The Peak at Niseko is the gold standard for Japow freeride lines.
In fact it’s the original classic, at the original resort that kickstarted the whole international Japan powder ski boom 25 years ago.
Sure, the ‘Peak Procession’, that winding line of powder pilgrims hiking up the 1,100 steps above the King 4 Lift, can often be long.
So the earlier you go the best shot you’ll have at getting your fair share of the 360° panorama of options from the top. You can’t go before Gate 3 to the Peak opens. Usually, that’s from 9.30 – 10.30am or so.
Which means you want to be among the first to ride the pizza box King 4 lift when that opens too.
One of the simplest ways to do that, and get some more classic lines in before you the Peak hike, is to get out with Hanazono Powder Guides and their aptly titled First Tracks program.
Loading with the chairs at Hanazono you get an hour’s head start on the hordes for classic favourites there like Strawberry and Blueberry Fields (which made our 2010 Top 10 Japan Classic runs list, and are still worthy, especially on a first tracks morning).
Then as the lifts open for regular punters at Hanazono and Hirafu far below you are among the first heading up the pizza box chairs for The Peak hike when that opens.
I’ve done HPG first tracks several times over the past decade, mostly with deep snow and socked in conditions.
In the (relatively) slow start 2017 season we got lucky with perfect weather in mid-January. Not the deepest snow, but after an un-Niseko like -30° C the night before it was super dry. Yotei looked a picture, and the Sea of Japan glowed 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 on Strawberry Fields, and pockets better than that in the gullies and wide open North Face off the back of the Peak.
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 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 getting the gear together is OK, but don’t stop to take pictures for long or a bunch of boarders will scoot past and trash the slope.
If it had dumped a lot then letting a few go ahead to set the boot pack is no bad thing. They groom a fair way above the lift to provide emergency access if required, so normally it’s not too hard. If you are quick getting skins on and skinning then go for it, but the hike is just as effective.
My favourite line, especially when it clears up to see this view, is the big North Face bowl and on wider around with nice tree lines lower down and a long run out all the way back to the now booming Hanazono base area.
The Annupuri Back Bowl is usually sketchier thanks to wind and sun effects, but it has steeper options too. It’s more avi prone, and definitely one to go to with a guide or very experienced locals. Go Snow Gondola Snowsports, the area’s largest snow sports school, can organise a powder guide and lesson/tips along the way.
I did just that with instructor/guide John Lusk. Go Snow have lift priority on the main Hirafu lifts, so we grabbed one of the first gondolas, and the quad above it to be among the first on the single chair when it opened. We hiked up at a decent pace, with no wasted time for selfies at the top either. Just click and go bro, we were off.
We were not the first up the Peak even so (age and lack of ski fitness are my excuses), but as usual most who beat us up had headed towards Hanazono. The one group of tracks going towards Annupuri had dropped in fairly close, leaving us the first for the day to head out along the ridge skier’s right.
It socked in just as we were going to drop in, so the first 200m or so we were skiing by feel, then it opened up and we had reasonable light to keep clean-lining down. We dropped and cut right, dropped and cut right, as we worked our way around to maintain altitude, finally reaching the gladed bowls closer to Moiwa. We were always first for the day there every line we took.
In fact we were so first and it was so lonely out there, heading back down into the drainage for the run out back to Niseko Annupuri it was a shock to the system to have to pay attention and watch out for fellow riders dropping down from out of the lower gates there. These get busy earlier as you don’t need to hike the Peak to access them.
It was a classic run, so much fun that after a quick coffee break we scooted around and did it all again. By this time the Niseko ‘Peak Procession’ was in full swing, and far more people had been up there and out there. But most of those had done something else, so we found plenty of clean shots to enjoy on lap 2 going further and wider still.
Of course, all The Peak runs are out the Avi gates and you must have your gear and know how to use it. If you don’t, avi courses run locally through the season with the likes of NOASC, so book one in for your first couple of days in town.
The Peak Niseko guide options
HPG at Niseko Hanazono are excellent, highly recommended more on the link
GoSnow Gondola Snowsports at Niseko Grand Hirafu are great, their lift priority gold more on the link
Niseko Photography & Guiding will custom design a tour for you/your group, and bring back the best images/clips of it too, also highly recommended more on the link