Thank you David Park for some of these photos

It all started with saying yes. Isn’t that how it always starts?

“Yes” to an invitation on Clubhouse during the pandemic led to a “yes” to Yacht Week Sardinia, which led to a “yes” to Yacht Week French Polynesia, which led to a “yes” to Yacht Week Greece, which led to a “yes” to this. After years of domestic ski trips, it is finally time to take it across the oceans to our first international ski/snowboard/snowpocalypse monsoon at the invitation and behest of our favorite bagel and TYW chef Megan, who works as an official ski/snowboard instructor whenever she’s not on a yacht.

Niseko has been long known as a mecca for pow pow powder snow sports that you probably don’t need another blogpost about Niseko, but if you’re reading to confirm a few things on your planning we’re happy to help.


Day 1: NYC to Tokyo


From NYC I redeemed 100k Chase Miles for a Polaris-class United flight from LGA to ORD to HND in Tokyo. I immediately therefore took advantage of leaving from LGA by visiting the Chase Sapphire Reserve lounge that had just opened up (2 weeks ago!) next to the reliable AMEX Centurion Lounge.



My friend and longtime monsooner Paul, having missed his flight from a freak snowstorm yesterday, joined me both for the Chase Reserve lounge and our departing flight to ORD.

5 years ago I recalled haviing visited this Polaris Lounge at ORD for the first time, vowing to return for their dining room.



After finally having a formal meal in said dining room and taking a shower afterwards, I headed over to the regular United Club lounge to say goodbye to Paul and then boarded my direct ORD to Tokyo-Haneda flight. Views weren’t so bad.



Having gotten very little sleep the night before with Paul, I asked the flight attendants to delay my meal service so I could start the flight with a full block of sleep and adjust as soon as possible to local Japan time. You can do that you know!

Since I already explored a lot of Tokyo the last time I was here, I chose to save the money and stay by the airport for a much better value. Haneda airport is only 20 minutes away from Tokyo by car anyway.



Of note, Mecure Airport Hotel by Haneda serves fine-dining level of food. It was that good.


Day 2: Tokyo to Sapporo


With an extra day in Tokyo to readjust and because Paul Woo insisted I should visit again, I booked a 10:30am entry for the return of teamLab: Borderless — the world’s most visited single exhibit art museum — having reopened just 6 days ago after a 2 year hiatus.



The last time I visited teamLab was almost 8 years ago! And instead of spamming this post with photos, I won’t spoil it for you; photos won’t do it justice. This art exhibit involves all 5 senses, does not have a map, and must be experienced in the flesh. If you still want photos, head to my blogpost from 8 years ago and imagine them a little more upgraded.

After 2 hours wandering the exhibit on my own, I returned back to my hotel to pick up my luggage and headed back to HND airport for my evening 6:35pm flight to Sapporo, meeting up with Jeffrey and Brett in front of our gates where all of our flights were getting delayed. I’d find out this is both their first time in Japan!

Once we boarded, all our planes took 45 minutes taxi’ing on the runway where it felt like we were being driven instead of flown to Sapporo instead. After we landed, Jeff stayed behind at the airport for the hotel there while Brett and I headed into Sapporo to enjoy the nightlife.


Day 3: Sapporo to Niseko


After an overnight in Sapporo and having taken advantage of the rooftop onsen at the top of Tenza Hotel, I returned back to CTS airport with Brett in the morning and met up with Bruce for a quick bite at Ebisoba Ichegen at the airport for their renowned seafood ramen.



Thanks to Bruce who stood in line for us!



It’s so popular many leave their luggage outside the restaurant just to eat here.



After lunch we met up with Natalie who had stayed overnight by the airport. Lydia, who crashed on Natalie’s bed after flying in with Bruce, joined us as well a few minutes later.

Once Taejin, David, and Sujay arrived around noon, Jeff came from his airport hotel and the 9 of us boarded the Resort Liner Bus 107 at 1:35pm for our 3 hour drive to Niseko.



We arrived at around 4:35pm at the Hirafu Welcome Center where the concierge staff of Holiday Niseko and Ori House Niseko drove us directly to our accommodations.



This is Ori House Niseko: the only family-size, single property, luxury chalet located inside Hirafu Village.



After settling in our rooms, I called Rhythm Niseko for their complimentary shuttle pick-up so we could grab our rentals the day before. What service!



After nearly 2 hours of waiting in line for our rentals, Rhythm Niseko dropped us off back off at our lodging where we then got ready for dinner at The Barn. With about a few minutes to kill before dinner, Jenny — our newest and most freshman monsooner — proposed to play an icebreaker, which isn’t a very monsoon thing to do. However, Jenny read the room correctly; when her icebreaker asked for name, where we were coming from, and our toxic trait, it was perfect: All that group of authentic friends needs are brave, authentic answers to the right questions and we’d all bond pretty quickly after that.

At 8:30pm we walked over for our dinner reservations for 12 (sneaking our last minute signup, Kunal — who had signed up as recently as the day before! — as our 13th person outside our reservation) where Megan joined us as well to welcome us to her other home of Niseko.


Day 4

Today we begin the main course of the trip. We boarded the free but tiny shuttle bus around Hirafu (which runs every 15-20 minutes) at 8:30am for the 4 slope tour of the behemoth that is Niseko.



We immediately headed up the gondola, joined by Brett’s 2 friends who happened to be in the area.



After an initial run feeling out everyone’s skill level and waiting for Natalie to jump in the deep end on her first snowboarding experience, I was asked to take a photo for a passer-by who then asked for my social media. After she introduced herself as Nisha, we found out that we had more than plenty mutual friends in Florida!

I then headed up to the peak on my own.



It takes 7 minutes to ski from the very top of Hirafu to the very bottom, where I then met everyone else at AYA Kitchen for lunch thanks to Jenny’s taste in finding good places to eat.

After lunch, I decided to end my day early to buy more groceries and pick up my one day of snowboard rentals. The rest enjoyed a whole day of skiing that extended into complimentary access to night skiing that goes from 4-7pm (at least for Sujay, who started his run super late) . . .



Having time to kill in the later afternoon instead of skiing, Jenny, Natalie and I got in line for a drink at Bar Gyu+:



There we played musical chairs so that other people in our group including Bruce, Sujay and Lyla could also partake with us without having to wait in the 1-2 hour line to enter. And after 3 hours of drinking at Gyu+, we changed back at our house and then experienced a brief 15 minute scare where no cabs made themselves available to take us to the Annupuri section of Niseko United for dinner (the nearest cab on the Go Taxi app was over “2 hours away”). However, we were miraculously saved by constantly refreshing Google Maps: One minute it was recommending a 1.5 hour bus itinerary or a 1.5 hour walk, and the next after a random refresh, a 30 minute Niseko United Shuttle route appeared out of thin air.

Seeing this, we scrambled out for a 13 minute walk north uphill to catch that bus at the Hirafu Intersection stop. After another 20 minute ride across to the base of Annupuri, we made it to our booked out spot at Upashi Seta only 20 minutes late.



With 16 of us + 2 of Brett’s friends Ben and Emma, we filled out the entire place that could only fit 20 people max!



Luckily after our dinner, it was late enough where 3 cabs (and Megan bringing her car) were able to be hailed within 10 minutes to take us back to our house.


Day 5

First stop: Mountain Kiosk Coffee Stand by the Welcome Center has the best coffee in the region!



Seeing that we were here for much longer than the typical 2 night, 2 day ski trips, I wanted to give snowboarding another try for the first time in 16 years. But I wasn’t going to wing it like last time; the 6 of us joined Megan’s 4 hour snowboarding class in the morning for a formal lesson.



After our lesson in extreme humility and where I eventually got the hang of snowboarding again, the group reconvened across the street at Vale Bar & Grill, right across from from AYA.



In the afternoon we put our skills to what we had learned on the regular slopes, of which I only managed a run and a half before realizing I had dropped my phone in the snow somewhere in between my wipe outs. I even had told Sujay after lunch that “something really bad was going to happen” and I no longer wanted to push my luck. But instead of an injury, which I had predicted, it would be a lost phone.

Letting out a communal groooaaaannnn, my heroic group of snowboarders nevertheless immediately banded together to help me out.

As I left my snowboard behind at the Welcome Center to retrace my steps up the hill (yup, the ultimate walk of shame) and then across a ridge and down the first lift I boarded before I last used my phone, I kept trying to tell my friends trying to help not to worry and enjoy their day without me, but Yuhan, Bruce, David, Eric, Taejin, Kunal, Natalie, Sujay, and Jeffrey all insisted on staying behind to look for my phone.

So signing into my iCloud account on Yuhan’s phone, I was able to track my phone somewhere in the woodsy area of the slopes, only to see it begin moving 3-4 minutes later down a trail. We then spent the next 30 minutes trying to call it with Eric’s phone, Natalie trying to call it, Kunal, Eric and Bruce going up and down looking and calling, David going up and down the lift looking (even letting me borrow his phone temporarily in case we got split up), but then after trying to compare digital maps (Find My iPhone on iCloud somehow doesn’t give your own location to track relative to where the phone is) on Yuhan’s phone we realized the phone had eventually made its way back to where we were standing at the bottom of the ACE Family Quad Ski Lift.



Taejin began yelling for it and Jeffrey snowboarded back with my snowboard in hand so I didn’t have to walk all the way back. Soon, my Apple Watch caught a signal when it detected my phone nearby, and from the watch I was able to play a sound to my phone. Hearing the ping, I ran to my happy reunion when a helpful ski instructor Iti of Hokkaido Ski Club school (who had found it somewhere uphill) had brought it back down to us.

I offered to buy her a drink at our dinner at Temporada tonight so hopefully I’ll see her there!



Later in the evening, we reconvened for dinner at the much more open and public Temporada for their tapas.



Who eats dessert before dinner at every. single. meal?



By far our biggest surprise meal of the trip:



During dinner I was able to walk across past the famed Green Farm Deli Café . . .



. . . to add 2 more (our last minute sign ups Eric and Kunal) to our maximum 12-person reservation at Kamimura in 2 nights. Success!


Day 6


There is not much than having breakfast with new friends in a new place.



Another full day of skiing the powder paradise of Niseko.



Today we spent most of our day exploring Niseko-Annupuri where I celebrated breaking my top speed record of 46.5mph before also having my biggest wipeout of my skiing career; it was such a bad side somersault on a hairpin turn that I almost lost my GoPro when it flew off my helmet and tumbled down the valley.

But thanks to the repeated heroic efforts of David and Eric who without hesitating went down to get it (and me tagging behind for moral support) we retrieved it and continued along an ungroomed trail. Other than a detached GoPro, my only injury I felt was a tight right biceps tendon. Whew!



We then met up for lunch at the swanky Mandala Club where we celebrated Jenny’s successful but harrowing experience descending from the top after taking the wrong chairlift!



By this point we were getting tired of being at the mercy of overcrowded public transportation, or nonexistent and anemic number of cabs in the area. So thanks to Megan’s contact on TYW, a local rental car company in Hirafu named Peak Rentals contacted us to lend their only and last minute Delica minivan that a prior customer had to give up early due to issues with their international driver’s permit. Meant to be! Otherwise everything had been fully booked.

Paying a little extra to have the rental car be dropped off for Lydia, Natalie, and Jenny at Mandala Club, they drove off to grab groceries at Kutchan while the rest of us continuing to ski the Annupuri side of Niseko.

As the lifts began to close one by one around 4pm and  having been unable to make it across to Hirafu from Annupuri because of the high winds that shut down the main gondolas, we got creative with getting our feet wet at tree skiing. But after Jeff hit his head on a branch, we called it early and set up a base camp inside the Hilton Niseko nearby.

A Niseko United Shuttle Bus then pulled up to the front within minutes where it could take us to the nearby dairy farm 8 minutes away shortly before it closed. After rushing to catch it (and where I slipped on some black ice and landed on my left hip), we couldn’t board anyway because it was too crowded. Resigned to wait another hour for the next Niseko United Shuttle Bus or for Natalie to come with out rental car to take us home after they’d be done with groceries, I hailed a cab for Jeff, Eric, and Bruce to make more room in the rental car. Then miraculously, just like what had happened the night before, I refreshed Google Maps to see another Niseko United Shuttle bus appear out of nowhere right in front of us.

We headed back out to a much emptier bus (and not slipping and falling this time!) for 2 stops south, running into the nearby dairy farm just in time before it closed.

As Sapporo happens to provide dairy to the entirety of the country of Japan, we put the quality to the test with the assortment of ice cream and cheesecakes at Niseko Takahashi Dairy Farm.



Because we had arrived at the dairy farm literally minutes before closing, we kept the door open so Natalie, Lydia and Jenny could make it in as well with our new rental car. And after satisfying ourselves with enough ice cream to last the rest of the night, the 10 of us with 3 pairs of skis and 4 snowboards got creative with seating + ski gear + snowboards + groceries arrangements inside the 8 person car.



Arriving back at our house safe and sound, we moved up our plans to have a home-cooked dinner for tonight instead as Jenny wanted to experience one before leaving us a day earlier for her best friend’s wedding in Vietnam.



Some guest appearances from TYW Greece:



As our chats got more and more cerebral after dinner, we even FaceTimed Paul at 2:30am so he wouldn’t miss out on the snow.


Day 7

Today is a rest day! For our second to last day I slept into a lazy morning while Natalie, Lydia, Sujay, Taejin, Lyla, and Andre took the rental car to Hanazono for their early 9:30am snowmobiling activity we had pre-booked. However, after waking up, I had a change of heart and wanted to try another day of skiing. However, the attempt was feeble at best as no cabs were available all morning.

With the whole morning to ourselves we had intended to visit Daibutsuji, a local Buddhist Temple, but gave into a sushi lunch nearby instead.



After the snowmobilers returned, we took the rental car and the only available cab in the region for all of us to meet at the Niseko Grand Hotel for their onsen. It’s the only one in the area that has a co-ed area for our group to intermingle.



After about an hour an half there planning the rest of our trip and making plans for our next one (can you believe it’s winding down ALREADY?!), we then returned back to our house to dress up for our fine dining experience at Michelin-starred French/Japanese restaurant Kamimura.



Kamimura Chef’s Degustation



Strawberry & Elderflower Tart
beetroot, pinot meunier, mascarpone


Niseko Tomato Salad
burdock, ginger, mozzarella, cucumber, eggplant



The best truffle butter accompanied by Hokkaido milk bread and sourdough


Hokkaido Trout Salmon
horseradish, tofu cream, quail’s egg, potato chips


Oumu Hairy Crab Sandwich
garlic, chive



Kutchan Egg Custard Soup
black maitake mushroom, duck & chicken broth



Monbetsu Puffer Fish Tempura
sour plum, brown rice risotto, dried seaweed



Braised Endive
duck prosciutto, mimolette


Char-grilled Hokkaido Wagyu Tenderloin
kutchan aged potato, veal jus


Gateau Marjolaine
apple, almond, vanilla ice cream


Petit fours with a phenomenon truffle oil truffle:


With the snow falling like feathers outside our windows, Kamimura’s dining area looks like it came out of a lo-fi YouTube background video.




Day 8: Rusutsu

Saying a goodbye to Yuhan and Jenny who would leave a day earlier today, the rest of us (Taejin, David, Eric, Natalie, Jeffrey, Sujay, Brett, Kunal, and myself) headed on an optional day trip to the nearby slopes of Rusutsu, famous for its tree skiing. Packages may or may not include a lift ticket, so we purchased ours ahead of time online.

Megan picked us up at 8:15am and drove us the 45min distance from Hirafu to Rusutsu.



Once you arrive at the resort, the lobby looks like a weird winter wonderland from hell.



Thankfully, Megan was also our personal guide on the slopes; I had been otherwise furiously distracted, simultaneously trying to make sure Jenny actually had a bus transfer back to the airport since it was made as a separate booking a few weeks ago. I even got Megan to find her colleague as a backup private taxis for Jenny to drive her to the airport for $200 USD.

But with obstinate determination to look up all the names and bookings in all the bus companies we were able to confirm Jenny did indeed have a bus back home. Whew! And in the name of good karma, I even was able to come across a lost phone that was left behind at one of Rusutsu’s cafeterias, babysitting it for a few minutes before its owner came back to retrieve it. It all comes around after what had happened to my phone in Niseko 3 days ago!

All this while, Megan helpfully showed around the groomed trails…



…and for those of us brave enough to try, we then took tree skiing for a spin in the afternoon.



And spun around and around we did as by the time we returned to the house in the evening we were beat up and EXHAUSTED, and barely had enough energy for a quick grab and go dinner from a nearby food truck.



But as much as we wanted to sleep in early, we all rallied one more time for a pregame and karaoke nearby organized by Megan with other Yacht Week crew members who also happened to be in the same are at the same time!



And therefore for one final hurrah, we joined Megan on a private shuttle bus out from their nearby lodging for karaoke with our TYW extended family Orlagh and Jake, our skippers back from Yacht Week Greece!



Karaoke and its all-you-can-drink-beer…lasted only an hour before we were wiped out clean from total exhaustion.



Day 9: Return to Normal Life


Not getting much sleep after karaoke the night before, we began our check out early at 6:30am and left our rentals at the accommodations for Rhythm Niseko to pick up.



A private shuttle was then supposed to come by to take us back to the airport but there was a small scare when it was Holiday Niseko vans that mistakenly took us to the Hirafu Welcome Center instead. By then it was 7:30am, and according to the reservation if we were not on our private bus some way or another, it would leave without us.



It was only when I pulled up the reservation myself on my phone, looked past the email (which said our private bus would pick us up from our house) to access the booking portal online, and found out that the private shuttle company had designated our pickup location to a nearby Lawson Station, that Holiday Niseko staff saw it themselves and then scrambled to get us there in time. Despite the mixup and being a few minutes late, our driver thankfully deviated from the script of leaving at 7:30am and waited a little longer for us.

After a sleepy 2 hour drive to the airport, we disembarked, retrieved our luggage, thanked our driver, checked in at our respective flights, wandered the airport a bit, loaded up on coffee, and had famous shrimp ramen one more time together before we all started to peel off one by one…



… or two by two…



…and then it was me when I boarded my 2:40pm flight to Taipei.



Firstly, thank you Megan⁩ for everything. For choosing Niseko as your second home and making it a home for us when we invited ourselves to join you on this secret life of yours. Thank you for sharing this life with us.

Thank you also for making yourself available in coordinating all the lessons, finding us a rental car at the last minute, taking us to Rusutsu, joining us for dinner & drinks as busy as you were, organizing a last night party for us where we would’ve otherwise stayed in, and always making an effort to be a core member of our group. Looking forward to seeing you again whether on a snowboard or a yacht. ❤️



And everyone else, you too. You’re the trip. You made it the trip for everyone else. Thank you for looking out for one another and being a true team where I had the special privilege of witnessing that beautiful process when strangers become friends. Everyone belonged in their own way and had a part and isn’t that what everyone in this world is looking for? 🥹



Enjoy the rest of your travels and remember, there are no goodbyes with us. “See you sooner.”




- At time of posting in Niseko, it was -5 °C - Humidity: 90% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: a magical winter wonderland


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