I was dreading my upcoming trip to Japan after a couple of recent semi-failed experiences with the country (read: getting kicked out of a cab for not speaking enough Japanese in Tokyo, and getting sick on some not-so-premium beef in carnivore’s-paradise Kobe) but I’d agreed to a group ski trip months prior, so I went. Perhaps the third time’s a charm, I figured. We were headed to Niseko (in Hokkaido, Northern Japan) which is renowned for its all-powder slopes, breathtaking mountain vistas, and top-notch accommodation, food and beer. One short layover in Tokyo and a two-hour (English-guided) snow bus and I was there – a fairly easy route given the long distance travelled. Despite the fact that I hadn't been on a snowboard in 18 years (and in that moment so many years ago had also broken my tailbone attempting a jump), I secured my helmet, rented my gear (reasonably priced, compared to other popular ski regions) and headed for the Grand Hirafu Resort base. Though the steep mountainous views were intimidating, they were also stunning and serene, and I found myself looking forward to every powdery, well-groomed, beautifully manicured run down the slopes. Lifts were plentiful, gondolas available and the runs were well-stocked with restrooms, cafes and coffee shops. And while snowboarding Niseko was quite an adventure, eating my way through Niseko was a total pleasure. The selection of food is vast for such a small resort area, and I found amazing teppanyaki, okonomiyaki, yakitori , and of course, sushi, all within walking distance of my hotel (Powder Tracks). Sapporo Classic beer, the local swill only available in Hokkaido prefecture, was served up ice cold, and some pretty impressive local selections of sake warmed our snow-covered palates all weekend long. All in all, what started as a dreaded long weekend in a very foreign country turned into a perfectly pleasant ski vacation in a winter wonderland, and I’d recommend Niseko to anyone looking to escape the crowded, icy European ski spots in late winter. Arigato for the memories, Japan! THIRD TIME’S A CHARM IN JAPAN BY AMANDA DALE

FACT FILE Getting there: Sapporo is 10 or so hours from Singapore, including a stop in Toyko, Taipei or elsewhere, and Niseko is an additional two or so hours by car, bus or train. Trivia time: • Hokkaido is the 22nd largest island in the world. • Niseko is said to get more snow in a typical January than any other skiing area in the world. • Sapporo is vying to host the Olympic Winter Games in 2026, an event that would include Alpen skiing at Niseko. | antb


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