Winter Wonderland Niseko

Snow sports fashion is mind-blowingly awesome; the variety of designs and styles out there are certain to awaken your inner shopaholic. A trip to a few snow sports shops to browse last year very quickly turned into an uncontrollable shopping frenzy. After three hours…jacket, check. Pants, check. Inner wear, check. Goggles, beanies, socks, all check. All that remains now is just some snow. Not so easy if you live in the tropics or suck at predicting weather!

With advice from several powder hounds in the office and some feverish researching, it was a toss between Hakuba, Nozawa Onsen (both on Honshu, Japan’s largest island) and Niseko (on Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island).

While Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen both boast great slopes and an authentic Japanese ski resort and village experience, we snow sports virgins chose Niseko because of its powder snow, plentiful F&B establishments, English speaking community and seafood. Yes seafood. We have a thing for seafood and seafood from Hokkaido is reputed to be the best in Japan.

Niseko’s well-known powder snow attracts many international skiers, snowboarders and holiday-makers every year. Of the six different ski areas in Niseko, Hirafu is the largest and our choice for a base.

Falling in love with Niseko was all too easy.

Everything in Japan is refined, even the snow. Powdery soft snow descends almost every day. Such generous high quality snowfall produces a snow cover that looks and feels like a plush carpet of coffee creamer. Snowsure all season, this winter wonderland is every snow bunny’s dream come true.

Niseko is equipped with an efficient lift system of gondolas and chairlifts and a network of lodging options to suit every budget, ensuring convenient access to the slopes. The terrain at Niseko is varied with long steep runs guaranteed to keep the adrenaline of experts pumping and beautifully groomed and gentle slopes at the base of the mountain for newbies like us. The powder snow is extremely fall-friendly for snow sports students and beginners, something we can speak for from experience!

Niseko is also unique for its night skiing. Almost the entire mountain is lit at night, taking on a surreal and enchanting look and feel. As senses heighten with nightfall, the tranquility and natural beauty of the environs seem to ring louder and clearer. Do make sure to wear a little more as the temperature dips significantly when the sun goes down. Lifts are open until 9pm every night of the week in Niseko.

Hirafu village where we were based is also where you can find most accommodations, restaurants, bars and shops.

We stayed at J-Sekka Suites, right smack in the centre of the village and a stone’s throw away from the village’s main convenience store Seico Mart and the Ace Family Run. Located in the basement of the building are ski and snowboard lockers and even a cheery studio where yoga classes are conducted daily in English.

We stayed in the studio and the one-bedroom apartments. The rooms are minimalist in design and well appointed with spacious glass-walled bathrooms for the showy. The one-bedder has a very generous living and dining area with kitchen. The studio is cosy but self-sufficient with a kitchenette and laundry amenities.

On the ground floor, be pampered with gourmet produce and wholesome breakfast made from the freshest local ingredients at J-Sekka Deli & Cafe. It’s the perfect place to kick off your ski boots and chill out over coffee and cakes. Their daily muffins are possibly the best we have had, ever.

Not far from our apartment is the popular Abucha which is a bakery by day and a restaurant-bar by night. Stop by this laid-back cafe to load up on savoury and sweet breads and pastries ahead of the day’s activities.

Have we mentioned we have a thing for seafood? One good deed you can do for yourself when you arrive at Niseko is to make a reservation at Ezo Seafoods. Immediately. This unassuming and charming seafood restaurant run by Keiko and James Gallagher was the highlight of our culinary adventure in Niseko. The restaurant fills up very quickly and without a reservation, you are really taking a losing punt.

We started with oysters shucked and served simply with lemon, which were followed quickly by seasonal hairy crabs steamed and served cold with a ponzu dip. They were phenomenal.

Sea urchin (“uni”) are a must-do delicacy in Japan and they don’t come any fresher than the ones in Hokkaido. Our uni rolled with rice in seaweed had a combined warm-cold, creamy-chewy texture that made every mouthful sheer estasy. Some say chocolate is better than…, we’d say uuuniiii…

Our scallop, trout and tuna sashimi gorgeously presented were impeccably fresh and delicious. The thick and crunchy scallop in particular deserved a standing ovation.

We ended our meal with a request for ochazuke – a very comforting and satisfying bowl of rice in tea soup.

If you fancy a tipple, look no further than Gyu + Bar (aka “The Fridge”) in Lower Hirafu. Keep your eyes peeled for a small colourful vintage fridge door tucked conspicuously within large mounds of snow.

Duck in and you will find yourself transported into a quaint local drinking hole much like a good friend’s lounge room. Choice seats are by the bar where a respectable collection of rare whisky, sake and shochu is in full view.

Skiers, riders or not, Niseko is an all-round entertainment venue for all. Can’t wait for next season!

Written by Jack.D
Photographed by Jack.D and Leni.B
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52 Comments

Filed under Culture, Hotels, Japan, Lifestyle, Restaurants, Travel

52 responses to “Winter Wonderland Niseko

  1. That bar looks awesome! And geese the crab and oysters look amazing.

  2. It looks like you had an absolute BLAST skiing the slopes in Japan! Beautiful photos! And the fridge door amidst the snow intrigues me, for some reason…haha.

    Also, “Everything in Japan is refined, even the snow” is such a beautiful line! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! πŸ™‚

  3. These are great shots, but I’m trying to FORGET WINTER!!!
    Still, very cool work overall!

  4. Hey. I read your blog and now I am 100% sure that I have to visit Japan! + your pictures are just amazing πŸ™‚

  5. What a cool experience – great pics – thanks for sharing! Loving the rainbow colored snow pants too! Congrats on being FP!

  6. Arah

    Ooh. Now I have a new place for the bucket list. Thanks! Great post.

  7. Looks like such an amazing trip!! Great photos and descriptions!

  8. Nice write up Jack. I worked at J-Sekka last winter, miss Niseko a lot!! That shot of the Gondola took me right back… πŸ™‚

  9. Sprocket Monkey

    Loved this post! I have now put Niseko on my list of places to snowboard. I have a thing for seafood too. uuuniiii You made me feel as if I were there. Thanks.

  10. gingerbreadcafe

    Niseko looks amazing, I love snowboarding and it is now even more of a place I am dreaming of visiting.

  11. Awesome on So many levels

  12. The food looked great! πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing.

  13. You are right mate…the snow is incredible! I have been in Niseko 2 years ago and I had a great snowboarding time! We stayed in Koikawa onsen, a old traditional riokan, and we enjoyed the hot-spring after snowboarding.
    Now we are planning our second time in april because the Niseko snow is like a fever for us.
    Tks for the detail about Guy+Bar

  14. Looks like a great place. I used to ski all the time, what happened….

  15. Sold! I must snowboard and eat sushi in Japan.

  16. How often I forget that Japan is so far north of the Tropics–beautiful snow!

  17. Raaj Trambadia

    It’s been ages since I’ve touched snow …and even had that delicious food!

    Oh god! I really need a break from my busy life! πŸ˜€

    Anyways, why am I talking to myself? πŸ˜› Gr8 pics dear !! Keep clicking πŸ˜€

    Please spare some time to check out my latest post – http://raajclicks.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/capturing-the-text/

  18. Leah

    What beautiful pictures! I’ve never been to Hokkaido, but I hope to go someday soon.

    I did laugh a little at “Everything in Japan is refined, even the snow. Powdery soft snow descends almost every day.” Definitely true in Kanazawa and in the mountains, but the northern sea is the pits! I used to live on the sea in Ishikawa prefecture and the wet clumps that fell out of the sky were like nothing I had seen back home in the US. Glad your snow was more dignified. πŸ˜‰

  19. So cool. Never been to Asia, but Japan has been on my list for awhile as a “must go to” place. I love skiing but so far my skiing has been limited to the American northeast and Quebec. This place looks awesome!

  20. Wow what a wonderful place and the sea urchin! how I miss that! πŸ˜€

  21. WONDERFUL LOVED THE STORY BECAUSE I ONCE WENT TO THE SNOW AND I HAD SO MUCH FUN

  22. It truly appears that you enjoyed yourself in Japan. It looks like an aweseom place to visit. Keep on living.

    ptmacias.blogspot.com

  23. H.C.

    Thank you for sharing this whole experience! I never would have thought of skiing in Japan (shows how much I know πŸ™‚ Lovely photos!

  24. Reblogged this on Michelaburaseska's Blog and commented:
    Nice tip!

  25. This is one of my father’s favorite places for skiing. Recently he became a ski-instructor :o) just before 70. Thank you for reminding me of my homeland.

  26. Amazing!! I want to go to Japan even more now…hopefully this year! Great work and congrats on Freshly Pressed πŸ™‚

  27. wow, such a beautiful winter world!!! we got spring with us here now:)

  28. Some of those photos are great! I especially like the first one.

  29. Very nice, and I’m really envious! I like the fridge door in the snow, really cool!

  30. super envious.. the freshest seafood.. i’ve already tasted sea urchin and yes, its good. love your photos.

  31. Aidyearts

    awesome !

  32. Reblogged this on A woman of faith and commented:
    wow

  33. Looks great. Like to go there too. I’ve just returned home from nearly three months (less a couple of weeks) in the winter/spring wonderland of the French alps.Fancy a look? http://hotchocolateataltitude.wordpress.com

  34. Omigosh! We made Freshly Pressed! Thank you for all your kind words, everyone. You made our day!!

    Japan is truly an amazing place. Keep savouring life!

  35. haha that’s funny, I took a photo outside the Bar with the little door as well!! Love Niseko….great photos!!

  36. i love these photos!!!i think i would have to sleep at the sushi bar, it looks absolutely divine!!!you must have had an amazing experience. great blog!

  37. Cool! I don’t know how I would have reacted to a random fridge in a mountain if I saw it myself.. =P

  38. wow! nice blog. thanks for the groovy views and fresh insights shared.

    here’s a musical view of culture from New Zealand:
    http://horiwood.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/saxophone-ukelele-of-new-zealand-ardijahs-watchin-u/

    Again thanks for sharing your blog.

  39. That looks sooooo goood. I love Japanese food…did you try that slow cooked pork which they cook for twelve hours….it melts in your mouth…..:)

  40. the perfect and unique contents …….thanks for share

  41. Pingback: J-SEKKA | Specials for Winter!

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