Lost and Found:
For me, Niseko is Neverland. It’s a place where age doesn’t define you and merit is granted for how hard and fast you like to play. Everyone is chasing their own line, their own adventure. The further you venture the more you are rewarded. It snows hard, it challenges, and every morning it has stamped a polaroid into my mind, a snapshot of untracked snow. In the split second between trees I’d process it, plan four turns and charge – never forgetting what it looked like before I thrashed it into the air behind me.
Every time I make the trip I thumb through a carbon copy of emotions. In the weeks prior I start to check the forecast, anxious; excited – it’s always snowing. The night before I go – beyond excited; no sleep. I arrive and Sapporo airport is a shrine of Burton or Dakine bags. The bus from Sapporo to Niseko (NB: sit on the same side as the driver) makes me physically sick with anticipation. It’s a slow uncapping of a heavily shaken bottle of lemonade. There is always so much snow on the ground, and although the drive is beautiful, its 2.5 hours of torture. It reminds me of travelling to the Australian snow-fields by bus as a high school student, no one sleeps, ipods are in, cards are flicked – but no one sleeps!
And then it pops, you drive the front entrance of Hirafu village and sugar is pouring from the sky. Homeowners are shoveling meters of snow from their rooftops. A skier bombs the main street in a hurry to jam some food in before an afternoon session.
Taking the first gondola trip has your face pinned to the glass, where can I hit, what’s left for the afternoon? You spit out, strap in, jump a gate to the backcountry first run and you plow into pockets of waist deep untracked snow at 2pm on a wintery January afternoon. You can’t see much because it’s snowing so hard, but you make three turns and hit a gap in the trees, turning around to watch the snow you’ve hacked float around in the breeze, waving you on as you do it all again, and again, and again.
It’s peaceful, it’s freedom.
The snow is the main reason I find myself retracing back to Japan so often, but the world around the snow is intricate and unique. I barely scratch the cultural surface every time I go, but if I have any advice it’s talk to the locals. Eat where they eat, and ride where they ride. I’ve never met a more giving and considerate race, and they will do everything and anything to help you if you ask.
If I learned anything else this trip it’s; 1) Take yen to Niseko – issues with cards and currency conversion (nowhere takes Mastercard or converts Canadian dollars.) 2) If you’re serious about dodging the crowds and riding untracked pow, stay at Annupuri – If you want to party as well, Hirafu is your bag. (I stayed at Bistare Kana and it was outstanding) 3) It’s going to snow hard – so take the appropriate gear, or hire longer boards/skis over there.