Amazing Adventures in Hokkaido
The abundance of the natural environment, the lifestyles and culture of the people who live there – Hokkaido has many incredible stories that are as yet unknown.
In this column, we learn about the appeal of Hokkaido’s four seasons from the people who guide adventure tours there. We hope such stories enrich the time spent in Hokkaido, the next time you visit.
Column: Shiribeshi region – Winter – The centre of skiing in Asia.
Life in Hokkaido is dictated by the seasons, and winter in Hokkaido is the season for skiing. Unlike many ski destinations around the world that are found in high mountainous areas, Hokkaido receives an abundance of snow all the way to sea level, making every town with a small hill a ski town.
With close to 100 ski hills scattered over the island – many of these just local, single-lifted hills – Hokkaido is a winter playground with the potential for endless discovery should you choose to venture around the island.
At the epicentre of everything snow-related is Niseko, a relaxed summer farming region that comes to life with a vibrancy and energy of powder-hungry skiers and snowboarders in a white winter wonderland. Located at the base of Mt. Yotei in the southwest region of Hokkaido, Niseko is part of the Shiribeshi sub-prefecture which, in turn, is home to the other large and well-known resorts of Rusutsu and Kiroro, along with some smaller, off-the-radar local ski hills.
It’s these combinations of very different resort offerings, along with heli-skiing, cat skiing and snowmobile-access backcountry that make the Shiribeshi region the centre of skiing in Asia. And that’s before we even start to talk about the quality and quantity of snow that blankets this region every winter – more than anywhere else on earth.
For me, I fell in love with Niseko’s ultra-consistent, ultra-dry, pretty much perfect snow. The resort area of Niseko United was where I came to understand the magic of powder skiing through the silver birch forests, and this took me to search beyond the resorts for the zen of untracked snow in the backcountry. These days, I love nothing more than a hike to one of my favourite backcountry peaks and it only takes one or two perfect runs through the pristine forests to give me a satisfaction that resonates through the rest of my week.
With an abundant quantity of snow every year it becomes a search for quality, a driving passion for those moments of meditative nirvana, for perfection. I don’t just want to do turns in perfect snow, I need to. Something deep inside me drives me on, ever searching for these turns on a daily basis. Maybe it’s as simple as being a powder junkie, and maybe I am… but this is why I live in Niseko.
The feeling of floating; the weightlessness; the sounds of snow engulfing your senses; the chunks of powder blocking your nostrils, and the mouthfuls of snow you swallow as you explode from a chest-deep turn… this is where life is lived in its purest form. A kind of satiation that can only be found in the perfect, untracked powder forest of Niseko.
While Niseko glitters in the fame of being the world’s snowiest resort, it was the surrounding area of the Shiribeshi region that enchanted me with its beauty, and is where I draw my inspiration for snowboarding, photography and my way of life. Winters here are magical and we live in a symbiosis of nature, encapsulated in snow – floating somewhere between air and water.
I’ve tried many ways of expressing and sharing this but perhaps my most acute form of expression came recently through my photography book, subsequently named ‘Between Air & Water’. To share the magic that Hokkaido and life in Shiribeshi have imparted on me, I brought together a collection of winter images that I felt went some way to describing the magic and communicating the beauty of life in this truly special place.
A picture is supposed to say a thousand words; sometimes they can also whisper a little magic.
Written by Aaron Jamieson; Australian, 15-year resident of Niseko.
Photographer, Director, Cinematographer whose artworks can be viewed at his Fine Art Photographic Gallery in Hirafu, Niseko.