There’s Snow Place Like Niseko 1

Bucket list item #7 – Ski the famed powdered runs of Niseko – the sister city of St. Moritz.

Since our arrival in Japan in 2008, after leaving our little ski house in the Catskill mountains, we’d heard of the famed Niseko ski resort in Hokkaido.  But with Nagano a train ride away and the thought of the flight and the 2+ hour bus ride after the flight, Niseko just seemed like a place that people went to who lived outside of Japan.  Why go to all the hassle when you can just jump on a train at Tokyo Station and in a short amount of time ski the Japanese Alps – it was good enough for the Olympics – it was good enough for me.

So several times each winter we happily skied in Hakuba – but there was always something missing.  Hakuba is a place that lives in the past.  If you set the clock back to the 80’s, you can easily see yourself hanging out in the lodge wearing a purple Head ski jacket, chewbaca furry after ski boots and rocking a brand new perm.

But not much has changed since those bubble days – not a lot of new construction or new carpet for that matter. Not so Niseko.

Niseko is brand spanking new (except for maybe the Hilton).  I walked the streets and looked at one more fabulous building then the next.  Our condo was beyond gorgeous and totally cool.  Not even this era – maybe even a little of the ski chalet of the future.  And after living in a society for four years as a complete outsider, it suddenly felt very much like home.  How strange to actually be in Japan, using yen to purchase things and only speak English all day long.  Everyone I came  in contact with from the physical therapist to the bar tender to the waitress and the ski rental guy spoke my mother tongue.  Communicating in the same language –  brilliant!

There were actual fireplaces – of course they were in architectural glass boxes  – no wood burning fires here (except outside of one bar in a big metal drum).  The apres ski options were plentiful – bars and restaurants abound.  I had a beautiful lunch slope side at the Vale Bar and Grill with 14 of my closest friends, dined at Abu Cha 2, a funky itzakaya walking distance to the chairlift – and spent a magical evening inside The Barn – a French fusion restaurant lit beautifully from within watching the snow fall out the enormous glass wall.

I only skied two out of the four days for various reasons too boring to write about so I certainly wasn’t all over the multi-area mountain, but the famed powered runs were just so-so.  There was a ton of powder in the trees – after the first run through those, I made sure where not to return, but on the main slopes themselves, not too much.  But I heard people speaking about the not-so-great conditions.  To be honest, after skiing for 40 years mainly on the east coast of America, I’m not much of a powder fan.  Give me ice and a few rocks and I’m golden.

Tom and I were thrilled to check this big item off our bucket list and to do it with 50+ friends was even better.  For those five days we felt like we owned Niseko and it had been there waiting for us this whole time.

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