Niseko, Japan, Jan. 28-29, 2011

Tony Crocker

Staff member
Friday I was back at Niseko. Trail map reference: It was a generally gray day with no new snow until it started dumping about 2PM. It was -11C by that big thermometer at Hirafu mid-mountain. I skied the late morning on Grand Hirafu marked runs, managed to fall on a groomer and rip out a pole strap. Around 1PM I went out the highest Hanazono gate, traversed a long ways to get about 2K of still only partially tracked powder. But that was the only powder around after 4 days with no new snow. I did not go to the Annupuri side at all as I figured the previous days' sun would not have been kind to those south slopes. I did note that the ski area wraps around the mountain more than the trail map indicates. Grand Hirafu faces east and Hanazono northeast. So no surprise the sidecountry powder preserves very well on the Hanazono side. However the return runouts to the lifts are more tedious over there than at Annapuri. Two overview pics of the Hanazono sidecountry. The first is aimed toward the walk-up road.

And the second is centered on a canyon, with a fairly steep east face (hidden from view) dropping into it. The long Jackson traverse begins just left of center in that canyon, goes around the back of the hill with the walk-up road.

18,800 vertical Friday. I was back at the lodge by 4PM and to my dismay it stopped snowing there about 5PM. I reviewed the data from and noted that after 6 days I was experiencing a 5th percentile week of Niseko snowfall, just a modest 4 inches so far (weekly January average is 37 inches).

Nonetheless I headed out early Saturday with several Aussies from the lodge. Even if it snowed only the 3 hours Friday the sidecountry areas would be greatly improved. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had snowed all night on the mountain, 15 inches of light fluff. \:D/ \:D/ \:D/ We took 2 runs within the Niseko Village area where we started, and the Aussies were ecstatic at the deepest powder they had ever skied. In my case it was reminiscent of 5 years ago today in Jackson Hole, which Patrick remembers well. The morning had intermittent snow (I wore glasses instead of goggles for 2 runs), but then closed in and snowed steadily from about 11:30AM onwards. View from the Wonderland chair during a morning sunny break.

So few pictures due to the weather and I didn't want to hold up the Aussies who were probably half my age. Patrick here in the trees below the G7 gate.

Nonetheless they were pleased to have me around as I showed them to the Annupuri G1 gate, which they had not skied before. Sophie sent a picture of me and some of the group in those trees.

Snow on our clothing is from chest and face shots, not from falling!

The Aussies were on their second Niseko day, and since they will be here until Feb. 4 they probably have a lot more powder coming. The highest gates above treeline were closed for wind and visibility. Annupuri also has a high speed quad of ~1,000 vertical above its base, and we ran several laps on that, where we could ski about half its vertical in a deep fall line in the trees.

At noon we stopped to pig out on an extensive 1,800 yen buffet at a hotel at the Annupuri base. After lunch one more deep run out the G1 gate and then the Aussies skied back to Niseko Village by 3PM. I crossed to the Hirafu area. Even though it has most of the lodging and skier traffic, the trees were still mostly powder. Finally, I cut under the Hanazono rope about 3:15 and had a completely untracked deep run above the trees, eventually ending up under the Hanazono 3 lift. It's fortunate I decided to head home then because in the bad visibility I missed the traverse above the Village gondola and ended up back at the Hirafu thermometer. But it was only 3:45 so the lifts to try that again were still open. It does seem to snow intensely in the late afternoon. The last run down to the village it was just puking and even intermediate trails were mostly powder by then.

27,400 vertical , 15K of very high quality powder, basically on a par with the Jackson day 5 years ago. No question Jackson's fall lines are better and more continuous, but I'd give Niseko the edge in powder quality.