Trip Report Impressions of Niseko after 10 years away

Discussion in 'Japan' started by Annabuzzy, Jan 8, 2019.

  1. Annabuzzy

    Annabuzzy Part of the Furniture
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    I was last in Niseko in 2008 (and a prior visit in 2007). I was 10 years younger (obviously). My skis were 78mm underfoot (although lots had already transitioned to wider skis). Niseko WAS Japanese skiing so far as Australians were concerned, although Hakuba was first emerging.

    In the intervening period there was a GFC, I changed jobs a few times, had a daughter (best decision ever), my skis got wider. I got wider. And we did multiple trips to Hakuba. 5 I think - hard to keep count. I changed jobs at least twice, bought and sold properties etc. and had a breakdown.

    So here I am back in Niseko after a 10 year gap. And boy has it changed! Don’t get the impression I consider myself a Niseko pioneer. I know I’m not. Far from it. But I think I did get to see the tail end of the old, Japanese focused, Niseko.

    So what’s different? Did someone say high rise apartments? And big hotels? They’re everywhere. And what happened to all the old funky Japanese pensions and bars and etc? A handful remain in the lower village but...not what it was. And....where are all the Japanese? Not only are there bucket loads of Aussies, there’s now lots of Americans, Hong Kong ites, Singaporeans, I assume lots of mainland Chinese, and a smattering of Europeans. It’s a truly international resort. But the Japanese flavour is definitely lesser. You have less of the feeling you’re in Japan, when you’re in Niseko. Not a terrible thing - it’s just a thing.

    The mountain is the same though. And notwithstanding a much busier and more bustling village, the mountain doesn’t feel overly busy. I read a magazine article which indicated that notwithstanding visitation was up year on year, ticket sales were down. So more visitors less skiers. That feels about right.

    What does make me a little sad is the new visitor likes the new Niseko. They like the upscale apartments and Michelin star restaurants and bundles of cafes and beauty clinics. They don’t mourn the loss of the funky restaurants and bars and pensions. They don’t mourn the departure of the crazy funky snow hippies who made the old Niseko. They don’t care whether the core ski bum culture is strong or weak. They want to insta their food and participate in the Niseko “brand”. Nothing wrong with that. Just different.

    Which does remind me - there don’t appear to be as many strong Japanese skiers as my last visits. I remember in particular there seemed to be a very strong culture of telemark skiers here. There’s still a few but I’ve seen far fewer beautiful Japanese skiers full stop, and fewer telemark skiers.

    On the upside you can get decent coffee lots of places. No need for a run into Kutchan to that American dude. And as I say the skiing is as amazing as ever.
     
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  2. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty
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    Ahhh Skukin at cafe Kaku.
    Great coffee and a monk to boot.
    Albeit in a rural Japanese town.

    I think your paragraph echos my sentiment towards Niseko. Albeit removed from actually experiencing.
    The growth we saw from 2005 to 2006 was quite profound. I can only guess what its like now.
    RIP Hanks, 100 yen noodle, Yummys, Fattys, Big Cliff etc etc
     
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  3. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty!
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    Thanks for your review @Annabuzzy
    I’d agree with much of that.

    The coffee is a bonus.

    I’d agree that the new Niseko is what the people want - that’s why it’s been/being built. The wealthy Asian tourists are really driving that.

    But there are many of us that are sad when our old favourites go and we do tend to follow them when they move, and support the small guys being pushed out by big business where we can. (Get thee down to the Big Foot Bunker and support those guys!)

    As for the outstanding Japanese skiers - in January there is the early lifts - a couple of runs before actual opening. I loved going up for that because you shared the pristine groomers with some very awesome skiers and boarders. Best couple of laps of the day at that busy time of the season. It’s like heli skiing - low numbers and you KNOW the people out there with you are fully switched on, they’ve either bought a season Membership to get the early birds or stood in line to buy a 500yen ticket for the morning (which puts them at the back of the queue). They’re locals, seasonaires and the odd switched on tourist. The Gentem guys absolutely rip. I’m sad I wasn’t there in january this year for that alone.
     
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  4. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty
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    Say hello to Torah for me
     
  5. Slowman

    Slowman Addicted
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    You will see more locals on the slopes on the weekend including some hard core telecrew on their Vector Glides.

    Some of the nice old haunts are still around. Jazz at Halfnote, the simple onsen at Yukoro, Toshiro's Bar and Elvis's Kebabs. Plus there are a few newish and quirky outlets - try a wood fired pizza from the little van near the intersection (before his van blows up).

    The crab ramen is also still at Hanazono and although it now costs a fair bit more the new restaurant is way more comfortable than the old prefabricated shed they used to serve it in.

    I've also noticed that odd phenomenon of my waist increasing in size like the waist of my skis. Must be some correlation.
     
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  6. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty
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    Old days
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
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  7. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty
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    And to think that your first trip was already 7 years after I stopped going there. I know I have said this a few times, but it was already changing then. Your comments just confirm what I have been hearing for quite some time. It suits a large number of international skiers as that is what most of them seem to want these days. Just doesn't appeal as much to me. That is just the way I am. I don't have any interest in going back myself and am happy with that. I enjoyed it when it was pretty much unknown in the 90's but have long moved on.

    It is somewhat similar to the way I feel about St Anton in Austria. St Anton of course has always been a major international resort, but I went there a few years ago again after a gap of around 30 years and it was much more so. More international, so much less of an Austrian feel for me. Skiing and terrain is awesome, but there are plenty of others places around Austria which are still great but still feel more Austrian and I will keep on exploring those.
     
    #7 Heinz, Jan 8, 2019
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2019
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  8. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty
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    Oh and regarding the old tele skiers. @telenomore might have an idea where they have all gone. The lodge owner of the Yukiyama sanso where I stayed in 1990 (long gone) was one of them.
     
  9. Chalkie

    Chalkie One of Us
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    I completely agree with that assessment, @Annabuzzy. Niseko has changed a lot since my first visit in 2008. But then again so have I, and what I look for in a skiing holiday has changed a bit too.

    It's good that you can still find bits and pieces of the "old" Niseko (our first dinner will be at Humanchu). And we will return to Yugokoretei to do some onsening, where we went on our first visit and experienced an onsen for the first time.

    But the good coffee and Mick's wine bar of the new Niseko aren't to be sneezed at!
     
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  10. Hunter

    Hunter Part of the Furniture
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    It has its place and will continue to expand and become the Japanese Whistler not a bad thing for the country but certainly an international resort these days.

    Half Note encapsulates the glory days of the long gone charming Niseko, alas no longer.
     
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  11. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty
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    Babs and Pa were the legends when we were there
     
  12. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty
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    Babs was good. Pär is still there I gather. Hanks was awesome, also long gone. Just about the only place from when I was last there that I still see referenced (apart from the Seicomart) is the Jam bar - that was fun also - though I remember slipping once on the step on the way out and landing my hand on an exposed nail - not quite so much fun. A small place that has somehow managed to survive.
     
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  13. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty
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    Its odd ..or rather relevant I guess that we stayed with similar people , at either ends of the "discovery stage" of Niseko
    People like Glenn and Dale and Hayden.
    2006 felt like the evolution, where the ski bum discovery guys were talking of capital, square metereage of land and housing designs.
    It felt like it just went pop.
     
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  14. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty
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    Glenn & Dale. That was the first change phase. And yes, Hayden. Skied with him in 1998 on one of Glenn & Dales early trips, then bumped into him staying at same hotel at Gulmarg 10 years later in another discovery phase.
     
  15. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty
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    RIP
    I stayed with him and Glenn
    memories
     
  16. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty
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    Hayden? Didn't realise that. :( Sorry to hear. RIP
     
  17. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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    And the prices of everything ! ! :eek:
     
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  18. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty
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    Yeah 2011 in a Heli. I think we may have talked about it at the time...but that was years ago
     
  19. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty
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  20. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty
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    Yeah, that's him. I do remember him talking plenty about flying helis around Cairns.
    Come to think about it, yes we may have talked about it at the time, but yeah it was a while ago .. forgot.
     
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  21. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty
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    He owned a portion of the Deep Powder tours staff lodge. Where we stayed
     
  22. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty
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    When I saw him in Gulmarg he did say he had became a regular with DPT at Niseko. Gulmarg was a temporary diversion.
     
  23. Ramenman

    Ramenman One of Us

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    8 years ago, Japanese was still the first language.

    5 years ago, English was the first language.

    Last summer, Japanese was the third language after English and Chinese.

    Niseko - Kiroro - Rusutsu area will develop a lot more till 2030, considering the facts that Shinkansen is coming, Japan is very likely to invest a lot in the region for Winter Olympics 2030 and the population of East Asia is more than 2 billions and more and more upper middle class people will be born in East Asia and many of them will come to Hokkaido.
     
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  24. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty
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    Its odd that Australian investment spawned chinese super investment
    Australians created the "new" Niseko.
     
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  25. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty
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    Yeah, all of that will no doubt further concentrate visitors to that region.
     
  26. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty
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    So will gondolas to shopping strips
     
  27. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty
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    Shopping with skiing as a bonus. Looks like that's what gets the Chinese punters. They can have it.
     
  28. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty
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    They ski?
     
  29. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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    Give it another week, and you'll see bigger crowds there
     
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  30. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty
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    Ha. Don't know about the Chinese in Niseko or Japan in general - not noticed many at all in Tohoku (though quite a few now get to Zao now apparently). But have seen a quite a few in NZ and a some of them ski ok...
     
  31. Ramenman

    Ramenman One of Us

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    You might laugh if you see what Zao looks like during Chinese New Year holidaysLOL

    The gondola to Juhyo forest is super crowded with Asian tourists, but only a few of them are with ski / snowboard gears, so they come to see and touch snow, rather than to ski / snowboard, but Zao has the lowest visibility in Japan, I mean, always foggy, especially around Chinese New Year = between mid Jan and mid Feb = the foggiest, so they can't see Juhyo much:p. Fortunately, ski slopes are not crowded at all:)
     
  32. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty
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    Yes, I remember you mentioning that before. Seems to have been quite a change from 2009 when i went or I was just lucky - even had a couple of clear days up there. :)
     
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  33. Hyst

    Hyst One of Us
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    https://www.google.com/maps/uv?hl=d...hUKEwj0joDHp97fAhVKbFAKHcZbCB4QoiowE3oECAYQBg
     
  34. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty!
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    Stereotypically only on piste and only at a low standard and usually the kids, sometimes Dad, rarely Mum.

    But it’s changing.
    They come back each year and see how others do it and the children become the next generation of skiers.
     
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  35. Ramenman

    Ramenman One of Us

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    It's only 3 or 4 years ago when a lot of Asian tourists from abroad started coming to Zao. So no wonder if you didn't see them at all in 2009. I don't think Zao is crowded even now, though. I mean, only specific gondolas / lifts are crowded only on specific holidays:).

    Speaking of visibility in Zao, it isn't that bad at the bottom but the visibility is often bad around the top of the mountains even when the visibility is good at the bottom. Juhyo is written 樹氷 in Japanese. 樹 = tree, 氷 = Ice, so it means "Tree Ice". Juhyo is sometimes called Muhyo too. Muhyo = 霧氷. Mu of Muhyo = 霧, and 霧 means fog. 霧氷 = "Fog Ice". As the kanji shows, the places where there are big Juhyo, it's usually very foggy in winter, and visibility is low.
    [​IMG]
     
    #35 Ramenman, Jan 9, 2019
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2019
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  36. ojisan

    ojisan Part of the Furniture
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    Also makes sense that the kanji for rain ( あめ) 雨 is used for clear ice..
     
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  37. Annabuzzy

    Annabuzzy Part of the Furniture
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    Had lunch today at a restaurant where so far as I could tell none of the staff were Japanese, and a number spoke no Japanese.

    Says a lot about the new Niseko.

    Still the food was nice, as was the decor. Service was good and it actually wasn’t particularly expensive. Lots of expensive ski wear and frosted hair to be seen. Still they were very attractive people.
     
  38. Slowman

    Slowman Addicted
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    Some will get the "bug" and progress with the sport. A guide I have skied with now has a couple of mainland Chinese clients who are sufficiently keen and able that they have chartered her services for a backcountry trip to Argentina in September.
     
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  39. telenomore

    telenomore One of Us

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    Yes @Heinz , I remember those trips. Yukio Yamamoto, the owner of Yukiyama Sanso, was a magnet for the early tele community. I did some tele racing based in Yukiyama Sanso at Hirafu in about 1983/84. Yukio was so enamored with telemarking that he named his son "Kazama" after the Japanese ski brand of the same name that was dominating tele and tele racing in the mid 80's. Haven't heard of Kazama skis for some time, assume they are no more or had a name change. Tele skiing in Japan has gone the same way it has world wide. Still see a good handful on tele gear but light weight tech bindings , IMO, were the nail in the coffin as it opened up AT skiing to a whole new generation of skiers. The BC back then was dominated by tele. No. more. Ha ha.
     
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  40. dmz

    dmz More cheeeese Gromit
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    So looking forward to Boyoso - best lunch place ever...
     
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  41. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty
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    What about the Sandanyama(?) crew that made those videos around Tokachi in the 90's & 00's? They still around or moved on to something else?
     
  42. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty!
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    Name of restaurant?
    Keen to hear of any new offerings worthy of patronage.

    If you want to be ordering in Nihongo with mostly Nihon-jin staff then hit up Nagomi, Ebisutei, Rin, Niseko Ramen, Jam Bar, Mina Mina (off the top of my head - there’s way more).
     
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  43. Annabuzzy

    Annabuzzy Part of the Furniture
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    I don’t want to name and shame. Anyway I can’t remember the name right now!!

    I’ll check tomorrow and pm you
     
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  44. PG2736

    PG2736 Hard Yards

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    We also just returned from Niseko after a 10 year hiatus...the snow was amazing and the skiing is great but the development of the village lacks a very clear master plan and quality village transport system. It seems in part due to all the different investors (ie Chinese, Singaporean, Malay, etc) all trying to make a buck. They’re clearly targeting the Chinese market going forward...especially with The new Park Hyatt, Ritz Carlton and Aman hotels all opening in the surrounding area. There is some great restaurants and little bars dotted around but the place lacks atmosphere and a village capable of dealing with the crowds. Was a great trip...but back to North America for us
     
  45. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty
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    Have you been anywhere else in Japan in that ten years?
     
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  46. PG2736

    PG2736 Hard Yards

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    No...all North America. Has just worked with the kids etc. must say the kids had an absolute ball with the Go Snow guys in Niseko. They were excellent.
     
  47. zarik

    zarik Hard Yards

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    They are starting to. I was at Cortina staying at HGP for couple day with family there were a lot of Chinese tourists taking ski and snowboard lessons. Funny enough it was harder to find kids lessons in Japanese(they are dirt cheap and our daughter is fluent) than in English or Chinese.
     
  48. Ramenman

    Ramenman One of Us

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    China hosts next winter Olympics in 2022, which will make more Chinese start skiing / snowboarding. And, as you know, northern China is very dry. Plus, Japanese ski resorts can be more accessible for the Chinese people living in Shanghai, Guangzhou, etc. These are top 10 ski resorts in China. Shanghai to Yabuli is 3 hours 10 mins by air and Shanghai to Tokyo is 2 hours 45mins. Guangzhou to Yabuli is 4 hours 15 mins and Guangzhou to Tokyo is 3 hours 55mins. So Japanese ski resorts can be even closer than the Chinese major ski resort region for Chinese people living in very big cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou. So, just like a lot of German ski in Austria, a lot of Chinese might start skiing in Japan, but not very soon, in my opinion, maybe 2025 - 2030?
    [​IMG]
     
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  49. Telemark Phat

    Telemark Phat Pass the butter
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    The come to Perisher to ski, why not Japan.
     
  50. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty
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    I was being facetious.
    *they built a gondola in Niseko to service a shopping strip. Not a ski hill.
    Priority .

    Ive seen ripping Chinese snowboarders.. .seems to be a thing.
     
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