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An inspired rival?

With a big vision that includes a few Aussies and a little Whistler influence, a Japanese resort could carve its line as one of the next world ski destinations

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With an increasing number of new skiers/riders across Asia, and with the red-hot Chinese economy a short trip across the pond, the Niseko area sits poised for a phenomenal amount of growth.

Even before the acquisition of Hanazono, Australian visits to Hokkaido topped 14,000 in 2004. That’s a long ways up from just 2,900 Australian visits in 1999. A continuing strategy of Nihon Harmony Resorts will be to lure North American-bound Australians to try the Japanese experience.

It is expected that Japan will remain Hanazono’s number one client base, with Australians a close second. But with Australians staying an average 10.7 days, compared to the average three-day stay of the Japanese, Australians are getting special attention. They can take credit for having practically introduced the concept of long-stay vacations to the Niseko area.

Other markets will be Hong Kong, China and Korea in third, fourth and fifth respectively.

Air access is via Hokkaido’s New Chitose International Airport. It’s a two-hour train or bus ride from Hanazono, but Australia’s national carrier, Qantas, has jumped on board and commenced direct seven-hour flights from Cairns during the ski season. Compared to the marathon flights from Australia to North America, Qantas’s flights to Hokkaido offer Queenslanders a relatively short, hassle-free trip to the mountains, and there is only a one-hour time difference.

Local government seems thrilled at the possibility of boosting the regional economy and it is figured that the Hanazono development will force a revamp of the connecting ski areas as they compete for future skier visits.

However, with a highly disproportional balance of winter to summer visits — roughly 9:1 — much needs to be done to attract visitors in the summer. While rafting and some sightseeing keep a few people in town, many operators opt to shut down for most of the summer season, resulting in a ghost town atmosphere.

Having visited Niseko in both summer and winter, I have fond memories of carving lines in the light snow and hiking up to some of the mountaintop lakes, all in between soaking my worries away in the many local onsen.

The lifts don’t stop when the daylight fades into darkness, as a massive night skiing area keeps Niseko going non-stop. The only problem is having your mind convince your legs you need just a few more hours of indulgence. Who knew those perfectly spaced tree runs were accessible over 12 hours a day?

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