Land of the powder snow
To her surprise, Perth GP Dr Jane Deacon thoroughly enjoys a skiing holiday in Japan.
IT’S with some trepidation that I book a skiing holiday for my family.
Born and bred in Perth, which is possibly the capital city furthest from any snow in the world, winter sports have not been a part of my experience so far. In fact I’ve only seen snow on a few occasions and then I have found it to be wet, mushy, dirty stuff.
I’m also concerned about injury, as it seems that many of my friends, acquaintances and patients have returned from skiing with damaged knees and broken arms, and I have the distinct impression that snow sports are dangerous.
However, the returned skiers wax lyrical about ski holidays. They tell me how wonderful they find skiing, and what a great family holiday it is.
Even the injured ones recover and go back for more skiing. There must be something to it.
Considering previous experiences with jetlag, and friends’ recommendations, we decided that our winter sport debut would be Niseko ski resort in Japan, being (relatively) close, and only an hour’s time difference from Perth.
Niseko ski resort is situated in Hokkaido, which is the second largest island of Japan, north of Honshu, the largest island.
The Niseko area receives about 15 metres of snow a year. This seems a mind-boggling amount of snow to me.
We travelled via Hong Kong to Chitose Airport at Sapporo and then transferred to a coach for a 2.5-hour trip to the ski village.
We arrived in Niseko late in the afternoon. The cold greeted us as soon as we alighted from the warmth of the coach. The village was charming with snow-covered ski lodges.
We’d booked a package that included a ‘meet and greet’ and were duly ‘greeted’ by Alex, a cheerful Australian girl who works in the village for the travel company.
Alex drove us around the village, took us to our apartment to drop our luggage, and then to the ski hire shop where we picked up our pre-booked equipment and bought the necessary goggles, gloves and ski socks.
Snowsports are heavy on equipment and on specialised clothing, and we quickly discovered there’s no point skimping.
Next morning we presented ourselves on the slopes for our first lesson. I was in the beginners’ group, but (fortunately for me) was the only student and so enjoyed the undivided attention of Glen from Australia for my two-hour lesson.
Much to my surprise I made some progress and was promoted to level three the next day, where I joined my husband. We were the only two in the class for the next two days. My three sons were all learning snowboarding (way cooler than skiing).
By day four I could make my way cautiously down some of the green runs and loved it! It’s just as much fun as everyone has told me. My sons spent two or three days falling over a lot on snowboards, but after that something seemed to click for them, and then there was no stopping them as they explored the slopes.
Niseko is made up of four interconnected areas: Annupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu and Hanazono. There are 27 chair lifts and three gondolas, 61 runs graded for difficulty with 30% beginners, 40% intermediate and 30% advanced.
The map of the mountain contains information about each run with maximum gradient, average gradient and run length marked.
Because of its northern location, Niseko is fed by weather fronts from Siberia, which bring consistently good falls of the lightest powder snow and a ski season that runs from late November until early May. The resort describes its snow as “some of the driest, lightest powder in the world”.
Most mornings we woke to the sound of the snow plough clearing the roads. Later in the day, another vehicle pumped the heaped up snow into the back of a large truck to be carted away.
Home owners get out onto the roofs of their houses to shovel the snow (I don’t know why they just don’t all have very steep roofs).
A day on the slopes certainly builds up the appetite, and in the evenings we sampled some of the many restaurants on offer in Niseko.
Dining options varied from largish western style restaurants, to tiny traditional Japanese eateries that seat only a couple of dozen diners.
English menus are available in most places, so even though English was not widely spoken, we had no difficulty ordering.
Miraculously, my family survived their skiing and snowboarding unscathed, and with all limbs intact we travelled back to Australia.
Everyone was right – it was a great family holiday and we’re saving up to go again.
How dangerous is skiing?
A QUICK Google search and I discovered that snowboarding carries a slightly higher risk of injury than skiing.
There are 3–6 injuries per 1000 snowboard days, compared to three injuries per 1000 ski days. The risk of a lower limb injury is twice that of an upper limb injury for skiers, and the reverse for snowboarders.
ACL injuries are common in skiers, and radial fractures in snowboarders.
References: www.ski-injury.com; National Ski Areas Association
For more information
WE booked through Deep Powder Tours (www.deeppowdertours.com). They were very helpful and I would recommend them.
The name of our apartment building was Kamakura. Our apartment was very spacious and comfortable, with English language instructions for all appliances (360niseko.com/location/kamakura).
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