Summer is in full swing in Hong Kong, but if you’re like us you’re already dreaming of cooler days. While the ski season has just closed in Japan if you plan to hit the slopes in Niseko next season, now’s the time to book! BROOKE CHENOWETH has the lowdown on this sought-after destination.
I grew up near Australia’s ski fields and have been skiing since I was eight, so Japan has always been alluring. For years, we’ve watched hordes of Hong Kong friends make the trek to Niseko in Hokkaido every winter, and finally we decided this year that we would go too. I haven’t skied in seven years, using my kids as an excuse, but at six and four years old they have both now reached an age where they can strap on a pair of skis and head downhill themselves.
So it was a highly anticipated trip all round – and, in the end, well worth the wait.
Weather: We spent five days and six nights in Hirafu after Easter, right at the very end of the ski season. For complete novices and out-of-shape oldies, the timing was perfect: it was spring skiing at its best, and we didn’t have to wait in a queue once. The days were mostly sunny – something that you won’t see earlier in the season – but it was still cold enough to justify a hot chocolate mid-morning.
Ski School: Our boys have seen skiing on TV and imagined that this was all that was required to make them experts. We knew better and booked them into lessons at GoSnow. Their Ninja Kids programme is great for kids who have never skied before, and it provides the option of full- or half-day lessons.
We unintentionally booked our boys in for three full-day lessons, and it worked out perfectly. Six-year-old Josh went up two grades of Ninja over a couple of days, and by the end of day three he was confident enough to take the chairlift and ski down a slope with the group. He was so keen, he even requested a fourth day of lessons, and we happily obliged! Four-year-old Charlie was less enthusiastic, lacking his big brother’s patience. He managed two-and-a-half days, but there was enough snow around for sledding, making snowmen, and the obligatory snowball fights.
With the boys so well occupied we were tempted to spend the days traversing the hills in a leisurely fashion, but we had also booked a full-day private lesson on the very first day. I groaned inwardly at the thought of it when we arrived, but it was excellent – it turns out that I’ve been skiing incorrectly since my last lesson 20 years ago! Our instructor Nick was very patient with us, fine-tuning our technique, and introducing us to the best runs across three of Niseko’s resorts. We were all exhausted by the end of the first day, but it was a really good way to warm up after such a long break.
Digs: We stayed at Ki Niseko, one of the few true ski-in/ski-out hotels in the area. As well as standard hotel rooms, it also has a number of one- and two-bedroom apartments. We had a one-bedroom apartment with a standard double room connected. It was fantastic to have kitchen facilities (fridge, microwave, dishwasher, stovetop) and a washing machine, as well as the space to relax. It was incredibly comfortable and quiet, and we all slept more soundly than I think we ever have in a hotel!
Ki has some excellent facilities, which really made the stay memorable. There are four onsens (also known in our family as “hot lava water baths”), which are incredibly relaxing, and a great way to ease tired muscles after a day of skiing. If you’re a little shy about getting naked in front of complete strangers, two of Ki’s onsens are private, making them perfect for families, and all of their onsens are free for guests.
Speaking of relaxing, the small spa, located right next to the onsens, is another way to unwind; it offers a selection of massages and facials – and the traditional shiatsu is a must.
Ki’s ski valet takes care of your ski gear overnight (after you’ve skied in), and a small Rhythm ski gear (skihirejapan.com) outlet means you can buy any extras you may have forgotten. If you’ve hired your gear from Rhythm you can also return your skis here when you’re done, without trekking back down to the main shop.
From the front desk to the cleaning team, the staff at Ki were genuinely nice and helpful, and despite being a fairly high-end hotel, it was very family-friendly. The concierge helped us with dinner reservations and directions, and one lovely young man tracked us down after realising he had given us the wrong information – and that level of customer service made quite an impression on us.
Our trip was organised by the fantastic team at Lightfoot Travel. Contact them for more information about skiing holidays in Japan or any other type of trip in the region and beyond.
lightfoottravel.com | 3018 8500
To read Brooke’s full article check out the latest issue of Expat Living or read it in our E-mag here.