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Japan 2018 - when to go?

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I am currently negotiating with the Boss for a 10 day trip to Japan in 2018. 2 potential dates to leave UK are 26th January or 9th March.

In terms of powder skiing, which of these dates is preferable?

Many thanks.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
100% January
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
I'm in the same boat - i.e. organising but I'm flexible. I'm thinking last two weeks in jan and the first week in feb? Does that seem right?
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@1556garyt, Definitely January rather than March. I was in Niseko on 2nd March, and Spring had started to arrive.
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
January - it's a no brainer..... imo
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I'll be there in late Jan and early Feb best time for sure
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Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
In a 'normal' Hokkaido winter you can expect

5-6 snow events per week in January with little sunshine, higher accommodation costs and greater competition for powder

3-4 snow events per week in March with far better visibility and bluebird days, lower accommodation costs and less competition for powder.

March, or 'Jarch' as we call it, is my favourite month on Hokkaido.

12 March


http://youtube.com/v/jePlfGa87Vo

But if it's your first visit then go in January to experience the non-stop dumpage.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
End of Feb.

Half Winter, half Spring.

Powda + sun.

Even a small puke in Japan is equivalent to a biggie in the European Alps.
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Hi guys, a couple of questions if I may?
When are the Aussie school holidays and does this have a big impact on how busy the slopes are in Japan?
We are also thinking of a trip to Japan next season after our 2nd trip to Canada without any snowfall at all! We are looking at a two week trip leaving either 20 Jan or 24 Feb possibly but are unltimately flexible and we don't like the hoards that descend on France during Feb.
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I might have the opportunity to go to Japan in October/November - is this too early?
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gixxerniknik wrote:
Hi guys, a couple of questions if I may?
When are the Aussie school holidays and does this have a big impact on how busy the slopes are in Japan?
We are also thinking of a trip to Japan next season after our 2nd trip to Canada without any snowfall at all! We are looking at a two week trip leaving either 20 Jan or 24 Feb possibly but are unltimately flexible and we don't like the hoards that descend on France during Feb.


Singapore holidays - early to mid December
Australian school holidays - 20 December to approx 20 January
Chinese New Year 2018 - around 16 February

From 24 February will be a lot quieter and cheaper
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
@Mike Pow,
Thanks Mike. I am now busy persuading my ski buddies that's where we are off to next year!
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chaletgirl wrote:
I might have the opportunity to go to Japan in October/November - is this too early?


Not unheard of to have good powder from Mid-November onwards, but wouldn't head over specifically to ski/ride.

If you're coming anyway, then worth bringing kit just in case 👍
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You know it makes sense.
gixxerniknik wrote:
@Mike Pow,
Thanks Mike. I am now busy persuading my ski buddies that's where we are off to next year!


My pleasure. Hope it works out.

Historically Mid-January to mid-February gives more chance of deep powder days.

But this season for example, best days in Feb and March.
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Mike Pow wrote:
chaletgirl wrote:
I might have the opportunity to go to Japan in October/November - is this too early?


Not unheard of to have good powder from Mid-November onwards, but wouldn't head over specifically to ski/ride.

If you're coming anyway, then worth bringing kit just in case 👍


Brilliant. TBF, I would probably have to (learn/improve) board as my friend doesn't ski, so would need to hire boots and board. But will take ski boots just in case Smile

Thank you
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My pleasure. Hope you get lucky
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@Mike Pow, may I ask for some advice. My tentative plan is to travelmto Sapporo on 20 Jan 2018 and leave on 31 Jan. A few questions if you know answers from the top of your head:
Is it possible to book accomodation leaving mid-week, ie booking for 1.5 weeks?
How difficult are the transfers if diy?
Would it be better to stay in one area or explore two, each for circa 5 days?
Is it easy to rent longer skis on spot (I am 6ft3)?
How much are the lift passes approx?
Accomodation - hotels apprtments, what are the price brackets? Catered options?

What would you advice if the idea would be to split the trep in two, one part to embrase the local skiing experience and culture and one week to maximise skiing experience.
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@mooney058, I did a first trip to Niseko and Sapporo for 2 weeks this January so can pitch in my experience. We had no problems booking midweek accomodation, but book early if booking in Niseko. We actually had to move accomodation midweek in Niseko as we couldnt get availability for our whole 11 night stay. Niseko accomodation is very expensive, but check out the small Pensions for better prices. We stayed in a Japanese family run pension called Ramina a few minutes walk from the main Niseko Hirafu centre (where most of the lifts/restaurants/bars/hire shops are) and I couldnt recommend it highly enough. The freshly cooked traditional dinner and breakfast were exceptional (if you dont mind fish for breakfast). We also stayed in an apartment booked through Holiday Niseko which was really good and well situated in Niseko Hirafu.

Niseko Hirafu is convenient and quite westernised. You would have no problem hiring skis to suit you there, but it'll cost a premium. People on here recommended it as a good first stop in Japan and I would agree. The ski area is big and the terrain is varied and fun. There are plenty of guiding and instructing operations. You can also get buses to nearby kiroro and rusutsu which i would definitely recommend. However the downsides to Niseko are that its relatively busy, expensive, and gets tracked out quickly in the obvious places. It also doesnt feel overly Japanese.

We spent a further 3 nights in Sapporo city. We stayed in a business hotel which was well situated, clean and very cheap (think Premier Inn). We paid around £30 a head per night. There is a lift ticket/bus deal on the Teine Express which will take you to Teine ski area from the city centre for around £45, but we didnt use it as there was no new snow and we were blown away by the city itself. Major culture shock and plenty to see for at least a few days.

Another option which I'll do when I return is to stay in Otaru city and either bus or drive to ski at Kiroro, Sapporo Kokusai and other local ski areas. Accomodation is much cheaper there than Niseko and I assume it would be a more authentic Japanese experience. Kiroro was also much quieter than Niseko when we visited so there should be a lot less competition for the goods.

For transfers we used the White Liner and Skybus and both were super efficient and cheap.

Splitting between Niseko Hirafu and Otaru or Sapporo would give you plenty of options. Im not sure how easy it would be to rent larger skis at some of the smaller ski areas but others might be able to inform about this. However, given the extortionate rental prices in Niseko and the uncertainty over availability in other places, plus the faff of having to queue to hire skis on a powder morning, bringing your own might be easier. Check out the price of Scott Punishers on Sport Bittl at the minute!

Im sure the more experienced snowheads will chip in soon, but whatever way you work it out, you'll have an awesome time. Im only just beginning to let go now and I've been home for 2 months.
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mooney058 wrote:
@Mike Pow, may I ask for some advice. My tentative plan is to travelmto Sapporo on 20 Jan 2018 and leave on 31 Jan. A few questions if you know answers from the top of your head:
Is it possible to book accomodation leaving mid-week, ie booking for 1.5 weeks?
How difficult are the transfers if diy?
Would it be better to stay in one area or explore two, each for circa 5 days?
Is it easy to rent longer skis on spot (I am 6ft3)?
How much are the lift passes approx?
Accomodation - hotels apprtments, what are the price brackets? Catered options?

What would you advice if the idea would be to split the trep in two, one part to embrase the local skiing experience and culture and one week to maximise skiing experience.


@Element pretty much nailed it.

For you and others, New Chitose Airport (airline code CTS) is the major international gateway to Hokkaido. Some websites pitch this airport as Sapporo, but it's a good hour from the airport to the centre of Sapporo.

Bus transfers from the airport to Sapporo, Otaru, Niseko Hirafu and Rusutsu are easy, convenient, cheap, hassle free.

You can also get the train to Sapporo and Otaru.

Your choice of one base and day trip, or two bases. Both work.

If you're not bothered about being in a ski town and seeing the slopes and lifts, then Otaru can't be beaten.

Small, safe town. Plenty going on. Very Japanese. Five very different ski areas on 'your doorstep' - well within a 45 minute radius.

Otaru Tenguyama (15 mins); Asarigawa (20 mins); Sapporo Kokusai (30 mins); Kiroro (45 mins); Sapporo Teine (45 mins).

All serviced by public transport 👍
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Never having organised a trip before, having relied heavily on tour ops I'm not sure of the hows and whens.

I'm looking at flights and accommodation and notice that some websites either have sold out for the weeks we want, or are not taking bookings yet for those weeks. Europe's not a problem as things only really sell out close to the event but not sure about the long haul flights etc. Would you advise booking flights &/or accommodation as early as possible, or waiting for a few months?
There'll only be two of now but we don't really want to stay in dorm style lodges.

Also, can anyone in the know recommend pensions that speak english but have a distinctly Japanese flavour? We want to spend a few days in/around Niseko then get a different base either Otaru or Furano area maybe.
Thanks in advance!

Love this skiing thing, this season's not over yet & already I'm getting excited about the next!
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Thank you all for your advice. 26th January it will be as I want to give myself the best chance for the deep powder on this trip.

So because I am lazy, don't speak Japanese and want the whole trip to go smoothly (flights, transfers, hotels, guides, gear etc) I would prefer to book with an UK/Japanese tour operator who can sort everything out from start to finish.... any recommendations please?
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'@1556garyt,
ive had nothing but good service from skisafari going to usa and canada. But japan is so much more that i feel i can do it much cheaper by organising it myself.
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@element, thanks a lot! Ramina sounds what I like most as experience!
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@Mike Pow, thanks a lot! Would definetly want some JPN experience so leaning towards two bases. Niseko and Otaru. Thought of Furano first but looks rather like a full day trip between Niseko and Furano. Did not really understoob re Otaru - if staying in the area, does it have its own skiing area or is it more like Bourg St Mouricevfrom which you can access several resorts as well?

Do you know when does AUS holidays end in Jan 2018? As new to powder would like to avoid large crowds.
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mooney058 wrote:
@Mike Pow, thanks a lot! Would definetly want some JPN experience so leaning towards two bases. Niseko and Otaru. Thought of Furano first but looks rather like a full day trip between Niseko and Furano. Did not really understoob re Otaru - if staying in the area, does it have its own skiing area or is it more like Bourg St Mouricevfrom which you can access several resorts as well?

Do you know when does AUS holidays end in Jan 2018? As new to powder would like to avoid large crowds.


Both.

Small ski hill in Otaru. Takes about 10 mins by car from centre of town. You can see it from 'downtown'.

The rest are a drive or use public transport
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@Mike Pow, what would be you take on it - start with Otaru and then Niseko or the other way arround? I intend hiring skiis while there and in terms of public transport I guess I better hiring for a day on spot or in Otaru and then putting it on a bus? Or possibly renting a car for the first 5 days while in Otaru.
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Being an expert on Japan, well I have been twice wink this would be my take:

Niseko is actually the place I would drop from the next trip.
It is really expensive (accomodation) when compared to the others, really busy when compared and the least Japanese.
It really is the Val D'Espair or St. Anton for the Aussies and Kiwis.

I would highly recommend staying in Sapporo and Otaru.
Sapporo is a big city, hotels are numerous, and good value is easy to find. There are a number of bus companies that run daily services to Sapporo Kokusai, Tienne Highlands and Kiroro. Use the buses.
Several micro resorts on the outskirts of the city too.
Time your stay properly and be there for the Ice Festival...amazing, just amazing!

Otaru is a decent sized fishing port and town (not a city) which is a big destination for Japanese summer gastro-tourism.
The food is incredible...the sushi...OMG The Sushi!
There is public transport as Mike Pow says (the actual Guru of all things Hokkaido...listen to him, he really does know).
I would suggest having a rental car here, they are 99% 4x4, even the ones that just look like cars and vans, 100% with winter tyres. Otaru is easy to drive around and Japanese sat-navs are excellent (just put in the phone number of your destination).
Kiroro. Sapporu Kokusai, Rusutsu, Asarigawa, Otaru Tenguyama (has the steepest piste in all Japan) and a really fun micro resort of Snow Cruise Onze (best ski view ever). Even Niseko is only just over a hour of driving away.

Remember that everywhre has night skiing, and that is where the micro resorts near town come into their own, you'll most likely have the place to yourself.

Hotels are all easy to book through the usual hotel websites, some are very Western, some very Japanese, and so are many guest houses.

Hire skis: here is an idea:
Use Kiroro as the first place you go and the last (easy to get to from both Sapporo and Otaru), and just take the skis all around the different places in between. Kiroro has a very good ski-shop and hire shop in-situ.
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@mooney058, should just add about Ramina that it is about 10-15 mins walk from the lifts if this is a problem for you, although there is a free private shuttle shared with the Always Hotel next door.
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@rungsp, @element, thanks a lot for all these details! Started researching AUS holidays so that I could avoid peak times and peak prices. But that would mean staying in Otaru and hiring a car. But that would need further research for the parking. Would not like to park it by accident and then not find it in a morning Smile the car would also solve ski issue - i could carry it in a car to all places and then just finish in Kiroro as @rungsp had sugested. As for Ramina, 10-15 min hike is not an issue! Opening a separate saving account for next years trip Smile snowHead
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But don't just look at Hokkaido, there is huge amounts of great snow in Honshu. Just look at what is available in the Nagano area.
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Sarge McSarge wrote:
But don't just look at Hokkaido, there is huge amounts of great snow in Honshu. Just look at what is available in the Nagano area.


Very true. Great skiing in the Hakuba Valley with loads of terrain and variety.

And served by a bus network.

Good overview here

http://www.powderlife.com/blog/seven-resorts-seven-hours/


Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Mon 27-03-17 20:25; edited 1 time in total
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Have been looking at the idea of hiring a car/wagon so we can remain a bit flexible as to where to ski each day as has been recommended on other threads on the site, is parking an issue generally?

The Ramina looks like a good call, but what do you mean by booking early?

Thanks guys, lots of info here!
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@gixxerniknik, For Otaru I can strongly recommend the pension we stayed at:

Otaru Guesthouse Harvest

http://otaru-harvest.com/en/

We booked it for 2 nights via booking.com but ended up staying for 7.

It's very Japanese - especially if you choose a room with futons, they speak a little English but are extremely helpful, excellent value, has parking by the door (for about £3 per day). 10-15 mins walk into the main part of town. Some of the other guests were skiing foreigners like ourselves. There was a group of Americans who were basically commuting to Kiroro every day, not sure why they didn't want to make the most of their location to check out Teine/Kokusai etc too!

I can also echo the above points about Otaru being a good base with maybe a few nights in Sapporo too. Don't bother going to Niseko.

Also regarding when to make bookings, i've heard that many Japanese places don't open up bookings until only a few months before. In our case, we booked Guesthouse Harvest the day before we arrived.
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@musehead, have not been to Japan yet, so appologies if this is a stupid question - how does room and sleeping go in a room with futons? You sleep on a floor and no cover, pillows, linen etc provided?

In case of a public transport, can one bring skis on a bus?
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@mooney058, in Japanese style rooms (which you should definitely seek out!) there is a futon with a sheet over it and a duvet/blankets/pillow that you unroll when you want to go to bed, usually stored in a cupboard or just rolled up at the side of the room during the day.
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Oh well @Mike Pow, might find this mildly ironic, but I'm booked for seven nights Lower Hirafu Village in Niseko dept Jan 20 2018.

OH is writing a travel piece and the price was just too good to pass up, we had to find two other couples really fast (within five days) and commit by today with names as BA flights are stupidly cheap at the moment.

The other two couples I surmise will find it ideal, with both OH's not competent off piste, and Japan was on their bucket list and my OH's, for me I really only would have considered touring in the islands as I get the "shakes" when ever I get to a busy commercial resort.

I also spent a week with a guide and mates three or so weeks back who were not being too complimentary about mainland resorts and a few threads here sort of confirm that.

So have just under a year to accept that I'm going to be a punter and if you're out there @Mike Pow, maybe you can allay my fears snowHead
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Weathercam wrote:
I also spent a week with a guide and mates three or so weeks back who were not being too complimentary about mainland resorts and a few threads here sort of confirm that.

Do you mean Honshu? What did they say?
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Weathercam wrote:
Oh well @Mike Pow, might find this mildly ironic, but I'm booked for seven nights Lower Hirafu Village in Niseko dept Jan 20 2018.

OH is writing a travel piece and the price was just too good to pass up, we had to find two other couples really fast (within five days) and commit by today with names as BA flights are stupidly cheap at the moment.

The other two couples I surmise will find it ideal, with both OH's not competent off piste, and Japan was on their bucket list and my OH's, for me I really only would have considered touring in the islands as I get the "shakes" when ever I get to a busy commercial resort.

I also spent a week with a guide and mates three or so weeks back who were not being too complimentary about mainland resorts and a few threads here sort of confirm that.

So have just under a year to accept that I'm going to be a punter and if you're out there @Mike Pow, maybe you can allay my fears snowHead


Here goes Smile

For a mixed-ability group travelling to Japan for both the first time and a limited time, 7-days based in Niseko Hirafu Village, Hokkaido is IMHO the perfect introduction to skiing in Japan.

Especially if you're OH is working and the flight prices are low.

How much out of curiosity please? Route?

Depending where you're staying in the Lower Village you have a very good resort within 20 minutes walk / 5 minute bus ride / 5 minute drive which will accommodate all ability levels.

The groomed runs are more akin to North America, with almost daily top ups.

And when the snow machine is turned on, Niseko United offers up some of the deepest & longest runs on Hokkaido.

There'll be competition for the powder for sure but what distinguishes Hokkaido from Europe especially is the fact that the tracked powder doesn't set up, so you can ski soft snow all day albeit untracked lines are there early and/or in the further reaches of the resort.

There are also three resorts nearby which all offer a different ski experience from Niseko United - Moiwa is next to Niseko Annupuri but not linked on the same ticket ; Rusutsu about 40 minutes drive; and Kiroro about 60 minutes drive.

These can all be done solo, or as a day-tour with a Guide Company.

You'll be within walking distance to a number of restaurants & bars in the Lower Village. A mix of Japanese and Western owned, with a wide variety of cuisines.

If you have your own transport, then Kutchan and Niseko town are easy to get to and offer a more Japanese experience.

If you want high end / celebratory then there are two 1 Michelin Star restaurants - Kamimura in Niseko Hirafu and Maccarina in Makkari - and two 3 Star Michelin restaurants at the Windsor Hotel in Lake Toya.

Any specifics, fire away
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@Mike Pow, excellent response - will forward on to the rest of the group to get their taste buds going Toofy Grin

I think the off piste ski experience of the group and Niseko like you say is the perfect introduction / match

Have also PM'd flight details etc

Me on the other hand as you know would rather be holed up in a refuge with no running water out in the boondocks rolling eyes

Are there options for me to for ski touring etc to get away from the hordes ?

This is a good video about a guide who was one of the first to visit Japan a good 15 years or so ago and who I've skied / boarded with at various times over the past 20 yrs and lived just down the road from me in Serre, and is best mates to Per As.

Funny enough I bumped into him and some of his Japanese clients in the Lyngen Alps ten or so years ago when our boats were moored up to each other and we had been catching cod and we all had sushi together.


THE SOUL OF SKIING from Soul of Skiing
https://vimeo.com/129558144
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My pleasure.

Niseko United, Moiwa, Rusutsu, Kiroro, Sapporo Kokusai, Asari, all provide an unrivalled opportunity to transition from piste to off-piste skiing IMHO.

The lightness and consistency of the powder allows you to ski off-piste on green/blue pitch terrain. So you only have to manage the snow, not the snow AND the pitch.

Here's a good example from Kiroro, skiing the fringe of the Yoichi green run


http://youtube.com/v/u7FkMRWlKxc



For you @Weathercam, there are more than enough opportunities to get deep in and out of the Niseko United. The gate system gives access to the peak and the terrain that runs down to Hanazono and Annupuri.

Alternatively you can drop the north face of the peak down to Goshiki Onsen and ski tour Iwaonupuri.

For bigger routes you have Mt Yotei.

From Kiroro you have plenty of ski touring terrain from the exits.

But with just seven days and the liklihood that it'll be dumping the whole time you're ther then plonking your back bottom on a chair or in a gondola will give you far more powder for your buck.

For example this is what can be skied inbounds at Kiroro straight off the chair no hiking during your timeframe of visit

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQB6tc8AMb6/?taken-by=mikethesnow


And through the exit, with no hiking or touring

https://www.instagram.com/p/BP2N4MHgYiy/?taken-by=mikethesnow



And this is in a named and managed off-piste area 'PowderZone'


http://youtube.com/v/PbRlrzm2LMM
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