Use the

Planning a Trip to Japan?

Share your travel photos with us by hashtagging your images with #visitjapanjp

Postcards from Japan - From Niigata to Niseko, with Ben Thorpe from Japan Ski Experience

Father and daughter day on the mountain © Photos courtesy of Ben Thorpe, Japan Ski Experience

Swapping one island for another, life in Japan for Cornwall-born Ben started in rural Niigata as part of the JET Programme. 20 years later, he's still there - only these days he hits the slopes on the regular in Niseko, the powder snow capital of Japan, and runs the show at Japan Ski Experience along with a team of equally passionate Japan and ski experts. We talk to Ben about his experience on the JET Programme, how Japan Ski Experience came into being and how they've got your back when planning the ultimate Japan ski holiday!

Hi Ben, thanks so much for joining us today. To kick things off, please tell us a bit about yourself!
Thank you for inviting me!  I am originally from Cornwall, England, the most south westerly area of the UK although for the last 20 years I have lived in Japan, the last 15 years of which have been in the Hokkaido ski resort of Niseko. 

All smiles after hiking to the peak of Mt. Annupuri © Photos courtesy of Ben Thorpe, Japan Ski Experience

We heard you started life in Japan as an ALT on the JET Programme in Niigata - what about Japan inspired you to make this move? 
For as long as I can remember, Japan held a certain fascination for me as somewhere different and unknown, despite having been lucky enough to travel extensively while I was younger.  A friend of mine who finished university a year before me had applied and been accepted onto the JET programme.  Before that I probably viewed Japan as a country of high tech cities, as seen through the prism of video games, movies and Murakami novels.  My friend ended up being posted in rural Oita prefecture, Kyushu, so when I found myself in Hong Kong the following year, the thought of visiting and finally seeing ‘that’ Japan with my own eyes seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.  Once I was there, however, it was a rather different Japan I got to experience but nevertheless it didn’t take long for me to decide I would be very happy spending a year or more living in the country and exploring more of its unique and wonderful culture.

Niseko Hirafu’s iconic single chair King Lift #4 with the equally iconic Mt. Yotei in the background © Photos courtesy of Ben Thorpe, Japan Ski Experience

We’d love to hear more about your JET experience! The initial culture shocks, most treasured memories etc. 
Having already been to Japan before being on the JET programme I maybe didn’t experience quite so much culture shock as others initially.  That being said, going from being in Tokyo for the first few days, surrounded by plenty of other foreigners about to embark on the same adventure, to getting off the train and realising I was the only non-Japanese person living in a small, rural fishing village took a little getting used to!  Getting stared at or pointed at by local children (and some adults!) whenever I left the house was another thing I wasn’t used to and made for lots of interesting encounters.  But when I look back it is the warm and welcoming nature of all those people I encountered that is often the source of my happiest memories from that time.

A snowflake’s view of Niseko Hirafu © Photos courtesy of Ben Thorpe, Japan Ski Experience

What would you recommend to do in Niigata to someone interested in visiting the area?
To be completely honest it has been more than 15 years since I was last in Niigata so I’m sure lots of things have changed in the meantime.  What I would say is that Niigata never takes up many pages in guidebooks on Japan and is often overlooked but in my experience it is a wonderful place to visit year round with over 50 ski resorts to choose from in winter and coastline the whole length of the prefecture to explore during the warmer months.  One highlight in summer, which has become fairly well known but is still off the beaten path, is the Earth Celebration held in August on Sado Island.  Highly recommended to anyone in the area around that time!

Snowboarding through the snow covered trees in one of Hokkaido’s superb ski resorts © Photos courtesy of Ben Thorpe, Japan Ski Experience

 Tell us about the humble beginnings of Japan Ski Experience. What's it been like building up the company to what it is now?
At the time I was working for another company in Niseko when my soon-to-be business partner Lindsay approached me.  She was also working in Niseko and we already knew each other as we had both been on the JET Programme in Niigata.  Lindsay suggested that considering how much knowledge and experience of the ski industry in Japan we already had, we would do a great job of putting trips together for people looking for guidance planning the perfect trip.  It seemed like a good plan and she was persuasive so within a few months we were focused on trying to bring as many skiers and snowboarders from the UK across to Japan as possible!  As with any new company the first couple of years were challenging at times but the business grew quickly and before long we were a thriving team booking Japan ski holidays for people from countries all over the world. Japan Ski Experience is now in its 15th year and, having survived the GFC and a global pandemic, among other things, we are looking forward to the next 15 years (by which time I will be an old man)!

Niseko Hirafu offers some of the best night skiing imaginable © Photos courtesy of Ben Thorpe, Japan Ski Experience

Being the northernmost island, Hokkaido tends to be seen as not the easiest destination to reach. Living in Hokkaido, what are your thoughts on this?
Hokkaido is actually surprisingly easy to reach with Sapporo New Chitose airport only around a 90 minute flight from Tokyo.  It is also currently possible to take the shinkansen as far north as Hakodate with Niseko due to be serviced by the bullet train which is scheduled to stop at Kutchan station from 2030.  Once in Hokkaido there are many excellent places for tourists to visit, such as Sapporo and Otaru, although winter sports are the main attractions between December and March when conditions for skiing and snowboarding are world class, as are ski resorts such as Niseko, Furano & Rusutsu!

A frosted Niseko bridge during the height of Hokkaido's winter © Photos courtesy of Ben Thorpe, Japan Ski Experience

What are some of the best ways travellers can make the most out of their time in Hokkaido?
All of the staff at Japan Ski Experience have lived and skied in Japan for many years.  Therefore we always give as much advice as possible to guests to ensure their questions are answered and they have all the information they need, from initial enquiry through to arriving in their chosen ski resort.  With this being the case potential problems can be quickly identified and anyone booking their ski holiday with JSE can rest assured that their trip will be a smooth and enjoyable one!

The view of Mount Youtei in the autumn of 2022, showing signs of the first snow, 'hatsuyuki', of the coming winter © Photos courtesy of Ben Thorpe, Japan Ski Experience

Outside of its amazing snow credentials, is there anything about Niseko you’d like to share with our readers that they might not know about?

The quality and quantity of snow in Niseko is widely regarded as the best in the world, something more and more people have become aware of in recent years. If you haven’t heard, Niseko weather conditions are brought about by winds from Siberia passing over the Sea of Japan and dropping huge amounts of incredibly light, dry powder snow on Western Hokkaido.  However, Niseko has a lot more to offer and the restaurant scene in particular is another highlight, with everything from Michelin star dining to superb local cuisine on offer.  And being a mountainous area there are plenty of wonderful onsen to soak in once you have finished skiing for the day and wish to relax before dinner.  Onsen can be found just about everywhere in the country but sitting in an outdoor onsen in northern Japan while heavy snow is falling all around you is an amazing experience.

Sunrise over Mount Youtei © Photos courtesy of Ben Thorpe, Japan Ski Experience

And lastly, are there any exciting plans in the near-future for yourself and the Japan Ski Experience team you'd like to tell us?
Looking ahead to the immediate future, we are very excited about taking bookings for the 2023-24 Japan ski season, and hope to welcome back the many friends and guests who have been unable to visit Japan in recent years due to the pandemic. Early bird deals are just being released by Niseko properties for next winter, and at the moment, it is possible to save up to 30%. With unbeatable snow conditions all but guaranteed and plenty of fantastic food and accommodation on offer, we believe there has never been a better time to book a Japan ski holiday!
Thank you for talking with us!


Start planning your Japan winter getaway early; check out the Japan Ski Experience website for more information and advice from Ben and other local Japan ski experts! Be sure to also hop over to their Instagram and Facebook for the latest updates and inspiration. 

Otherwise, make sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter for more Japan-related news. 



Please Choose Your Language

Browse the JNTO site in one of multiple languages