Snow Report: The land of the rising sun is also the place to go for powdery snow
Sunday 07 March 2010
Alongside the established ski resorts in the brochures, new locations are tested each season. In the past few decades we've seen Turkey, Alaska, India, Poland, Germany, and even South Korea appear on the novelty list. Most recently, Japan, and particularly the resort of Niseko (niseko.ne.jp), is the long-haul, unusual destination of choice.
But why take a 12-hour flight to Tokyo, then another short hop up to the north island of Hokkaido? Because of the snow. Dry air crossing the Siberian plains hits the Sea of Japan, sucks up moisture and then dumps it in vast volumes of light fluffy powder when it hits the mountains. This is one of the snowiest places on earth. If you're a hardcore powder skier or boarder, Niseko's amazing snow means it must be on the list of "places to ski before you die".
Plus Japan is now cheaper to ski in than much of Europe or North America – once you get there – and the waning popularity of snow sports for its domestic market means the slopes are less crowded, too.
About five years ago, Australians saw the opportunities offered by Japan's snowy mountains. Niseko now offers an eclectic mix of Aussie surf culture and the traditional Japanese high standards of service (think US), efficiency (think Switzerland), and politeness (unique to Japan). It's a winning combination leading to comparisons to Whistler as it was 10 or 20 years ago.
The slopes are extensive enough to keep everyone entertained for a fortnight and the novelty of a winter-sports holiday in a totally different cultural context is a strong draw.
Facilities for families are good, too, with the new Chalets at Country Resort (nisekocountryresort.com) providing high-spec homes to rent. It's also surprisingly easy to make the trip independently. Fly with Japan Airlines (0845 7747700; jal.com) on its daily service from London Heathrow to Tokyo and on to Sapporo. Or arrange an all-inclusive package through Crystal (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk), Inghams (0208 780 6680; inghams.co.uk), and Ski Independence (0131-243 8097; ski-i.co.uk).
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