travel/words

Japan Travel Guide: Niseko Loft

Posted April 30, 2017 by Stephanie

When Mike and I started dating (the second time around), we went snowboarding, a lot. We were in our early twenties and I had just started hanging out with Mike again after a couple of years of us randomly seeing each other around town, but not really chatting. When we reconnected, Mike was an avid snowboarder. He even went so far as to get a part time job on a local mountain so that he could get an employee discount AND go snowboarding on breaks. He was pretty hardcore and I kind of sort of fell in love with the fact that he was so passionate about something.

I, on the other hand, unlike every other 20 year old in Vancouver, had never been snowboarding in my life. I don’t know if it was that hurling down a snowy mountain, strapped on to a long waxed board sounded fun, or the fact that there is a lot of cute snowboarding gear that you can shop for, but when Mike asked me if I wanted to learn how to board, from him, I jumped at the chance. In truth, I just wanted to spend more time with Mike and was thrilled that he wanted to teach me how to board.

our stay in niseko - www.iamafoodblog.com

He took me up the mountain at night, when the lifts were closed, to see if I could even stand on a board (not as intuitive as you might think). We were in that in between stage, where we both kind of knew the other was interested, but neither of us had said it out loud or made a move. It was a night full of possibility: the orange lift chair lights cast a glow, there was unexpected magic sprinkling of snow and, of course, there was that little bit of pleasant tension between teacher and student, intensified by the fact that I really wanted to be a good learner. That night started a love affair for me, and not just for Mike, but for snowboarding too.

Countless dates on the mountain, with me falling down incessantly and Mike carving effortlessly means that we have a soft spot in our hearts for mountains. Especially mountains we can snowboard on. There’s a lot of good boarding on the West Coast, but there’s something alluring about snowboarding on a continent that isn’t the one you call home. And so, during out three month trip to Japan, we carved out just a wee bit of time to hit up some Japanese slopes.

niseko travel guide - www.iamafoodblog.com niseko travel guide - www.iamafoodblog.com

When we decided, kind of on a whim, that we were going to try and snowboard while in Japan, we had no idea where to go. Mike has always wanted to hit up Japanese snow, but in more of a bucket list, dreamy, no details sort of way. So we went into our snowboarding adventure with zero expectations. There are countless places to snowboard in Japan, some of them even only just an hour and change on the shinkansen from Tokyo.

But we didn’t want to snowboard anywhere. We we already planning on going to the Sapporo snow festival on Japan’s most Northern island, Hokkaido, so snowboarding in Hokkaido seemed like fate. A quick google search showed us that Niseko was the place to be.

our stay in niseko - www.iamafoodblog.com

Mount Niseko-Annupuri is next door neighbors to the dormant volcano, Mount Yotei, or Yotei-san, as I like to call him. Yotei is supposed to look a little bit like a sheep’s hoof and he might not be as famous as Fuji-san, but he is sure as heck just as gorgeous, especially when you’re looking at him right after you get off a Niseko lift, poised to make your way down the mountain. I love the sheer symmetrical conicalness of Yotei, as well as his distinctive snow cap. He’s a beautiful backdrop for a day (or five) of boarding.

Having decided to hit up Niseko, we then had to decide on a place to stay. I took a backseat on this one, since I had already picked out where we stayed at Mt. Fuji. Mike found an awesome flat by the name of Loft Niseko.

our stay in niseko - www.iamafoodblog.com

The flat was absolutely beautiful, with floor to ceiling windows and a commanding, unobstructed view of Yotei. There was a deep blue velvet couch, perfect for curling up on, while watching the sun peek over the peak. We planned for one day of boarding on Niseko, and one full day of staying in enjoying Loft because it came with a full kitchen and I was excited to get my hands on Hokkaido produce and cook!

our stay in niseko - www.iamafoodblog.com

our stay in niseko - www.iamafoodblog.com

Hokkaido is known for seafood, of course, but they’re also Japan’s top producer for wheat, soybeans, potatoes, sugar beets, onions, corn, milk, and beef. Japan has a concept of kyodo ryori, or local/regional specialties and I’m obsessed with the concept. Basically, wherever we go in Japan, I ask Mike, “are they known for it?” because different places are known for different things. Tokyo’s famous for monjayaki, Osaka for takoyaki, Hiroshima for okonomiyaki, Kobe for beef, and on and on and on. The Japanese put huge emphasis on both local and specializing in one thing, so it’s not uncommon to find an entire town filled with restaurants for just one dish. I love it because of the focus – you end up getting the best of the best when everyone is focusing on one thing.

our stay in niseko - www.iamafoodblog.com our stay in niseko - www.iamafoodblog.com

Speaking of best of the best, our experience on Mount Niseko was definitely up there! We rented all of our gear, including outerwear, because we brought absolutely nothing with us. The rental was seamless – we went to Rhythm the day before we were going to head up and got ourselves outfitted. I picked a board that matched my hair, of course. Just kidding! I got to try out a 2017 Burton Custom, which is a board I’ve had my eyes on so renting was doubly fortuitous.

The next day, after a breakfast of eggs, toast, and coffee, we headed up bright and early, in hopes of getting some of those elusive first tracks. It was a bluebird of a day, the sun in the sky sparkling off the snow. It didn’t snow the night before, but there was plenty of untouched powder in between the trees.

our stay in niseko - www.iamafoodblog.com

To be honest, I like riding both lightly groomed runs (if there’s a fluffy base) AND fresh powder. As a not-so-great boarder, groomed runs means easy riding – it’s a little more grippy. Riding powder, on the other hand, is a little more…unpredictable. Which means that Mike and I did a bunch of tree runs which ended up in me gently “bumping” into trees. Eventually I got tired of my tree encounters and begged Mike to do a wide open run. Of course I ended up wiping out big time on a huge patch of ice. Usually we avoid the beginner runs because of ice – ironically, those runs end up being icier (and more dangerous because of unpredictable learners) because so many people are riding them.

After that, I was all for the trails less traveled. For our last run of the day, we went down, through the trees through some glorious, pristine powder. And, because it was more of a back country kind of thing, I got stuck on some of the flat parts, due to lack of speed. But, on the bright side, we got some awesome photos and did a little bit of snow hiking :)

niseko travel guide - www.iamafoodblog.com

All in all, Niseko was just the kind of winter getaway you dream about: a gorgeous house with a roaring fire, a massively snowy mountain with tones of powder, Hokkaido potatoes, and lots of laughs with my favorite snowboarding instructor. And bonus, Mike and I ended up cooking! We’ll be posting more about that soon.

snow and potatoes,
xoxo steph

our stay in niseko - www.iamafoodblog.com

The Guide:

Vacation Niseko: We loved this rental company. The loft we got had a fantastic view of Mt Yotei, which not all places will, and our experience was perfect – everything was arranged for us: lift tickets, rentals, and we even were picked up from the train station. All the staff were, quizzically, British kids on a gap year, so there was zero language barrier, which was a welcome treat after months in Japan.

Rhythm Rentals: Our rentals were arranged by the staff of Niseko Loft. They asked us our sizes in advance and got everything set up, so all we had to do was come in and try it. The concierge of our loft arranged for our gear to be picked up and dropped off, so we didn’t need to carry it through town. Bonus, they have great hours and will let you pick up your gear the night before for no extra charge, saving tons of time in the morning. Open 8am-10pm

Niseko Taproom: The best fries in the world. They probably are just average fries for Niseko and nothing special, but the potato-eyness of them is undeniable. The beer was good. 3rd floor of the Odin building, Open 1pm-12am

Niseko Pizza: Niseko Pizza was started by a Tokyoite who trained in Italy and it shows. Legit crust, creative toppings, and you can even get fries on top. Delivery. Awesome. Open and delivers 5pm-11pm.

Seicomart: The larger of the two grocery stores in town and lots of prepared food, great alcohol selection. The ATM doesn’t work for international cards however. On the main strip, impossible to miss. Open 6am-11pm

Niseko Supermarket & Deli: Smaller store, seems a bit more expensive but their product is a lot nicer, international ATM at the back. On the ground floor of the Shiki Niseko building. Open 7am-11pm

5 Comments

  1. Lisa says:

    Such a cute post! It made me want to learn how to snowboard and I got a strange craving for potatoes after reading this haha 😂. I always enjoy reading your blog 😊

    Cheers from northern Sweden 💫

  2. Jeanine says:

    I love this post!! So dreamy!!

  3. Emily says:

    Amazing! That flat is gorgeous!

    Reading your blog for a while now, it seems like you and Mike take quite frequent extended trips. I’d love to do something similar and wondered if you would do a post sometime about that type thing? Things like how you organize it, finances/budget required, traveling around, finding places to stay, how far in advance do you plan, etc? Tips on how you guys manage your home life while you’re away would also be handy (i.e. jobs, house, cars, other things at home, etc).

    Thanks!

  4. Mabel says:

    I love this post and the story of your love blossoming!! So romantic. I really want to snowboard in Japan. I totally understand the idea of snowboarding on foreign mountains. I loved loved loved the Austrian Alps. It was sooo beautiful. The picture of the cheese tart (is that right?) had be drooling. Love those things.

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