Travel

Expat skiers and snowboarders offer tips getting the best of Japan's snow

If you can’t decide where to go this season, why not take a few tips from the veterans? To get the best ones, we asked a variety of expat skiers and snowboarders for their recommendations.

Ben Kerr: Owner of Niseko-Hirafu Snow Tours at Niseko, Hokkaido; has boarded in Japan for nine years

  • Hotel: Goshiki Onsen (Niseko)
  • Onsen: Koikawa Onsen (Niseko)
  • Run: Any of Niseko’s great backcountry
  • Experience: Riding with a huge, white rabbit in the middle of nowhere. We kept looking at each other, stopping, exchanging glances, then starting off again . . . This continued all the way to the bottom, where I realized that I had been led into a previously unknown fantastic natural quarter-pipe! Thanks to the rabbit, many hours of fun have been had there since . . .

E. Gardner Robinson: Founder of Outdoor Japan; has boarded in Japan for five years

  • Hotel: Haus St. Anton (Nozawa Onsen, Nagano)
  • Onsen: Takaragawa Onsen (Gunma Prefecture) and Tsubame Onsen (Niigata Prefecture)
  • Runs: The top runs at Nozawa Onsen; tree runs at Suginohara; Strawberry Fields at Togakushi Onsen (sentimental favorite)

Dan Underwood: Corporate communications executive; has skied and boarded in Japan for four years (20 years’ experience)

  • Restaurant: Dai-chan ramen at the bottom of the sky cable at Zao. You can slide right to the door, and they have cold beers, totally wacky owners and huge servings full of things that aren’t meant to be in ramen but somehow taste great.
  • Run: For mellow tree powder that no one ever touches, the woods in Chuo Gerande at Zao. Not very long, and too flat for skiing, but perfect for learning how to board.

Frank Song: Attorney; has boarded in Japan for 10 years

  • Hotel: Ben’s place in Niseko, Hokkaido (Niseko-Hirafu Chalet). Not luxurious, but can’t complain about 3,000 yen a night!
  • Onsen: The one at Niseko Higashiyama Prince Hotel (if you can sneak in)
  • Restaurants: Niseko is one of the only places in Japan with some semblance of apres-ski; lots of little bars and restaurants. I love the yakiniku place on the slopes for lunch and Sencho for dinner.
  • Run: Down the backside of the peak at Niseko, aka The Annupuri Bowl
  • Experience: Going off piste at Furano, getting stuck, stepping off my board and sinking up to my chest in powder.

Brad Punu: Associate for financial institution; has lived and boarded in Japan for five years

  • Hotel/Onsen: The Piano in Kiroro. They have a very nice rotenburo, the sides of which are packed with snow, with a view of Kiroro Valley.
  • Restaurants: Cafeteria at Kiroro and the sushi restaurant at the Piano Hotel
  • Run: The back face of Niseko, off-piste, aka The Annupuri Bowl. Best and deepest powder I have ever seen, and you can get that great snow there on a regular basis!
  • Experience: Sorry, it was not in Japan, but heli-boarding in Whistler!

Julia Nolet: President of Worsdworth; has lived and skied in Japan for more than 15 years (president of the Shin-Yi Ski Club)

  • Restaurant: Yanagiran at Togakushi. A charming octagonal log cabin with delicious food, beer, wine, hot chocolate and a dapper old gentleman waiter in a weskit and bow tie.
  • Run: Challenger Street at Madarao Kogen

Mark Dytham: Architect; has boarded in Japan for five years

  • Pub: Big Cliff izakaya in Niseko. Walking down the main drag from the slopes, it’s about three-quarters of the way down on your left, 50 meters before the crossing with the main road. The real boarders hang out here . . . real good food, too. After your fill at the Cliff, wade through the snow at the back of the izakaya (ask the staff for directions) to a small bar in what can only be described as an up-turned boat! The bar will be dead until about 12:10 a.m., and then all the hotel staff pile in after they kick off work at midnight. It usually turns into a madhouse and a whopping hangover . . . As you carve down your first run of the day, motion sickness takes on a whole new meaning . . .

Will Binnie: Associate for financial institution; has lived in Japan for four years and boarded every weekend for the past three

  • Hotel: Full Note at Niseko Hirafu. Cool owner, cool place, cool jump in the back!
  • Onsen: Minakami Onsen, down the road from Tengendaira
  • Restaurants: Wanko Soba at Appi Kogen, Iwate; the Genghis Kahn place at Niseko; The Yurt in Niseko
  • Runs: Officially, Niseko, as they allow you off the piste at Strawberry Fields, sometimes. Unofficially, under the fence at the top of Nozawa Onsen, aka The Tanuki Chute.
  • Experiences: Learning to carve deep powder for the first time at Appi, Alts Bandai and Niseko; snow boarding in a Santa suit and giving prezzies out to all the little boys and girls at Appi Kogen; snapping my Rossignol in two at Niseko.

Lucy Wayneright: Journalist; has boarded in Japan for five years

  • Restaurant: Piattore in Iwappara in Niigata Prefecture, at the bottom of the center quad lift. Having lived in Italy, the chef knows his authentic Italian cucina. Interior is funky bric-a-brac and it even has a large wood-burning stove for the pizzas (which rival any in Tokyo).

Cedric Morel: Scientist; born and raised on skis in Switzerland and has since returned there after spending four years living and skiing in Japan

  • Hotel: The Full Note in Niseko, with its really cool stacked beds.
  • Onsen: I like all the onsen at Zao, especially the Central Plaza rotenburo.
  • Run: Niseko Hirafu, the powder run from the top, aka Strawberry Fields, just don’t tell the ski patrol!
  • Experience: 60 cm of fresh powder in the trees under the lift at Niseko; wearing a yukata over my winter gear with some crazy friends

Naoki Fujimoto: Manager of Tourbox Travel in Kanda (previously a professional ski instructor in Japan); has skied for more than 20 years.

  • Hotel: I like all the hotels in Shiga Kogen (Nagano) because they are close to the slopes and reasonably priced.
  • Onsen: The onsen street at Zao Onsen.
  • Runs: The wide long cruisers at Appi and Shiga Kogen.