We recently held a breakfast seminar where we talked about the rapid growth of Niseko, Asia's only branded ski resort and why we should look at the comparisons it has with Aspen, Vail, Val d'Isere, Courchevel and St Moritz and look back in history as to why these are the brands of Europe & North America, where you rub shoulders with celebrities and royalty alike whilst skiing.
Where did the branded ski resort start?
An old advertisement poster for St Moritz
St Moritz was where it all started some 150 years ago when a hotelier invited 4 British tourists to visit in the winter, and if they were to find St. Moritz attractive, he would invite them to stay as his guests for as long as they wished. This marked not only the start of winter tourism in St. Moritz but the start of winter tourism in the whole of the Alps.
How did Niseko Evolve into the brand it is today? The name Niseko derives from the Ainu Language (the indigenous trips of Hokkaido), and it means "a cliff jutting over a riverbank deep in the mountains."
One of the first people to introduce skiing to the land of the rising sun was Austrian Lieutenant Colonel Theodor von Lerch Edora at the beginning of the 20th century, seen here.
He was asked to train the Japanese army and local high school teachers in Niigata Prefecture. On his visit to Kutchan in 1912, von Lerch climbed and skied down Mount Yotei. This accomplishment was widely published among local newspapers and made von Lerch the first recorded skier in Niseko. Skiing gained popularity in Japan during this period.
In 1927 St. Moritz held the winter Olympics, and for the first time ever Japan entered the competition, and that same year Prince Chichibu visited Hokkaido and was over the moon with the slopes and the unmatched snow found in Niseko. The local newspaper reported the Prince's visit with the headline "The St. Moritz of the East", the first time the two ski resorts where compared. Nearly 40 years later in 1964, Seikichi Takahashi, the mayor of Niseko requested a meeting with the St Moritz mayor on a visit to Europe and ever since the two towns have been sisters entering into a mutual exchange of friendship.
1972 Sapporo Olympics
In 1972 Sapporo held the winter Olympics and as such this hugely boosted the development of Annupuri in 1972 & then Niseko Village in the 1980s, with young skiers being raised and trained in the area as Niseko is widely recognised as one of the most prestigious ski areas in Japan with some of the best snow... .JAPOW!
Niseko though has become the international brand that it is today, and way ahead of its rivals in Asia in terms of world popularity because in the '90s the town realised that they need to market their Mythical Powder Paradise to an international community of skiers and boarders, and not just to the Japanese. Delegations were sent out far and wide to N America (Aspen in particular) and Europe to tell preach the story of Niseko's amazing Champagne Snow, and incredible off-piste skiing. Word soon got around, and it wasn't long before Niseko had become part of the world ski & boarding circuit, and over the past ten years, the resort has quietly become the stuff of legends among the skiing & boarding connoisseur.
(Prince William & William Louey sharing a joke together!)
The Australians where the first to start buying up land and building houses there, with some even moving into this beautiful island, and now we are seeing the rich, famous & Asian Royalty, mainly from Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia with the likes of Richard Li (PCCW) building the Park Hyatt, Red Bull heir Chalerm Yoovidhya, Jack Ma Alibaba and our own William Louey (Kowloon Buses and Founding Member of JNW Properties & SnowDog Village) - seen here sharing a joke with Prince William and many more all jostling to build their part of history in Niseko.
Just like with the North American and European branded resorts, we see Niseko's land, and property prices increase year on year, and we are only at the beginning. If we compare with these resorts, which we should, you can see we are half the price per m2 than the equivalent in these resorts and compare Niseko to her sister town of St Moritz there is no comparison at the moment. There is no doubt in my mind that Niseko's property prices will catch up with the main branded ski resorts as it makes total sense, Niseko is in Japan, just 6 hours flight from nearly half the world's population, and where some 300 million new skiers are predicted to visit in the next few years admittedly these mostly will come from China however even taking 1% of this then that amounts for an incredible increase in skiers and enthusiasts looking to invest in their piece of winter paradise. It is easy to see where the term 'white gold' comes from. Just the same as in St Moritz and Aspen property prices continue to grow, as prime real estate gets harder and harder to purchase as seen below in this graph outlining where the main branded resorts are on a price per m2 - St Moritz - 40,247 US$, Courchevel - 35,497 US$, Aspen - 33,575 US$, Val d'Isere - 29,053 US$, Vail - 27,585 US$ with Niseko still with plenty of upside at just 15,964 US$ - where do you think the best investment location is?
As a passionate skier long trapped in Hong Kong, I'd hoped a Canadian friend of mine could help me figure out what was the best time to visit one of North America's more powder-blessed resorts. He mentioned Jackson Hole peaks in January, Snow Board & Alta Ski in Utah for February and Vail & Aspen, Colorado for March, although he wouldn't actually put money on their being plentiful snow at any of these times as there is no way of actually pinning down a specific window when the snow was at its best. Predicting the weather is really hard and most serious powder hounds need to camp out an hours drive from all the resorts and then go where the snow is best. "Unless we're talking about Niseko."
Niseko - the airport bus to Niseko - as the bus gets further inland... one tends to get the idea that there might be a bit of snow on the slopes.
So why is Niseko's snow so amazing? - Scientists call it 'ocean-effect snow'. In early December, supercooled air starts blowing in from the frigid plains of Siberia, sucking up moisture from the Sea of Japan and dropping the results on Hokkaido's lonely volcanoes. The coldness of the January air, combined with Niseko's prime, snow-catching location on the western side of the island, creates what is essentially a monthlong, uninterrupted storm. Nearly 5 metres of Fukai Yuki Saiko land on the humble mountain in January alone, an average of almost 16.6cm a day and in 2018/19 which was a very average season there was over 10m of snow recorded, with 15m not being unusual in a season.
My name is Jo Lodder, and I am Managing Partner of JNW Properties based in Hong Kong, we market and sell our projects in Niseko which include SnowDog Niseko, SnowDog Chalets and the infamous Raku Ichi Niseko Apartments and Soba Restaurant. I love to ski, and here I am with my good friend Steve White Editor in Chief of Action Asia about to embark on one of the many white days in February, so cold, but this disappears once you start your descent through the amazing powder that's JAPOW.
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