It wasn’t my first trip to Japan, but certainly my first to Hokkaido. The northernmost island of Japan, temperatures here are about 10 degrees lower than Tokyo’s, and being in the heart of winter, naturally, very cold. With temperatures between -11oC to 5oC, it was snowing almost everyday we were there, and that’s of course, my ever-favourite kind of vacation! Hehe 😉
My first stop out of Chitose was Niseko, about 3 hours’ drive from Sapporo. World-famous for its powder snow, Niseko is a natural magnet for all skiers and boarders alike. 4 ski areas (Annupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu and Hanazono) surrounding 1 mountain (Mt Annupuri, 1308m) is what made up of Niseko United.
With an “All-Mountain-Ski-Pass”, you can actually go up from one side of the mountain and ski down the other side of it, and cover all the areas in between, groomed-piste or off-piste, if you are adventurous. It certainly is every skier’s dreamland, but only if you are a considerably good skier, at least intermediate level. As even the green slopes on the easiest parts of the mountain seem a little too steep for beginners (or maybe it’s just me and my weak knees).
I however, did enjoy the skiing very much, even with the gloomy weather and the snow hitting hard on my face all day long. Right until the weather got worse towards the evening and visibility was almost down to zero, I could not see the path in front of me at all nor any oncoming skiers from other directions. I was forced to give up (to avoid casualties), albeit with great reluctance and a sulky face. 🙁
You can even do tree-skiing which is what Niseko is also famous for, (but try to avoid skiing into a tree, which would definitely be a nightmare as we found out from our very unfortunate inn-mate who got a scapular fracture and a herniated thoracic disc!)
Annupuri – a very quite and peaceful village. The restaurants available in this village can be counted with one hand. I was quite surprised as an international ski resort village which has many pensions/accommodations but no restaurants nor convenient stores. Hmm….. I guess most people would include catering from their own pensions. For those who did not, hmm… well, there’s always the Choi-Choi food truck, which offers fried stuff and curry rice. Friendly and cute owner but rather exorbitant prices for a roadside food stall.
Milky House Country Inn – the cute and cozy pension that we stayed. Sumptuous home-cooked dinners with different varieties every night, and hearty breakfasts with fresh-from-the-farm milk, and a decent uchi-no-ofuro which we utilised everyday. The owner gave a pretty good discount for ski lift passes and rentals. He also provided a free service of driving all the guests to onsens every night after dinner.
Varieties of multi-courses dinners and breakfasts at Milky House: 😛
Some of the cute moo-moos spotted inside the lovely Milky House. 😉
The pretty and elaborate (but almost hidden) igloo which we stumbled upon by accident at our neighbour’s pension. The exterior looked like a mysterious blue portal that leads to another dimension (too many sci-fi series 😉 lol); but once stepped into it,… the interior was rather huge and maze-like with ice carved seats and bars, and many entry and exit points for you to explore, if you can crawl through the small holes and thick snow. Was a pretty amazing find for us. 😀
We also found some sleds with a showel and a mountain of snow which we utilised conveniently for some home-made sledding fun while waiting for dinner time. Hehe. 😉
Grand Hirafu Village
The biggest, busiest and most touristy village among the four in Niseko. Many shops, restaurants, hotels and happening places including a Welcome Centre. Kind of like the Japanese version of Queenstown.
There are many other snow activities in Niseko even if you are not into skiing or boarding – snowshoe, snowmobile, snow cat, snow rafting, cross-country skiing, heli tours and family fun like tube sledding or banana boat sledding.
Snowshoe – walking in the forest with a very big flat “shoe” strapped onto your shoe. With an average snowfall of 12 meters, it was hard to imagine that I was walking on a whopping 4 meters or so of packed snow under my shoes!!
This was kind of fun as it was my first time walking in such thick powdery snow without having a shoe-ful of snow and wet socks! Trotting through the Moiwa forest, up and down the hills and valleys, hip-sledding down steeper slopes, walking directly across snowy brooks and river (not on the bridge! 😉 ). At some places the snow was so thick, the entire length of my walking pole could get sunken into the snow!
Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! That’s the sound of the thick soft powder crunching under my feet as I crush them with every step, creating a trail of “Big-Foot” footprints all along the way in the forest! Hehe! 😀
Tea time with Katsu our guide who dug up and built this cozy little picnic spot for us in 10 minutes. Not bad for a snowy forest picnic experience, with snow table and snow chair and big legroom as well for our huge bulky snowshoes to rest on. 😉
Snowmobile – I didn’t expect this one to be so easy and fun! The thick powdery snow and clear weather was a bonus, as we went on and on exploring the vast, never ending white spread of bountiful snowfields and into the foresty areas around Weiss mountains, with the panoramic scenery of Mt Yotei (1,898m), Mt Annupuri (1,308m) and all the snowcapped mountains surrounding Niseko. I wish we could do this all day long…. 😛