Oh hellooo Niseko

Japan.. also coined ‘Japow” and let me tell ya it is indeed a mix of WOW and powder.

Previous to jet-setting off to Japan I didn’t really have any preconceived idea’s or expectations.. all I really knew is that we were in for some good snow. I can assure you it did not disappoint.


Niseko

Niseko is a town on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido near, and with mind-blowing views of, Mount Yotei… if the powder stops falling for long enough for it to be visible that is.

We landed in Tokyo a little behind schedule… and in a mad panic ran an Olympic race with 16+ bags of luggage to catch our connecting flight to Sapporo (the closest airport to Niseko). Luckily for us un-organized folk, the Japanese have their shit together and were patiently waiting to escort us foreigners in the right direction. 

TIP: If your an un-organized person, pass this on to the team leader. It pays to be well prepared in Advanced. Once you land in Sapporo the journey does not stop there, another 2-hour car ride is ahead, find an eligible driver so the rest of you can sit back and sip on some sweet Japanese brews.


So what to do once you arrive in Niseko might you ask? (apart from the obvious). Luckily for you, this trip was a mixture of world-class skiing, activities, food and A LOT of alcohol consumption so I have picked up some of the sweet spots for you to try.

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Skiing/Snowboarding

Mount Niseko Annupuri is the heart of Niseko with four independently owned but interconnected ski resorts skiable with one lift tickets (i.e. Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village and An’nupuri), varied with stunning tree runs and huge powder fields. You are extremely spoilt for choice and could find yourself running around like a headless chicken. Get yourself up on the 8:30 am Grand Hirafu Gondola, hike up above the top and you will find the most glorious run, complimented by un-touched waist deep powder to float through. The best part is… more often than not layers of new snow have piled back up before the end of the run. Never have I ever come across so many consecutive days of snowfall. Japan is reliable I will give it to them!

If you're looking to run wild into out of bound’s then this will apply to all those daredevils out there. Head over to An’nupuri and you will come across backcountry heaven. I must admit there were a couple ‘this is how my life ends’ moments (my poor mother). The reward was well worth the anxiety.

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Nightlife

Now moving on to where the magic happens… Here is your itinerary for a great night out in Niseko. Alright, I must warn you, the drinks are MUCH stronger in Niseko, so if your anything like me (0-100 real quick) maybe take things at a slower pace. Otherwise, you will end up hungover every, single, day.

 To begin the night- Happy hour; this is one of my favourite pass times! luckily or maybe dangerously Gorilla Bar was the bar at our hotel. From 2pm-4pm drinks are half price and the place get’s rather rowdy with crowds of local people spilling in after a hard day of ingesting the pow. Mention my name to the lovely French barman and he may even give you a couple freebies ;).

Now that you have a slight buzz on it’s time to seek out the tastiest espresso martinis/ Mojitos. Bar Gyu also known as ‘Fridge bar’ is tucked away off the main road of Niseko. I will warn you the walk there is treacherous and you are guaranteed to ass up MULTIPLE times. It’s almost like the right of passage really. A hobbit like red fridge door open’s up into a magical dimly lit jazz bar overlooking snowy passages and is by far one of the coolest bars I have come across.

Next, on the list is Barunba recommended to me by a fellow kiwi local (you know who you are legend), and I can see why. Another hole in the wall, basement type intimate setting. You will notice that they do not have a drinks menu and this is where you will be tested… are you a local or not?. Ask for one of their signature drinks. Jet Li, Bruce- Lee and Bruce Willis. All with varying degree’s of strength but are sure to blur your vision or consciousness in my case.

Now it seems you have almost hit your peak of intoxication its time to end the night on a high. Head up the road to Tamashii bar, or just follow the loud live music. If you're a single lady you will love this place. Full of beautiful Australian faces with a great guy to girl ratio. While you are on the hunt for fresh faces, the guys can entertain themselves with a game of pool or darts. It’s a win-win situation really. 

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Activities other than the “obvious” 

If your a keen thrill seeker like myself then this will be right up your alley. As hard as it may be to give up an afternoon of pow get yourself on a snowmobile tour. It’s literally an excuse to act like a child again. A picturesque scenery mixed in with an opportunity to hoon as fast as you can through paddocks of knee deep snow really get’s your adrenaline pumping. That and trying to snapchat and drive ( I do not recommend multi-tasking to this extreme).

Snowshoeing is another great alternative (is exactly how it sounds). You strap some strange caveman type contraptions to your shoes and hike through the snow (sounds rather brave and treacherous…pop that on ya CV) to the most beautiful/secluded location; also known as half moon lake. It’s a pretty magical really, hot chocolate in hand, admiring the stillness of the night.

Food

Ahh yes, the moment you have been waiting for. Japanese food is a fave of most but boy let me tell you experiencing it from where it originates is next level. I shall give you a list of the best spots we tried, but believe me anywhere you stumble into is bound to be 10/10. Ebisutei a small cosy and cosy restaurant, A Bu- Cha epic hot pots and ramen. Bang Bang the OG that’s been around for 30 years. Hanayoshi best sushi in town, and Prativo all you can eat Japanese buffet (need I say more).


After that long-winded spiel, I do hope I've convinced you enough to get yourself to Niseko.

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The Year Of Travel

LAAX BABY, Switzerland

Two planes, two trains, and one (almost missed) bus later Madi and I arrive in Laax, Switzerland. Unsurprisingly, considering the duo, our first half an hour in this beautiful place was anything but smooth sailing. Where decked out in the thinnest possible comfy plane pants we proceed to get off the bus, overpacked suitcases in hand, at the wrong stop... In the middle of a snow storm.

After a mature relaxed discussion (more like a lot of “what the fuck do we do?” between fits of laughter), we decided to take shelter in the friendly looking hotel Laaxerhof and call a taxi. I then proceed to watch Madi try to communicate in Swiss German in the only way she knows how - by continuously yelling Laaxerhof (in the most bizarre accent you’ve ever heard),and the name of our air bnb into the phone. At this point, I was laughing too hard to be of any help.

Finally loading our suitcases into a very confused taxi drivers van, we then proceed to drive five minutes down the road… Whoops.  After arriving at our purple shag piled home sweet home for the week, we finished our petrol station dinner and headed to bed… And waking up to that view, all worth it I tell you.

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So here ya go what to do in Laax (also known as #LAAXBABY) and the surrounding areas if you ever get there, which ya bloody should!!

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So... What to do once you're settled? Hint, it’s a Ski town. Although our first day was a little more après than ski, once you get yourself out there it’s pretty incredible. Whether you just want to cruise or you’re after more, Laax has it all. Home to the longest continuous halfpipe in the world, an Olympic-size kicker pro-line and a total of over 90 obstacles all spread across four snow parks. Obviously I spent most of the time on the halfpipe, not. 

Don’t feel too guilty if your après overtakes the ski, the facilities at the top of the field have been recently renovated and they’re quite the sight. With the walls dominated by illuminated neon signs, self-watering plants, oh and 14,000 records. There’s also the Heart, a 360° restaurant, which occasionally has DJ’s, and bars outside, so pull up a deck chair and pretend you’re being active.

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So what to do when the sun goes down? Get yourself to Riders Palace, please. Whether your vibe is pretending you’re fancier than you are, or you just want to relax, the facilities are out the gate - so get a red and watch the snow fall. Or... wait a bit longer and get silly, with the hostel transforming into a club. Just ask Madi if she had a good time, ha.

Don’t worry though, there’s more to do than drink and ski, shocking I know.  I’d recommend hopping onto one of the buses that go through the town and head to nearby Flims, or back into Chur. (Locals tip - If you’re a bad person, jump in through the back doors they never check your tickets).

Flims

A literal winter wonderland, just wandering through the town is enough. However, it's worth making a night of it so head somewhere for some fondue or another local cuisine… Or you can do what we did and head to the village kebab shop and watch some german reality tv, you won’t regret it (it’s hilarious).

Ps. Pick up some Moccachino yogurt from the local supermarket, not sure why but that stuff is what dreams are made of. If yogurts not your buzz, I also hear there’s great hiking here in the warmer months. 

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Chur

(Pronounced korr not chur, just saving you the same embarrassment we faced as two kiwis asking about Chur, bro).  

Hop on another “free” bus and head back to Chur. Whether you just feel like being in a bigger town or want to enjoy some roadside mulled wine and weird looking sausage, it’s worth the trip. The old town Chur is also incredible, being the oldest town in Switzerland with a settlement history of over 5,000 years.

So here I am just scratching the surface, but this is what I came up with from our experience, and hey… Time of my life! Unfortunately after only a week in our winter wonderland we headed off, back to Zurich for New years, and then onto Paris… The more “entertaining part of our trip”. (Tip - it’s a good idea to get more than 90 minutes of sleep within two days before you embark on over 30 hours of travel).

Stay tuned!

Words&Photos by

Emily Fischer

Madi Rouse