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At the Top: A Guide to Hiking the Peak Gates
|On a powder day in Niseko, crazy turns and powder shots can be found anywhere on the mountain. Yet the peak still captivates, consistently drawing crowds looking to earn their turns.|
On a calm powder morning, there’s only one place on the minds of most shredders – the peak. Take the chairs up to the King Lift #4 (affectionately referred to as the ‘Pizza Box’), and you’ll see a long queue of enthusiastic hikers, animatedly chatting and take photos while they wait for their turn on the single-seater lift. The atmosphere is often infectious, with passers-by hopping in line, eager for their share of peak powder.
Once getting off the King Lift #4, the entrance to Gate 3, the Hirafu Peak Gate (1180 m), is obvious. On a particularly powdery morning the hike resembles some sort of pilgrimage, with skiers and boarders winding their way slowly, single-file, up towards the peak. The hike can be tiring, taking 20 minutes to climb the 128 vertical metres up to the summit of Mt. Annupuri (1308 m). This is the highest point of Niseko United, and the views alone justify the hike. On a clear day the Niseko Volcanic range, Lake Toya, Kutchan, the Sea of Japan and the Pacific are all visible. Mt. Yotei, of course, steals the show.
|Single-file lines wind their way towards the peak, Mount Annupuri.|
|The views are magnificent, and well worth hiking on their own merit.|
The options from the peak are varied. Dropping the east face, facing Mt Yotei, is recommended for those that have never skied the peak before. The run starts with a wide-open field of powder that offers some of the steepest terrain in Niseko United. This obstacle-free meadow, with views to match, can provide some of the best lines of a skier’s lifetime. After dropping 130 metres the tree line begins, and first-timers are best off cutting towards the skier’s right and following the valley back down to Hanazono Lift #3. The more adventurous can go skier’s left at the tree line, keeping left while steadily dropping ridge after ridge. This is some of the least-tracked terrain available in Niseko, with fresh tracks guaranteed, while also being one of the longest runs in the Niseko area. The adventure ends at a cat track in Hanazono, where skiers will need to do a (much easier) 15-minute hike up to the Hanazono piste. From there, skiers can enter Blueberry Fields for even more powder before finally arriving at the bottom of Hanazono. Take a moment to admire how far away the Hirafu Peak is: you’ve just shredded one vertical kilometre of powder!!
|On a clear, powdery morning, Hirafu Peak's east face will be some of the best skiing of your life.|
Experienced skiers in Niseko also drop the western face en route to Goshiki Onsen or the back-bowl of Annupuri ski resort. These should only be attempted by experienced backcountry enthusiasts with the proper gear; the former provides no way back to Niseko unless you have a car, and the latter can lead you to the middle of true wilderness unless you know exactly where to go.
But don’t fret! There’s a much safer way to Annupuri’s back-bowl, considered by many to be the greatest powder run available in Niseko. Take the Annupuri Jumbo Lift #4 to Gate 2, the Annupuri Peak Gate (1170 m). What makes this run so good? It provides a run almost as long as the Hirafu Peak, but involves minimal hiking. After entering Gate 2, a mere 30 - 40 metre hike up the icy, wind-swept slope provides access to not one but two bowls! First-timers should drop into the bowl below them – the Oosawa (大沢；big stream) bowl. Traverse until the wind dies down and you’ve entered powder heaven. The run bottoms out in a large natural half-pipe; this is the stream, and skiers should be cautious to avoid holes in the snow. Simply keep skiing until the bottom of Annupuri! The backbowl can be accessed by maintaining the traverse from the peak and dropping the ridge on the opposite side of the Oosawa bowl. Widely spaced birch trees dot powder-filled meadows down to a large natural quarter pipe. Maintain speed and keep left after the pipe to come out at the Annupuri piste. Rinse and repeat for one of the best powder days of your life.
|The Annupuri Peak offers, arguably, superior runs to Hirafu Peak, with much less hiking involved.|
|This is what it looks like at the top of Mount Annupuri.|
We at Vacation Niseko know the mountain like few others. Contact us and we’ll let you know the best hike for your skill level. Need a way to get up there? Arrange your lift pass to be waiting for you upon check-in, and enjoy our exclusive Vacation Niseko discount.
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