Dual AFL Brownlow Medalist Nat Fyfe chose Niseko for his New Year holiday and in what is no surprise to anyone, absolutely loved it.
We went for a few gondy laps with the Fremantle Dockers champion and caught up on all things footy, life and snowboarding in Niseko!
Experience Niseko (EN): Nat, welcome to Niseko! Is this your first time here? How's it been?
Nat Fyfe (NF): Thank you. It is my first time here and I've been simply amazed. I‘ve been to Canada so I have some experience with snow but this is on another level. It's everything I expected it be and more. We’ve been treated with the snow quality and have got some great snowboarding in.
EN: Great! Have you always been a snow-lover?
NF: No, I didn’t even see the snow until I was about 9 and that was in Tasmania for two days and was pretty horrible. The next time was in Canada two years ago so it was a long time between drinks. This has been such a foreign experience, to be able to take a gondola up as late as 8pm and still find fresh untracked snow, it’s really special.
EN: You're giving snowboarding a go. Is that extra difficult with two Brownlow Medals around your neck?
NF: Yeah they clink together a fair bit, (laughs)! Nah, it's been good, there's been a lot of interaction with Aussies over here which has been great. There's such a warm, friendly, fun holiday vibe over here.
EN: Tell me, how do the nerves compare between standing atop a double black diamond ski run vs. walking out on the MCG in front of tens of thousands?
NF: Well the difference is, with footy, I feel like I know exactly what I’m doing so I can visualize and enter a zone of high performance. Whereas with snowboarding I am still absolutely trying to figure out what to do. So the nerves are different. It’s a lot to learn and I’m certainly saying a few prayers before each run. Hurting myself wouldn’t read too well in the Australian press and I don’t think my new coach would be too impressed (laughs).
EN: Stripping it all back, what is more fun?
NF: Hard question – because footy is my job, my employment, it ebbs and flows with good parts and difficult parts, high expectation and high pressure. But also moments of pure joy, elation and emotion. Whereas with snowboarding I’m here for one week, on a holiday experience in a great head space and I'm simply here to have fun. So both have their high points.
EN: Do any of your skills as a footballer translate to the slopes? Balance? Ability to weave through traffic?
NF: I thought about this before we came out - I do have balance and coordination so I should be able to pick it up easily. But now that I’m here I can safely say that doesn’t really count for much once you get out here on the snow (laughs)
EN: I know you’re a keen surfer. What’s better – a 30cm deep Niseko powder day or heavy swell and an offshore breeze on a hot summer day in WA?
NF: Can I take both!? The difference is that with surfing, the beauty is in that hopeful wait for the next set. The best wave of your life could be minutes away and you’ll be the only person riding it. Whereas with snowboarding, your stoked for the whole time you’re out there and you’re sharing the experience with friends.
EN: Or a Dockers win in the Derby?
NF: (laughs) A derby win is unreal. The Eagles have won the last 5 or 6 and I think we won the 4 or 5 before that, so if I’m talking on behalf of all our members and fans, then a derby win takes the cake.
EN: Are any of your teammates at Fremantle good skiers or snowboarders?
NF: Matt Taberner grew up in Bright in New South Wales so is quite an accomplished snowboarder. Lachie Schultz in another who is pretty handy.
EN: Do the club mind you going on skiing trips?
NF: It’s an interesting one. When I first came into the AFL system, it would have been a big no-no as physical health and wellbeing was really the only consideration. However the needle has shifted. The clubs now recognise the need for players to be in a really healthy headspace mentally so they can endure the rigours of professional sport for the whole season. So for me, surfing, kitesurfing, snowboarding are all things I can do to freshen up and get ready, mentally, for the season.
EN: On that topic, it's well documented that you use meditation to keep yourself mentally well. Do you find snowboarding meditative?
NF: Totally. There’s a thing called ‘active meditation’ which is basically any activity that requires you to be totally present and undistracted by anything else. Snowboarding is certainly one of those activities. You are only thinking about your line, what you need to do and you have to be totally focussed in on what’s happening. That’s meditation.
EN: Are you thinking about footy much while you’re here?
NF: Not really, I try and switch off. There’s not going to be any metre deep champagne powder in Western Australia any time soon so I’m trying to make the most of it while I’m here! That said, I’m always conscious of the bigger picture. The reason I’m here is because my career allows me to do it. So always in the back of my mind is the assault which begins when pre-season resumes on the 13th of January and hopefully goes for the next 10 months.
EN: You’re out here with your girlfriend Elli – who’s the better snowboarder?
NF: Ohhh, ahhhh I’m a better snowboarder (laughs). She’s not a big fan of the cold so she only lasts a few hours before it’s onsens, hot chocolates and miso soups.
EN: Have you been doing a bit of that? The onsens and other off-the-snow activities?
NF: Our routine has been snowboard all day until it gets dark, then straight to the onsen, get the muscles all relaxed, then head out for dinner. We've eaten in some great places, Kumo Restaurant has amazing Japanese food, sushi, sashimi and wagyu beef. Breakfast at Green Farm Cafe and Cafe Cubanos for both breakfast and lunch.
EN: Sounds incredible. And where did you stay?
NF: We stayed at Youtei Tracks in a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment with a lounge and kitchen area. Perfect for our group which is two couples. The postcard view of Mt Yotei was incredible on the day we arrived as it was perfectly clear. We haven’t seen much of it since but almost a metre of fresh snow in only 4 days has been a welcome exchange. It’s been great, so central, gondola and chairlifts are close, restaurants are close, onsens are close. Perfect.
EN: Thanks for the chat, Nat. When might we next see you in Niseko?
NF: Hopefully soon! It's super easy to get here from Perth with the direct flight to Tokyo or another option via Singapore so I hope to be back soon!