In Niseko Japan, waking to 30cm of fresh snow is not an infrequent event. While we do acclimatize to Niseko’s relentless snowfall, it is always a welcome sight to open the blinds and find the powder gods have delivered once again.
With incessant snowfall being accompanied by inevitable clouds and grey skies, a sunny day in Niseko can be a rarity during the best powder months. Given the exceptional snow conditions that culminate throughout the peak of winter, most don’t mind foregoing some vitamin D when they can revel in a bottomless supply of powder all season. When, however, the stars align in Niseko and a powder day coincides with blue skies and sunshine, the result is extraordinary. True bluebird days are few and far between so when they do occur it is not a time for delay.
Rules on a powder day:
1) Set a departure time and stick to it
There is zero tolerance for alarm snoozing on bluebird days, no matter how tired or hungover you or your friends may be. There is an unwritten law that you can cut loose any friend on a powder day without any backlash and this rule is true tenfold when it’s a sunny powder day. So set a departure time and stick to it even if it means testing some relationships.
2) Be there for the first chair
To fully capitalize, you will want to be at the lifts for the first spin of chairs, allowing the full scope of the mountain and an exclusive pick of lines. While the race is on from both the Gondola and Ace Quad chair from 08:30am, if you can get to the top of the King Hooded Quad in good time you will enjoy a plethora of options for your first run of the day. Untarnished lines and absolute freedom are usually possible for 3 or 4 runs, yet it is quite amazing how quickly the main Hirafu slopes can become tracked out, so choose your runs carefully.
Guide for a powder day:
Often a sunny powder day is a result of a multi-day snowstorm, where wind or unkind weather has caused closure to the top chairlifts and side country gates. If this is the case, there can be huge quantities of snow accumulating for days on end, just waiting patiently to be shown a good time. So take yourself to King Lift #4, otherwise known as the ‘pizza box’, located at the top of the Grand Hirafu slopes. Once at the top, skis and snowboards are off the feet and you will need to join the other powder pilgrims who are each in pursuit of the perfect line. At the peak of the Niseko-Annupuri range at 1,308 meters, take a breather and enjoy sensational views of Mt Yotei and the Niseko Valley. From the summit, you can drop in almost anywhere and enjoy a long, unencumbered run to the bottom of Hanazono, or the Annupuri back bowls.
If it is your first time summiting and you are not entirely sure where to drop in, then follow the northern ridge 50 to 100m and drop into the east face, heading towards Mt Yotei. Long, wide, and usually void of any skiers or snowboarders, this is one of the best runs any day of the week, but especially on a bluebird day. There is a small hike out from the bottom but it is definitely worth it for 10 minutes of perfect turns and endless face shots. The cat track will lead you back to the main piste in Hanazono, where you can enjoy some fun and frivolity in Hanazono’s Blueberry Fields. Once you reach the bottom of Hanazono, you’ll probably need to remove a layer and stop for a quick caffeine hit and Hano1 provides the perfect spot to sit in the sun, enjoy a toastie and sip on a strong coffee.
From Hanazono, begin your journey across to Annupuri with a stop in Hirafu along the way for some powdery tree runs. Rob Roy and Miharashi often remain remarkably untouched in places, especially when the summit has been heavily occupied, so a few open turn under the sun and amongst the snow-capped trees is a wonderful way to end a memorable morning.
It can feel like a long commute to Annupurri, especially if you have come from Hanazono but the rewards are well worth the journey. Annupuri being slightly off the beaten trail can often reveal some undiscovered stashes of powder, even into the late morning. Out gates 1 and 2 you will discover the back bowls which provide wide open fields and a fun natural half pipe, perfect for the more playful of snowboarders.
Lunch at ECLAT
By lunchtime, on a bluebird day, it often feels like you have already done a day’s worth of riding. So take a well-deserved rest and enjoy a big lunch and a cold drink at the base of the Annupuri Resort. For the best range of western and Japanese food, the buffet lunch available at ECLAT is a perfect choice. With a bottomless supply of food, desserts, and coffee you will be re-energized and ready for a few more hours on the hill.
If you’ve made it this far and have hit Hanazono, Hirafu, and Annupuri it would be impolite not to make a quick turn-off and enjoy a run down to the Niseko Village. With the off-piste most likely tracked out by now, spend a few laps on the groomers whilst soaking up the upbeat atmosphere on the slopes and Mt Yotei’s beauty. Just make sure you are back on the top lift before the closure at 4:30pm- ski back to Hirafu Village is always better than a bus trip.
A perfect day in Niseko must be capped with an equally enjoyable evening. So enjoy a soak in one of the local onsens, a delicious Japanese meal, and reminisce on the better turns of the day, with a couple of beers.
A bluebird day in Niseko is a special experience that not every person gets to enjoy. The infrequency of these days makes them even more memorable, so make sure you make the most of the sunshine and snow when they do decide to co-occur.
To book your next holiday to Niseko, talk to the team at Japan Ski Experience for advice on Niseko accommodation, transfers, lessons, lift passes, and rental equipment.