Hirafu will soon be home to Japan’s largest high ropes course, which will be built in forest right alongside the ski slopes.
Participants will climb, slide, balance and zipline between 100 wooden platforms set 4-8m above the ground. The course overlooks the Ace Family Run at the base of the Grand Hirafu ski resort, the busiest of the four Niseko United resorts in winter.
Longtime outdoor activity operator Niseko Adventure Centre (NAC) is building the course and said its high ropes course would be the largest of its type in Japan. Due to be completed mid-October, it will feature a total of 8 courses in graded difficulty. Construction and planning is being carried out by an Estonian-based tree trekking course building company, who surveyed the trees, plotted courses and are on site building.
“I’ve been looking for a place to do something like this years,” says NAC founder Ross Findlay, “so the stars aligned to make this happen. We’re lucky.”
- 100 total platforms connected by obstacles including:
- Climbing Nets
- Wood Bridges
- Rope Swings
- 6 individual courses and guest height requirements:
- 2 x Green (very easy) – 115cm+
- 2 x blue (easy) – 115cm+
- 1 x Red (medium) – 140cm+
- 1 x Black (hard) – 140cm+
Construction in progress on the High Ropes course next to the Family Run. Mt Yotei will be clearly visible from portions of the course, and on higher platforms, participants will be eye to eye with skiers riding the new Family Quad Lift.
Tackling Forestry Rights
The forest next to the Family Run belongs to the township of Kutchan, but foresting profits are shared between local and national government. Kutchan Town must pay the national government forecasted logging profits and purchase the forest outright before it can lease the land for use or development – a procedure that local government isn’t often willing to undertake.
The timing was right this year as Grand Hirafu’s operators Tokyu Resort Service decided to rebuild and relocate the Ace Family Pair Lift for the upcoming 2017-18 season.
The original lift cuts through a portion of the town-owned forest, and Tokyu needed Kutchan town to buy out foresting rights before they could tear down old lift towers and trees to allow construction. Kutchan town obliged, allowing the removal of the old lift. Then NAC proposed their plan for the high ropes course and leased the sliver of forest from the town.
Original plans had the course ready by mid-summer, but Ross is glad shipping delays set them back into late autumn. “We wouldn’t want to start running in peak summer season with hundreds of tourists and inexperienced staff. This gives us time to prepare.”
Estimated forest land leased by NAC, a long sliver between the old Family Pair Lift and the Family Run.
The land is less than 45 metres across at its widest point, but runs the length of the slope from the AYA Villas at the base of the slope to well above the Alpen Hotel. NAC has used around half the land, and Ross has not yet decided what he will do with the rest. One idea in the works is a course for younger children lower to the ground, “where parents can walk alongside as their kids play.” He has expanded and resurfaced an old logging road at his company’s expense, allowing easier access through the woods to the course.
Summer Growth in Niseko
NAC was one of the pioneers in growing the rafting industry that now employs hundreds of Niseko locals through the summer months, and draws tourists to the area.
“When I started NAC I wanted to create things for people to do here in the summer,” Ross says. “I brought new ideas. What I wanted to see was other companies in the area starting to create other new things, new activities to help draw people here. And that’s what I’m seeing, which is great. Summer is growing in Niseko.”
Plans are to open the course in the low season and operate until the snow falls and the ski lifts open on November 23rd.
“Ideally we’d like to operate all through winter if the resort is willing,” Ross says. Should the high ropes course operate through winter, “zipliners will be looking straight at the skiers riding the lift, it will be fantastic. It’ll really bring life to the area.”
This high ropes course will be Niseko’s second. Niseko Village’s tree trekking course features 25 platforms and is one of a host of outdoor activities available under the Pure at Niseko Village label through the summer months. Hanazono Niseko is also rumoured to be planning a similar tree-based activities course, which is good news as far as Ross is concerned: “all the more things for visitors to do in Niseko.”
A small hut will be staffed by NAC staff during operation days so that those keen to try the ropes course can go straight into the forest. Pricing structures and opening hours are yet to be confirmed.
If NAC goes ahead with operations through the winter seasons, visitors can look forward to a whole new way to enjoy the snow.