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Great snow, challenging runs and a cultural experience – Dr Brian Morton shares his recent skiing adventure at Japan’s Rusutsu Resort.
Having skied since the age of 15 – mostly in Australia – the prospect of powder in the Japanese fields was compelling. The snow depth, the quality of snow, the colder temperatures, as well as the cultural experience, were enticing reasons to take a ski holiday in Japan – and we were not disappointed.
We chose Rusutsu, 90 minutes by bus from Sapporo and 40 minutes from Niseko, the better-known resort to Australians. The advantages of Rusutsu are many: extensive fields, variety of terrain, some long runs, no queues and choices in bad weather.
By booking early, we managed to get air fares, transfers, accommodation including breakfast and ski passes, at a price that compares favourably with a week in NSW ski fields.
Rusutsu is divided into three areas connected by gondola – West Mountain, East Mountain and Mt Isola. The Rusutsu Resort Hotel boasts ski-in/ski-out and night skiing, the latter extending opportunities to hit the slopes to 9pm. The West Mountain area has shorter runs, ski school and ski kinder but with snow conditions so good and a gondola and covered chair lift, windy conditions don’t prevent the intrepid skier.
The larger East Mountain and Mt Isola areas are the pick for a good day of skiing, offering expansive piste runs, choices for tree runs, black diamond and double black runs. The big contrast to Australian skiing is the snow cover and quality; this was demonstrated on the black diamond runs – no rocks, grass or thick, heavy snow. These slopes were steep but an exciting challenge, rather than a rock hopping adventure.
The absence of nightlife and village atmosphere makes Niseko more attractive and there is a degree of resort captivity in Rusutsu, but for us this was outweighed by the food choices in multiple in-house restaurants, which were all priced similarly no matter what cuisine.
The cultural experience was a bonus and the politeness and friendliness of the Japanese mixed with the seamless organisation made for an enhanced experience. We met other Aussies as well as hearing, Canadian, American and European accents. There was no Aussie cringe as our compatriots blended in as international tourists. We were advantaged by one of our group speaking Japanese with a limited ability to read Kanji characters but trail markings were duplicated in English and many staff had rudimentary English.
Being four guys of similar age and all over 60, we were eligible for the Seniors ski pass (in Australia, you must be 65 years and older). We holidayed in a relaxed style. The breakfast vouchers allowed for six restaurant choices for breakfast. The best being at the Westin Hotel, which was a quick Monorail trip, but the only place for good coffee before we hit the slopes. Our routine was quickly established: up at 8am, across for breakfast, a leisurely start with a warm up on the covered chair run at West Mountain with direct access to the Gondola for transfer to the Mt Isola area. No midday lunch but the inevitable pit stop, including water, free in all cafes at the base of each gondola. A mid-afternoon return for a late lunch and then a return to the slopes for an evening ski. The colder night temperature (-2’ to -11’C) made the surface snow faster with a finer quality.
From a health point of view there was no alcohol advertising, virtually all skiers wore helmets and water was freely available for hydration. The negatives were beer from vending machines and the Japanese versions of fast food no different from home. As an observation, there was no adolescent obesity in the many groups of school kids on excursion from as far away as Kobe. Those with a respiratory infection wore masks. There was no refuse anywhere with streets, trains and buses clean and clear.
The contrast to Australian ski resorts was the distinct feeling that we were guests in Rusutsu and our enjoyment was important – we were not just a source of income. My experience in Australian fields is the reverse.
Would I ski in Japan again and, specifically, would I return to Rusutsu? The answer is yes and yes. The time travel to Japan is half that to Europe, the US or Canada. The season was described as a poor season this year but the snow depth was nevertheless multiples of the best in Australia. The Rusutsu Resort was comfortable, friendly and the ski fields provided a large variety for all standards. The resort catered for families and children. Japanese food presents flavours and textures that add a cultural bonus. The overall cost, for an inherently expensive sport, was amazingly reasonable. Remember though, for the best value, book in the preceding July and avoid Australian and Japanese school holidays if you can.