SkiJapan.com reservations manager Ben Howard has been calling Niseko home for almost 9 years seasonally, and year-round since 2013 when he made the transition from Winter Traveller to Permanent Fixture.
Recently acquiring property 50 minutes from the resort in Kuromatsunai area, the commute affords him the unique opportunity to enjoy the wider Niseko landscape on a daily basis, passing through the rolling ivory hills in winter, and enjoying sea breeze mornings along the coastline between Iwanai and Suttsu.
We touched base with Ben this summer to get a few tips on what best to enjoy during the green season;
What attracted you to Japan?
Initially I was curious about experiencing the culture and people, plus there was interesting ski resort work available in this particular area which of course meant there were plenty of chances to ride the famous powder snow.
After working a few winter’s and hearing great things about the summer community here, I wanted to experience all the seasons with bbqs and beers and hiking and cycling etc. I wasn’t disappointed as I’ve recently purchased my first home here with no plans to lift anchor any time soon – I think Niseko would be a great place to raise a family!
What are your favourite summer activities?
Hiking cycling and surfing. The area has great scenic cycling terrain and the mountain biking has been picking up a lot over the past couple of years with well developed downhill tracks and the recent pump track near Ginto village.
What is your Favourite local food?
There’s a small Udon restaurant at the base of Mt Yotei and it’s fantastic; cheap – 1500 yen or less – braised pork, chicken karaage – you name it. Some visitors travel all the way from Sapporo just to eat there.
Any recommended locations for a day trip?
It’s hard to count even on ten fingers and toes, but a few top selections definitely include the Shakotan Coast which is a nice 45min drive away and you’ve got the Sea of Japan with plenty of beaches and campsites along the beach – it’s a beautiful location for surfing and fishing and even staying overnight.
There’s easy access to Rankoshi for onsens, Makkari for spring water, Noboribetsu to enjoy the Ninja Village and the Hell Valley volcanic sulphur experience. Hakodate is a great bay about 2 hrs away which is beautiful during both summer and winter. And of course, Sapporo is not too far out if you fancy a big night, some games at Round One, or some essential Don Quijote shopping.
Abucha in Hirafu has a great whiskey selection – around 20-30 options so it’s a good spot for a neat whiskey.
7th heaven in Kutchan – darts, free karaoke, and complimentary popcorn with the nomihodai! Always a good option for a fun night out.
Any Summer goals lined up this year?
I’ve heard Shiretoko national park is a great location to view the native wildlife of Hokkaido so I’d really like to drive there and check it out this summer!
Summer in Niseko really is a great time of year; It’s quieter, you’ve got more time to explore the area, and the roads are much wider and easier to travel on without worrying about all the snow.
Summer is a time for exploring; If you have some wheels there’s a lot of nature and wildlife in Japan so you don’t need to visit zoos.
Some of the nearby resorts are actually more popular during summer rather than winter; Furano is full of picturesque lavender fields and cheese factories which draw big crowds during the warmer months. Definitely check the region out during the summer time if you have a chance!