Diving feet first into Japan's snowfields

Skiing on Mt. Yotei. Picture: glenclaydon.com.
Photo of Angie Tomlinson

Perth podiatrist Ned Buckley's love of snow and feet collide in Japan's ski fields.

Spending his childhood on a coconut plantation in Vanuatu wasn’t enough to sweat out Ned Buckley’s love of the snow. A love of skiing, it seems, runs through his veins.

At the age of two his family drove to the Selwyn Snowfields in New South Wales from their nearby farm and he hit the slopes. The family’s move to Vanuatu meant skiing was later pursued on school holidays when visiting grandparents.

Rivalling Ned’s love of snow is his love of feet — yes, feet. He first got into custom snow-boot fitting in London, then Colorado, where he decided podiatry was for him.

 In search of a summer holiday job where he could fit snow around university, Ned made a pit stop in Japan on his way back to Perth.

“The powder skiing in Japan is really good. The first year I went there it was a record snow year and I couldn’t believe how much snow was there — it was just ridiculous,” Ned says.

“Walking up the street there were tunnels of snow everywhere because the banks were so high.”

From that love at first sight, Boot Solutions was born. Starting out 11 years ago in a ski lodge basement where four customers would fill the premises, he is now opening his third custom boot-fitting shop, with two well established, in Niseko on Japan’s northern Hokkaido Island and Hakuba on the main island of Honshu.

Spending his days fitting boots and carving up the powder during the Japanese ski season, Ned spends the off-season at his West Perth podiatry clinic. Next year, he’ll graduate as a podiatric surgeon.

Japan is increasingly becoming the go-to ski destination for Perth people, from families to boys’ trips. It has the distinct advantage of being in a similar time zone and is an easier flight than many other ski resorts.

 According to Ned, it offers some of the best powder in the world.

“Japan’s deep powder skiing is unsurpassed. When you are a full beginner and the snow is soft and not icy, it means when you fall over it is nice and fluffy and doesn’t hurt. It’s also the ultimate thing people search for ideally most people would choose a powder day over a day on a steep, icy slope.”

The Japanese ski season begins about the end of November and ends at the start of May. Ned says the ideal time is mid-January to late February. 

One of the more popular international ski resorts is Niseko. Surrounded by volcanic mountains, all the entertainment is contained in one village with hundreds of restaurants and bars on offer.

Ned says Western friendly Niseko is ideal for first-time holidaymakers as it’s a nicely contained village with loads of ski lifts and plenty of beginner areas to choose from. 

The snow quality is also excellent.

To escape the crowds and get into some fresh snow, there are several day trips within an hour’s drive of Niseko. Ned says the area has shaken off its boozy reputation and now offers high-end resorts attracting the Australian and Asian markets.

Hakuba suits those chasing a traditional Japanese experience. Traditional Japanese villages dot a valley surrounded by towering 3000m peaks with individual resorts feeding off the villages.

 Entertainment is more spread out, with punters catching taxis between villages. While there are beginner JU slopes, Hakuba also suits risk-takers and experienced skiers with steep terrain and longer runs.

Hakuba also offers a less built-up and cheaper option than Niseko, where top resorts are on a par with those found in Aspen and Whistler.

Ski-lift passes are relatively cheap compared with North American and European ski fields, and with the Japanese focus on food, a great meal for $20 is never far away.

“The food is just amazing, it’s very hard to find a bad restaurant,” Ned says.

When you’re not strapped into ski boots, Japan offers plenty of options with onsens (hot springs) the top of many a sore skier’s list. But get ready to get your kit off — tradition around cleanliness dictates all onsen visitors must bathe in the nude, with a shower and scrub first. Many are single sex with just a few mixed, and each offers a different experience with varying minerals and colour.

There is also sake drinking and city exploring to do in the likes of Nagano, Sapporo and, of course, Tokyo, which offers the crazy crowds, colourful lights and quirkiness Japan has become famous for.

Ned says Japan even offers a bit of adventure in normally mundane situations, from vending machines dishing out the bizarre to cartoon characters on roadwork signs.

Pictures: glenclaydon.com


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