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Niseko, a ski resort area on the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, is dominated by the snow-capped Mount Yotei volcano, as seen in the background. In the foreground, local skier Tomoko Kazama carving down one of the region's ski resorts.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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A one-day lift ticket offers access to three resorts (Niseko An'nupuri, Higashiyama, and Grand Harifu), all of them positioned along the same ridgeline. You can resort-hop pretty easily and also reach higher-elevation, hike-up terrain. Here, a few locals jury-rig a ski harness.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Two female skiers cresting the first of two summits in Niseko's higher-elevation hike-in terrain, with the near-ubiquitous volcano in the background.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Another earnest--if less equipped--local makes the hike. Hokkaido is typically referred to as Japan's Alaska. Five national parks dominate this small island, which has a rural-based economy of mostly fishing and farming (save the flood of Aussie expats that work at the resorts each winter).  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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After traversing the first of Niseko's summits, it's about another 20-minute slog across the ridgeline to reach the true summit. On bluebird days like this, a steady line of slow-moving snow enthusiasts make the crawl, yearning for stellar views and with hopes of a few fresh turns.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Even with the crowds, once you reach the summit and witness the entire valley spilling out from below your feet, the Sea of Japan glittering in the distance like a cobalt jewel, it's an inspired, solitary moment.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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The summit marker for 4,291-foot Niseko An'nupuri. In-bounds terrain spills out toward the valley below, with off-piste terrain inviting the skilled and adventurous on the opposite side.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Sapporo, Hokkaido's major city that's about a three-hour drive from Niseko, hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics. And while none of the alpine events were held at Niseko, other resorts within Niseko's Shikotsu-Toya National Park hosted most of the alpine events.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Niseko boasts a mixture of new and old--from local skiers decked out in 1980s-style one-piece turquoise ski suits and one-person chair lifts (pictured) to high-speed gondolas and young snowboarders in the latest Western garb.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Birch trees like this one dominate the on-piste landscape, standing out against bluebird skies to remind you that you're definitely skiing in the East.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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A gondola advertisement for a Korean ski resort, promising both snowboard thrills and the bikini-clad pursuit of sunny, pool-side lounging. Apparently Daemyung Resort can settle the vacation-specific battle of the sexes...  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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The rack for pool cues at the apres pub at Niseko Higashiyama hotel and resort.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
 
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