Kutchan, Japan

Photo: AYA Niseko
Photo: AYA Niseko

It was the last run of the day, so you wanted to make it a good one. You rode the chairlifts to the top of the mountain, where the temperature was dropping as quickly as the sun. You skied down the wide Large trail, a black-diamond left ungroomed, and Jumbo, a red square that turned black. The King Bell Hut was a welcome break at the end of them. Then you slowed down. Holiday, along the eastern edge of the mountain, was easy and quiet. You skied through still-fresh powder, raced by pine trees droopy from all of the snow, and watched the village start to light up below.

At the end of the trail, you pass the still-running Hirafu Gondola, the Welcome Center, and the Ace Family Pair—the first chairlift you rode earlier this morning—and ski right to your hotel. A ski valet runs out to assist, before you even have a chance to unhook your skies. He’ll store them, put your boots on a heated rack, and have everything ready when you return tomorrow. He promises fresh powder again in the morning. With the snowflakes that are starting to fall, he’s probably right.

You traveled to Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island, to ski in one of the snowiest places in the world. Mount Niseko-Annupuri, an inactive volcano, averages 32 feet of snow each year. The ski area that covers most of the mountain, Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu, keeps expanding to connect the area’s little villages, additional slopes, and lights to illuminate the trails at night. A single lift pass gives skiers and snowboarders access to all of it.

Photo: AYA Niseko
Photo: AYA Niseko

But you’re done skiing for the day. Between your jet lag and achy muscles, night skiing will have to wait. You have a full evening planned anyway. After dropping off your skies, you head upstairs in AYA Niseko, a new hotel that just opened in December. The outside of the building features glass mixed with a wave-like design, which was inspired by a traditional Japanese weaving technique. The hotel’s interior feels very Japanese, as well. It has minimal spaces, open fires, and an art gallery that features Japanese artists. You strip off your sweaty ski gear in your studio condo. Floor-to-ceiling windows frame the nearby mountains. While the hardwood floors have already been warmed in anticipation of your arrival.

Your first stop isn’t Utsuwa for sake or hearty après-ski fare. You’re actually heading back outside to sit in an open-air onsen. The bath, geothermally heated by hot springs, contains natural minerals and salts. They will loosen your muscles just as well, if not better, than a massage at the spa. The run back inside does leave you with a bit of a chill, though. You quickly shower and bundle back up.

After a long day of skiing, you’d usually find a quick meal at the hotel. But tonight, you’re in search of gosetsu udon. This area is known for the potatoes it produces; they even make noodles with them. Yukitei Niseko Restaurant, just a few blocks away, serves heaping bowls of the hot noodle soup.

It’s snowing hard by the time you walk back to your hotel. But you no longer feel the cold. You tilt your head back to let the big, fluffy flakes fall on your face. You start planning to join a pre-ski yoga class in the morning. It will help you warm up, build strength, and establish balance for your first runs of the day. And you remind yourself to set an alarm. You have a lot of terrain to cover on the mountain.

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