#wherehaswintertakenyou: Snowboarding in Hanazono…
Yo blogging world! My mum didn’t have much to say about snowboarding so I had to step in for her. By the way, it’s me again, Benjamin, her favourite son, I think.
Our parents decided that we would snowboard rather than ski when we went to Niseko, Japan last December. Of course, we were reluctant at first because we had skied before and we thought we would do it again this winter. We soon realised that snowboarding is easier to pick up, seemingly safer, and in some ways probably cooler.
The snow in Niseko was amazing, to begin with. In the 6 days that we were there, it only stopped snowing for an hour or so, and every morning the snow on the slopes was fresh and soft. This made visibility bad sometimes, but the sheer volume and fine quality of the snow there was awesome. It was light and dry which, to me, meant that we only had to shake it off and we’d stay dry. (Do watch our short video at the bottom)
There are a number of resorts in Niseko. In Annapuri mountain, these include Niseko Annapuri, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village and Hanazono Niseko. Mum chose Hanazono after some research and consultations with her friends who frequent Niseko. Hanazono is family-friendly and has wide slopes for beginners like us. The resort size is just right and the layout is not complicated. Joaquin could go up the slope by himself and afterward would know where to find Mum, who would usually be having her hot choco at 308 Café, the main restaurant of the resort. The resort also has off-slope activities like snowmobile, snowshoeing, snow tubing and sledding. It is also home to the famous kani ramen which mum ate every lunch.
This is Hana 1 Café at the base of Hana 1 Quad lift where you can get this hot choco topped with an extra-large marshmallow
We stayed at an apartment at Lower Hirafu Village area since there are no accommodations at Hanazono yet and since there are more choices of restaurants for dinner there, but it wasn’t a hassle because there were free shuttle buses to ferry us to the resort. It’s really just a 15 to 20-minute ride along beautiful fields of snow. We are very excited though about the upcoming ski-in ski-out residences project of Park Hyatt at Hanazano. Something to look forward to in December 2019!
Okay, so I think the first important step to snowboarding is to have the proper equipment, wear the right gear. We invested in good-quality clothing that would keep us warm but would allow sweat to escape and dry quickly. Yes, because amidst the -5 degree Celsius temperature, we were sweating during most of the lessons. I have to point out the importance of wearing a balaclava which was most useful when racing down the slopes with the snow and wind constantly battering our faces. We rented our snowboards and boots from Niseko Sports Rental and Retail. We fitted them at their shop in Hirafu the night before our first lesson, and they transported them to Hanazono for our use the following day. Since Niseko Sports Rental and Retail also has a shop a Hanazono, they could also keep the skis and snowboards at night for free storage. We didn’t have to bring them all the way back to our apartment. Talk about excellent service ay.
On the first day, we met our instructor, Neil, from Niseko International Snowsports School (NISS). NISS is the official snow sports school of Hanazono. Neil helped us pick up the basics of snowboarding and made the lessons fun and effective. In no time, we were able to snowboard and even take on the chairlifts and steeper slopes. On the first and second days, we learned how to accelerate, brake and do basic turns. Mum and Dad found it difficult to pick up, but Joaquin and I had almost no problems and were having a lot of fun. After just an hour, Mum decided to quit and just take photos of us, but Dad didn’t give up and continued trying. We did snowboarding on our own even after the lessons and till the resort closing time.
On the 3rd day, after learning some more advanced ways of turning, we got a chance to move to the higher part of the slope. We got there via a skidoo, which was an inflatable boat dragged by a snowmobile. Although Dad was slightly apprehensive, Joaquin and I were very happy to finally be able to use what we had learned so far. For us, going fast soon became an addiction and we went even faster the next day. It was at this point that we realised the importance of wearing a balaclava. As the snow was extremely heavy and the wind was blowing it around, the balaclava protected our faces and ears from the stinging cold. It also protected our necks without the thickness and inconvenience of a scarf. Eventually, we were able to complete the run with a minimal number of errors, and we were ready to take on the chairlift.
On our 4th and last day of snowboarding, we went up the chairlift and this time, we went down ‘Silver Dream’. This slope took roughly 15 minutes to ride from top to bottom and had many steep parts. Although, I’m sure expert riders would take only a fraction of that. The snow and wind were going at their hardest high up the mountain, which made visibility low.
On the first run, Dad and Joaquin were intimidated by the steepness of the first section so I went on without them. Joaquin caught up with me soon after because he realised that he could also ride down the slope. When we got to the bottom, we were extremely proud of ourselves as we had managed to conquer Silver Dream after just 4 days of lessons. Dad, on the other hand, took a very long time to get to the bottom. He claims that he ‘rested’ halfway… Joaquin and I did a few more runs, and at around 3:30pm it was already getting dark and so my bro and I called it a day.
Looking back, snowboarding was a really fun experience for us and the snow in Niseko was fantastic. Joaquin’s favourite things to do in the snow are snow tubing and sledding, but he easily gave both up in Niseko, he said he preferred to do more snowboarding. What a cool kid (pun intended)!
Some practical tips before I go:
- Book your lessons early. Mum initially booked only two private morning lessons, but we wanted to progress faster and so we had to book for two more days. Our lesson on the first two days was the Morning Private Lesson which was a 2.5-hour lesson (10am-12:30pm). For our additional two lessons, we only managed to book the shorter Espresso Morning (8:30am-10am) and Niseko Lunch (12:30pm-1:30pm).
- Don’t book lunch out of Hanazono. Mom had to cancel our lunch reservations in Hirafu because we wanted to spend every minute of the day snowboarding in Hanazono. And even if you don’t want to do snowboarding anymore, you can do some off-slope activities. We joined a snowmobile tour in Hanazono one afternoon. There’s also snow tubing and sledding that your family can enjoy.
- Dress appropriately. You need to invest in proper clothing if you want to be able to stay outdoors the whole day. If you intend to snowboard or ski again the following year, buy your apparel instead of renting. Mum said it would end up cheaper. And oh, remember to get a balaclava, you’ll need it!
- Bring a waterproof camera. Mum used her old Sony handheld cam recorder and a Nikon DSLR. Not a great idea when it’s snowing and blowing. She swore she’ll save up for a GoPro for our next snowboarding trip.
- Use glove linings. If you want to take pictures and keep warm, invest in good gloves and linings like those of Ice Merino.
- Zip your jacket pocket. If you are bringing your phone or keys when snowboarding, please zip your pockets. My dad lost his phone on the slopes. Hmm. We wonder if we should go back to Niseko this summer, maybe we can still find his phone there.
- Here are some useful links for you, click pls: Hanazono, NISS, Niseko Rental
Anyway, here’s a short video of our snowboarding on the famous JaPow! Peace out yall! 😊