Niseko, Japan, “has quietly become the stuff of legend among the skiing cognoscenti,” said Eric Hansen in Outside. Located a 90-minute flight from Tokyo, the town on the nation’s northernmost island gets more snow each January than any other ski area in the world, and that snow is generally as dry as the finest powder found anywhere in North America. Australian skiers discovered Niseko after 9/11, when getting to Whistler in British Columbia suddenly became a challenge. Their support has kept the area in business while nearby Japanese slopes were failing, but Niseko still combines “movie-quality powder” with the laid-back vibe of a locals’ hill. Of the 48 feet of snow that fall on the town in an average year, 15 feet arrive in January. “Finding fresh powder is almost never a problem.”
My guide tells me I’m lucky when my first day of backcountry skiing is greeted by a bright sun and bluebird sky. I am, but I’m happier still when Niseko is once again “thoroughly snow-fogged,” as it can be day after day for weeks at a time. I spend most of my off-slope time touring Niseko Village, one of four base areas, then ski powder at night under the “impressive constellation of lights” of neighboring Hirafu. Natural hot springs called onsen bubble up everywhere, and I make a point of soaking my weary body at Goshiki, a “legendary” onsen—half indoor and half out—that sits at the end of one backcountry run.
Feathery snow is falling heavily as I part ways with the members of a snowboarding club I’ve enjoyed most of another day with. They were curious to hear about what it’s like to ski Whistler, but took for granted the blizzard then enveloping smaller Niseko. For a while longer, I ski alone, “poofing through fluff and leaping off pillow drops” while the flakes keep coming. “‘Aoooooooo!’ I howl, bringing my skis to a hissing stop after another half-dozen untracked runs.” I’m completely alone, and I’m beginning to believe that Niseko might just be the best ski resort in the world.
At Shiki Niseko (shikiniseko.com), a hotel in the village of Hirafu, doubles start at $524