A true ski-lover, Allison has skied all her life, taught as a ski-instructor on three continents, and is an expert on ski resorts. Here, she shares with us tips for enjoying Niseko – her mountain of choice!
Describe Niseko in 3 words.
World’s best snow!
Best hotel or place to stay in Niseko when travelling with kids?
If your kids are small then one of the apartment buildings at the base of the family lift works best; Alpen Ridge, The Vale or Snow Crystal. There is nothing quite like being able to walk out of your apartment straight into the ski school and lift! If room service is your thing then go for The Vale as it has a restaurant that also services the hotel, not to mention the in-house onsen to soothe those sore muscles at the end of the day.
If your kids are a little bigger, then the uber-cool Suiboku Apartments are fabulous and just a short stroll away.
Your favourite place to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner? Why?
At home with friends staying at our ski house, Kinoko. The coffee is great and goes very nicely with some heavenly fresh pastries and amazing Hokkaido yogurt.The sadness I felt at the closing this year of my favorite Abucha Bakery has been quickly dispelled by the opening of The Niseko Supply Company at Odin Property. They bake fresh pastries and bread all day and serve breakfast from 7.30am. Crepes, galette and champagne… the mouth waters!
Restaurant Sanko, the famous, (and delicious!) ramen noodle bar at the base of the Annapuri lift. Navigate the kooky meal ticket machine outside and you’ll enjoy some of the best noodles in Hokkaido! My favorite is No. 16, the Gyoza Ramen, which I enjoy completely guilt-free as we have normally just finished a very long run in the back country Annapuri bowls after hiking to the peak of Niseko Grand Hirafu!
If you prefer a leisurely lunch in Hirafu, try Abucha 2 on the main street under Suibuko for delicious Japanese food in a noisy modern atmosphere. As you walk in you’ll find their staff have the loudest greetings in town! Another option is to take the afternoon off and head down the road in a taxi to the Secret Restaurant in Kame, which feels like a little oasis. It’s located in a farmhouse in the middle of wide, flat, snow-covered fields and has a great European style menu.
Where do I start? Niseko is a treasure trove of fabulous places to eat! From casual to upscale, there are so many quality dining choices it is very hard to single out one favorite! Ebisutei is a tiny restaurant run by local Japanese surfers (Niseko is only about 35 minutes from the coast) just down the road from our house in the Middle Village. The restaurant is roughly the size of a shipping container and looks like a little log cabin. They serve up delicious Japanese treats – not to mention a wide array of shochu and sake!
Aussie James at Ezo Seafood is an absolute master at finding the best and freshest local seafood. He drives 3 hours to the market 2 or 3 times each week to pick the best produce for his restaurant (check out his blog here.) I cannot get past those oysters!
Kamimura is arguably the best resort-based fine dining restaurant in the world. Regardless of ranking, it offers a sophisticated dining experience for a ski town. This year they have moved to a new location that is a little easier to find at Shiki Niseko. Fabulous and delicious.
What is your favourite thing to do with your kids in Niseko?
Ski of course! However, there are plenty of other things to do as well. For example in Hanazono there is snow tubing and a bag jump (for older kids or kids at heart) where you fly into the air and land in a huge inflateable pillow!
Post-ski, a swim at the Alpen Hotel Indoor Pool followed by a trip to the onsen upstairs is a winner – the kids love it.
Best places to eat with kids?
Jo Jo’s has a climbing wall and sells great pizzas and burgers. Completely kid-friendly! Niseko Pizza in the J-Sekka building or Yummy’s in Lower Hirafu Village are both favorites for my kids after an early evening ski under the lights.
Best outdoor activity
Skiing of course! Great powder straight off the lifts, amazing powder if you venture out of the gates into the backcountry and surreal powder if you go night-skiing. For an indoor alternative if you feel like a day off or if you are a non-skier, Tess at Niskeo Gourmet runs some great daytime cooking classes.
Onsens are the quintessential Japanese experience, and only cost about HK$80 depending on where you go. But beware – you have to get nude and follow the Japanese custom of thorough washing before getting in the warm natural mineral water!
My two favorites are the Yukoro Onsen in the Lower Hirafu Village which is very local (don’t worry if the man on the desk is a bit grumpy!) and the Alpen because you can swim in the fabulous, almost Olympic-size pool before you get in the onsen.
If you want to go further afield take a taxi to the Weiss Hotel, about 15 minutes from Hirafu Village. It is unique because of its traditional Japanese setting and the fact that they have so many different pools. It is also often less crowded because it is a little off the beaten track.
I get my hair done at…
I don’t! I am too busy skiing, soaking in onsen, frizzing up and suffering from helmet head! Why fight it?
The three shops I can’t live without are…
Niseko Cellars: Mick has a great selection of international wines and this year also has a standing bar, a selection of deli produce plus a few tasty treats for a light meal while you shop as well.
Niseko 343: This is a gorgeous, wood-paneled ski shop with a great atmosphere, loads of my favourite Scandi ski clothing brands and great equipment.
Niseko Explore: New for 2013, I know I will not be able to live without this activities centre this season. For the first time in Niseko there is a place that you can organise everything under one roof, from lift tickets, to cat skiing and babysitting.
Who I have on my speed dial and why…
Tana’s Healing House for the best Reikiand massage in town.
Kristina, the supervisor at Niseko Base Ski School. She always makes sure my kids are looked after and skiing like little champs!
Colin Hackworth, President of the Hanazono area of Niseko… he always knows where the best powder is!
Best place to rent gear?
Rhythm & Beats Sports have a great selection of skis and the best boot fitters in town. All of them are either podiatrists or at university studying to be one; the most over-qualified boot fitters I have ever come across in all my years of skiing!
Inski have been in the game a long time and also do a great job with equipment and have a good range of clothing for sale.
If you want the very best sushi, take a taxi for about 20 minutes and mix it with the locals at Hanayoshi in Niseko Town. It is well worth the trip.
Saika in the lower village is a precious find for authentic yakitori with a very local (and small) feel. It has a great atmosphere and you get a close-up view of the owner cooking your meal but beware, you might want to air your clothes afterwards!
Your favourite souvenirs?
Ponpi Doll on the right hand side as you go up the main street of Hirafu. I love their souvenirs made from gorgeous patterned Japanese paper and fabric… not to mention the large selection of Royce chocolate! If you can bear to stand in line then stop in for some noodles on the way up the stairs too; they are fabulous!
An unforgettable moment?
Those extraordinary days when you are in snow so deep you feel weightless and can’t see in front of you because of the face shots! So much love!
Can’t live without…
Royce chocolate, my fat skis, a visit to the onsen and a massage at the end of the day!
The view of Yotei. Keep a look out or you will miss it as the sun is not always out!
Favourite time of year in Niseko, why, and what do you love to do?
February for the best snow. Early October to catch some amazing autumn colours as the leaves fall from their trees. Summer in Niseko is also fantastic with loads of activities including golfing at world-class golf courses, white water rafting, hiking, horse riding and loads more. This summer I am also going to take my inflatable red paddleboard and have some adventures on the beautiful Lake Toya nearby. Paddleboards are also available for rent at NAC.
What advice would you give families visiting?
Bring warm clothing as Niseko can be cold. Book ski-school ahead of time; it gets full quickly at busy times like Christmas and Chinese New Year.
Of all the tourist spots Niseko has on offer, which would you try not to miss?
In winter, the ski hill, and in summer, the waters for rafting. It’s great for grandparents, parents and kids. Also the onsen, and if you feel adventurous, the Nikka Whisky Factory tour is great for grown-ups!
Tell us one thing about we don’t know about Niseko.
It has the second highest snowfall in the world at 15m annually, and the bullet train from Tokyo, when complete in 2015, will stop in Kutchan, only 5 minutes from Niseko!
Allison Haworth West As a little girl listening to her mum’s stories about skiing in Austria in the 1950’s, Allison loved skiing before she even tried it! Over the years she has skied all over the world, including 6 winters spent as a Ski Instructor in North America, Europe and Australia; she knows her ski resorts! Lately she has become a big fan of heli-skiing and is heading off to Canada with CMH in March. Meanwhile she also gained a Degree in Business from the University of Technology, Sydney; worked in and ran part of her family business, Captain Cook Cruises for many years, and now has her own clothing line for kids, Kuki Kids. She lives in Hong Kong with her husband Mike and two children Lucy and Edward.