First Tracks Hanazono is the simplest way to guarantee you get exactly that – plenty of first tracks – in Niseko. Run by the awesome team at HPG (Hanazono Powder Guides) First Tracks Hanazono involves getting on as they load the chairs on the cables of the Hanazono quad lifts, so you get the jump on everyone else waiting for regular lift opening times.
We usually have a simple mission on our J-land trips, one that I am sure most of you share – we try to ski powder every day possible, checking out a selection of well known to virtually unknown J-land options to max our chances.
In seasons like 2017-18 it’s almost impossible not go get pow days galore, but these pictures are from mid-January in previous leaner 2016-17 season, that arrived later than usual.
Niseko is the world’s most reliable major resort destination for quality powder, a “lean” season here still beats almost anywhere, and it’s accessability is a bonus. An overnight flight up on QF25 to Haneda, with a relaxed JAL connection to Sapporo, saw us check in by early afternoon at Ki Niseko on Friday the 13th of January. Normally nothing stops me getting straight into things on arrival, and with the gondola opposite Ki Niseko it’s super easy to change and go ski on arrival. But it was so cold, an unusually brutal -30° C, that I couldn’t stay out for more than a couple of laps in the chopped up afternoon snow, just long enough to get a quick feel for my new boots and new skis.
Light snow fell overnight, and the super cold temperatures sucked more moisture out of the snow, setting things up for the real pow mission to start next day. For a huge morning of first tracks it’s hard to beat Hanazono Powder Guides and their aptly titled Hanazono First Tracks. Loading with the chairs at Hanazono you get an hour’s head start on the hordes for classic favourites like Strawberry and Blueberry Fields.
I’ve done HPG first tracks several times over the years, some with deeper snow than this, but never with such perfect weather. It was still, sunny and cold again, but not brutally so. Yotei looked a picture, and the Sea of Japan glowed a deep blue away in the distance.
The few centimetres outside the hotel when the HPG van picked me up translated into boot to knee deep in the trees lower down, and pockets much better than that in the gullies off the back of the Peak.
For my money the measure of a genuine powder day is simply when you are not touching bottom (not to be confused with bottomless, which is the ultimate), so this qualified in spades.
Just two other skiers made up our fast charging group, led by HPG Guide Shintaro Kawaouchi, so we wasted no time waiting for stragglers and always had more than enough clean lines to go round.
The Peak was the pick, it is so worth being among the first up there anytime there’s fresh snow, which is most days in Niseko.
A quick selfie at the top while getting the gear together is OK, but stop to take pictures for long and there’s always the worry a bunch of boarders will come past and trash the slope! So we kept moving, with me popping the camera in and out of my jacket to snap these shots. Shintaro found us the best route back to civilisation, along most of which we were the first people for the day. Can’t ask for more than that, Day 1 back at the office for Snow Action was a 10/10.
I always pre-book a HPG day anytime we are heading to Niseko because it guarantees you will maximise whatever is available that way – in a mega season or regular season. The worst case scenario is you get to hammer perfect groomers if it hasn’t dumped overnight, but mostly you get to max the overnight snowfall on Hanazono’s lower slopes, working them as you go up the lifts in sequence as they load, riding the 3 quads successively.
Just when you are wishing it would stay as your private powder world all day you see people far below starting to line up at the bottom. But as they do you are there to be first on the pizza box chair for the hike to the Peak.
By the time you get to the top that familiar winding line of pow pilgrims will be climbing to their shrine, but you will be among the first there, which is so worth it. First Tracks Hanazono rules!
Hanazono Powder Guides are popular, with good reason, and number limits apply daily, so lock it when booking your Niseko accommodation is the best idea. First Tracks is included with any HPG half day or full day program, numbers are limited, book at www.hanazononiseko.com
There is a great Early Bird deal for group lessons with Niseko International Snowsports School at Hanazono too – if friends of family aren’t up for HPG book them in NISS instead by August 31 on the link and save 15%.
For a great accommodation deal check Vacation Niseko, use code SA1819 when booking for the best deals with them.