Just back from a week of super skiing and eating with the family in Niseko, Japan. Read on for what to do and what NOT to do!
- Lots of equipment rental choices. Try out everything the day before.
- Private lessons are expensive (U$300 for 3 hours) but worth it.
- Get your instructor to check your boots are tight enough. Also, get a helmet & balaclava.
- Choose an airline where you are a priority passenger to avoid long queues.
- Its 7-8 hours to/from Tokyo so get food for the journey
- For your Tokyo transit, check if you have to change airports!
- In transit, keep thermals handy in one bag
- We had 4 big suitcases and 1 carry-on that fit into a hatchback taxi in Singapore
- Just pack ski clothes, thermals & one set of normal clothes for the trip
- Juice up your devices before travelling and carry chargers in your carry-on
- Stock up on basic medicines & travel insurance, skiing can be dangerous!
- Carry Japanese Yen in cash with you
- Stay in a chalet if you are a large group
- At least in Feb, you don’t need to book all lessons and meals in advance
We live in Singapore & the closest international ski resorts are in Hokkaido Japan, said to have the best powder snow in the world. The Americas was too far for our weeklong trip, and we had tried Europe. So we went for Niseko in Hokkaido, with a great reputation for ski and apres-ski. Its close to Vladivostok in Siberia, so quite cold. It was -13 Celsius when we landed in mid Feb.
Where to Stay?
In Hokkaido, we had enjoyed Clubmed a year ago https://www.clubmed.com.sg/r/Sahoro-Hokkaido/w, and decided to try something else. Friends had recommended the Hilton near Niseko http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/japan/hilton-niseko-village-CTSNVHI/index.html but it was full.
So we chose a serviced apartment in Niseko. We were booking a month before travel, so could only get the undoubtedly expensive (U$1000/ night), but superb http://alpenridge.com. It included
- 2 large bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms. The master had a tub and the 2nd bathroom had the fancy Japanese WCs with sprays that we all loved.
- a well equipped kitchen with some welcome food
- a large sitting room with a big TV with access to Netflix
- cleaning service (thrice during our 6 day stay)
- lots of storage space, and a washing machine/ dryer
- Airport pick up and drop by bus
- A 10% discount at the cafe where we often had breakfast/ snacks
- Various discounts at shops/ restaurants in Niseko
- A 5 minute walk away were a 24 hour grocery store (with superb Hokkaido fruits & dairy products), a pharmacy, loads of restaurants, bars & shops.
- A 24 hour reception desk that we used to book meals
- Ski passes for all 4 of us for all 5 days of skiing
- A locker to keep our ski equipment
- It was ski-in ski-out
- In the basement, it had NBS providing lessons, equipment & a ski store
- There was an outdoor cafe, perfect for tucking into hot chocolate between runs
If you are in a large group, check out the various Chalets available. It is like staying in one large home, and if you choose your co-travellors well (!), very worthwhile.
Ski Equipment, Clothes and Lessons
This was effectively our 2nd ski vacation, so we are novices. There are many choices online, but we went with NBS http://www.nisekobase.com with everything at Alpenridge .
We didn’t use it, but if you need to, they have a what seemed to a nice Kids Club. I saw many of the instructors/ kids on the family run and they were being managed well.
Last year at Clubmed we used the group lessons included in the package & only bought the useful private lessons for the kids towards the end. This time we booked private lessons in advance for the 1st 3 days. Then ended up booking more of the same for the remaining 2 days.
On lessons, what I plan to do next time is book
- Group lessons on day 1 to re-familiarise ourselves with the motions, at the same levels at the end of this trip.
- Book full day group lessons for the enthusiastic ones as the afternoon sessions end up being a private lesson (most of the morning folks don’t continue!)
- Private lessons for the next 2/ 3 mornings (Make sure these are with the same instructor). Also ask them to take pictures/ videos, most will oblige. In the afternoon you can do practice runs on your own in places you are comfortable with.
- On the last day, book private/group lessons based on how things are going.
Food and Drink
Breakfast was mainly in the apartment or the Alpenridge cafe. Lunch was always at this great place called Green Farm Cafe with superb burgers, curry, bolognese, fish & chips and cheese cake. Dinners were always Japanese and we ate at Kabuki2, Enichi and Otsukisama. With the kids around we didn’t go to bars, but all the cafes/ restaurants had a good choice of Japanese whiskeys, sake, beer, as well as the normal international stuff.
Most restaurants do NOT charge a service fee, so please add a tip where needed.
After starving on the way to Niseko, for the return trip we stocked up with sandwiches from the Alpenridge cafe.
In peak time (Christmas), Singapore Air has direct Singapore-Sapporo flights, but not available in Feb. http://www.skyscannercom showed that Singapore Air was very expensive (U$5k for the 4 of us on economy), ANA next at U$3.5 and Japan Airlines at U$3k. I should have gone with ANA to avail of my Star Alliance Gold status to avoid long queues, but chose JAL instead. Our transit experience deserves another post that will come soon.
When to book?
Most book 6 months (or even more) in advance. For this trip, I booked a month in advance and got flights at a regular price, but could only find very expensive accommodation. We are already planning our next trip in December 2017!
When booking online, I found that I had to pay 2.5% extra to use my credit card for the accommodation at Alpenridge and the ski equipment/ lessons from NBS. That was a bummer but I did it. In Niseko, I found that NBS did not charge this 2.5% extra when I used my card. Strange, but I didn’t argue!
In Niseko, some restaurants (Otsukisama) charged upto 10% extra for using credit cards! Some had a minimum spend to pay by card (Green Farm Cafe). Some shops only accepted cash.
ATMs were rare. The nearby grocery store only accepted ATM cards issued by Japanese banks, though thankfully allowed me to exchange Singapore$ notes for Yen. There was a hotel further down that accepted international ATM cards. But better not to risk it, so stock up on Yen before you get there.
What our week was like
Having told you what specific aspects were like, let me tell how our wonderful week went.
- Reaching Niseko: We left Singapore on a Saturday night and after a long journey (to be described in another post), reached Alpenridge Niseko at 1pm on Sunday. We settled in, bought some clothes, tried on our equipment, had dinner at Kabuki2( where the chef cooks in front of you), and had an early night.
- Day1 and 2: We got up at 7.30, had breakfast in the apartment and got ready for our lessons starting at 9.30. Our 2 kids had private lessons & loved their instructors. My wife and I were less lucky. My son had problems with his gloves so we went back to the store. Next door was the Green Farm Cafe, where we had a fabulous lunch. My daughter and I went on the family run on our own in the afternoons. Dinner on day 1 was again at Green Farm cafe, and on Day 2 at Enichi, a wonderful Japanese place near by.
- Day 3: we had a late morning, enjoying the breakfast at Green Farm. Then my daughter and I went for a few runs, followed by an afternoon family private lesson (with the 2 instructors our kids had). It was wonderful to see the kids skiing so skilfully! Dinner was at the quirky Otsukisama.
- Day 4 our kids continued with private lessons while my wife/I tried group ones. Mine was v good. Then we had lunch at Green Farm (again!). Later, my wife enjoyed an onsen nearby. We went back for dinner to Enichi with friends from Singapore.
- Day 5 we all had private lessons in the morning. After a quick lunch, my daughter and I did our last run up the slopes. Dinner was at home as we had an early morning.
- Back to Singapore: it was a long day, with us leaving at 9am and reaching Singapore 17 hours later.
A fabulous trip with many lessons learnt for next time!
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Sounds like a great time! You really can’t go wrong with skiing — it’s so much fun.
No tipping in Japan is how I understood things as well (I tend to follow the local culture/customs when I travel). The serviced apartment looks comfy, but I can’t say I didn’t do a double take on the hefty rate per night!
No tipping required in Japan. I’m surprised you didn’t get the merchant rundown where they thrust the money back in your hand and bow after you leave the restaurant.
For ATMs, next time try 7-11s and Post Offices. At both locations, ATMs are foreigner friendly and have relationships with multiple networks like Plus, Cirrus, Maestro and all the major credit card companies.