Well that's it, season 10/11 is officially over with all lifts on the mountain closing at the end of yesterday. Time to look back on the season that was and I'll do that month by month.
Sure October is not actually part of the ski season but a pretty big snowfall near the end of the month transformed the region, covering everything in white right to sea level. Is was quite spectacular the contrast between the gleaming white snow and the last of the colours of autumn remaining on the trees. A few more intrepid souls hiked up the mountain to get what were the first powder turns of the season.
In a normal year we will start seeing regular snowfalls to village level begin from the 2nd week of the month. And last November things started pretty much on cue in the 2nd week with a reasonable amount of snow falling but then just stopped and warmed up again. And although snow started to fall again in the last week it was not enough to get lifts open. Pretty unusual to have no lifts operate at all in November so it was definitely quite a late start.
December is usually a very snowy month but it started out very mild with temps in the first week getting well above freezing and a mix of rain and snow. It wasn't till the 2nd week that we saw winter really arrive and the mountain start to be able to really open up some runs. From the 15th we saw solid snowfalls and the snow base rapidly increased. Although the snow eased in the 3rd week the last week of the month saw more good snowfalls. At the start of the month there was only around 25cm of snow in the village and 45cm up higher. By the end of the month there was around 80cm in the village and near 2m up high. Overall it ended up a really late start to the season for up here. And although snowfalls were enough to get the whole mountain open by the 3rd week of the month total snowfall for the month was still quite a bit below average.
Jan is the snowiest and coldest month on average and this last Jan ended up considerably snowier and colder than average. Finally Niseko really turned it on and the deep powder we're famous for was abundant for most of the month. At least some snow was recorded on 29 of the 31 days in the month and 11 of those days recorded 30cm or more. Up near 6m of snow fell at village level. It was the snowiest Jan we've since the huge 04/05 season. Overall it was an awesome month with snow quality as good as it gets anywhere in the world. Snowdepths on the slopes by the end of the month were well over 2m at the base and cracking the 4m mark up high.
Not normally as snowy as Jan but still a very solid month with average snowfalls up near 4m expected up high. This last Feb though didn't see a continuation of the awesome snowfalls in Jan. In fact it ended up being the 2nd sunniest Feb on record and snowfalls ended up being only around half the average for the month. Bluebird days are normally very rare up this way for much of the winter but this last Feb probably had more such days than is normal for a whole season. Nice if you like to work on the goggle tan but not so great if you're hoping for face shots on every turn. It was great month though to head out backcountry where good quality snow could still be found on slopes not affected by the sun.
March is the month that we locals really love as the crowds of peak season start to thin out and snowfalls are normally still very consistent. This last March was no exception with at least 2.5m of snow falling which is a bit above average. Of course in the wake of the earthquake and ensuing disaster from the tsunami and nuclear crisis a large portion of bookings cancelled. The mountain though was unaffected by the issues experienced further south so those of us remaining had an almost empty mountain to enjoy to ourselves. Fresh tracks all day long were to be found for much of the month.
April really sees the snow start to end, especially at lower levels. This last April though remained very cool and snowfalls on the upper mountain probably cracked 1m. This kept the cover in great condition throughout the month and there were a few days of knee to thigh deep powder in the first week of the month. The stronger sun and rain though inevitably took it's toll on the lower slopes and by the end of the month it was starting to get quite patchy at the base. Still top to bottom skiing remained possible right up till yesterday. Pretty amazing really considering the base of the resort is only around 250m above sea level.
So overall it wasn't one of the epic seasons. Although Jan and March were great with above average snowfalls Nov, Dec and Feb were well below average and quite dissappointing. The lateness of the start was also unusual. In the end we had a bit over 13m at village level and around 16m on the upper mountain. Most ski areas in the world would be incredibly happy to receive such amounts but for here it was around 2m below the long term average. Not a bad season by any means but not as consistent as we're used to here.
The earthquake, tsunami and ongoing nuclear issues have certainly had a major impact on tourism to Japan and I suspect will have continuing major implications for next ski season here. I can only say that this region is pretty much totally unaffected and if you do come you will be able to have an awesome ski experience on what will probably be the quiestest the slopes have been in years. I know I'm already looking forward to it!
This is the last report that I will doing for Niseko Now as I will not be in Niseko for the whole of next season. I would like to thank the guys at SnowJapan for giving me the opportunity to do these reports. It's been a real pleasure to report from a resort that gets so much snow! Niseko is without doubt one of the snowiest ski resorts on the planet with some of the most consistent powder you can find anywhere. It truly is an amazing place and I hope many of you will return next season or head over for the first time. If you haven't skied deep, dry powder before this is one of the best places to get your first experience of it.
Editor: Thank you for the great reports and best wishes for what's ahead.
Looking ahead on here, Niseko Now will be back in the run up to the 2011/2012 season, so we hope to see you in the autumn.
Have a great summer.