View of Mt Yotei

Japan ski adventures

For any food-loving Aussie skier, the mere thought of Japan is enough to get one salivating. There is an abundance of light fluffy powder, it’s less than 11 hours away (that’s on the doorstep from our perspective!), and even the Japanese food is worth a visit alone.

I know it must seem crazy to some to take flight from a gorgeous Australian summer to seek winter cold in Niseko, but passionate skiers and boarders know that it’s worthwhile. There are pretty much guaranteed snowy conditions, fantastic off-piste skiing, and of course, the food. And compared to the predictably icy Australian snow conditions and extortionate lift ticket prices, it ends up being much better value than a week at Thredbo.

 

On the mountain at NisekoIt snowed every day, which meant that every morning was filled with the excitement and anticipation of getting on the mountain. The weather was very cold, with temperatures of around -8C in the village and -15C on the summit, but you didn’t really notice too much until you were sitting high up on a lift, a slave to the elements. All I can say is thank god for the gondolas and the hooded lifts!

My favourite ski area was the Hanazono area, where there were some fun off-piste runs through the trees. It was my first time skiing through trees so I wasn’t game enough to go hardcore through the gates and outside the resort boundary and patrolled area, and Strawberry Fields area in particular had some narrow steep drops with some nice powder stashes, as well as wider open areas through the trees.

Niseko Hirafu

Hanazono ski signThe best thing about visiting Japan (right up there with the snow!) is all the delicious food. They take such pride with the serving and presentation of their food, that you can even get tasty snacks in their convenience stores. It’s fine dining compared to the dry sausage rolls or tasteless egg sandwiches in the Australian convenience stores.

We sampled a range of Japanese food throughout our visit, including sashimi, teppanyaki, sukiyaki, soba, and lots of ramen. It was cool to see that food vans were a thing in Niseko too.

Sukiyaki

Soba noodles

Ramen with snow crab legs

Potato ramen

Potato ramen

Peace out!

Deep fried oysters

Gyoza at Little Red Mimoji

Fresh sashimi

Niseko food vanWith so many Aussies in Niseko, the bar scene is hip and happening. The most trendy bar would probably be the Fridge Door Bar, properly called Bar Gyu+ but known for it’s distinctive front door.

Fridge door bar NisekoInside it’s a cosy European feel with warm wood panelling and wooden furniture. The menus are hand illustrated, and there is a great selection of whiskies, as well as hot alcoholic drinks and my first ever absinthe (the stuff knocks your socks off).

Niseko fridge door bar menu

Ev with a drink

AbsintheSkiing and eating aside, we managed to find some time to squeeze in some karaoke. For the equivalent of around A$20 for two hours of singing and all-you-can-drink, you can be assured to hear some high quality vocal performances. Oh well, when in Rome, or Japan…

Karaoke

Hooded up in the snowDid you take off for any snow adventures this winter? Or are you looking forward to the upcoming Southern Hemisphere winter for some snow action?

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Learning to snowboard…and crash…indoors

I’ve been a longtime ski enthusiast, but I’ve often fantasised about the idea of being able to crossover to snowboarding. I’ve tried my hand at it a couple of times, but I haven’t committed to serious time to improve my boarding. The thought of spending precious snow and ski time battling with beginner lessons and spending half my time on my arse seriously turned me off.

However, after the amazing powder days on my Japan trip recently, I thought that having the ability to pick up the board on the deep powder days and then choosing the skis when I just want to carve some serious turns.

Coinciding with the excitement of the Sochi Olympics, a new indoor ski slope has opened in Sydney. In2ski features three Maxxtracks slopes, which are basically like giant treadmills, and can be set at different gradients to simulate different levels of difficulty.

Maxxtracks indoor skiing

The centre claims that one hour of practice on the indoor slope is equivalent to eight hours on the mountain. I’m not sure whether this is true, but you do certainly waste a fair bit of an on-mountain lesson on lifts and waiting around for the slower students.

The best thing about the indoor slope is that it is in Sydney! No more driving for six hours each way, paying through the nose for petrol, accommodation, lift passes and crap food just to improve your skills. It’s a really cost effective way of improving your technique without the massive time commitment of a weekend.

The format of a group lesson is to be on the slope for 10 minutes, then off for 10 minutes while the other half of the group is on, and alternating until the end of the lesson. Each 10 minute interval is tough though, since it’s pretty much non-stop. Falling over on the slope, which happens often when you’re learning, is a bit of a shock the first time, and not as nice as falling into soft snow. My battle scars at the end of the day included bruised knees, a tender bum, a sore neck, and slight carpet burn on one elbow. At the end of my hour lesson, I had gone from feeling my way going straight on a flat board, to learning turns and going side to side while holding onto the bar. Not a bad progression in an hour, I thought!

My intention now is to get to a decent level snowboarding on the indoor slope, where I can confidently link turns together. I’m also keen to fine-tune my skiing skills too, and hopefully get rid of some terribly bad habits before hitting the slopes for real next time!

Here’s a taster of my experience – look how lovely my turns are until I hit the ground!

Note: I paid for my own lesson and this post was in no way endorsed or sponsored by In2ski.
Photo courtesy of In2ski

Powder and poutine

I made my first trip to Canada earlier this month, all for the eternal search for powder.  The White Russian and I were prepared to be slightly disappointed, after initial dumps of snow at Whistler Blackcomb earlier in the season hadn’t continued to the weeks immediately before our departure.  However it was a stroke of luck that the weather forecast changed as soon as we arrived and we saw 5 consecutive days of snow.

Whistler Blackcomb snow Whistler Blackcomb snow

With loads of fresh powder, the skiing was fantastic.  There ended up being 10 of us in our group, with some travelling from the UK to join us for some snow action.  We were constantly on the hunt for powder stashes, which we managed to find off piste and particularly some of the steeper black runs.

The visibility was fairly poor most of the time due to the layers of cloud that seemed to constantly sit at mid-mountain level, and then there were the snow flurries as well.  Sometimes you could barely see more than 10 metres ahead, resulting in some hairy near-collision moments.

Whistler Blackcomb snowboard Whistler Blackcomb snow Whistler Blackcomb snow Whistler Blackcomb snow Olympic ringsWhistler Blackcomb gondola

We decided before we arrived that one of our snow days would be a onesie day.  I came prepared with a suitcase of onesies for everyone.  Needless to say, we drew a lot of admiration (or was it just curiosity?) on the slopes that day!

snow animal onesies

Being my first time in Canada, I was eager to try the poutine, Canada’s (un)official national dish of chips, cheese curds and gravy.  We even found a version with pulled pork!  Absolutely delicious.  Some of the other delicacies we found on the slopes included a Mexican bulldog, which consisted of a frozen margarita with an upturned Corona.

frozen margarita corona cocktail poutine pulled pork toffee applescheese fondue

All in all, Whistler Blackcomb was a fantastic mountain, with some really long piste runs, lots of light and fluffy powder, some challenging steep terrain, fairly fast moving lift queues, delicious selection of food at the restaurants, and lots of friendly faces and smiles (a lot of them Australian!).  It would probably be some of the best skiing I’ve experienced.

On the way home, we spent one night in Vancouver, wandering around Gastown, Chinatown, and the shopping along Granville Street.  Thankfully I had lots of room in my luggage after clearing out all those onesies!  We also had brunch at the Granville Island Public Market, where one could easily find themselves spending hours ogling at all the charcuterie, cheeses, cakes, seafood and fresh meat.  We got a tasty selection of cheeses (ossau iraty, comte, epoisses, goats cheese), some wild boar proscuitto and duck proscuitto, and a flavoursome duck and fig pate.

pasta Vancouver Granville Island markets charcuterie Vancouver Granville Island markets Japadog Japanese hotdog Vancouver

As we were leaving, we were already discussing next year’s overseas ski trip!  It’s always good to have the next trip to get excited about.