A glimpse of Hokkaido

Where does the time go? A couple of weeks ago I went to Hokkaido for the first time. It’s not really accurate to say I visited Hokkaido. I went to ニセコ (Niseko) in Hokkaido to go skiing. To say I had a feeling for Hokkaido would be a bit of an overstatement.

I’ve wanted to get to a snowy place in Japan, and certainly there are closer places than Hokkaido to see snow. However, a few colleagues from Tokyo were going, I was invited, and it seemed like a great opportunity. The only difficulty was that the tour was arranged out of Tokyo so I had to get to and from Tokyo.

At first, I really had no intent to even ski – I was planning on just enjoying the ambiance of a ski area and resort town. However, the more I looked into where we were going, the more I realized that maybe there wasn’t much else to do except for skiing. It had been at least 10 years, maybe closer to 15 years since I last went skiing. I would say the last time I went skiing was when I was living in Europe and had a weekend getaway to Wengen. 15 years is a long time ago.

Our flight was from Tokyo to Sapporo (Chitose) and then we took a bus to ニセコ. Although it was dark once we got properly on the road, it was become increasingly obvious that it was snowing. Hard. Looking out the front of the bus, I was mesmerized by the snowflakes in the lights. I love when it snows, and I don’t often get to see it in Nagoya, and definitely don’t see it much in LA.

The obligatory rest stop / shop.

The obligatory shop


And some dangerous icicles waiting to impale someone.

watch for falling objects


We checked in to the Hilton Niseko VIllage and picked up our pre-arranged rentals. It was great that we could rent everything, including pants, jacket, goggles, helmet, and gloves. I had my own gloves, actually, but everything else was welcomed. I rented a helmet for the first time. Things have changed a lot since the last time I skied and helmets are a lot more common. All I could think of before skiing was totally tweeking my knees, and the Natasha Richardson accident. I couldn’t do anything to protect my knees, but I figured a helmet was a good idea.

Our first night we just ate in the hotel as we all were keen to eat and be relaxed for a full day of skiing the next day. I really can’t remember what we did the first night, but I know that I visited the onsen. It had a rotenburo as well (outside bath), that was unfortunately covered and only open at one end. There is nothing like sitting in an pool of hot water, surrounded by snow, and watching it snow. I will never tire of that. And although it was cold enough to snow, it wasn’t SO cold. One of the cool things about this ski area is that it is not really at a high elevation. It has a ton of snow, but is maybe at 1000 m. That’s it. So it isn’t like skiing Winter Park at 10,000 feet, freezing and getting winded just picking up your skis.

Fresh for the day.

watch for falling objects


The resort we were staying at was a ski-in resort. We walked out the ski valet area and hopped on a gondola. That’s the way to do it. My colleagues seemed like they were much better skiers and one had been at the resort for a few days and was telemarking. Yikes. I was glad to send them on their own way and decided to ski on my own. Admittedly, I was pretty nervous on my first run. Would I remember how to ski? The answer is … mostly. On the first run I had one of those falls where my skis ended uphill from me, one attached and one detached, and I kept sliding. Oops. I made it up to my ejected ski and spent the next 20 minutes trying to re-engage the binding. That’s so frustrating, and I probably ended up 20 feet down the hill by the time I got the ski on. It turns out I was on an intermediate run anyway. Oh cool.

The view from the top of the gondola.

Before the snow got heavy


And a picture after my first fall. Notice the snow on my goggles.

After the first fall


I have a tendency to do the same run multiple times – the first time I’m rather timid because I don’t know the run, the proper way, what is over the next ridge, etc. On subsequent runs I can ski a little more confidently, and that confidence translates to more aggressive skiing. I had plenty of tumbles, and I did tweek both my knees and I really hit my head. I was glad I had my helmet on.

Coincidently, the whole crew met up at lunch, and so we decided to ski together in the afternoon. It turns out that most of the rest of the crew was better than me, but not all, and not significantly better. In the afternoon though it was snowing really hard, my knee was hurting, and I could feel myself making mistakes and I figured the opportunity for further injury was increasing, so I forfeited my last run and called it a day (and headed straight for the onsen).

I didn’t know The Village People had a restaurant in Niseko.

Go West!


A picture towards the end of the day. The snow was heavy at that time.

At the end of the day


We were able to find the village and enjoyed a little nightlife. We went to a great seafood restaurant run by an Australian bloke and ended up at a bar / hostel / ryokan called the Half Note which appeared to have been taken over by gaijin. The proprietor and his wife and two others performed jazz standards while guests watched, played pool, or just hung out (check out the website). Eventually our team left, went back to the hotel, and closed down the karaoke room. Then I went to onsen again. Hey, I was treating my knee.

I think I was pretty tired.

Enjoying a nice meal


Dinner pictures of oysters, crab, sashimi. Yum.







Enjoying the local pub.

The Half Note


The Half Note


Unfortunately, I had to leave the next morning due to flight constraints, while 3/5 of the crew remained and skied another day. I couldn’t have skied very well anyway, as my knee was very tender. I bought the requisite omiyage at the airport (a ton!) and headed home.

Tomo met me at Haneda, we checked out the new International terminal, and then I headed back to Nagoya.

A great weekend – full of fun from start to finish. Do I know Hokkaido? Not really. Maybe I’ll make it back sometime to see more than a single ski area. But what I saw was beautiful and I have great memories of my weekend there.

The view at breakfast