Huge November snowfalls prompt Japanese resorts to push forward opening dates.

The Japanese winter season has arrived in spectacular fashion. Over the last week, Japan’s ski resorts have been hit by some of the heaviest early-season snowfall in recent years, prompting both Niseko and Hakuba to announce their earliest opening dates since 2012. In Niseko’s case, it will be the first time in five years that the resort has opened without delay.

Hakuba’s Happo-one and Hakuba47 opened earlier today. Tsugaike Kogen will follow suit on Thursday, Goryu later this month. The remaining resorts on the Hakuba Valley map are scheduled to open mid-December.

Niseko’s Grand Hirafu and Annupuri resorts will open on Thursday and Saturday this week, with Niseko Village and Hanazono set to open at the start of December. On the other side of Sapporo, Furano Ski Resort’s Furano Zone will open tomorrow, three days before the resort hosts its official Grand Opening Ceremony.

The new season is certainly showing promise, with countrywide snowfall measurements already surpassing November averages. As of this morning, Niseko had amassed more than 100 cm of snow (in total), most of which was recorded during the last five days.

If Niseko were to reach 172 cm by the end of the month, this would register as the resort’s snowiest November in 15 years. However, the overall record looks not to be in jeopardy. In 1970, Niseko received a whopping 258 cm of snow before the start of winter.

Happo-one today reported 60 cm of fresh snow, with both Kokusai lifts #1 and #3 now open. Last year, it wasn’t until December 8th that Happo fired up its lifts, doing so with just 10 cm at base level.

Of course, early snow, while never a bad sign, is certainly no guarantee of an epic winter to come. Last year, Niseko showed great early promise, recording 110 cm of snow in November (ski resorts opened with minimal delay). Following this, conditions abated and Niseko was met with its mildest weather in recent years, recording less than 5 m of snow during the winter months.

On a more positive note, the Japanese Meteorological Agency is now predicting a 60% likelihood that La Niña conditions will develop during the winter season. La Niña is a weather pattern that results from cooler than average Pacific Ocean temperatures—a phenomenon that is to thank for some of Hokkaido’s most impressive winter seasons.

La Niña was last observed in 2011/12 during which Myoko Kogen was hit with a record 23 m of snow. Here’s hoping for a repeat performance.


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