Wednesday, 6 February 2013

You know you're skiing in Japan when...

There's no mistaking it, the Land of the Rising Sun also has a lot of snow!

Taking advantage of this winter wonderland, Japan has about 600 ski resorts - although some are very small and more geared towards snow-lovin' locals than the international market.

However, since the Winter Olympics were staged in Nagano in 1998, Japan's larger ski areas such as Hakuba and Niseko have attracted a growing international market.   

But just as with many other aspects of life in Japan, skiing here is just a little bit different to everywhere else.  

Here's 10 ways in which skiing in Japan is different:

1.  A bow from the "lifty"
Forget the surly, pot-head Gen Ys who grunt at you in Australia, US and Canada, here in Japan you are cheerfully greeted when you board a chair lift, while the "lifty" at the top gives you a bow when you arrive at your destination.  Arigato!

2.  Many lifts for the number of runs
Lift lines are a concern for every skier, but less so in Japan.   Part of this has to be the fact that some resorts have more lifts than actual runs.  For example, Tsugaike Kogen in Hakuba has 23 lifts for its 11 courses, while the larger Hakuba 47 and Goryu has 19 lifts for its 23 runs.  While the usefulness of some of these lifts is debatable, they certainly help spread any crowd.  They also keep the packs of school kids learning to ski and board down the bottom of the slope.

The dramatic Hakuba ski area in Japan

3.  Automated lift gates
Now they may have these elsewhere in the world, but I've yet to see automatic lift gates used with such gusto as in Japan, particularly in Hakuba and Niseko.  Instead of an attendant manually scanning your lift ticket, which is usually strung to your jacket and flapping away in the wind, your lift ticket is small credit card or chip kept in your pocket which is automatically scanned by sensors at the gate.   No fuss and you're on your way quicker.

4.  Hello Kitty snowmen
This fictional character is everywhere in Japan and even on the snowfields itself.   Kids, adults and even lift attendants seem to enjoy creating Hello Kitty from the snow.

Get used to saying "Hello Kitty"

5.  Slope-side vending machines
Another staple of urban Japan has made it onto the ski slopes offering water, soft drinks and beer.  Lunch ticket vending machines are also used in many of the on-piste restaurants making it easier to order and pay for your meal.  You simply take the your ticket to the kitchen counter to pick up your meal.

6.  A Japanese lunch
Speaking of meals, apart from western fare and even the odd KFC (see, there's ramen, soba, curry, miso soup and other hearty Japanese dishes to enjoy on the slopes.  

Japanese and Western cuisine dished up on the slopes

7.  Heated toilet seats
Whoever thought of putting heated toilet seats on the mountain is a genius and a humanitarian.  (see

8.  Chair lift J-pop
So J-pop blaring from the chair lift speakers not be to everyone's tastes, but at least you know where the lifts are in a white-out!

9.  Apres ski onsens
There's hardly a better tonic for sore muscles and cold feet than relaxing in an onsen drawing on hot volcanic springs.   (see

10.  Fashions of the field
Japanese fashion is distinctive to say the least and the snow gear is no exception.   Just as well you are wearing googles as "onesies", pants, jackets, boots and boards come in a neon rainbow of colours here.   It's safe to say there's a fair amount of "dress-ups" going on - from the young snowboarding girls who preen themselves to simply sit on the mountain beside their board all day, through to adults dressed as animals or cartoon characters.

The unique fashions of Japan's ski fields

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