The best riding in Japan’s most iconic resort means mellow trees, tasty lift lines to charge and miles of easy-access, as-demanding-as-you-like, sidecountry powder
Plenty of people come all the way to Niseko and save a few quid by not getting a full pass. Madness. It’s not a huge hill at the best of times, and busier than most in Japan, thanks to its stellar powder rep (with only Washington’s Mount Baker and Alyeska resort in Alaska averaging more snow over the last decade). So, why you’d want to make do with just two of the mountain’s four areas is baffling. But plenty of people do just that. And while they’re desperately searching for fresh in Hirafu (where the main accommodation/aprés is) and smaller, newer, Hanazono to the north east, the smart traffic moves in the opposite direction to Niseko Village and Annupuri.
Local charger Yasu sinking his @blackcrows_skis deep into some Japanese pow. #niseko #japow #hokkaido #japan #nisekophotography #npg #powder #powdertothepeople #instaski #ski #skiing #canon #blackcrows
This last spot is just a 10-minute traverse from the main mountain bun fight, yet you never feel like you’re having to alter your lines too much or sharpen your elbows European-style. In February I was here three days after the last significant storm, still finding 40-foot long stash-ribbons.
So what are you waiting for? Help yourself by hopping on the four-man Annupuri gondola for the eight-minute ride up Mt Niseko, before traversing skier’s right. Once you hit the ski boundary, take a quick hike up the rope and access Gate 1.
Niseko has nine of these marked but unpatrolled sidecountry areas; perfect if you know your safety and ride to a good level. To start with, hug the ridge line, keeping high and tight within the ski area.
The trees are nicely set, the powder usually deep and it’s the perfect cruise when the sun reflects off the sea and nearby Moiwa (another small, but not connected ski hill across the valley). Legs warm, jag back into the ski area proper via Merchen, an unpisted rolling black, sucking up the bumps before picking up the pace as you charge the green past the few resort buildings and back onto the gondola.
There’s never much of a queue, and before long you’ll be shouting “arigato!” to the lifties and traversing Panorama piste once more. This time, once you hit the resort boundary, lose a little height and exit Gate 8. You probably crossed right by this last time without knowing, so this time crank your boots and take the fall-line instead. It’s steep, but not silly, so perfect in deep pow. For more of a challenge cut right or left for a couple of seconds into the silver birches. Once down this initial face the gully at the bottom is perfect to ride halfpipe style before morphing into a skier-cross at the bottom, all challenging rollers and berms.
Next up, it’s Gate 7; not part of the official ski area, but allowed (not always the case in Japan) and just a 30-second ski from the top of the gondola. Keep the Jumbo Pair Lift 3 in sight to your left and you can’t miss it. Don’t stop as you enter, let the speed build and funnel right. Break through the few trees and you’re in a natural pipe under Jumbo Pair Lift 2. Even if you don’t like much air it’s perfect for natural drops and hits, with the bonus that being under the lift line makes you raise your game. People are watching so turn it up! I’ve never had more fun, anywhere, in 20 years on snow than nailing this line like a hooligan. And who cares if 10ft-helis go wrong, or you get bucked pow-charging? There’s usually so much snow you just Alaskan-style tumble out of it.
Finally, save the best for last by hitting the same gate but screwing skier’s left, hugging the boundary rope (with the zone an island in the middle of the official ski area). Keep your speed in the top trees, you’ll need it for the big floaty meadows that follow, before re-entering steep, tight glades.
Get an early lock on the gondola building below, speed check to avoid branches, then cheekily cut the first powder line of the day through the staff car park, popping out at the lift barriers once more. Awesome!