On Monday morning I waved goodbye to Hostel Emina and a walk, two trains, a deserted train station and a taxi later, I was in Hirafu township, the main town for the Niseko ski region, at the base of Hirafu and Hanazono fields.
Half an hour and a few thousand yen later, I was strapping ski boots to my feet and adjusting my silly red bobble hat.
Looking up the mountain at the heavily falling snow and the low cloud, I was dubious about buying a lift pass.
“Whaddya reckon? Is it worth going up today?”
I asked this question several times during my stay in Niseko and I got the same response every time from whoever I asked.
“It’s always worth going up.”
And without fail, it was always worth going up.
For the most part, the visibility was very limited, even forcing me off the mountain for an hour one day because I could barely see my ski tips in front of me.
However, once I got over not being able to see at all, I just relaxed into enjoying the absolutely stunning powder.
It was like skiing on happy clouds which made wonderful “fshoooh” noises when I stopped or turned sharply.
I managed three days of skiing and there were some amazing moments when the clouds lifted and the snow stopped and I could just see trees and snow and mountains for miles.
Aside from the amazing powder, the other benefit Hirafu (the field) had was that it was super quiet, despite the town being busy busy. I timed it well, I suppose, by skiing during the week, but even for weekdays it was quiet.
When I first arrived, the guy at the lodge warned me that it was a busy day, but it was still “worth going up”. To me, a busy ski field means Whakapapa on a Saturday, but I was delighted to find that I waited for chairs a total of about seven minutes over three days.
My first two nights were very quiet, just going into the nearby town Kutchan to walk around in the evenings, and going to sleep early so as to be perky for skiing, but on my last night I went for a drink with some guys from my hostel and I felt like I was in a joke; An Aussie, a Canadian and a Kiwi go into an Irish pub and the barman says “Konbanwa.”
I had a great time at Niseko, but despite the amazing powder, empty runs and beautiful views, my enduring memory involves two Australians.
Sitting between two boarders on a quad up the mountain, I heard one say to the other.
“Bro,” *points to metal safety bar* “Do ya reckon my tongue would stick to this if I licked it?”
“Yeah, bro. Try it.”
*First Australian licks metal bar, gets tongue stuck, rips it off bar and complains about the pain for the rest of the ride*