Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Niseko Snow Trip

Brad and I were lucky enough to sneak away for one last vacation before our move next month.  We both had such an amazing time at Nagano last year, so we decided to go up to an even farther North ski resort location in Niseko,  Hokkaido.  Niseko is one of the best ski/boarding spots in the whole world and the most famous ski resort in Japan.  Niseko is famous for its powdery snow.  There were tons of challenging trails as well as back-country skiing for the super advanced people, and also lots of wide, gentle trails for the people like me.  Niseko is known for it's amazing views of Yotei Mountain, a nearly perfect volcanic cone. 
Top of Yotei Mountain through the trees.
The three major resorts are Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village and Annupuri are all located on Niseko-Annupuri Mountain. They are connected with each other at the top of the mountain, and shuttle buses connect them at the base. We chose to get the Niseko All Mountain Pass that gives access to all three resorts and free rides on the bus system.
Looking out on the snowy slopes.
Brad figuring out the trails at breakfast.

We stayed at the Green Leaf Resort in Niseko Village.  Upon arrival they had put us in a smoking room with 2 twin beds.  After first being told nothing is available I went into I'm-pregnant-get-me-what-I-want bitch mode our room was changed to a non smoking room on a higher floor with a great view and a king bed.  Thank you Green Leaf! 
Me and my lil 19 week baby bump and the awesome view of the snowy mountains out our hotel room window.
Also, the Green Leaf had an onsen or Japanese natural mineral bath.  These baths are known for their therapeutic properties.  This resort had an indoor and outdoor area and it was such a cool experience to sit in the warm mineral water with snow all around.  You go naked and there are separate men and women baths.  Brad wasn't interested in trying it, but I did it.  I didn't stay in very long, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity.  There are strict rules on how to act at an onsen, with all the pre and post washing, but if you have the opportunity to try it don't be shy, it's well worth the experience. 
The Green Leaf Onsen
It would be very frowned upon to grab a camera out in a pool full of naked women, but this is a picture from the Green Leaf website.
When we arrived it was snowing hard and the snow kept up all the next day.  The first day Brad went out first to get a feel for the place and find the most easy and gentle hill he could find for me.  I wasn't going to try skiing unless we were sure it was going to be no problem for me.  I went out and did the trail with no problems.  I did that one trail for most of the day.  Brad would come and do it with me sometimes, other times he'd go off and do more challenging things or find new trails for me.  We took hot chocolate breaks in the fancy resort bar and had a yummy lunch.  I just took it easy and had an amazing time. 
Brad getting started the first day.

The next day was lovely.  The sun came out and everything was so sparkly and beautiful!  The snow had stopped and the sun made it feel so much warmer.  The first time up the mountain we both were in shock at the amazing views around us that we totally couldn't see the day before.  The trail I had done so many times the day before reveled a stunning view of Yotei Mountain right in front of us.  We did some more green trails that took us higher up the mountain and had a great time on the beautiful trails.  In the afternoon we took the bus over to Annupuri.  This side of the mountain had a wonderful wide, long, easy trail that Brad and I just loved.  It was a great end to our skiing/boarding!

We ate at the hotel most mornings and evenings, but one night we went out to Hirafu Town to The Barn for a nice French dinner.  Unfortunately we got on the wrong bus and it took us in the completely wrong direction.  When we realized our mistake we got off on a road that was pretty much in the middle of a snow field with some houses here and there buried in snow.  It was dark, it was snowing, and it was cold and it was 45 min until the next bus that would take us in the correct direction.  We couldn't wait there, so we started walking.  We walked along the dark, snowy roads with huge snow mounds on either side higher than us freezing our butts off until a cab came by and we flagged him down.  He couldn't take us, but called for a different cab to come and luckily one did.  Despite all that we still made it to dinner and had a wonderful meal. I almost felt like I could have been back in France... almost. 

We stayed for 3 nights, skied/boarded for 2 days and were sad to leave.  What made it even more hard to leave was how difficult it was to get back home.  There was another big snow storm and flights were getting canceled and ours got delayed a few hours.  So we missed our connecting flight, and of course there were no other flights for the rest of the day.  They put us on standby and for once we got lucky and got on a late flight and made it back.  Flying is already getting kind of uncomfortable - it makes my back hurt and Asian flights/buses/transit in general is hotter than Hades, so feeling big and hot and uncomfortable is not fun.  I am already dreading the long flight back to the States in a few weeks.  It will be my first long, international flight without sleeping pills and wine!

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