I kept this diary of things we have done in Singapore for 2 years. I have now moved some of it to other travel pages but you can still find links to many of our activities here. I have also created a reading list of books we have read about the region.

Western Japan

Birds in Singapore

Kuala Lumpur stopover

Thai Diving

Singapore Liveaboard

Local Residents

Beijing Summer

Diving with Sharks

Shanghai Heatwave

Taiwan Tourists

An Indian week

Where U bin?

Island hideaway

Steamy running

A Trip to the Zoo

Gardens by the Bay


Singapore walks

Mind the bus

Flower power


Early weeks


Vicky's Blog


It is some time since I have added to the ‘Ross and Vicky travel around the Far East’ series.  Our trips to Raja Ampat and Myanmar deserved separate write ups and Christmas in Switzerland was fun but not news.  However I am writing this looking out over a snowy landscape with volcanic peaks and birch forests which means that we have made it to ski in Japan.

This is our first time skiing in Asia and I knew nothing about skiing in Japan until a few weeks ago.  Here are some of the things that we have learned since being here.

1. Snow: the great attraction of skiing in Northern Japan is the legendary snow that is formed when the winds blowing across Siberia pick up moisture over the Sea of Japan and dump it on Hokkaido.  Although the resorts are close to sea level and the peaks are at around 1000-1200m they get around 10m or more of snow per season with fantastic powder skiing.  Sadly for us the 2014/15 season started with huge quantities of snow in December but since we have been here there is little powder to be found.  However the snow quality is still miles better than Europe and there is something to be said for blue skies.

2. Resorts:  having only skied Niseko and Rusutsu I am not an expert.  Hokkaido has over 100 resorts and there is more skiing on Honshu, closer to Tokyo.  Niseko is split into four villages – Annupuri, Niseko Village, Hirafu and Hanazono, around the south side of Mt Niseko, an extinct volcano.  By European standards the resorts are very underdeveloped.  Hirafu is the most lively with a good selection of bars and restaurants however it is nothing like Val D’Isere!  The other villages are very quiet and there is not really a culture of après ski.

3. Skiing: coming from Europe we have had a lot of hard icy runs recently so the softer snow and big variety of runs has been a pleasure.  From top to bottom it is about 3km at Niseko so the runs are not short.  There are wide gentle runs for beginners and steeper reds and blacks. Every steep run in Japan has a mogul track carved down the middle for aspiring hotdoggers but if you are not up for that it is easily avoided.  At Niseko you are skiing on a single peak so you don’t get the huge excursions you find in the mega-resorts in Europe. Rusutsu is spread over 3 hills so is more spread out but still a smaller resort by European standards.

4. Food: our standard question skiing in Switzerland is “where shall we go for lunch?” There are some smaller tradition mountain huts in Niseko like Bo-yoso, 1000m hut and Paradise Hut where you can get simple soups or curries with noodles or rice.  Prices are very reasonable at around Y800 – about EUR 6.66 or STL 5. There are also large, refectory style self-service restaurants where you get ramen noodles, spaghetti and hamburgers.  Not fine dining.  At the bottom of the hill you can also find decent buffets in the local hotels.

5. Off piste: in good conditions the off-piste ski opportunities in Niseko are huge.  Some areas between the resorts are out of bounds but otherwise the resorts operate a ‘gate system’ where you can access huge areas of the mountain through exits from the controlled areas (see below).  Gates may be closed if conditions are very unstable otherwise skiers are trusted to ski within their abilities and experience. Skiing under ropes (as opposed to through gates) is strictly forbidden and we saw one snowboarder chased down by the piste-patrol for going under a rope rather than climbing 6m to the gate. We found some great runs, despite the lack of powder, by going through the gates.  There was spring snow in the gullies and some powder left as you skied through the trees.  We didn’t stray too far from the resorts and managed to get back onto the runs at the bottom.  At Rusutsu there is a huge amount of tree skiing that you can do through the forests in between the runs.  Roped off areas stop you from heading down valleys with no access back to the resort.  Few of the Japanese (apart from the snowboarders) appear to venture off-piste so you have the slopes to yourself.

6. Infrastructure: ski lifts in Niseko are pretty old-fashioned by European standards.  Lots of slow chairs including one-man chairs, many without safety bars – I am told this is the case in Colorado as well.  A few faster chairs and gondolas.  You also need to take several lifts in Niseko to get to the top.  I suspect that this is deliberate to avoid overcrowding the higher runs.  At Rusutsu they have mostly fast, hooded chairs, so a bit more modern.  Queues are short and orderly and lift attendants friendly.  Ski hire was OK but not brilliant.  I suspect the quality and choice is greater in Hirafu than Niseko Village where we hired.  There are a number of ski-schools. We take a recommendation from a friend and use Niseko Academy to show us around. Very good, all English speaking and one of the only schools with fully qualified staff.

7. Crowds:  several people told us to watch out as we had chosen the busiest week of the year over Chinese New Year.  We were therefore surprised to find the slopes pretty quiet by European standards.  Many of the skiers (Chinese?) kept to the extensive nursery slopes and a lot of skiers appeared to give up at lunchtime.  Many slopes in the afternoon were deserted.

8. Hot springs: a great feature of Niseko and many other volcanic resorts is the profusion of thermal baths.  Our guide, Gabe, briefed us on “Onsen etiquette” – take a modesty towel and wash carefully in one of the little sit-down shower cubicles before entering the bath.  At Niseko Hilton (above) you could sit inside or out and the outdoor area, where men and women are segregated by a brick screen, had a fine view across a pool to pine trees and the magnificent Mt Yotei in the distance.

9. Other skiers: Niseko started as a mecca for Japanese backcountry snowboarders.  There are still loads of snowboards here but also lots of Australians, ex-pat Europeans, and Singaporeans and Chinese.  Many of the Chinese are still learning and we saw a few careering down runs in out-of-control snow ploughs.  However it is not so crowded that you can’t avoid the lunatics.

10. Getting there: Chitose Airport in Sapporo is the access point for skiing in Hokkaido. The only international flights are from regional locations like Beijing, Seoul, Hong Kong, Taipei and Bangkok.  However there are frequent flights from Tokyo which will be the most popular route for most international travelers.  From Chitose it is a 2.5hr drive to Niseko – we came late at night in a taxi and experienced real winter conditions with snowdrift and black ice.  Fortunately the speed limit in Hokkaido is 50km reducing the chance of accidents.

See the slideshow below for more ...