Both myself and the snow have taken their time to arrive in Japan, but it was definitely worth the wait. I landed two days before New Year’s Eve as did the beginnings of the famed powder in Nesiko. My first morning I dragged my jetlagged self out of bed and was richly rewarded. Even though the top of the mountain was closed due to high winds (high being defined very conservatively in Japan as 40km p/h!) I cut my teeth in Grand Hirafu. Two hours into my first day I managed to locate “Strawberry Fields” in the nearby ski area of Hanazono which tasted as sweet as it sounds! Steep (by Japanese standards) pillowy fluffy loveliness with nicely spaced trees. Day 1, powder face shots. Check.
Day 3 was New Years eve and whilst Christmas in Japan, isn’t widely celebrated, New Year’s Eve (shougatsu) is a very important cultural event. Niseko Village, Annupuri and Hirafu joined forces to put on a traditional Taiko drum performances, fireworks and music. As tempting as the offer to hit the pub with my new flatmates was I found an alternative and definitely more interesting plan. For 38 years the local Japanese in Hirafu have an unusual tradition of going up the ski lift late at night, drink copious amounts of hot sake, setting a torch alight and skiing all the way to the bottom of the mountain.
Separated skiers and boarders waiting to light up torches – I am on ski’s today but my GoPro is on a boarder for better view.
In typical Japanese fashion it was a turbo charged, brightly coloured and totally nuts. Annoyingly I did not get the memo about leaving ski poles at home so I had to juggle my ski poles, burning hot fire and slightly muted coordination after a healthy amount of sake. When we eventually get down the mountain around midnight we joined the rest of the revellers to ring in the New Year and watch the annual fireworks smug in the knowledge that we contributed a small little light show of our own for the crowds.
The first people descending the mountain at midnight with the crowd waiting below.
Boarders light up and cheer!
I would love to see the health and safety report for an event like this to occur in the UK or Ireland. I am learning that the Japanese don’t do things by halves and even though I have been here just less than a week if NYE is anything to go by, it looks like I will be in for an interesting ride!