Tag Archives: Japan

10 reasons to take your kids skiing in Madarao, Japan, this summer

In late February 2018, my family and I travelled to Madarao, a small but emerging resort in the Nagano Prefecture, where we took our kids skiing for the first time. The kids aged 6 and 8 took to skiing like ducks to water, loved the culture and generally just loved the entire experience; from the trains to the food, to the endless amount of snow. 

Our holiday to Madarao in the Nagano Prefecture was seriously awesome – perfect even – and if you were to ask me should take their kids to Japan, my answer is a resounding YES. Here are my reasons why, with just a few tips and tricks thrown in… Continue reading 10 reasons to take your kids skiing in Madarao, Japan, this summer

Niseko Weiss Powder CATS: first tracks guaranteed

There’s no doubt that CAT skiing offers great value to riders looking for a new riding experience. It offers easy access to untracked powder, without hiking and without the risks normally presented by back-country skiing. It’s perhaps these qualities that have earnt it the tag ‘poor man’s heli-skiing’.

On a recent visit to Hokkaido (February 2017), we were lucky enough to give CAT skiing a try courtesy of Niseko Weiss Powder CATs. Niseko Weiss Powder CATs is an experienced adventure company operating out of the Hanazono Ski Area, in greater Niseko United. Although a lean season by Niseko United standards (they’d only received a lazy 8m of snow instead of 12m), the powder CATs adventure was an unforgettable experience and a great alternative to the hustle and bustle of the main Niseko skiing area, located just a few minutes away.

AA_Cat4 Continue reading Niseko Weiss Powder CATS: first tracks guaranteed

Review: 5 Days in Madarao, Japan

Small crowds, a ‘local’ feel, a variety of friendly lodges, lift tickets and food priced the way it should be and tonnes of snow, translates into epic powder days centred around a true Japanese cultural experience that visitors crave – all without those regretful stares from lift-queue’s, back up to quickly-disappearing fresh tracks.

Continue reading Review: 5 Days in Madarao, Japan

Recipe for Japow: the Japanese snow machine explained

Japan is one of the hottest skiing tickets in the world right now, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s got great culture, delicious food, friendly people and colossal amounts of the lightest and driest snow found anywhere in the world.

Japan’s snow quality, reliability and proximity to Australia is why more and more Aussies are turning to Japan as an alternative and very affordable destination to more traditional haunts of Europe and North America.  Ask the average snow-going Aussie why Japan(?), and they respond ‘snow quantity and snow quality’, every time.

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Deep in the white room

Japan is a veritable snow machine which every year produces some 12 to 18 m of snow, with most falling on the western mountain ranges of Honshu and the northern Island of Hokkaido. It’s no coincidence that Sapporo, Hokkaido’s biggest city holds the title as the 2nd snowiest city in the world.

The Japanese snow machine exists due to a special combination of climate and prevailing weather conditions, which every year combine to create the ‘perfect storm’ scenario.

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Enjoying the Japanese snow machine

Without getting too technical, Japan’s snow results when the frigid Siberian winds blow across the warm Japanese Sea, sucking up moisture as they go. This results in the formation of moisture laden clouds which inevitably collide with the western Japanese coastline, producing snow – and lots of it.

The real kicker is not just the temperature differential between the atmosphere and the sea, but the ‘baffling’ effect which results when the clouds ‘bunch up’ over the mountains before rising and cooling under the ‘orographic effect’. It is these conditions which create the perfect storm scenario, producing whopping amounts of dry powder snow.

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Cold winds blast across the warm Sea of Japan, producing consistent cloud and copious snow falls over the Japanese Alps

In simple terms, the mountains which run north to south down the centre of Honshu and Hokkaido act like super absorbent sponges, squeezing out every last drop of moisture from the clouds that stream in from the north-west (Grasshopper, 2017).

While this explains the volume of snow it does nothing to explain the dry qualities of the Japanese snow. ‘Dryness’ is about the snow’s moisture content; under warmer conditions, snow flakes cannot freeze entirely, meaning some of the flake’s structure is icy, while the rest is watery (with an average ratio of water to ice of 1:10). Dry snow forms under very cold conditions. Snow forming under these conditions has more air pockets (and is thus lighter) and a water to ice ratio as high as 1:30. The more air pockets it has, the lighter and drier it is.

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Japan’s tree skiing is sublime

Dry snow is more prevalent in Japan owing to the freezing winds which blast down from the northwest. Moisture absorbed form the Sea of Japan is picked up and tossed around in the ‘troposphere‘ where it is super-cooled. It then floats gently back down to earth, generally landing in or near one of the Japan’s 600 odd ski areas.

This year promises to be no different in Japan. With the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in a neutral set up, and only a slight chance of a La Nina event, the Japanese season is looking spot on about average, or slightly above average (depending on the arrival of our lady-friend La Nina).

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It’s all a bit crystal ball at this stage but at the end of the day a bad season in Japan is better than a good season is most other parts of the world! If you’ve never been to Japan, or have been contemplating a Japanese ski/snowboard holiday, we urge you to bite the bullet. One thing’s for sure, the snow quality in Japan is one thing you won’t need to worry about.

Images courtesy Madarao Resort, Japan.

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Subscribers to Snowriders Australia receive special discounts at Madarao, Japan. PM us for details.

Diary of a snow-bound parent: two weeks in Hokkaido with kids

Guest reporter, Di McLean from Perth, Western Australia recently traveled through the beautiful Hokkaido mountains, with hubby and two children aged 4 and 6.   Here she writes about her experience.

My hubby, Steve, and I hadn’t snowboarded for nine years and we were itching to hit the slopes in Japan and introduce our girls aged 4 and 6 to snow for the first time. We decided to visit Hokkaido (the northern Island of) Japan, in late January. The timing coincided with the Western Australian school holidays and the period of reliable snow fall. Our schedule included 7 nights in Niseko, 3 in Sapporo and 4 in Furano.

The traveling

Our checked baggage included three large suitcases, one snowboard bag (which took both our boards and boots) and a couple of toboggans that we strapped together. These as we found out later doubled as sleds for dragging the kids around when they were too tired to walk! Our carry on was filled to the brim with bulky jackets, beanies and gloves plus changes of clothes for the kids. In case of accidents.

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To get from Perth to Niseko took approximately 20 hours (airport to welcome centre). The kids were very excited on the way over and didn’t sleep well, so were ratty (irritable) for a good portion of the travel time. Our four year old also likes to be carried. A lot. If I’m honest, there were some very challenging times! The journey home was much smoother when they knew what they were in for.

Niseko

The last time we were in Niseko was in January 2008. Since then, both my husband and I couldn’t believe how much it had changed. It is much more developed, much more westernised, busier and more expensive. But still awesome.

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We stayed in a 2 bedroom apartment in lower Hirafu, a five minute walk (15 mins with kids) from the main intersection. We were fortunate enough to have both my sisters (best Aunties ever) along for the Niseko part of the trip which reduced accommodation costs and helped immensely with the kids.

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There are so many bars, restaurants, shops etc. that it was impossible to visit them all. We were advised to book restaurants in advance, which we did, but still could not get in to several despite asking a full month prior. Its that busy in Niseko during peak periods. Once in Niseko, however, we found that because we were generally eating at 6 pm, we could get into most restaurants. Seicomart on the main road was a good source of snacks, cheap meals, alcohol and the basics for cooking breakfast in our apartment.

Sapporo

We stayed 3 nights in a Hotel in Susukino but in hindsight would have only stayed 2 as this was ample time to explore the main shopping arcades and fish market. The kids loved the pet shop and the amusement arcades best. We also took the kids to Nakajima Park which is very scenic and you can rent nordic skis for free and use them to scoot around the park.

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 Furano

Our last 4 nights were spent in Furano – an easy 2 ¼ hour train ride north from Sapporo. We really loved it there. We stayed in a Pension on a hill overlooking a vineyard just out of town where the owners cooked us amazing breakfasts and dinners and drove us to and from the slopes each day. Furano was very different to Niseko, for two primary reasons:  (1) it was next level cold and (2) it has a quiet, local feel.

We woke to -29 degrees on our first morning (-35 on the mountain) but generally it was between -10 to -15. There were therefore no drying rooms (as things don’t get wet) and no icy patches on the slopes as it’s too cold for the snow to melt, rather it just gets shifted around and then groomed. While the snow was amazing, on the coldest of days the kids couldn’t handle more than 1 ½ hours on the mountain at a time before they were too cold, usually on their faces.

The mountain is smaller than Niseko, with two main sides, the Furano Zone and the Kitanomine Zone. There were good off-piste areas but being our first time here, we didn’t have time to sufficiently explore them. There were no crowds and there is a ‘local’ feel to the mountain. The kids especially loved it in Furano with a huge range of beginner and intermediate, very scenic, long runs. Note that they do not offer group ski lessons for children under 6.

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The New Prince Hotel is at the base of the Furano Zone which has toilets, ski schools and ski hire gear on its ground floor. Beside the hotel there is a bakery and a forest area within which there are a scattering of 15 wooden cottages each selling beautiful and unique homemade crafts. Next to this area there was a kid wonderland area. Open from 4 pm there was tubing and husky sleds, igloos, ice sculptures all lit with fairy lights. We will definitely be returning to Furano and hoping that it has not changed too much before we do.

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Madarao Kogen: An untapped Tree-Skiing Powder Paradise

Skiing and snowboarding in Japan is the hottest winter sports ticket in the world at the moment, and why wouldn’t it be: it consistently records the lightest and driest snow on earth, and it falls in quantities that’ll make your head spin – every time! Continue reading Madarao Kogen: An untapped Tree-Skiing Powder Paradise

Ten things to remember when planning your Japanese snow holiday

So you’re ready to take your first overseas holiday to Japan. We’re genuinely excited for you. But, let’s be clear; Japan is not Australia, and it’s very easy to arrive completely unprepared.  Here’s a few snippets of advice to help you along the way: Continue reading Ten things to remember when planning your Japanese snow holiday