Hokkaido, Japan: The greatest powder party in the world
Why here? Simply put, it’s the consistent nature of the storms that set this region apart from the rest of the world. Scientists call it ‘ocean-effect’ —essentially like the ‘lake-effect’ snow in the U.S., but on a much greater, and more impactful scale.
In early December, supercooled air starts moving in from the frigid plains of Siberia, these winds are extremely dry and cold, and consistent due to Siberia’s large land mass which is significantly colder than the ocean. Hokkaido is positioned right in the the path of these frigid winds, surrounded by the warmer water masses of the Japan Sea to the west, and the Pacific Ocean to the east — perfect conditions for the dry, cold winds to draw moisture, as they cross the relatively warmer Japan Sea, blanketing Hokkaido’s dormant volcanoes and mountain ranges.
As these winds reach Hokkaido, the coastal mountains surrounding the area known as ‘Niseko’ add the lift the wind needs to produce almost daily orographic snowfall. More simply put: As long as these Siberian winds are blowing, it’s snowing dry powder.
Niseko, a short 1.5-hour flight north from Tokyo, situated on the western side of the island, catches these colder January airflows, creating essentially an almost month-long, uninterrupted storm. January averages almost 6 inches a day (nearly 15 feet), however just a part of the approximate 580 inches a year of total snowfall.
Niseko averages twice as much snow as most resorts in North America. Only Mount Baker in Washington State, with 652 inches receives more. Niseko receives the majority of its prolific snowfall in December and January. On average, there is 45 percent more snow in January in Niseko than Mount Baker. And the water content of this snow is about the same as Salt Lake City’s Alta Resort, which typically sees the driest powder in the U.S.
What does all this mean? Well, for the small rural towns that make up this area of Niseko: Suffocating snow, it’s overwhelming in scale. You’ll be surrounded by mounds bigger than houses, tunnelled out side-walks, and the ongoing dilemma of where to put all this snow. Don’t expect constant typical bluebird skies of the U.S. or Europe, Niseko is a destination where you may not see the sun for weeks. You come to Niseko to ski and board amazing powder, to backcountry between the juhyo (‘ice trees’) or snow monsters. Nights are about the escape from this beautiful snowy madness, split between the community-maintained mineral springs known as ‘onsen’, or geothermal hot spring and the local, smoke-filled and boisterous ‘Izakaya’, beer bars.
This is simply, Powder Wonderland, an over abundance of immense, dry snow. JaPOW.