Eli Orzessek finds the answers to your travel questions.
I've been mad about skiing since I went on my first snow holiday to Queenstown as a teenager, around 15 years ago. Since then I've tried to get in an overseas ski trip whenever I get the chance. One destination that's been on my bucket list for a while is Northern Japan — how would you recommend I go about planning a trip there and what should I know before I leave?
The skifields of Japan are famous for deep, dry powder and as such, it's on the bucket list for many ski bunnies. With more than 500 resorts on offer, you'll want to choose one that suits you. Rusutsu is particularly popular with families, and suits skiers of all ability levels. Niseko is the largest, most developed of the resorts (with a lively apres-ski scene) and also receives the most snowfall. For experts, Kiriro is known for its back country skiing. There's not much of a village, so most visitors come for the day.
In general, Japanese resorts are quite small compared to the US and Canada and are more akin to the ones we have at home. As a result, more advanced riders often opt to hop between ski areas.
Once you've decided where to go, it's all about preparation. If you're hoping to rent a car and drive between resorts, you'll need to sort out an international driver's licence before you leave — this can be arranged through the AA. Otherwise, bus travel is the way to go in Hokkaido — but they can be popular, so book in advance. You can also pick up an Inter City Bus Pass, which gives you unlimited rides to more than 100 spots.
The weather can be unpredictable in Hokkaido, so pack plenty of layers and bring along a change of clothes when you head out. As the area is well-regarded for night skiing, you'll want to bring a pair of clear goggles along to enhance the experience. Fat skis are best for the deep snow, but if you don't have the appropriate gear — or just don't want to lug it along — the resorts offer high-quality rental equipment.
Since it's your first time skiing in Japan, consider hiring a guide for a day — they'll help you learn the ropes of your resort and get used to the sign and gate system. Japan is largely a cash-based society, so you'll want to have plenty of yen to spend. If you're running short, the ATMs in convenience stores accept international cards. And on that note, grab yourself a can of hot coffee there while you're at it — it's a cheap way to warm up and get a caffeine fix.
For further winter warming, hit the hot springs (onsen) after a day on the slopes. But don't be modest — clothing is not optional and you'll be expected to get naked. Before you get in, scrub yourself well at the showers.
Travel insurance is particularly important for a trip of this nature. Be sure to sort out comprehensive ski insurance before you leave. Generally covered is emergency rescue, medical treatment, equipment protection and bad weather avalanche closure. You won't be covered for professional or competitive skiing, or if you ski in unpatrolled areas and unmarked slopes.
3 quick tips for safe travel in Japan
Whether you're planning a cycling tour of the Alps, heading to the slopes of Niseko or going on an eating tour of Tokyo, there are a few things to remember to stay safe in Japan.
Pay attention to signs which are important in maintaining order in Japanese society. For example, train station stairwells have stickers indicating which side you should walk up, and even convenience stores have stickers on the ground telling you where to line up and which way to walk around the store.
2. If you[re renting a bike in Japan, be sure to brush up on the road rules - cycling dangerously, under influence of alcohol, failing to stop at traffic lights or riding with broken brakes can result in a fine or worse.
3. Japan's food is one of its greatest attractions, but some dishes aren't for the faint-hearted (or weak-stomached). Err on the side of caution and give the chicken sashimi a miss.
For more great travel tips and advice, visit scti.co.nz