Niseko’s ski lift infrastructure overhaul has taken another stride forward, with the resort of Annupuri announcing it will have a new beginners lift this winter.
Beginner skiers out of Asia are Niseko’s biggest new boom market, and this lift will provide much greater access to beginner slopes and more variety for visitors to Annupuri and Niseko in general.
Resort owner, Chuo Bus Company, said the new lift would be called the Dream #1 Quad Lift, and also announced they would be widening the existing slope. “The new lift will be slower than existing lifts to help beginners ride safely. The lift will carry riders to the top of the wide Annupuri base area, and as the course will be widened we hope that those new to skiing and snowboarding will be able to learn safely.”
Annupuri is the western-most of the four resorts that make up the Niseko United group.
The new lift will cater for the rapidly increasing demand for beginner infrastructure in Niseko. The 433m-long Dream Quad will seat up to four skiers and travel at 1.5m per second – less than half the speed of the resort’s existing beginner lift, the 1117m Jumbo Quad Lift #1 which clocks in at 3.7m per second. Previously the Jumbo Quad was the only option for beginners wanting to access the easy “green” slopes on the mountain.
The new lift installation follows hot on the heels of recent lift refurbishments at two of the other three Niseko resorts. In 2011 Niseko’s main resort, Grand Hirafu, upgraded its gondola, and last year added a cushioned, hooded four seater lift to the upper slopes. The Family Pair Lift at the base of the resort is currently under reconstruction, to be reborn as a four-seater also in time for the coming winter.
Niseko Village Ski Resort operators YTL have also undertaken significant new infrastructure projects over the past year, adding two gondolas and a new 1200m beginner run to their offerings. These lifts can be used for skiers as well as guests moving between the resorts hotels and shopping precincts.
This new wave of construction is the first the Niseko United resorts have seen for a long time. One new lift – the Swinging Monkey – was added to the upper Hirafu slopes in 2005. Prior to that, the newest lifts were built at Hanazono Ski Resort when it opened in 1992. All lifts are in good operational condition but some date back to the Japanese Ski boom of the late 1980s and guests are beginning to notice.
As visitor numbers have skyrocketed over the past decade, and Niseko has garnered a reputation as Japan’s premier ski resort, the need for lift upgrades has become apparent. There is increasing competition from the nearby resorts of Rusutsu and Kiroro, which rival Niseko in quality and quantity of snowfall with good beginner terrain and infrastructure.
Instead of upgrading lifts by age, the resorts are strategically targeting high-traffic, beginner friendly areas.
Niseko Village resort director Panch Ratnavale said beginner skiers were one of their key markets. “We cater to the Asian market and our customers are families,” he said. “Most of them are new to skiing and new to snow, moreso than guests in Hirafu or the other resorts. The steeper, more advanced terrain is not helpful for their ski lessons.”
The announcement of the new lift in Annupuri is welcome progress according to local business operators. Annupuri area developer Masahito Kato describes the new lift as a step in the right direction.
“I’m very happy to see this, as are other stakeholders in the area,” he said. “We hope to see more action in this direction as time goes on.” He agreed said resorts were right to build lifts for beginners considering the growth of Niseko’s “Asian families” demographic.