Onsens or hot tubs, traditional guest houses or five-star resorts – where Aussies love to go to spend their snow dollar.
Let’s pretend for a moment that only two northern hemisphere ski destinations exist. Japan and North America. For many Australians that is already the case.
It is no secret Australian skiers and boarders love Japan. Australian business investment in Niseko and then Hakuba, has helped bring the Japanese ski industry out of recession and onto the must-do-list for the rest of the world. The word of deep uber dry powder and cheap lift passes is well and truly out.
It is also no secret that Australian skiers and boarders love North America. We are the number one international inbound market for almost every Colorado resort – Park City in Utah – and the same in Canada with Whistler, Big White, Silverstar and more.
So how do you choose where to spend your snow dollar?
Japan devotees will forever post GoPro selfies of themselves floating through powder that threatens to drown both them and their action cam. But the truth is while marketers of Australian’s beloved Niseko can’t collectively decide if the average snowfall is 11, 14, 15 or 16 metres (as quoted by various self interested websites) there are resorts in North America that can claim the same.
Mt Baker in Washintgon (16 metres), Alta in Utah (14 metres), Jackson Hole (12 metres), Revelstoke (12 metres) and Whitewater (12 metres).
Moisture content however is less consistent. Again, it is hard to get a definitive moisture content on the snow in Hokkaido Japan (is it 4 per cent or is it 8 per cent) but either way it is still drier than Utah’s average 8.4 per cent (which in my opinion is still super dry compared to the moisture heavy snow of Australiaand New Zealand).
Though any snow obsessive will tell you, it is the direction in which the snow falls that counts and that the premium snow storm is one that starts warmer and gets colder for optimum powder flotation. Not that everyone skis or rides powder, the majority actually stick to the groomers.
But for those that do ski off-piste then you won’t lose your lift pass in North America for doing so. Many resorts in Japan still don’t allow off-piste skiing or riding so you do so at your own risk.
Japan definitely wins on convenience for Australians. A 10-hour flight from Australia and a two-hour time difference means no jetlag, and lower altitude resorts mean no altitude sickness. Compare Happo One’s 1830 metres in Hakuba to Snowmass’ 3813 metres in Colorado.
As for the elephant in the room, if you complain about Australians in Niseko then clearly you haven’t been to Whistler. Both have more Aussie accents than downtown Cronulla on a summer Saturday.
Japan and North America have enough variety of resorts to step away from the ocker nasal vowels into local timbre. There are over 500 resorts in Japan and more than 600 in Canada and the USA combined, so take your pick.
If we’re going by price then you can’t compete with Japan. A one-day lift pass at Nozawa Onsen is a only $A47, so ski two weeks and pay only $A658 before multi-day discounts kick in.
The closest value to that in North America is the Vail Epic Pass ($A749) with unlimited skiing at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Canyons, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Afton Alps, Mt Brighton and Arapahoe Basin, plus five free consecutive days at Niseko in Japan, Verbier in Switzerland and Les 3 Vallees in France. Then you’d need a lot of annual leave.
Japan has onsens, lots of onsens. North America has hot tubs which are just not the same.
Japan has karaoke. North America has the white man shuffle.
Japan has slopeside vending machines filled with hot coffee in a can called Depresso. North America has Starbucks.
Japan speaks another language. North America have English speaking instructors in every ski school.
Japan has traditional ancient family owned Ryokan guest houses with tatami mats and yukata pyjamas. North America has five-star Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and Aman Resorts for impeccable service, valets to warm your boots and free freshly baked cookies on Beaver Creek mountain.
Japan has original retro single ski-lifts for one person at a time and gondolas shaped like James Bond eggs from the 60s. North America has high-speed quad chairs with heated seats and gondolas with free wi-fi.
It really comes down to the kind of traveller you are. If you love the comfort and service of North America but want the powder of Japan, then go to Niseko as they specifically cater to a western market or just go to any resort in interior British Columbia in Canada. Backcountry powder hounds head to Asahidake in Japan or Silverton in Colorado.
The battle for the Aussie dollar is seriously on as savvy North American marketers see Japan as a threat to their Australian revenue. Japan are nowhere near as organised but with their low prices who needs to be.
So make the most of one of a battle where the consumer will, for once, win.
Have you skied in both Japan and North America? Which do you prefer? Where are you planing to go on your next skiing?
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That’s it for Snow It All weekly blog for 2014. We’ll see you same time same place next year.
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The story Japan versus North America: where is the best place to spend ski dollars? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.