Philippa's 10 reasons to go to Niseko, Japan on a winter gap year
One of the first things people asked me when I said I was doing a season in Japan was ‘You can ski in Japan?’ And I can now say yes, you really can, not only can you ski you also get to ski some of the best powder and off-piste in the world. I have never seen so much snow in my entire life, from November to February it just didn't seem to stop. One of the best powder days was when touring, I did an AST course and the second day we went touring, the snow was amazing, this was only a month in and I was just amazed something I will never forget or even beat.
2. Mt. Yotei.
Thankfully this is an extinct volcano which sits directly opposite Grand Hirafu but can be seen from any resort in the Niseko United area. I remember looking at the Volcano online before coming out thinking it looked pretty cool. But the photos do not do it justice, the view is one thing that is so unique and every day it is just so nice to look out, especially on the rare bluebird days. The Volcano is skiable, sadly I missed the opportunity to do this but I had some housemates that did and I can admit I am jealous and regret this opportunity so if you come and feel confident enough to walk up it and ski it then I highly recommend that you should!
Dotted around Niseko there are gates, these allow you to access controlled off-piste areas. Before going to Japan I hadn't done much off-piste skiing as I wasn't confident to, however, the gates provide you with a bit of comfort. I would recommend exploring these with a local or someone who knows the area before venturing out on your own. On a Powder day, the gates are the place to go, my personal favourite is ‘Waterfall’. There you can ski some unreal powder up to your waist and then ski past the waterfall into an area covered by silver birches.
4. Night Skiing.
Obviously, the daytime skiing is amazing, especially mornings on powder days however there is also something quite special about skiing at night. There is not a certain day night skiing is open, it is just every night. Sometimes whilst teaching you don't get in much free skiing so this allows you to ski all day. When the sun starts to go down the lights come on and you can ski the majority of the mountain, one of my favourite runs at night was Super, this allowed you to ski to the western ridge of Hirafu and the views were just stunning, not only was the view nice from the mountain it also allowed you to look and see the mountain at night, which just made the resort feel that bit nicer.
Before traveling to Japan I was concerned that the only thing I would eat is Katsu Curry. However, as the season has gone on I have discovered so many nice Japanese restaurants with traditional dishes. But don't worry there are also some western restaurants so you can still get all your favourites without traveling too far, you may even be able to get them delivered to your accommodation… Winning!!
Going food shopping is something I have done since I can remember but no supermarket can prepare you for a Japanese one. There is such a vast variety from red bean treats (which I thought were chocolate) to freaky fish just staring at you. Unfortunately, I can not read nor speak Japanese so this did make the process a tad harder, luckily a lot of food had pictures making life that bit easier.
What is this? Traditional Japanese hot spring, these are natural which are geothermally heated. Sounds nice, right!? This is until you get there and realise you have to be naked! I was defiantly put off by this for awhile, but I manned up and went for it. At first, it was uncomfortable and a bit awkward, but once there and settled you just forget. Everyone is in the same position and it feels rude to look. It is defiantly worth it, once I was out and changed you just feel so good and relaxed, it is beneficial especially when skiing.
Whether this is the locals or the people I've met from EA, everyone is just so nice. The people I have become friends with I met in the airport on the flight out and due to us all being in the same position we got along so easily as we had something in common. Once arriving in Niseko before the season starts you get to know a lot of locals and season-airs and they are all polite and welcoming. One of my favourite things is the chairlift staff, they are so friendly, wipe your chairs down and if its a gondola help put your skis in and take them out. I defiantly wasn't expecting that.
9. Milk Kobo.
As I mentioned earlier about food, one of the best places is Milk Kobo! OMG, the ice cream is just incredible! It is fresh from the local ranch, which they make ice cream, milk yoghurt, cream puff and cheese tarts. It is a lactose heaven! Alongside this there is a pizzeria and a restaurant called Prativo - This is basically a buffet of salad and deserts and is just amazing, I would recommend this as a day out more than just once.
Now this may seem like a weird reason to go to Niseko, but you will understand when here. Picture a long day of skiing in -10 conditions, you've been outside teaching all day and then you need the loo. You walk up to the loo and it automatically opens, then when sitting down the seat is warm.. at first its a bit weird but after a while a cold toilet is horrible. There are also musical settings and washing settings, which I have to say I have not tried.