Rising Sun Powder Tour, 20th January 2007
By Ian Harford, Niseko Hirafu, Japan
Here's the hot news from some cold slopes. It's been hovering about -12° C for the last week to judge by the Ace Hill restaurant thermometer, but with the windchill it can be more like -40° C at the 1000 metre Café, when it's really blowing. No wonder they are doing a good trade there in hot chocolate drinks!
Don't be put off though. What Hirafu in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido lacks in warmth, it more than compensates for with snow, which is good news for anyone listening for news from Europe's resorts.
It's a cold wind that blows from Siberia and after crossing the Sea of Japan, the Hirafu area and its dominating volcanic peak Mt Yotei are first in line! All this week anywhere between three to eight inches of soft powder has been falling, which covers all tracks and pours off your boots as you streak down slopes and through the birch trees.
The SCoM Committee is keen to bring you Newsletter reports of what members are up to in 2007, so I've volunteered to get the ball rolling. I'm here with our son Barney from Seattle, who with a friend is taking time off for skiing. We are staying at Niseko Hirafu, the largest of three villages, which has linked slopes with Higashiyama and Annupuri.
B&B in simple hotels has been about £30 per night, though late booking has meant a mid week change. Ski passes work out at about £20 per day. Transport to the slopes couldn't be easier with buses every five minutes. For the powder hungry there's a big plus too. If you have the stamina (after regular SCoM Keep Fit sessions!), the lifts stay open for you for a full twelve hours, with the last four carrying you till 8.30pm to slopes, floodlit like a magical fairy tale.
Niseko is full of great bars and restaurants with a variety of cooking styles. My favourite has been sushi (fish on rice) and sashimi (raw seafood), as Hokkaido has some of the best fishing in the world. What's more there's even a Manchester connection. Visiting Otaru, the island's biggest port 43 kms away, I found that the door of the microbrewery—beside the canal in a converted 19th century warehouse - had an old stained glass window of the city's coat of arms just like that in Manchester's Town Hall!
Getting here has taken time from the UK, so it's not surprising that most English you hear on the slopes has an Aussie twang. But Niseko's secret is out now and Brits are starting to appear. For information about the area (weather, snowfall etc) see http://snow-forecast.com/resorts/Niseko.shtml
For pictures of what it's been like here, go to the Photo Gallery on the side bar of my blog http://transforming.wordpress.com