Hitting the slopes of Hokkaido - Focus | The Star Online


Hitting the slopes of Hokkaido

Mount Yotei can be seen clearly from just about any spot in Niseko.

Mount Yotei can be seen clearly from just about any spot in Niseko.

AFTER a year of planning, I finally made the trip to Hokkaido, not to savour its endless choice of seafood but to hit the famed powdered snow mountain of Niseko.

Standing tall at 1,308m is the Niseko Annupuri mountain, which comprises four notable resorts; Niseko Hanazono, Niseko Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village and Niseko Annupuri Ski, all linked together to form what is known today as Niseko United.

Being a first-timer surrounded by seasoned snowboarders was not fun at all.

I have skateboarded a bit and though I hate ice skating, I love everything about the X-Games.

So I Googled my way and found the list of things one needed to have for the adventure.

Just when I thought I had everything from ski pants and jackets to gloves and neck warmers, I was told I needed a balaclava.

Stressed out, I thought my friend was offering me the Turkish dessert but instead Jay pointed out something else to me.

“What were you thinking? It is a head and neck cover that you wear under your helmet,” he said.

It did not end there.

I also needed to purchase my own helmet and snow goggles as most rental shops do not rent them for hygiene reasons.

I visited Niseko 343, a small rental shop near my hotel situated just off the main street.

There are many shops like Niseko 343 which provides rental services for boots, snowboards and skiing equipment.


Upon entering the store, I had to fill up a short questionnaire.

The shop assistant measured my feet, height and weight to determine the right board and boots for me.

Next was to find a school, and my pick was Fast Fun Japan after reading the reviews online.

Each private three-hour class is conducted by certified snowboarders and skiers.

I was lucky to have Cal with me throughout the two sessions around the Niseko Grand Hirafu hills.

First, I had to learn how to strap my feet to the board and then move on to see my preferred stance.

The writer taking a break from snowboarding at Niseko.

Regulars have their left foot facing the front while goofies have the right. I tried both stances and was more comfortable as a regular, and Cal was a goofy.

Before strapping both feet on the board, we started off with my front foot, while using the rear foot to push myself around, somewhat like skateboarding.

After a few rounds, he went on to teach me how to stop and move from side to side with both feet strapped on.

The most challenging part was to get on and off a ski lift.

I cringed and prayed hard every time it was my turn to get off the lift. It really took more practice than I thought.

The slopes may look daunting and steep from below but I began to enjoy the ride after a few rounds with my instructor.

On the second day, I got the hang of it after falling countless times.

Cal also kept knocking on my helmet to remind me to look forward and not the powdered snow covering my feet.

For beginners, we were only allowed on green marked routes as they were the easiest followed by red and black being the toughest.

I would definitely need more classes with Cal to move onto the next level.

I wish I had more time to explore the other slopes on Niseko.

You take a break from the mountains at a handful of cafes and coffee stands at different points of each hill.

Many instructors agree that skiing was easier to pick up but snowboarding is where the thrill lies.

They were absolutely right.

The entire experience was somewhat dream-like for me, especially since I was trying to pick up the sport after I turned 34.

Then again, David Beckham also took up snowboarding this year and he could not believe it himself either.

Central Region , snowboarding , niseko , japan , sapporo , snow