Selfguided skiing in Japan

  • runningclouds
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20 May 2015 11:30 #224573 by runningclouds
Selfguided skiing in Japan was created by runningclouds
Does anybody have recommendations, observations, pointers on going to Hokkaido on your own?

I have for years heard that nobody over there speaks English, that booking and getting around is hard if not impossible and that going with a local guide is the only way to go. I actually heard it so many times I started to believe it but a brief scan of the internet shows that booking accomodations and cars is easily done in English, the Niseko (and other) ski areas have webpages in English. Looking at Google Earth it seems obvious where the best sidecountry (freeride) is and skiing the volcanoes seems straightforward.

Am I wrong?

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  • Scotsman
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20 May 2015 14:30 #224575 by Scotsman
Replied by Scotsman on topic Re: Selfguided skiing in Japan
YOU are absolutely right!
Well done!

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  • runningclouds
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20 May 2015 16:08 #224576 by runningclouds
Replied by runningclouds on topic Re: Selfguided skiing in Japan
Thank YOU Scotsman for the confidence booster, a bit unexpected but always appreciated.

We are looking at staying around Niseko, the biggest ski resort on Hokkaido, and making two or three excursions to some of the smaller resorts or backcountry trips to Nisekoan-Nupuri or the perfectly conical Mt. Yotei. I am in very early planning stages, not too concerned about particulars right now, but I am interested in reading trip reports and looking at slideshows to get a feel for the landscape. Links and references (ski guide?) appreciated.

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20 May 2015 16:41 #224577 by runningclouds
Replied by runningclouds on topic Re: Selfguided skiing in Japan
This is a useful overview of most of the ski areas on Hokkaido. The names are linked to detailed pages:
www.powderhounds.com/best-ski-resorts.aspx#Japan

Nice google map showing the overall situation:
www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=z4bSxYLW8NsU.kx4ftRoHyyKo

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  • Kyle Miller
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20 May 2015 22:39 #224578 by Kyle Miller
Replied by Kyle Miller on topic Re: Selfguided skiing in Japan
The thing to think about when going to Japan is respect but not our American style of respect something a bit different. People follow rules and not because it makes sense but more because these rules have been passed down by the elders and it is disrespectful to question that. A lot of people hire guides within the ski resorts because the guides have a deal with the resort allowing them to duck the ropes but we had issues doing so because A:) We were white and B:) We were wearing backpacks so the moment we got off the chair they were letting us know not to go in any closed areas.

I found it a bit challenging but in general people are very nice. You will have a blast to say the least and whether you choose to have a guide or not I am sure that the North Island will deliver the goods.

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21 May 2015 14:21 #224579 by runningclouds
Replied by runningclouds on topic Re: Selfguided skiing in Japan
Thanks Kyle for your insigts, interesting note about the respect. On the subject of sidecountry it is my understanding -- from reading on the web -- that it is accesible from several backcountry gates that are open to all except when they are closed for various reasons. Are you saying that the guided groups get first tracks even before the gates are officially open? Would this apply to local guides only?

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21 May 2015 21:08 - 22 May 2015 07:36 #224581 by jj
Replied by jj on topic Re: Selfguided skiing in Japan
A group of buddies and I went to Hokkaido and Hakuba in January/February 2014.  We organized the trip ourselves and had a great time.  I can't recommend Japan enough.  I would go back in a second.

I'll try and hit the most important info.  If you are in the Seattle area I'd be happy to get together over a beer and give you a full brain dump.

GETTING TO NISEKO

We flew from Seattle (SEA) to Tokyo (NRT) (Narita).  Then we bus shuttled to Tokyo (HND) (Haneda) and took a flight to Sapporo (CTS).  We stayed the night in Sapporo and then took a bus to Niseko the next morning.  The bus from Narita to Haneda is easy to arrange on the spot when you hit the ground at Narita.  There are ATMs in the Narita arrivals lounge to get cash (call you bank ahead of time to make sure your card will work while traveling).

At Haneda we were ahead of schedule and the airline check-in lady was more than happy to put us on an earlier flight to Sapporo - no charge.

We hit the ground at Sapporo and took the train from the airport to the city.  It was easy to buy a ticket from the automated machines at the airport station.

We stayed at the following hotel in Sapporo.  It was $87 for a room with three beds.

www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g298560...apporo_Hokkaido.html

I travel internationally frequently (France last month, China this month) and I highly recommend booking stuff through Expedia.  If stuff gets screwed up you just call Expedia and they will help figure things out.

The next morning we took this bus from Sapporo to Niseko.  They will pick you up at your hotel.  Arrange this in advance.  It was easy to book using their online forms.  It was $45 roundtrip with a complimentary one day lift ticket.

www.goodsports.co.jp/white_eng/ski-bus/

HOLY SHIT WE'RE IN NISEKO!!!

We stayed in this place.  The shuttle bus dropped us off at their office by noonish.  It was too early to check in so the lodging company let us change into ski gear in their lobby and we took off for a half day on the mountain.

htholidays.com/accommodation/view/konkuriito-d-kaizoku

I think we arranged the above place through this company.

htholidays.com/accommodation

That lodging company is Australian.  Everyone speaks English.  The house was awesome.

We finished a pretty amazing half day of skiing / riding and headed back down to the lodging office.  They took us to our place in a van.  From that house everything you want is walkable.

THE NEXT SEVERAL DAYS

Great skiing day after day at Niskeo.  Everything is connected and you just ski from one resort to the next.  I can't remember exactly how we bought passes (single-day vs. multi-day or one-resort vs. multi-resort).  You'll figure it out.  Lunches on the mountain are amazing.  King Crab ramen for not much money?!?  Count me in.  Hokkaido curry?  Heck yeah!  Crazy yard of beer thing?!? I'll take two.  You are going to have a killer time.

Tree skiing?  Awesome!!!  Sidecountry?  Hell yeah!!!  Powder every day?  You bet!!!

There are gates at Niseko just like at places in the US. The top of the mountain can get very cloudy / windy so take advantage of the gates when you have the opportunity. Over the 7 days we were at Niseko I think the gates were only open one or two days due to low vis and wind. We ducked ropes a few times to get some sidecountry turns.

NIGHT LIFE

Niseko is not like Whistler.  It's pretty sleepy at night.  We had good times at the Fridge Door Bar and about every other bar in town.  We had an expensive high-end dinner at The Barn that was worth the money.  You'll have fun but Japan apres is not like US apres.  You will run into Aussies everywhere.

GETTING YOUR DRINK ON

Beer is expensive in Japan (there's some law about it).  Drink hard alcohol if you can tolerate it (fortunately I can!!!)  Jim Beam and Four Roses whiskey is super cheap.  There is also this stuff called Sochu that is sort of like vodka and flavor that comes in beer cans (it's cheap).

A TRUE JAPAN EXPERIENCE

Want to have the best soba noodles in the world?  Hit this place.  It will cost you a lot to get there via cab but suck it up.  This guy makes the best soba noodles in the entire world.

360niseko.com/location/rakuichi



ONSENS

Get your naked on at the local onsens.  They are inexpensive and you can buy beer from a vending machine after you enter the onsen.  There is one close to the house I posted above.  I think it's this one.

www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g102563...ta_gun_Hokkaido.html

THE PART WHERE I TRY TO CONVINCE YOU TO GO TO HAKUBA TOO

Half our group returned to the US after Niseko but two of us continued the trip for a second week in Hakuba.  We didn't buy our plane ticket until about two days before we wanted to go from CTS to MMJ (Nagano).  I think we took a bus from MMJ to the local train station and then a train from Nagano to Hakuba.  I don't recall it being too hard to figure out.  An hour on the train and we were at Hakuba station.  Our hotel picked us up from the station.   

We stayed at a totally sketchy place in Hakuba.  It was cheap, but on the positive side, it was cheap. 

www.booking.com/hotel/jp/rosenheim-hakuba.html

It actually has a great onsen, but it's mostly low brow.

Hakuba has a ton of resorts all in the same area.  It's big.  Mammoth big.  Not quite Whistler big.  We had totally shitty conditions while we were there.

If the snow is good you could spend a month at the resorts in Hakuba.

ski-resorts-japan.com/hakuba

Then, on the last day, we took the bus to Cortina to try and get better snow.  I think it snowed about a million centimeters that day.  Fresh lines from the first run of the morning until we gave up at 3pm.  Perfect way to end our ski time in Japan.

www.powderhounds.com/Japan/Honshu/Hakuba-Cortina.aspx

BACK TO TOYKO

We had plane tickets home from Tokyo (NRT) so we took the bullet train from Hakuba back to Tokyo and spent a night in Tokyo.  We got a two night AirBnB and it was perfect.  If you want to experience a weird evening check out the robot bar.  I can't even describe it.  If you are committed to experiencing this weirdness first hand don't watch the following video.  If you are never going to Japan you can watch all you want.



We left Tokyo on the day they experienced their biggest snowfall in 40 years.  Positive thoughts and American belligerence got us to our plane on time and after a couple weeks in Japan we returned just in time for the snow to start falling at Baker!

CELL PHONES

If you want a Japanese SIM card you have to arrange it in advance. Basically you do some internet stuff and a SIM card will be waiting for you at the airport when you arrive. You can't just buy a SIM card when you hit the airport. If you do any amount of international travel I'd highly recommend T-Mobile. Their free international data just works and it will save you a ton of money.

EPILOGUE

I'd go back in a second.  If you need one or two more people for your trip let me know and I'd be happy to tag along and maybe bring a friend. I've got lots of Google docs with detailed planning info that I'd be happy to share privately.  Hit me up if you want more info.

--JJ



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  • runningclouds
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22 May 2015 10:44 #224585 by runningclouds
Replied by runningclouds on topic Re: Selfguided skiing in Japan
Hey jj, thanks a million, there is a lot to go through here and I will. At this point we are a fairly big group of 8 maybe 10 people, that might not be your cup of sake ;) but if people drop off I will keep you in mind. Thanks again!

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