There a very few visitors to Niseko that haven't seen Mt Yotei beaming down on Hirafu, an 1,898m volcanic peak is a pretty hard to miss! That said with the snow we get in Niseko it is not unusual for it to be in the clouds for weeks on end. Any avid skiers or boarders upon seeing Yotei for the first time can't help but wonder what it would be like to ski down it. As Mt Yotei is designated as national park heli or cat skiing is not possible so for most this as as far as it goes as the only way up is to to put one foot in front of the other and hike to the summit.
The easiest way access the peak is via the trail head on the Makkari side of the mountain. This allows you to drive a significant part of the ascent. The car park is just a 15minute drive from Hirafu to the south east.
As you pull into the car park the Summit is in plain sight but looks a long way off! A little daunting but the beginning of the hike is flat and provides a nice warm up for what is to come!
The start of the trail is flat and then begins to meander up through the trees. The snow was firm under foot here and the boot pack was well stepped. Mottled morning sunlight flickered through the trees and our group of 3 began to space out as each of us found our stride.
Up and out of the tree line the sun was beaming down and about now it was getting hot! Upon finding a nice spot to rest it was time for a drink, to lose a layer and take in the views, which were incredible.
Onwards and upwards from here and this is where things started to get a little tougher. We follow the ridge up which is wind blown and a bit icy making traction a bit of an issue for a short section. Here we met some other hikers, one of which was battling with the section on skins and touring ski. As a group of snowboarders our weapons of choice were snowshoes which are generally the preferred choice (rather than split boards) for Yotei due to this iciness and the steep pitch of the last 3rd of the climb.
The top 3rd and especially the top quarter of the climb is where things get really tough, you've already been hiking for at least 3 hours and the pitch only gets steeper as you climb higher. This is combined with soft sugary snow make each step a challenge and really drains your energy, it's here that you need to dig deep to push forward and dig deep to find that muesli bar in your pocket for one last charge for the summit.
And then you're there, the first of our party summited in 3hours and 45minutes, I snuck in at just under 4 hours. We'd started at 07:00am there were others who had also just summited that set out at 04:30am which shows the time it takes does differ from individual to individual. How ever long it takes the summit looks the same and is just as satifying to get to, especially on a blue sky day like the one we were lucky enough to experience.
The rewards of making the summit don't stop at incredible views and sense of accomplishment, you also get to enjoy the champagne powder the crater holds. The 1500m descent down to the car is a pretty good time too!
In the light of uncertainty surrounding the current global situation Holiday Niseko would like to offer our future guests an extended flexible cancellation policy.
Holiday Niseko is currently offering a money back guarantee on bookings made after March 25th 2020, with a refund given on cancellations made before July 1st, 2020 (*conditions apply).
* Cancellations must be made on or before July 1st, 2020.
** A ¥5000 administration fee will apply to any cancellations.
*** Applies to any applicable booking made after March 25th 2020.
**** Applies to all Holiday Niseko managed properties plus a large selection of options across the village
If you are interested in seeing some options for the 2020 /2021 winter please feel free to contact us anytime - [email protected]
After a short fuel stop in town I continued on around the south side of Lake Toya, stopping only to take photos of active volcanic vents steaming from the top of Showa-Shinzan and other views of Lake Toya. The Eastern side of Toya has one of my favorite campsites in Hokkaido. The Nakatoya campground is a wonderful place to relax by the lakeside with a very convenient onsen located on site, and well stocked camp store. The Eastern side of Lake Toya is noticeably quieter than other areas around the lake. Nakanoshima (the island in the middle of Lake Toya) blocks the view to the well lit resort area giving a boost to the view of the night sky from this side of the lake.
Japan, like much of the world, has a huge problem with light pollution. Getting good views of the night sky requires hours of driving to the most remote parts of the country. Even then, it may be insufficient to get the pristine, unobscured view of the night sky that many people in more rural areas of North America often take for granted. After living in Tokyo and Sapporo for most of my time here, being able to see the stars has been a breath of fresh air compared to living in the city.
Early March motorcycle riding is inevitably going to be quite cold. I have found my lower temperature limit to be between 2C and 4C depending on if the sun is out. If I wanted to start riding in lower temperatures I will definitely have to invest in a set of heated gear. In the five days since my first ride of 2020, there have been days where the roads are completely clear but the temperatures are simply too low to consider going out on the bike. It would certainly be nice to be able to take advantage of those days with crystal clear blue skies, even if it is a little cold.
March 10th, 2020 - Was the first day this year that was a balmy 9C and warm enough for all of the ice and snow on the roads to melt giving me my first opportunity to go for a cruise. My first thought was to take a short ride close to home to make sure everything on the bike was still in working order. A quick 40 minute ride around the base of Mt. Yotei was all I had in mind. As soon as I got halfway around to the other side, it became quickly evident that a short 40 minute ride would not be enough and that I would have to continue on while I had the good weather to take advantage of.
My first stop was at Makkari Shrine.
Despite having driven past it several times and camping close by on multiple occasions, I had never stopped here until now. Makkari Jinja seems to me to be a fairly typical example of a small town Shinto shrine complete with stone lion statues and no people. Like many countryside towns in Hokkaido, the landscape is covered in farmers fields with mountains never very far beyond.
From the entranceway to Makkari shrine, Mt. Konbu can be seen in the distance to the South-West with its very recognizable sharply pointed peak stabbing up at the horizon.
A short hours ride to the south of Makkari I stopped off to get my first view of Lake Toya from the National Park Silo Observation Deck. Unfortunately the store was closed this early in the year. In the summers helicopter sight-seeing rides take off from a small field right next to the rest area. After this quick picture stop, it was time to head down to the resort town area of Lake Toya. The town itself was noticeably empty likely due to the impact of COVID 19 on tourism these past few weeks. Most shops looked closed and I did not explore much. This area of Hokkaido is much more active in the Spring and Summer months when it is warm enough to go swimming, hiking, and jet skiing. Check out part 2 here
You’re here. It’s happening. Of course, it takes a while to get familiar with your surroundings and learn the lay of the new lands. Niseko is no different, with four resorts spread out on Mt. Niseko An’nupuri, the possibilities are as endless as the snow is deep. The hardest part is choosing a destination and spoiler—there’s no wrong answer. Once you decide on a place, all that is left is to strap on skis or a board and head up the hill.
There are a couple of things to expect when skiing in Japan on the first day.
Sights: snow, snow and more snow. It is DEEP and it sticks to anything. Everything from power lines to tree branches are covered. It snows more days than not for most of January and February. But when the weather eventually breaks and the sun pokes out for a few moments, it’s worth the wait. Light glistens off snowflakes as they flutter across the sky and the sun creates beautiful shadows between the trees. There’s no wonder why it is called the land of the rising sun.
Sounds: “Yeww”, “Yea” “Woohooo”, and other exclamations of pure stoke can be heard all around the resort. A muffled PA system playing music and alerting riders of various hazards and lift closures echoes through the resort from snow-covered microphones.
Feels: In January, the average temperature in Niseko is -2.2 degrees Celsius, that’s cold. Make sure extra layers, facemasks, and hand warmers are readily available as well as spare gloves and socks so that your hands and feet stay nice and dry throughout the day. Soft, fluffy, playful, and light. That’s the snow here in Niseko and there is no better feeling than ripping turns in a foot of fresh powder.
Smells: An aroma of udon and ramen fill the air on the lower parts mountain – coming from the restaurants. While higher on the mountain you’ll smell coffee from mid-mountain café’s and the occasional whiff of sulfur since Mt. Niseko An’nupuri is a dormant volcano and sits above an active onsen district.
Regardless of where you decide to ski or snowboard in Niseko, there is a plethora of snow, ramen, sushi and good times to be had.
February and March have been challenging months accross the globe and here in Niseko we have been experiencing one of the quietest March's in years. Here in Hirafu daily life has continued mostly as usual and we've been lucky enough to enjoy one of the best March's we've had snow wise for a couple of years. We've been getting consitent top ups of fresh snow through out the month plus plenty of the beautiful sunny days the spring time brings. We hope some of the images below may bring some sunshine to your day too.
Below a snapshot of Holiday Niseko's very own Ashley Nichols making the most of a recent day with Shimamaki Snow Cats.
It hasn't just been further a field locations like Shimamaki that have been enjoying some fantastic snow, check out these awesome turns off the Hirafu / Annupuri peak, big turns = big fun!
The great thing about Niskeo in March is that not only is there is a good chance you'll get to enjoy fanatstic turns like those above, you are also in with a very good chance of a bluebird day. Fresh snow and sunshine what more could you ask for? If groomed runs are more your thing there's been no shortage of on resort fun too!
Another March bonus is that if you have a vehicle (many of our properties come with one) the roads and weather are much safer and easier to drive meaning you can check out a little more of what Hokkaido has to offer. Below one of our staff, Colin Sheldon snapped this fantastic shot of lake Toya last week. Lake Toya is just a 40 minute drive from Niseko and makes for an easy and beautifully scenic day trip, a little less snow but plenty of sunshine. If you have any questions on Niseko in Marcj or any other time please feel free to contact us anytime ([email protected]).
If you are reading this you have probaly heard of our good friend Trevor Ponting's situation. Trev has just had brain surgery and is about to undergo intensive chemo and radiation therapy. This is going to be a huge challenge for him and his family physically, mentally and financially. We're behind Trev 100% and hope that if you are too we can make Trev's battle a little easier wherever we can.
So who is Trevor Ponting?
Trevor is a renowned Kiwi skate boarder, snowboarder, rock climber, dedicated husband to his wife Aiko san and loving father to son Toa and daughter Mia. Trev has been a mentor for many and is one of the hardest working blokes you'll ever come across. Trev loves a yarn and if he's not not out following one of his passions he'll be telling you about the last epic session. At 45 years old he's probably had more days on a snowboard than 10 of us could dream of having in a life time. He rides with time less style and you know is loving every turn.
For the last few years Trev has made Niseko his home moving here from Methven in New Zealand. Trev has been spending his summers landsacping for Niseko Landscaping and his winters working for Holiday Niseko heading our snow clearing crew. Trevor has embraced fatherhood and as you can tell by the smiles on the kids faces he is a fantastic father. His wife Aiko san is currently doing an incredible job taking care of both Trev and the kids.
Trevor has come out of surgery with a determination to beat this thing and we know he has the strength to do so. Trev is no stranger to recovery after many skateboaring and snowboarding injuries including a broken back. From here we hope you've gotten to know Trev a little better or perahps been reminded of the character who we know as our friend.
Kids ski free in March! Sound good? Sounds awesome! So what's the deal?
With every adult All Mountaiin Lift Pass purchased in advance through Holiday NIseko you will get 1 free equivalent kids pass (for kids 12 or under) and if that wasn't enough the same deal with rental equipment applies with Rhythm or Niseko Sports! Every adult renting a premium or standard package can hire a corresponding kids package free of charge (for kids under 13).
March is a great time to visit Niseko, the mountain, village and restaurants are much quieter, the weather more setlled, the sun often out and not only can we bring you the great kids deals above much of our accommodation is slashed by up to 65% off!
If you are thinking of a trip in March with the kids or even without there's never been a better time to book. If you are interested, curious, ready to book or would just like to know please feel free to contact us anytime ([email protected]).
Ever wondered who takes those incredible photos and videos of Niseko that make you want to drop everything and start planning your next trip here ? More often than not they are from groups of sponsored skiiers and snowboarders that spend days upon days in the back country, working hard to get the shot. Holiday Niseko recently hosted such a group from Atomic that managed to get some incredible photos and video during their time with us. We catch up with their main man Max Glatz and find out just how good their trip was.
Who are you all and what do you do?
Our crew consists of Alex Gernhauser, Jonel Fricke, Dennis Ranalter and Max Glatzl. Alex is a hobby photographer who is working as an electrical engineer, Jonel is a passionate snowboarder who works as an caregiver for young children besides snowboarding, Dennis is a professional skier and Max is a DJ beside snowboarding who also studies sports management.
Where does everybody live normally?
Alex lives in Chieming in Bavaria/Germany and Jonel, Dennis and Max live in Innsbruck/Austria.
What is the project you came to film in Japan?
The main project was to shoot for the Niseko Shooutout Festival and beside that Jonel is filming for his Full Part. Max and Dennis also film for their new movie called "Up to no Good".
When can we expect to see it?
The Niseko Shootout clip will be shown on March 14th in Niseko and the other two videos will be online this fall so stay tuned!
Where have you been riding while you've been here?
We have been mostly riding in the Hirafu area. One time we went to Otaru to see the ocean and built a little jump there aswell.
What does the crew most enjoy about coming to Japan besides the amzing snow?
Just everything. We love the poeple, vibe, food and of course the onsen!
Have you had any difficulties while travelling here?
No not at all it was all nice and smooth!
What do you guys usually do for breakfast?
We love to eat muesli, some nice eggs and of course a big cup of coffee. Most of the time we made breakfest ourselfes but we also went to Green Farm Cafe sometimes - highly recommended!
What is the best thing you've eaten since you've been here?
Thats a heavy one - we defenitely love the Devil Ramen at Moon Bar and the Garlic Cheese Nan at Taj Mahal.
Anything you never want to eat again?
We dont know the name of it but some sushi we ate with a thing on it that looks like a fish tongue haha.
Strangest thing you saw on your travels?
Once we parked at Goshiki Onsen to check the snow situation and make plans for the day. The road to Kutchan ends there due to the snow what means that blocks the road. All of a sudden a guy drove by us with like 50mph and totally crashed into the snow. Luckily he didnt get hurt and we all helped him to get his car back on the road.
How does the riding compare to back home?
Back home we got higher mountains and also steeper terrain. Also the snow is way more heavy compared to Japan. We have never felt powder like this before - you do a spray and after that you cant see SH*T ! Best feeling ever!
What would you like to see in japan that you haven't already?
We would love to go catboarding and sleding with a skidoo in real deep pow - that would be amazing!
What are the challenges with filming in Japan?
It's snowing most of the time so its really hard to keep your lense clean all the time. Besides that you do a lot of hiking so its pretty exhausting from time to time. But all in all its really nice to shoot in Japan - gotta love the scenery and vibe out there!
Holiday Niseko will look forward to seeing the crew next year and don't forget to keep your eyes peeled for the Jonel Fricks's entry in the Niseko Shoot Out coming up March 14th and taking place at Hanazono edge from 17:30.
The conditions here in Niseko are almost back to normal with some big falls this month on top of a base that had seen consistent top ups over the last few weeks, big days and big smiles all around. We are now sitting on a solid 5 meter base. Don't get me wrong the tide is out a bit it but there is a surprising amount of snow on the mountain, most of the vegetation is covered and the skiing and riding have been great!
You may have heard some average reports about this winter but table belows shows just how this winter stacks against the last few seasons past. Significantly less than the last couple of years but not bad when compared to 16 /17.
The piste of course has been great for a few weeks now and for those willing to hike a little further than usual the rewards have been fantastic.
It has taken longer than usual for Ski Patrol to open up the peak gates but the good news is all the gates are now open and new lines continue to open up with every new snow fall.
There is now more snow in the forecast with some solid storms looking to roll in from Feb 3rd and beyond, yeoow!