If the droughts in California are any indication of snow conditions out West, 2015 is by far the worst ski season in recent memory. However, this really wasn’t a concern for me. You see, I have been in Hong Kong for the last couple of weeks, and this Easter, I decided to ski in Japan. To be honest, I have never been there to ski, so I was a little hesitant. I think the language issue was my biggest hurdle. Unlike skiing in Europe, where I usually have some inkling of the local language, Japanese is completely foreign to me. But the practical side of me won over any apprehension, given the stronger dollar, low season pricing, and relatively proximity. I figured why not, and what do I have to lose? Snow is snow - right?

Upon recommendations, we decided to go to Niseko, which was a two and a half hour drive from Sapporo. I didn’t know what to expect. Part of me imagined a snow covered version of Tokyo - only less populous. But when we began our long drive from the airport to Niseko, winding up the mountain road, and through a flat clearing, I felt that this region of Japan had that spartan appearance of a northern outpost or even an Inuit reservation. Strangely, it all seemed somewhat familiar. And when we finally got to the village, I was greeted with an even greater sense of comfort.

From my experience, Japan has never been as ubiquitously English as Europe or even some parts of Asia. But Niseko is completely different. Except for the Japanese calligraphy on the English signage, you would never think that you were in Japan. English is rather prominent in Niseko. The hotel staff where we were staying were mostly Australian or English. So were the ski pros. In fact, some of the coffee shops even employed Westerners. Later, I learned that many of the Westerners here are die hard skiers chasing the snow, and working their way through Japan to pay for their stay.

But onto the more important question - now that language wasn’t an issue. The snow. How was it? To be frank, it was pretty awful, this late in the season. But I counted my blessing that I wasn’t skiing out West in California. Although the snow was slushy one day, then icy the next, bad snow is still better than no snow at all. It wasn’t even groomed, which made it very tough on my quads. But after my week in Niseko, I have to say that skiing in Japan surprised me. And beyond the skiing, I don’t think that Niseko is a playground for the rich and famous. It’s no Courchevel or Aspen. What Niseko is, in my opinion, is a place to do some serious skiing for real skiers.