The Journey Begins
Awakening to the sounds of snow pattering on the roof, I let out a sigh of relief. The snow report had stayed true to its word, the storm that will launch Niseko back into the winter wonderland it is known for, has come. To make the most of this white blanket that has covered the region, the SkiJapan team declared a Niseko snowshoe tour was in order. Our good friends at NAC organised guides and snowshoes to ensure we were properly equipped for the conditions. The convoy of vans arrived at the designated meeting point, situated at the foot of Mt Yōtei. Although we knew an active stratovolcano was just an igneous stone’s throw away, it was nowhere to be seen. The snow has taken its beauty hostage and may not return anytime soon.
We piled out of the vans. The guides dispersed the strange contraptions that will be attached to our feet; the first challenge of the day. The snow encapsulated winds paired with cold metal and bare hands made the intricate work of fastening the shoes a puzzle in itself. Luckily, amongst our well-travelled team, we had a few snowshoe connoisseurs, along with the guides, which could provide those first-timers with some much-needed assistance. Lunch was packed up, shoes were tied tight, hopefully, the trail doesn’t put up much of a fight.
The first leg of the tour was a breeze. Hiking along the road used for summer access to Yōtei allowed us to get a feel for the winter version of fins now glued to our feet. The path that now resembled your favourite ski run after a good dump and first chair presented the opportunity for a group shot as well as a cluster of selfies from various devices. Those upfront forming and tossing snowballs over their head in a grenade-like fashion. So far, so good.
After ten or so minutes of walking along identical banks, the guides started to signal to turn left and up. Here began the trek. We could tell from the outset this was unmistakably early-season snowshoeing. The track was narrow, the bamboo shoots were poking through and I envisioned this is what a small leg of an Amazonian hiking trail may look like if a freak storm captured it. Here began the hilarities. For those who have never attempted this activity, the shoes at times can be a little awkward. Combine that with 30+ people, extremely uneven surfaces, obstacles to climb over, under or around at every turn with a large portion focused on taking epic selfies, tripping becomes a genuine thing. Now I must point out at no point was anyone in any danger. But watching some people tangled up in a very similar fashion to first-time skiers having their first fall, was an excellent scene that was entertaining for all. Now, hurry and get up, you’re holding up the line!
A Break for Morning Tea
Hangetsu-Ko translates to Half-Moon Lake. This is represented by the natural shape of the lake when visible. In the middle of winter, the lake becomes fully frozen, and guests will be treated to a peacefully beautiful view as well as the opportunity to walk across the lake itself. Given the time of year, we only got brief glances of the lake from above in between clouds along the trail, but it looked stunning none the less. We reached the apex of the path, after a quick shower (see video below), the guides treated us to a much-needed hot cup of tea and cake as we sat down and recounted on the wonderfully unique experience we had just witnessed. As the tea helped our blood return to our extremities, the warmth had returned. The next move was obvious; snowball fight. As I stood well clear of the carnage protecting my camera, two teams separated over the battlefield that had just been our snacking area, and missiles began to fly. Skyler, our Canadian Front Desk Manager, mindlessly approached the fight with an open mouth and “copped a humdinger straight to the back of the throat”. I think there are better ways to hydrate ay bud.
An Unforgettable Experience
The final leg of the tour was a much simpler journey back to our vehicles. Towards the very end, the sun shun through the clouds momentarily, igniting the snow-covered shrubbery and making it glisten like Niseko Village during Christmas. With the finish line in sight, the final slab of snow with a slight decline provided an excellent track for those to burn their last bits of energy in a snowshoe race. Some, losing one or both of their shoes in the process. The tour all-in-all was a superb experience for those involved. Although toes became numb, thermals became wet, oesophagi possibly bruised, it was one of those experiences we’ll look back at years to come and say “hey, remember that time…?”. Reminisce and laugh. If you ask me, it’s those moments that really count, what a holiday to Niseko is all about. Once again, thank you to our excellent guides, and I’ll be returning soon for those stunning scenes down by the lake.
Be sure to check out all the other excellent on snow tours available here!