A week after Niseko’s Annupuri Resort announced an all new beginner lift, Niseko’s main resort Hirafu has released details of its Ace Family Lift upgrade.

 

Formerly a pair lift, the new quad will be a high-speed “detachable” lift, allowing chairs to detach from the cable and slow down at pick-up and drop-off points. This will make it easier for beginner skiers to get on and off while almost tripling the speed of the lift when in full flight.

The terminus has also been moved further up the hill, making more terrain and space for beginners on the family run. The lift line will be extended from 598m to 841m in length, however with the lift moving at a speed of 5m/second as opposed to 1.8m/second previously, the journey will take just under 3 minutes as opposed the the old lift’s 5.5 minutes.

“Guests were saying it was faster to walk up to the Center 4 than waiting in queue at the Family Lift”

Since three major new ski-in/ski-out condominiums have been built right at the base of the chair over the past decade, the 34-year-old pair lift and family slope was becoming crippled by over-capacity during peak periods.

Niseko Tokyu Resort, owner of the Grand Hirafu ski resort, said the lift would be ready by December and help relieve congestion at the lift base for years to come as Niseko’s popularity showed no sign of slowing down.

“Judging by the increase in foreign-run hotels, new condominiums, anticipation over a potential Sapporo Winter Olympics, and plans to extend the freeway system and add new sections to the Hokkaido Shinkansen (bullet train), Niseko’s popularity looks set to keep on growing in the years to come.” Tokyu says. “A high-speed quad lift will help reduce congestion by carrying an additional 1,200 people every hour. We are expecting a significant decrease in lift waiting time, which had been as long as one hour at peak times.”

As mentioned in our article on Annupuri’s new lift last week, beginner skiers are the biggest new market for skiers coming to Niseko, and all Niseko resorts are working harder to cater to beginners’ needs.

But this new lift is not just good for beginner skiers – it’s a convenient lift for intermediate and advanced skiers staying in the family lift precinct, as well as the lower and middle villages to get to upper lifts without needing to use the village shuttle… you’ve got to agree, it’s more fun to ride a lift than a bus!

Local snow tour operator Ski Japan manages Alpen Ridge, one of the big three condos at the base of the lift. Reservations manager Ben Howard said some  of their customers had complained about the length of the lines but it wasn’t too bad.

“The main comment from guests surrounds the ski school starting times, however otherwise the congestion hasn’t been too bad,” Ben said. “At peak times it will help disperse people heading up and over to other areas and greatly improve the group lesson congestion.”

He said the new lift would also help groups and families travel up the hill together and faster than before. “In recent years we’ve found skiers take other lifts to get up the hill, bypassing the Ace Family. By having the Ace Family lift improved means guests from lower village have a closer point of access no matter their ability, which will help get them up and down.”

Accommodation provider NISADE operates The Vale Niseko, also in the ski-in/ski-out family lift precinct. NISADE chief operating officer Satoshi Nagai said the lift was taking the sparkle off ski-in/ski-out, with some guests saying it was “faster to walk up to the Center 4 rather than waiting in queue at the Family Lift in peak seasons”.

“The beauty of a ski-in/out property is that you get front row seats to snow,” Nagai-san said. “Front row seats don’t mean anything if there’s a bottleneck at the lift station. This lift upgrade should bring the real blessing of being ski-in/out to our guests.”

Not all locals are satisfied with the announcement – Black Diamond Lodge & Tours founder Clayton Kernaghan said on their Facebook page the Niseko resorts were neglecting the “hardcore skiers, boarders and investors who are the ones who actually made Niseko world famous”.

“I estimate that the three-year investment tally will be well over $22 million in beginner lifts, but NOTHING has been spent on our market segment,” he says. “I’m all for upgrading the beginner zones and improving the lifts, as long as there is a balance of investment and interest. Every segment of the industry needs to be equally represented to make a well-rounded, world-class resort and it’s the locals who should be strongly encouraging the resorts to steer the ship in that direction.”

Clayton is urging the Niseko resorts to open more terrain that is currently closed due to potential avalanche danger, but that he believes could be managed safely. He is also pioneering mechanised skiing outside the resort in order to satisfy customers looking further afield to get perfect, untracked powder.

Let us know what you think about the lift upgrades in the comments below!

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Dr Lawrence Soh says:

    Obviously, if it is purely for beginners upgrade only, the experience skiers will move away from Niseko to other resorts that will cater to our needs

    • Thank you for your comment, Dr Soh. Who knows if Hirafu only has beginners in mind?
      The Family lift is a very, very congested place in the mornings, but also pretty much the only lift you can walk to that is not located at the very top of the village (meaning a crowded shuttle ride or big hike uphill). There are so many accommodations along the Family Run where this lift is that I feel like it will help all riders get up to where they want to go. It would be nice to see some of these bottlenecks reduce and the Family Lift is one of the worst, however I do think it’s a beginner-centered upgrade. Last year’s King 3 upgrade made people flow easier from the Gondola upwards, and that does help riders of all levels. So far 3 lifts only have been upgraded so too early to call if they are neglecting all intermediate/expert riders or only starting where (they feel) upgrades are most urgently needed. It would be great to see some kind of long term vision or plan that explains what the resort is aiming to achieve with the upgrades, and the order they are doing them in. I guess we can only speculate at this stage and wait for the next upgrade announcement, possibly this time next summer.

      Meanwhile I have to agree, the best thing that experienced skiiers can do is vote with their feet (and their money) and find resorts that are looking after them properly. Where would you say is a resort that is more in tune with the needs of experienced skiiers?

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