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.