For several years, our dream has been to go and see the Japanese slopes in Hokkaido.
A few times we had to postpone our plans to go there, but finally in March we were able to go. We flew from Dubai to Tokyo Haneda airport, had a short night sleep at APA Kudanshita hotel in Tokyo which we booked just 30min prior heading there. (We were not sure if we would stay at the airport until one of the ticket offices would open either in town or at the airport, therefore the last minute booking). Quick Über drive to hotel, good rest and in the morning by metro to Tokyo Station.
We had booked Japan Rail Passes in advance and once those arrived via mail, I realised that we are really going. We are so used to travel by plane and it has become, a bit boring if I´m honest. This time we wanted to travel and really see Japan, even we knew it would take almost 8 hours to reach Niseko by train, (and we did not regret it). Niseko is a ski area in the island of Hokkaido, up in the Northern parts of Japan. The area has many surrounding mountains and hot springs.
With 6 and 3-year-old children this kind of trip felt a heavy duty and needed a good timing if anything. We wanted to see if skiing is something for our family and combine our much-loved Japan with an active vacation, instead of only staying in the big cities.
Niseko has four resorts: Annapuri, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village and Hanazono. Several snow sports schools and different kind of options for snow activities are unlimited .
A good friend of mine goes more or less yearly to ski in Niseko and her stories about the powder snow did not help my wanderlust. Since she does not have children and does not need to think about how are the accommodations with kids, I decided (and listened to hubby) to book accommodation away from the small, but busy resort Grand Hirafu which is most probably “the place” at Niseko” without kids. More about the areas and our accommodations in my next post.
Niseko area has ski-busses running more or less non-stop throughout the day. In front of our accommodation, there was a ski bus that took us to the slopes without any hassle. We started each day at Grand Hirafu and occasionally visited other resorts. Also the kiddies were taking care of their own gear, I must admit that was good to see, nothing was left behind and no whining (very unusual).
Since I almost had a 15-year break from skiing, hubby being good only with snowboard and the girls never done any skiing before, we booked them to a ski school. There were also various options for that. First, we wanted them to be at the same group, but then realised it would only slow down the older one.
During March, kids ski for free in Niseko, we did not know that prior, a pleasant surprise. Everyone told to us, that there was much more snow this year in March than it was in January. That felt even better, sunny days were taking care of the snow to smelt, but I was assured I would still have enough snow.
Yes, that was true. I have never seen and felt any slopes like that before. I had to work hard with my rusty technique, but the powder snow made me feel like I was born to alpine ski.(Yeah, right..)
Every day passed like in a fast lane, brekkie, out from the door, to the slope, lunch, more skiing, home, bath, dinner, crash to bed and repeat. Honestly, this was the best thing ever we have done as a family. We enjoyed and loved every minute of it, we knew what we did and everyone was tired enough not to fight or whine about clothes or the weather being too hot or too cold.
The kids learnt how to ski (thanks to the fantastic teachers at NBS). Wow thing for us adults was to be in the slopes just two of us while kids were busy learning. 26 countries we have seen and explored together, but never wore ski boots together until this.
Now we know how we spend holidays from now on, yes, skiing! Do you have a favourite resort where you and the family want to go back and ski?
How to Get There?
Unless taking a train from Tokyo as we did, the closest airport to Niseko is Sapporo´s Chitose, several daily flights from Tokyo Haneda. From there you reach either by car (110km, approximately 2,5hrs), by bus (2,5 – 3hrs) by a private shuttle (limited options) or by JR train to Niseko (approximately 3hrs). Closest train station is Kutchan. From there some shuttles available, or a taxi or a local bus.
There are several options for ski-rentals and skiing schools, both private and group lessons at Niseko. Option for ski-rental is everything from premium to standard package, helmets available as well. What we were not able to rent was snow goggles. We bought new one´s (unfortunately and surprisingly no tax free option at Niseko shops!) We hired our equipment’s from Rhytm and booked the kids to Niseko Base Snowsports skiing school.
Prices for rental was anything from 4500 yen up to 6500 yen per day. It all depends for how many days you need equipment and what kind of package, everything is available- except a sledge! We have been in Europe at ski resorts for only sledging, but that option we were not able to find in Hokkaido. Maybe it was just us, or there is no demand for it in Japan?
Bring LOTS of cash with you. Only biggest stores and attractions are accepting credit cards, elsewhere it is only cash that talks. Only in the big cities you can rely on that most of the places accept credit card.