How do you progress from groomed pistes to deep powder? Check out one woman's transformation from piste skier to powder hound
She was an experienced piste skier but when Michelle Jones landed in Niseko she had never skied off piste. Six days later she was shredding waist deep pow...
Q. What made you decide to go to Japan?
A. I’d heard amazing things about Japan - how beautiful the country was, amazing food, culture and the hot volcanic onsens. I’d also heard about the ‘champagne’ powder and if you were going to venture off piste, this was the place to do it, especially for beginners like myself.
Q. How much off piste / powder skiing had you done before Niseko?
A. I’ve been a piste skier for 30 years, only venturing a few metres beyond the piste markers and back again, if there was fresh snow. So basically not a lot!
Q. How much were you looking forward to skiing Japow?
A. I was really nervous about the holiday, as all the other guests were avid off piste skiers and I knew that they would not be interested in skiing the piste. I had gone along thinking I’d be skiing the piste on my own all week, or worse being pressured into skiing terrain I wasn’t comfortable with.
Q. What was your biggest fear?
A. My biggest fear was falling and hurting myself. I can ski a whole season on the piste and rarely fall over. I don’t bounce so well these days! I did take several big tumbles but the snow was so light, fluffy and deep, it was like landing in a cloud.
Q. How quickly did you progress with two days of instruction off piste?
A. Hiring an instructor in Niseko (Dejan Labes, professional snowsports instructor) was definitely the best way to build up my confidence - within a few hours I was skiing through powder amongst the trees, something I’d always avoided at all costs before. He always checked I was happy and confident or finding it too easy or hard. He gave me loads of tips on how to find my line and plan turns.
Q. Any wobbly moments?
A. On the last day we took a piste basher Cat Tour to an abandoned resort - we had the whole mountain to ourselves. The snow was so deep I was suddenly up to my waist in powder and unsure how to turn or even stop. My freshly waxed skis seemed to run faster than everyone else’s and I did a few runs basically hurtling from top to bottom!
Q. What was the best advice your instructor (or anyone else) gave you?
A. You can do it!
Q. What skis did you ride? Did they make a difference?
A. I rode a pair of Nordica Santa Ana off piste skis – I was wisely advised that these would make all the difference as the waist width is 100mm. It worked, they just floated through the thick stuff and gave me the confidence to head straight for the untracked powder.
Q. What was best / most memorable about skiing in Japan?
A. The most memorable part was definitely the Cat Tour with Niseko Weiss Powder Cats – one run we did took us into a ravine with an ice bridge and then we had to tour back through the trees – something I’d never done before. I also loved the touring part – it gives you a chance to take in the your surroundings, the peacefulness and beauty of it all – something you wouldn’t see on the piste.
Q. What advice would you give to women thinking about but maybe fearing entering the 'powder' room?
A. Go for it! Get a pair of fat off piste skis, an instructor and you may surprise yourself – I did!
Michelle travelled to Hokkaido from London staying at the J House, Niseko for 7 nights through Ski Safari