Skiing with the kids – Easter in Niseko, Japan

One of my favourite things about living in Japan was access to awesome snow.  Whilst there are many resorts on the main island of Honshu including Hakuba and Nagano, for the best powder of your life head north to the island of Hokkaido.

Here’s Tammy’s Travel Review – Hirafu, Niseko, Japan Easter 2013

Maggie with icecream

A word of warning at the outset: if you have to travel on an emergency passport, expect to have additional travel time, and plenty of it.  My three-year-old, Maggie, and I travelled alone and we had at least an hour either side simply because I didn’t have a full passport or an original visa stamp.

We flew Hong Kong to Sapporo by Cathay Pacific, booked through Flightcentre.  An easy four-hour-something-flight on one of the newer planes.  Unfortunately our flight was delayed on the tarmac by more than an hour, and as electrics aren’t allowed, this was probably the most difficult part of the journey.  A bag full of stickers and colouring pads helped.

The transport time from Sapporo to Niseko is around two-and-a-half hours by bus.  We booked transport on arrival to reduce waiting time and to ensure we were travelling in comfort after a long journey from Hong Kong.  The private car turned out to be an expensive mini-bus and a much less comfortable option than the scheduled public bus.  I recommend taking the public transfer; it’s cheaper and more relaxing.

Maggie in ski boots

We stayed at Country Resorts Chalets on the picturesque outskirts of Hirafu village.  We had a spacious well-equipped, two-bedroom, two-bathroom chalet that was more than adequate for our family’s requirements.  The French, Australian and Japanese staff is friendly, helpful and accommodating.  They offer a baby-sitting service and in-chalet massage too.  We booked Country Resorts Chalets through Powderhounds.

The resort is about a 10 minute drive out of Hirafu centre which means you either have to make use of the resort’s mini-bus shuttle service (on the hour from the resort and on the half hour returning to the resort from the centre) or use the expensive taxi service.  We found this too restricting.  We don’t really like to clock-watch when we go away. Despite the fact we really liked the resort if we return to Hirafu we would stay in accommodation in the village.

Niseko ski resort has four major zones: Hirafu, Niseko Village, Hanazono and An’nupuri.  As both Maggie and I were complete beginners we stayed at either the Ace Family Lift at Alpen Ridge in Hirafu or Hanazono.  Some of the zones offer night skiing and a ski park opens towards the end of the season for experienced skiers and boarders who want try out freestyle jumps and leaps…

Maggie in Toboggan

On one day we took private lessons through Niseko Base Snowsports at the Family Lift.  This was a great option for me and, although it’s expensive, I would highly recommend private lessons for beginners or if you haven’t skied for some time.  As we were only tehre for a very short time (5 days including travel) taking lessons allowed me to gain confidence and to improve quickly.  Maggie grew bored in the private lesson but fared much better in the group children’s lessons that she took on day two (NBS) and three (Niseko International Snowsports School at Hanazono).  Both schools offer group, private and children’s lessons.

Maggie Ski School

We hired boots, skis and poles from Rythmn Snowspnorts in Hirafu.  There are many options to hire and purchase equipment for both children and adults so it’s wise to shop around.

Tammy Skiing

We were concerned the level of snow wouldn’t be sufficient as we were travelling close to the end of the season.  We needn’t have worried as it snowed over 15cms for most nights we were there.  In fact the ski instructor told me it is a great time to go.  There’s not as much of Niseko’s famous pure-white powder but it’s much quieter on the slopes, not as cold and with fewer snow blizzards and a lower wind-chill factor.  The seasons runs until end of April each year.

Maggie Snowboarding

One of the best experiences I had was sharing a traditional Japanese Onsen at the Hilton with my little girl.  I had really wanted to go to an Onsen and when Maggie said she wanted to come too I had thought that meant I wouldn’t be able to relax and have only a short time in there.  To my surprise Maggie loved it and I couldn’t get her out.  We ended up staying in there for over an hour and it was the most amazing experience to share with her.

Tammy and Maggie

There are many, many restaurants to choose from in Hirafu and in the wider Niseko area.  As we went more towards the end of the season there were only a few of them remaining open, the stand-out was Ezo Seafood which serves fantastically fresh seafood and oysters.

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