks, and if I felt like challenging myself I could manage it, but I no longer feel the need to push myself. I can ski down intermediate runs with no problem, and I LIKE that. I like my nice open runs and going at my own pace. I didn't worry about what the others were doing, because I was completely content to do my own thing. You want to go through the trees? Lovely, I'm going to glide along and stop to take pictures. We had three friends travel with us, and they liked going with Jared through the gates to the ungroomed slopes. We would ride the gondola up to the same point and meet back down at the bottom. It was a perfect arrangement. Niseko-13 Niseko-8 Niseko-7 Niseko-11 My absolute favorite part of skiing was on the day when we higher on the mountain than I have been before. There are four resorts that meet at the top of the mountain. We were staying near the farthest to the left. One day we rode up to the highest point and skied across the top of the mountain to reach the slopes two resorts over. It was fun to stand at the top and scan for where we wanted to end up. Honestly, though, I just followed Jared. My navigation skills are questionable at best, and the trails all look rather similar to me. Unfortunately, that was the last day of skiing for me, even though it wasn't the last day of vacation. Last year, I missed the final day because my legs were so sore. This year, I caught some sickness crud that Jared and two of our friends had before the vacation. I pushed through the achy feeling as best I could, but I spent the rest of the time in bed reading. Honestly, that was just as enjoyable to me, even with being sick! Niseko-14When we were in Niseko last year, we stayed at a hotel. It was nice, but we wanted a different experience. We looked at places to stay around our favorite resort in Niseko, Annipuri. We chose to rent a chalet with Annipuri Village Chalets. We spent six nights at the chalet, and enjoyed every minute of it. There were three full bedrooms, two baths, the largest kitchen I've seen in Asia, a basement (with a disco ball), and floor to ceiling windows in the living room. We were able to walk to Annipuri resort and a few local restaurants. Everything was crisp and clean and wooden. There was a fireplace that Jared and our friend kept roaring at all times. (We had to open the windows at one point because the fire was just a bit much. However, the ambiance insisted that the fire always going.) We were able to stock the fridge and pantry at the local grocery stores. We usually had breakfast at the chalet, had lunch at the ski resorts, and went out for supper. Annipuri Village had amazing customer service. They had a welcome basket full of treats and wine waiting for us (oddly addressed to Mr. Murch; we have no idea who that might be.) We could call them up at any time and they would help us out. Can we have a lift into town? Where do I mail postcards? Can you bring me rental skis to try? How much should we tip? They shuttled us all over Niseko, and even arranged outings to onsens (more on that later.) Housekeeping came every other day with fresh towels and an overwhelming amount of sample size soaps and shampoo. The other chalets were a good distance away, and we really felt secluded in out quiet little home. Niseko-4 Jared and I insisted on visiting three restaurants while we were in Niseko. The first two we went to last year and wanted to revisit. Our first night we went to Niseko Ramen, and we were not disappointed. I had the same dish I had last year. It's called Niseko Ramen. So good they named the restaurant after it or the other way around? It has a potato froth on top that adds another level of deliciousness to the ramen. Our friends enjoyed it so much that we returned for our final night. We also revisited Kabuki, an okonomiyaki restaurant, a meal that we have eaten during each of our three trips to Japan. It's a sometimes referred to as a Japanese pancake, but that really only applies in that it is round and yummy. It has yams, shredded cabbage, egg, cheese, and meat. You fry it right in front of you and then top it with mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce. After rereading my description, I can understand if you don't really believe me on how amazing this is, but it is really enjoyable. Our third restaurant demand was from an Anthony Bourdain No Reservations episode. Raku-ichi is located just a short walk from our chalet. We knew that there are only 12 seats and the wait can get long, so we planned our day around lunch at the restaurant. We only had to wait for thirty minutes before we were seated and selecting our soba. The restaurant is very quiet and zen. Everyone talks in hushed voices and quietly waits for their food. The best part is that you can see your lunch being prepared right in front of you. The owner and his wife are the only two employees. She seats people, takes order, serves food and cleans up. He makes noodles. Amazing perfectly formed noodles. The wait for food can take awhile because he makes each batch as needed. We watched him take a lump of dough, roll it out, slice it into tiny slivers, boil it, and place it in our bowls. I cannot recommend it enough if you are visiting the area! Niseko-6 Niseko-10 Niseko-5 Soba Despite being sick at the end of our vacation, I really enjoyed the time away. I was a little disappointed at the beginning of the trip because it was not snowing as much as our previous year. It snowed a bit each day, but it wasn't quite as mesmerizing as before. However, our last full day and our travel day a pleasant blizzard visited and gave us at least a foot of snow and a two hour delay at the airport. Perfection.    

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