2016 Ski Hokkaido Japan

(1/23/2015 - 1/31/2015)


On 1/23/2016 nine friends and I skied in Hokkaido, Japan.  Click here for a Google map of interesting locations.   Here is who showed up: 1. Brady Nilsen, 2. Karl Dohan, 3. Tamara Dohan, 4. Lance Waring, 5. Lise Waring, 6. Brian Wohletz, 7. Mike Chow, 8. Paul Wieneke, 9. Katherine Chung, and 10. Brian Wilson (me).  Hokkaido is the northern island of Japan, and the Niseko ski areas (and particularly "Grand Hirafu") are famous for getting lots of snow in late January. 

This trip (with this group of friends) is an annual trip we have taken for 20 years. Each year we decide a new location and all meet there. Here is the list of locations and the dates we skied there.

  1. 12/20/97 - Crested Butte, Telluride, Vail, and Aspen, Colorado road trip.
  2. 1/20/98 - Park City, Utah (during the Sundance film festival)
  3. 2/14/99 - Taos, New Mexico (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  4. 3/26/00 - Whistler, Canada not full group (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  5. 3/11/01 - Banff, Canada not full group (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  6. 3/3/02 - Steamboat, Colorado (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  7. 3/9/03 - Jackson Hole, Wyoming (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  8. 4/17/04 - Lake Tahoe, California (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  9. 3/11/05 - Big Sky, Montana (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  10. 3/3/06 - Mammoth, California (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  11. 3/3/07 - Chamonix, France (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  12. 4/2/08 - Breckenridge, Colorado (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  13. 2/13/09 - Reno, Nevada skiing Squaw Valley and Mt Rose (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  14. 2/25/2010 - Sun Valley Idaho (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  15. 3/9/2011 - Park City, Utah (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  16. 3/3/2012 - Taos, New Mexico (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  17. 2/16/2013 - Vail, Colorado (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  18. 2/21/2014 - Whistler-Blackcomb, Canada (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  19. 3/6/2015 - Whitefish Montana "Big Mountain"  (Click here to see pictures from that trip.)
  20. 1/23/2016 - Ski Hokkaido Japan (The page you are looking at!)

Below is a map of the northern island of Japan called Hokkaido and the areas we were at:


Two Videos of GoPro Footage of Skiing Japan!

Just to jump to a video (if that is what you like), below is a GoPro test movie, including ringing of the bells.  Click here for the very highest quality "original" movie.  The bells was one run on Niseko Grand Hirafu Ski resort where you (if you liked) could whack these bells with your ski poles for fun.  I've never seen it anywhere else, it's fun and easy for the ski area to setup, I think it's good clean fun, probably mostly for children (I'm just a big kid).  WARNING: I'm not a great skier, so this footage is me goofing around and trying out my GoPro Session Camera for the very first time ever.


And my second video is from the very last day of our 6 day trip when the sun came out and was gorgeous.  Click here for the very highest quality original.  The mountain you see in the still frame below (above "Play Movie") is "Mount Yōtei".  WARNING: I'm not a great skier, so this footage is mostly us just goofing around and showing how wonderful the conditions are.



And the Rest of the Pictures (mostly in time order):

REMEMBER: you can click on any photo for the highest resolution version I have. 

Starting from the beginning, a bunch of us all flew out of SFO (San Francisco Airport) on the same flight.  Below we are beginning to collect and meet up waiting for the first leg of our journey.  That's Lance Waring on the left standing up, and Lance's sister Lise Waring is facing Katherine Chung sitting between them.


Our airplane, a Boeing 747-400.  The "first class" seats are in the nose cone in front of even the pilots, you can see the windows ALMOST face forward (which would be super fun and cool to design an airplane with front facing windows).


Katherine and I sat in business class in the upper deck.  Notice the huge storage (hinged open) on Katherine's left near the floor, it's really convenient and a person in the window seat never has to put anything in the overhead bins because there is so much room totally reserved for the person in the window seat.


Here we are flying into Toyko Narita (NRT) airport, picture taken out the airplane window..


Almost touching down, I like the picture below because of the shadow of our airplane.  :-)  The airline hanger in the picture says "ANA" which is "All Nippon Airways".


A "Welcome to Japan" sign in the Narita Airport.  Katherine is pointing at the Korean spelling.


At this point our entire 10 person group can gather for the final short hop from Narita to New Chitose Airport (CTS).  Below from left to right is Paul Wieneke (glasses), Katherine Chung, Lance Waring, Mike Chow (looking tired after his flight), and Lise Waring.


Half our group came from the Portland Oregon airport (PDX), seen blow is Brian Wohletz (medium blue shirt facing away from camera) and Brady Nilsen (black shirt) and Karl Dohan (bright blue shirt talking with Mike Chow in far back).


Tamera Dohan (purple jacket) and a tired looking Katherine.


And finally we take a short hop flight and arrive in CTS airport (New Chitose) which is on the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan.


Below is a picture of our biggest, 3 bedroom room at "The Vale" (click here for the floorplan). This is "Apartment 201".  We are all tired from travel and this is 10 minutes after arriving.  "The Vale" left us "gift boxes" in our rooms which included the wine, cheese, and snacks seen below, it was very nice of them.  Katherine is missing from this picture, already asleep in our other room on a different floor.  :-)


Below is a different angle (two days later) in the same room.


Brady had the most flights of anybody that day (two days?  It is like 20 hours and you take off one day and land the following day), and was shattered by the travel.  Here he is resting his eyes.  


My picture of "Apartment 201"s outside hot tub (called an "onsen" or "温泉" which means "hot springs" in Japanese).


The next morning most of us rented skis and went skiing.  My skis are shown below, they are "Line Prophet 98 - 2012" - a dual tip sort of side ski the guy in the shop recommended.  It was fine, and we could swap out as many times as we wanted.  I just kept this ski all week.  It was the shortest ski I've skied since I was 17 years old, the current style is short.  I initially had trouble making these "carve" turns, I would just sort of windshield wiper push the ski, but I got better as the week went on.  They were great in chopped up snow or soft snowy moguls (which is a lot of the terrain we skied) mainly because they are short (easier to turn) and pretty wide (more "float" in snow).


Our hotel "The Vale" has a private locker room for skis, and stepping outside you are at the location seen below right at the bottom of "Ace Family Lift" to access the hill.  Notice all the snow, it was like that most of the week.


And here we are skiing in Japan!  Below from left to right is Karl, Tamera, Brady (in front) and Paul on the far right.  The snow was AMAZING, the visibility you see is about what we had all week.  It would kind of "sock in" for a run, then clear back out for the next run, etc.


The next day I took off and wandered around town with Tamera and Katherine.  Below we are picking up snacks for the group at "Mariposa Bakery" (pictured below) which is very good.  That's Tamera on the left in blue and Katherine on the right.


This map of the town was on a billboard on the street, so I took a snapshot.  The bright red circle is our hotel called "The Vale", and immediately above it you can see the ski lift we access the rest of the ski hill from.  Remember you can CLICK ON THE PICTURE BELOW for a larger version that is actually readable.


The picture below is a panorama (use the horizontal scroll bar) of the main corner of Highway 343 intersecting street "Hirafu-Zaka".  Parts of the streets here are heated for safety of traffic, like the street leading up the hill on the left.  You can click on the picture below for a stupidly high resolution version.


In a convenience store downtown (two short walking blocks from our hotel) I thought this was interesting because there are brands I recognize from the United States like "Listerine" and "Dove" but with ADDITIONAL Japanese text on the bottles.  (I'm easily entertained.)  I rarely see products in America which have both Japanese text and English text on them, it is English only 99% of the time.


On the following day, a large group of us skied together.  Yes, as always it is a snowstorm, but from left to right that is Tamara, Brady, , Lise (with hand raised), Lance (green), Karl, Mike, and Brian Wohletz. 


Karl skiing beautifully down a 4 second shot of powdery slope on the first day.  Click here for the highest quality original movie.


A stop in the skiing while I take a picture.  Yes, it is STILL snowing.


At lunch, at a mid-mountain lodge you can ring the "Hanazono Bell".  I do not know why.  I think "Hanazono" means "Flower Garden"?  That's me in the picture below about to ring the bell.


As we walk into the lodge, there are compressed air nozzles you can grab to blow snow off your boots.  Kind of a luxurious touch I've never seen before!  In the picture below, Karl demonstrating how to use the "compressed air to blow off your ski boots".  CLICK HERE FOR A VIDEO of Karl doing this.


A close up while I blow off my boots with compressed air.


This is a mid-mountain lodge called "Hanazono".  Notice all the menus are in ENGLISH FIRST and Japanese second.  In fact, 9 out of 10 of the people we met on this trip working in the hotels and restaurants and on the ski hill were from Australia and New Zealand, it was a little strange and not very "Japanese".  Everybody spoke flawless English.


I had Ramen for lunch.  For ski hill food, it was amazingly high quality.  The woman below had a nametag "Maiko Mori" (not to be confused with the actress by the same name).  Maiko took so much care preparing and making sure the ramen was presented correctly.  Small side rant here: the food in most American ski resorts is a travesty.  It is expensive, and with a captive audience the quality is just terrible, and it is served by people who simply don't care.  Maiko brought little tears of joy to my eyes as she was so careful with everything she did.


Sitting down to lunch, Karl had the crab legs ramen on the left, mine is pork ramen on the right.  Both were delicious.  I'm ashamed I washed it down with a coke.  :-)  But I need a little sugar and caffeine for skiing.


As lunch wound down, we ordered a tall pitcher (?) of Sapporo (?) beer for the table.  Split 8 ways it isn't nearly as bad as it looks.  :-)


On with our skiing, I thought this sign was adorable.  It is as you are loading onto the chair lift, and it is warning you that the clear cover closes automatically over your head.  The clear "clam shell" covers help keep you warm and comfortable in snowy, windy conditions.  We were really thankful for them most of the time, they are a nice touch.


A picture in the snowstorm of the town below.  What you cannot see is "Mount Yōtei" which is completely obscured by clouds (scroll to next photo).


The picture below is out of order, but it shows APPROXIMATELY the same photo as above but on a clear day so you can see "Mount Yōtei":


At the end of the ski day, there are convenient slightly warmed lockers that work with your room key (so dedicated to your room) to dry your ski boots.  It's really, really nice.  Below is a fogged picture because my camera came in from the cold snowy outdoors and fogged up as I took this picture.  ALSO NOTICE the stool in the photo!!  I'm old and stiff and getting in and out of ski boots at the end of the day is hard balancing around on one foot.  The stools made it faster, more convenient, easier.  I'm in love with these high quality nice touches (often very low cost) that many ski areas simply ignore.


Below is a picture of our hotel "The Vale" (see the big "V" on the side).  The main highway is to the left, and the center of our little area of town is behind me.


One of the days I took off skiing, Katherine and I decided to go to "Niseko Ramen" for lunch.  The front door is pictured on the left below, with "Niseko Sushi Deli" on the right.


A close up of the Niseko Ramen sign.  It opens at noon, so we had to wait 10 minutes until it opened.


At lunch in Niseko Ramen.  They specialize in ramen with a potato froth.  Katherine (pictured below) got the spicy version, I got the tame version, both were delicious!


That night our whole group went out together to "Ezo Seafoods".  The front of the building is pictured below.


Inside the owner (in white captains hat) shucked oysters while explaining how it all worked.  Mostly you tell him to feed you, and he sends in a bunch of really high quality fresh seafood to your table.


At the front counter the sign says "Hairy Crab" but these look more like King Crab legs to me.  I'm actually thinking the chef/owner was wrong in his term "Hairy Crab" because Hairy Crab are **NOT** orange, but everything here was.  Oh well, no big deal, crab is crab.


And here is our group at dinner, from left to right: Lise, Brian (Wohletz), Brady, Paul, Karl...


And around the table: Tamera, Lance....


And finally Mike, Katherine, and Brian (Wilson - me).


Everything was really, really good.  My least favorite dish (because of personal hangups, not because it wasn't excellent) was the salty fish with eyes.  You ate the whole fish.  It just bothers me to eat their little eyes and brains.


At the end of the meal, our waitress is presenting the bill of ¥93,247 Japanese Yen with Mike hamming it up with all the money.  That is about $788 USD split 10 ways ($79 each).  This includes everything: tip, alcoholic drinks, it's actually not as bad as I was worried about.  We knew it was a special occasion and we had reservations and we were prepared for the large bill.


As we walked home, some people went to sleep, but a few of us went to the Whiskey bar located across the street from our hotel which is a lovely little place pictured below.  This might be "Toshiro's Bar"


And the next day Après-ski in Apartment 201 "The Vale".


A random side story - we wanted some aspirin or Tylenol for sore ski muscles, so how do you figure out what to buy in a Japanese pharmacy?  Well, look at the picture below in the pharmacy, you point at what hurts in the picture of the human body and then lookup the product names.


This is what the shelf of ibuprofen and Tylenol looks like.


This is what Katherine ended up with, complete with notes from the pharmacist on how often to take each.  Can you even imagine a Japanese person trying this same experience in the USA?  It would be utter chaos.  I really like how international and easy they make everything, it makes it very easy on us as visitors to their country.


A few random notes pictures, probably too boring for you to look at.  No seriously, just ski over these, they are notes for me!  The building on the left is "The Vale" (our hotel).  The building on the right is "Alpen Ridge" which would also be about the same convenience to stay in.  The bottom of the chair lift we take every morning is visible lower center of the picture (behind the coffee stop).  Our largest 3 bedroom "apartment 201" is just visible on the lowest floor of the building on the left immediately in front of the coffee stop.


A close up of the bottom of the chair lift we take everyday which is immediately behind the coffee stop.  "Ace Family Lift".


Walking up the hill during the day to the "main base" of the ski area.  They heat this street for safety of the traffic and pedestrians (no snow or ice can accumulate).


The picture below is kind of random, but these are these HUGE black birds, I called this a "murder of crows".  I don't know if they are really crows?


Walking further up the street in Hirafu.


A picture of "Chalet Ivy".  I can't remember if this was recommended as a place to stay, but it gets good reviews on TripAdvisor.  It isn't situated perfectly, but looks like nice quality.  It is a SLIGHTLY farther walk to restaurants and a SLIGHTLY farther walk to the lifts, but nothing terrible. 


On this street I noticed this "Monster Burrito" food truck.  Notice the menus are ONLY in English.  The whole town is 9/10ths an English speaking place.  The skiing is great, but the town is not a very "Japanese Cultural Immersion" type of vacation.


The "Hotel Niseko Alpen" is as close to the main base area as you can get (20 yards walk from the side door of the hotel).  The "main base area" isn't anything special, just a few lifts and no services - no restaurants and no apres ski "scene".  I don't think it's the best location to stay, but it wouldn't be fatal to a great trip.


These little hard candies are modeled to look like sushi, I thought they were adorable.


At the very top of the hill, nestled INSIDE a little loop of ski area and across the street from the main base area (and across from  "Hotel Niseko Alpen" was the foundation for a future set of condos called "Skye Niseko".  The location will be solid, but not as good as "The Vale".  It will be interesting to see them when they are done.


Here we are as high as the sidewalk goes in Hirafu Niseko little township area.  That's Katherine who looks like a little Eskimo boy.  :-)  It is the end of the road, we turn around here and walk back down.


Along our walk, I was confused by this sign pointed out below.  If you know what it means, pleaseto let me know what it means.  I'm guessing they don't like almost vertical blue lines in Niseko?


A READER ANSWERS (KC2 writes): "Found this.  The sign is a bit askew.  END of a control (applies to the sign below it). So this is the END of the 30 kph speed limit sign."


A picture looking at Mount Yōtei in the clouds.  Down below here there are TONS of pictures of the mountain in the sunshine later in the week.


Katherine noticed this insane Japanese man at the very top of this 6 story building in a snowstorm, the picture below he is descending down the roof ladder.  He's a nutter.


The "Ki Niseko" hotel  is interesting because it looks nice, plus it is as close to the Gondola as you can get, which gets you to the very top of the ski hill 15 minutes earlier than you can get from our hotel "The Vale" on a great powder morning.  This gives you 15 more minutes of untracked skiing.  However, it is an extra 10 minute walk into the restaurants plus you aren't quite as close to the Gondola as "The Vale" is to "Ace Family Lift" so your walk in the morning is maybe another 50 yards and crosses a street.  But for the truly insatiable powder snow junky, this might be worth it. Picture of the hotel seen below.


When walking around town, Katherine felt this balcony was too short.  She's about 5'7" tall.


In Japan, some restaurants make plastic replicas of the food they serve.  Below is a great example of this on the street:


The restaurant below served "Gosetsu Udon" which is an Udon noodle based on potato flour. The region we are in (Kurchan, Hokkaido) is famous for this.  So Katherine and I decided to eat lunch here.  Also, we thought the snowman was funny and interesting.


Below we are sitting inside the Udon restaurant.  The large stoneware vase looking thing has Sake (rice wine). Katherine and I realized we were actually in Japan and had not had any Sake yet.  :-)


A close up of lunch.  This was a delightful meal, it reminded me how lucky we are to live such good lives in an amazing era.  We just hop on an airplane and are standing in Japan 11 hours later, and can order without having learned Japanese and have a wonderful lunch with Japanese Sake and delicious specialized udon noodles.  After a few days we just hop back home, like nothing happened.  Go back in time even 50 years and none of this was even close to possible.  Or if we had been born in the wrong country it would not have been possible, or about a hundred other things didn't go exactly right to lead us to this moment.


On the way back to our hotel after lunch, we stopped and played with this adorable Shiba Inu puppy (or possibly an Akita or Hokkaido?).  The Shiba Inu is a dog that originated in the mountains of Japan (where we are) and is known for it's ability to withstand the cold (it is double-coated: the outer coat is straight and the inner coat is thick and warm).  This puppy was super comfortable in the snow, and was excited to play with Katherine.


Later at night as the sun went down we walked by this Abominable Snow Man in the intersection.


As we walked closer, I was a little afraid of him, not because he was the Abominable Snow Man, but because some unstable dude was dressed in this suit wandering around aimlessly, that seemed a little unstable to me.


But he politely asked us if we would consider eating at "Lava Lounge Pizza" in Niseko.  (Sigh) 


That night we all went out to "A-Bu-Cha 2" or "Abucha 2" (not sure what the preferred spelling is) on a recommendation from Ross (Lance's friend).  It was quite good and fun, relaxed group eating experience.


Our table, from left to right (use the horizontal scroll bar): Lance, Brian (Wohletz), Paul, Tamara, Karl, Lise, Mike (slightly fuzzy, my camera work is bad), and Brady, and finally Katherine on the far right.  I'm Brian (Wilson) taking the picture.


Lise and Mike.  Mike has a very large bottle of Japanese Sake (rice wine) to pour for us.


Karl attempted to order Milt (a Japanese delicacy).  The waitress was Japanese and was amused/embarrassed by the Japanese words he used to describe it.  We failed to get the dish (they do not serve it here), but I love this picture of the waitress.


One of the dishes we ordered, I think this was scallops cooked at the table in butter.


Mike and Lise with Japanese pot stickers (called Gyōza).  The green things are Edamame (immature soybeans in the pod).


After dinner, Brian Wohletz stopped at this street food truck (van?) to buy ice cream?  Or something?  I just took a picture.  It was snowing (of course, being Niseko).


So we wanted to make sure to stop at the famous "Bar Gyu+" in Niseko.  It is most famous for the entrance being an old refrigerator door about 4 feet high.  Below Katherine poses in front of it (during an earlier day scouting visit) to give you an idea of scale.  That really is the only entrance to the front of this bar.


So here we are after dinner waiting in line to get in.  They don't allow the inside to get over-crowded.  So we wait until enough people leave and we can go in.  Yes, it is HAMMERING down snow, because it's Niseko Japan and it ALWAYS snows here.


As we are allowed in, Katherine turns to show how she gets inside.  Katherine is very cute.


Once inside I took this picture to show how it all works.  That is an ACTUAL REFRIGERATOR, they sawed off the back of it. A cheap weight and jury rigged pulley tends to draw the door shut.  Once inside the ceiling is 15 - 20 feet tall, and the bar is wonderful.


Here is the inside of "Bar Gyu+" in Niseko.  Looking out through the back windows, they light the night snow landscape which is extremely pretty.


Our table ordering drinks.


Karl is studying this poster closely, it describes how to behave properly in Niseko, Japan.  I notice it is all addressing us in English, we must shock and horrify the Japanese. :-) Although the instructions are pretty reasonable, like don't pee outside in the snow and don't get in fist fights and stop drinking before you pass out. I'm a little worried who has been representing the English speakers in this paradise?


The next morning is our final day we can ski, and we get a stroke of luck: gorgeous blue sky and sunshine.  Below is a picture at 7am from our hotel room window on the 4th floor of "The Vale".


After the very first access lift ride, I wanted to make sure I didn't miss the view of "Mount Yōtei".  But if you see below, we could see it all day long.  :-)


Another picture of Mount Yōtei after the next lift ride up.  Today there is zero wind, and the "top few" lifts are open so we're going for the very top.


Another lift ride, another picture of Mount Yōtei.  :-)


A picture back up at the top of the Grand Hirafu Ski Area we are on here in Japan.  That's where we are going, to the top.


The chair lifts stop short of the very VERY top of the mountain, and what we see (this is about 9:15am maybe?) is a line of skiers walking UP from the top location a lift goes.  I believe there are two groups in that line: 1) some are skiing back into this ski area but want the very first tracks higher on the moutain, and 2) some are accessing some back country areas that will be great skiing today.  These top lifts have been shut down for the last few days of snowstorms, so the snow is deep and untracked up there.  Click on the picture below to see a much higher resolution version.


Part of our ski group (Lise and Lance) went for the hike.  The picture below shows why myself and others did not.   All over the ski hill well within the lift access is untracked powder for the taking.  All very pleasant and nice quality.  I'm old and out of shape and I bought a lift pass, I'm going skiing, not hiking.  :-)


I like the contrast between the red chair lift and the blue sky.


Brady Nilsen in front of Mount Yōtei, standing on the Grand Hirafu ski resort in Niseko, Japan (on the island of Hokkaido).


At the top of where the lifts reach, we accidentally ran into Lise and Lance and Ross putting ski skins on their skis in preparation for the hike up to the very top.  Lise is in telemark skis, and Lance is in special bindings called "Dynafit Randonee Bindings" which allow Lance to walk when he wants, and also lock the heel down better when he wants.  We said goodbye as they ran up the hill.  I'm happy for them doing this, you can tell they are excited to do it and they are EXTREMELY good at this, but I view it as a type of harmless insanity.  It is brutalizing to walk up hill at altitude, and it hurts my sensibilities most to do it while you are holding a lift pass you paid for.  :-)


Here are two pictures from Lise's phone probably 20 minutes later taken at the top of the mountain by Ross (their friend who is guiding them):


Lise Waring and Lance Waring in front of Mount Yōtei near Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan.


Back to the sane crowd, below is Brady again.


Mount Yōtei from the top of where the lifts reach on Grand Hirafu ski resort in Japan.


I can't quite make it out in the picture below, but we could see the ocean in the low parts between the mountains in the picture below (which is looking off to the right of where Mount Yōtei is).


A panorama of our view.


Majestic Mount Yōtei all alone in it's own picture.  Yes, I have too many of these.  :-)


This large ski thermometer gives the accurate air temperature (in Celcius) so these are really ideal ski conditions, the snow isn't melting at all while we get wonderful visibility.


We ate lunch in "Rest House Ace Hill".  I don't know what complex drink this beautiful Japanese lady is making, do you?   if you know the answer!


I never took this chair lift, but others in my group did.  The chair lift below is a SINGLE person chair lift with almost no "chair back" which is disorienting (feels less safe for some reason). 


As the day goes on, it begins to cloud over the top of Mount Yōtei.  Time for my last ski run in Japan for a while.  It was a nice trip.  You can see the town below.


The next day we catch the shuttle back to the airport, sad to be leaving, but tired, glad to be heading home.


From left to right: Mike, Lance, Lise and the snowy roads I'm glad somebody else is driving.


This is the view our driver has.  Notice he is driving on the left side of the road, and that it is covered in snow.  We're moving fast also.


"Toto" is the largest toilet manufacturer in the world, and incidentally they make they very best toilets in the world, and of course they are based in Japan (which has a fascination with great toilets).  I have no idea what this sign means, maybe it is a factory?


We stop at "Lawson Station" as a rest stop in our two hour drive back to Chitose Airport.  Funny story: Lawson Station originated in Akron, Ohio, USA!  But now it is only second in the world in size (second to 7-Eleven) and mainly exists in Japan.


Checking into Chitose Airport, time to go home.  Lise and Lance checking in.


Brady and Brian Wohletz checking in, the rest of us waiting.


I have a "DeLorme inReach Satellite GPS tracker" that reports my position every 10 minutes by satellite phone protocols to satellites (not cellular).  I like leaving it running in the window of the airplane.  Below is the result (this is updated live on the DeLorme website, where it tracks my progress over to Japan, then back over to the USA.  Notice on the way from San Francisco to Japan we flew at 558 mph, and on the way home it was faster at 643 mph.  We were late in departing, and the captain said he would try to make up the difference, I don't know if they have that kind of freedom to burn extra fuel and run the airplane faster?  The return flight was also at a 2,000 foot higher altitude?


Here is a zoomed in view of the drive from New Chitose Airport to the Niseko Grand Hirafu ski resort which takes about 2 hours:


And finally here is an EVEN MORE zoomed in of the "6 days of skiing" on the ski hill.  I did not carry my GPS tracker with me all the time, but you get the general idea.  Oh, when the top lifts are open, you can ski over to the "Niseko Annupri Kokusai Ski Area" you can see in the very lower left of the picture.  I did not carry my GPS tracker over there on the day the top lifts were open, but some of our group went over there (all on one shared lift ticket, no driving required).


And a very boring video saved for later.  This video is the takeoff and landing of a Boeing 747-400.  It takes off from NRT (Narita, Tokyo) and lands at SFO (San Francisco Airport) nine hours later.  Filmed through the window, so really boring, no need to watch this!  (It is saved here for a later project I'm doing.)  Click here for the highest quality original.


All done!   That's it!



STOP READING HERE!!  There is nothing but boring notes about our rooms and packing lists, this is all not for you!  Just notes for future trips!!



Our Hotel:
We stayed in these rooms at: The Vale (Actual hotel website)
 - 6 people in this three bedroom suite, More Official Info Here: http://nisekoalpineaccommodation.com/accommodation/the-vale-niseko/ski-view-with-onsen/
 - 2 people (Brian and Katherine) in this studio, More Official Info Here: http://nisekoalpineaccommodation.com/accommodation/the-vale-niseko/vale-studio/
 - 2 people (Karl and Tamara) in an extra stand alone room.

Here is pictures of Brian and Katherine's "studio" which was a 4th floor room "403st" ALSO KNOWN AS "Y03st" because "4" is unlucky in Japan!!  (This confused us.)  The "st" means "studio", there is ALSO a "403" which was next door, that also really confused the heck out of me.  There is a small (but extremely useful) dishwasher and a small (but extremely useful) clothes washer dryer in this studio.  The clothes washer was wonderful, you could pack 1/3 as much stuff and just do laundry in your room every couple of days.  They provided a nice laundry basket and a box of laundry detergent powder, so it was just ready to go at any time.  There was a stove burner top and a microwave and a toaster and instant coffee provided, and the refrigerator shown.  We had a king size bed, but they said they were willing to swap it for two individuals. I highly recommend this room configuration for a ski trip.


This is the shower in room 403st (studio).  The fancy Japanese toilet is not shown, but the Japanese are obsessed with excellent toilets and it came with a remote control and electronics panel as they all do.


Below is a picture of our biggest, 3 bedroom room at "The Vale" (click here for the floorplan). This is "Apartment 201".  It was VERY spacious, full size dishwasher and refrigerator and two clothes washers and personal outdoor hot tub (called an "onsen" in Japan).  Room 201 is only 6 feet above street level so the main living room looked squarely into skiers getting on the lift, which is actually super social and kind of fun and you can watch activity, but it isn't private (in the living room and onsen area).  This same floor plan is available on higher floors (like Apartment 301 and Apartment 401) which would be less social but more private.  I'm not convinced either is better, it was nice being warm and having wine and snacks and watching people ski.


Here is a different angle, same exact room.   Through the hallway on the right it leads to the three private bedrooms.a


Same room, you can see Lance grinning in the onsen.  He is OUTSIDE, but there is a window to see his face from inside the apartment.





Our Schedule
- January 23, Saturday - depart 11am <from PDX or SFO or DEN> fly 11 hours to NRT
- January 24, Sunday - arrive 4pm into NRT - Narita Airport - Tokyo - then fly 2 hours to CTS (New Chitose Airport)
- have shuttle bus drive us 80 miles to Hotel "The Vale" at the bottom of "Grand Hirafu" mountain.
- January 25, Monday - ski
- January 26, Tuesday - ski
- January 27, Wednesday - ski
- January 28 Thursday - ski
- January 29, Friday - ski
- January 30, Saturday - ski
- January 31, Sunday - transport to CTS Airport, depart fly 9 hours
-- Arrive home in PDX or SFO at noon same day - travel back in time!

NOTE: Mike Chow and a few others stopped in Tokyo for a few days on the way home, I just can't escape for longer than 7 or 8 days.  Lise, Lance, Brian, Katherine, Paul went directly home.


Interesting Links:
Really Amazing Google map by locals: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=zuxPEfn4qD1Q.kLkvd7xJBfcY&hl=en


All done!   That's it!


Lists of Things to Bring on a Ski Trip in Japan

This is not for you!  Stop reading!  I'm old, I forget things.

Pre-trip Section:

  1. 30 days in advance - check Passport - also, am I buying new fat skis or maybe renting there?
  2. 5 days in advance - haircut, practice pack, check bags. 
  3. Probably not for international trips - 7 full days in advance, mail 80 pound bag ahead if possible ($31 FedEx) - airlines hate heavy bags

"On Slope" Ski Equipment Section:

  1. Skis
  2. Ski Boots
  3. Poles
  4. ski goggles (NOTE: gave Karl the POCs, I have new Bolle that I prefer)
  5. Jackets (North Face Shell, Fleece)
  6. Chamois Shirts
  7. Ski Pants - currently prefer the Mountain Hard Wear (despite not being able to open waist)
  8. Long sleeve mock turtleneck ski shirts
  9. REI high tech long johns
  10. sweatpants - extra layer for really cold days
  11. ski socks - special long grey socks for boots
  12. hat - Mountain Hardware
  13. gloves (thin neoprene liners, medium gloves, heavy gloves)
  14. balaclava
  15. neck gaiter
  16. sunglasses

"Off Slope" Ski Equipment Section:

  1. boot dryers - I have new ones now, look like orange "paddles"
  2. sharpening stone
  3. hiking boots (waterproof, waffle tread for ice and snow)
  4. moleskin
  5. medical tape (for blisters on toes)
  6. first aid kid
  7. duct tape around pen
  8. swiss army knife

Electronics Section:

  1. Camera (and charger)
  2. Cell Phone (and charger)
  3. radios FRS/GMRS - not used much in cell phone world now
  4. GPS - rental car Nuvi, handheld for backcountry (and chargers)
  5. iPod Nano (Apple charger)
  6. speakers for condo - jambox
  7. iPad Mini or laptop?
  8. MiFi on Verizon internet connection device to allow iPad to get online
  9. Car USB cigarette lighter adapter (charge things in car)
  10. Car A/C converter to charge things in car (big trips)

Street Clothing:

  1. levis - 1 pair for every 3 days (worn after showering)
  2. belt
  3. dress shirts (button down) - 1 for every 2 or 3 days
  4. grey/blue t-shirts for under dress shirts
  5. white socks
  6. underwear
  7. shoes (hiking boots, tennis shoes, dress shoes?)


  1. dopp kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, eye drops, etc)
  2. razor - now have travel razor
  3. blow dryer
  4. caffeine pills (for coffee emergencies)
  5. pajama shorts
  6. pajama white t-shirts
  7. ear plugs (individually wrapped, bring extras, condo mates might snore!)
  8. white trash bags - for laundry
  9. small clear sandwich bags - for cell phone, etc
  10. travel alarm clock


  1. book for plane? - no, moving over to iPad mini and Kindle in recent years.
  2. small umbrella
  3. backpack
  4. glasses & case for glasses?


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