Niseko: A Winter Wonderland for Skiers

If your idea of heaven is miles and miles of fresh powder, Niseko is the place for you. The ski and snowboard resort is popular for several good reasons.  Niseko’s winter coincides with summer in the southern hemisphere. This makes the resort popular with Australians.  Many have settled in Niseko and started their own businesses. As you walk into a store, you’re more likely to be greeted with a “G’day” than with a Japanese “Irrashaimase.”

Niseko is a great choice if you’re new to skiing or snowboarding. You can take lessons in English, many times from native English speakers. Most of the ski and snowboard rental stores also have English speaking staff.

 

 

More Than Just Ski Slopes and Snow

Niseko Mount Yotei

Mount Yotei

If you’re not sure if skiing or snowboarding is for you, Niseko has other attractions.

In addition to being beautiful (the ski-slopes face Mt. Yotei, a volcano known as Hokkaido’s Mt. Fuji), Niseko has onsen and the opportunity to see geisha perform.

There are also snowmobile and reindeer rides. The resort boasts a huge variety of restaurants and bars… including some quirky international options.

 

What You Can Do in Niseko

Skiing and SnowboardingNiseko Annupuri Gondola

Niseko’s main attractions are the ski-slopes. There’s a very good reason why — they’re excellent!

Since March 2008, the resort has ranked among the world’s best ski resorts. Niseko has a reputation for delivering reliable amounts of fresh powder every season. In fact, there’s likely to be so much snow you won’t see the sun for days at a time!

Niseko is made up of six individual ski-fields, all closely interconnected. The main four, Annupuri, Niseko Village, Hirafu, and Hanazono, can be skied individually. To ski them all, get the Niseko United Pass.

The 4 areas have 61 ski runs. They’re connected by 38 gondolas and lifts.

 

The Four Main Ski Areas

Hirafu

Niseko - Hirafu Snowboarding

antb/Depositphotos.com

Hirafu is the largest of the four resorts. With the most amenities, it’s a great base for your Niseko stay.

It’s also open the longest (this season is open from November 23rd, 2017, to May 6th, 2018). Be sure to check their season schedule before you go.

 

HanazonoNiseko Hanazono

Hanazono is known for the variety of its courses. They include dedicated beginners’ areas, pipes, terrain parks, and tree runs. The most well-known tree run is the famous Strawberry Fields.

Hanazono is open for the 2017 – 2018 season from December 2nd, 2017, to April 8th, 2018. Check their season schedule before you go (website below).

 

Niseko Village

Niseko Village

Hinloy / Shutterstock.com

Niseko Village has some of the longest runs and the best scenery. The family-focused courses go through a beautiful forest.

2017 – 2018 Season: December 1st, 2017, to April 2nd, 2018. Be sure to check their season schedule before you go.

 

AnnupuriNiseko Annupuri Skiing

Annupuri’s runs get the least amount of visitors but are considered Niseko’s best. The base area has several natural onsen.

2017 – 2018 Season: November 25th, 2017, to May 6th, 2018. Be sure to check their season schedule before you go.

 

For More Information

Niseko Ski Area Opening Dates

 

Lift Pass OptionsNiseko - Ski Lift Passes

As conditions vary from day to day, I recommend buying your lift pass on the day you go. You can choose from a variety of passes, including 8-hour, 1-day, 2-day, 3-day, etc., all the way up to 21-day passes.

Prices vary depending on whether you visit during:

  • The off-season (November 23rd – December 8th)
  • The regular season (December 9th – March 18th)
  • The last season (March 19th – May 6th)

For example, here are the prices for an adult one day pass off/on/last season respectively: 5100 yen/7400 yen/ 5100 yen.

Discounted tickets are available for Seniors (60 and over) and children up to 15 years old.

 

For More Information

Niseko United Homepage

Niseko United Runs Trail Map

Niseko United Facilities

 

Hana 1

Hana 1 deserves a special mention. It’s located at the base of the main ski lift on the Hanazono side.

This simple stand sells hot drinks and steamed buns. This was the first place in Japan I ever saw a flat white (expresso with steamed cream) on a menu (this is a big deal down under). In the end, I opted for the hot chocolate and was not disappointed. Hana 1 is a must visit if you’re on the Hanazono slopes!

 

OnsenNiseko Onsen

After a full day on the slopes, you need to warm up. Niseko has you covered with a range of onsen.

Your hotel probably has a bath. My humble hostel actually had two… including one with milk-infused water! Hokkaido is as famous in Japan for dairy products as for snow. If you’re in the mood to go further afield, here are your options:

 

Yukoro Onsen

Yukoro Onsen is a traditional onsen with very basic amenities. It has one indoor and one outdoor bath, and you can smell the sulfur in the water. It’s a bit rundown but conveniently located within the Hirafu Village.

 

Hours

  • Winter Hours: December – March: 2:00pm – 10:30pm
  • Summer Hours Weekdays 5:00pm – 9:30pm
  • Summer Hours Weekends: 2:00pm – 9:30pm

 

Admission

  • Adults: 600 yen
  • Children: 300 yen

 

Niseko Alpen Hotel

Niseko Alpen Hotel’s baths are open to outside visitors. This hotel is also in Hirafu. The baths offer complimentary toiletries, a modern indoor bathing area, and a wooden tub outside.

 

Hours

1:00pm – 10:00pm (last entry 9:00pm)

 

Admission

  • Adults: 1,000 yen
  • Children: 400 yen

 

Hirafutei Prince Hotel

These baths are the most extensive of the public onsen in Niseko.

The hotel has three indoor baths (including one cold) and an outdoor bath. Unfortunately, the outdoor bath on the ladies side has no view to speak of.

 

Hours

07:00am – 10:30am and 1:30pm – 11:00pm

 

Admission

  • Adults: 1000 yen
  • Children: 600 yen

 

Other Activities

Niseko revolves around skiing and snowboarding. Even so, there are many other activities to choose from during the winter.

Reindeer SleddingNiseko Reindeer Sleigh Rides

Reindeer sledding offers a unique way for kids (of any age!) to enjoy the snow.

It’s available for the 2017 – 2018 season December 21st – January 14th and February 2nd – 17th. Be sure to check their opening times and schedule on their website.

 

Hours

10:00am – 3:30pm

Tours start every five minutes

 

Cost

  • Adults: 2,100 yen
  • Children: 1,580 yen

 

For More Information and Reservations

Niseko Reindeer-Sledding Information

 

Hanazono Adventure Park

The Adventure Park is another fun family option. It has it all… zip lining, sledding, snowmobiles, snow-rafting, winter rafting, and even guided snow-shoe tours.

 

For More Information

Niseko Alpine Developments Activities Page

 

Snowmobiles and SnowshoeingNiseko Snowmobiles

Snowmobiles and snowshoeing are not just for kids.

Several companies offer snowmobile and snowshoe excursions.Niseko Snowshoeing

Visit the Niseko Gondola Base Activity Counter or the Grand Hirafu Welcome Center for more information.

 

For More Information

Niseko Village Snowmobile Page

 

GeishaJapan Geisha

Niseko has a surprisingly authentic geisha scene. You rarely encounter geisha outside of Kyoto or Tokyo.

In Kutchan, a town neighboring Niseko, Geisha perform traditional arts at the Geisha Bar. You can even hire a geisha to provide entertainment at a formal Japanese style dinner.

 

For More Information

Sayuki’s Geisha Bar Homepage

Or see Geisha practice their skills at a Geisha School:

Geisha School Page

 

Is Niseko Worth Visiting?Niseko from Window

Yes!As a beginner snowboarder, I thoroughly enjoyed my short time in Niseko. I would have loved to stay longer.

I drank up the snow-swept landscape. I delighted in seeing orange foxes slipping through the white snowdrifts.

I especially enjoyed speaking English with so many people. It was a pleasant surprise to find so many English speakers in a remote Japanese village.

But…

If you’re not a huge skier or snowboarder, you might want to think about whether Niseko is the destination for you.

 

How to Get to Niseko

Niseko is in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. Getting there can be a challenge.

 

By AirJapan Airport

The fastest way to reach Niseko is by air. The nearest airport is Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport, the largest in Hokkaido.

New Chitose is served by domestic and international flights. They include budget airlines Peach, Air Do, Jetstar Japan, and Spring Airlines.

New Chitose Airport links to most domestic airports within Japan. Internationally, it links to just about every country in Asia.

Prices vary depending on the airline and when you make your reservations.

If you’re able to book 75 days in advance, you can pay as little as 9,790 yen with Air Do, for example. The same flight booked 28 days in advance is around 25,290 yen. However, other airlines like Peach and Jetstar sometimes has very cheap deals. You might be able to find good deals on sites like Booking.com as well.

Before committing to a discount fare, consider how much luggage you’ll bring with you. A lot of discount airlines have a small luggage allowance and hefty charges if you exceed it.

Niseko links directly to New Chitose Airport by bus and train.

 

By BusJapan Tour Bus

During the winter, two bus companies take visitors from New Chitose Airport to Niseko.

The buses are comfortable. They eliminate the need to drag your luggage from train to train (if you haven’t used a takkyubin service to send it ahead).

The Whiteliner costs 8,000 yen round trip, reduced to 6,400 yen if you book online.

 

For More Information and Reservations

Niseko Ski Bus White Liner Page

 

*Note:  If you plan to take a bus, make sure it’s operating before you go. The 2016 – 2017 winter bus stopped running on March 26th. The Hokkaido Liner has more routes including Niseko and a longer season.

The bus drops you off at one of the following hotels: the Grand Hirafu Welcome Center, Hilton Niseko, Green Leaf Niseko, Niseko Northern Resort Annupuri, or Hotel Kanronomori.

 

For More Information

Hokkaido Access Network Skibus Page

 

By Train From Tokyo

Niseko Tokyo Hayabusa Train

Hayabusa Shinkansen

Unless you hate flying, you probably won’t want to go to Niseko entirely by train. The trip takes upwards of 8 hours and costs 24,710 yen each way (including the reserved seat fee).

From Tokyo Station, take the Hayabusa Shinkansen to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto. Transfer to the limited express for Sapporo. Get off at Oshamambe, and transfer to the JR Hakodate line for Otaru, getting off at Niseko.

 

By Train From New Chitose AirportNew Chitose Airport Trains

A train is a much more reasonable option from New Chitose Airport. The trip takes about 3 hours and costs approximately 3,470 yen (seat fee included).

Take the JR Rapid for Otaru Station. Stay on the train when it stops at Sapporo. At Otaru, change to the JR Hakodate line bound for Oshamambe, getting off at Niseko.

Niseko Station is quite far from the ski village/hotel area.

From the station, you’ll need to take a taxi or settle in for a long wait for the local bus.

Getting around NisekoGetting Around in Niseko

Niseko’s huge snow deposits are great for snowboarding and skiing. However, they make getting around town a challenge.

In the summer you can sign up for the Green Bike Free Cycle Rental. You can rent and return bikes from any of the participating locations.

There are local buses. The Grand Hirafu Welcome Center should have schedules for the buses. Having said that, most people rely on taxis.

To save time and money, choose your accommodations with your activities in mind.

I suggest the area around Hirafu. Hirafu has the most hotels, restaurants, and bars. It has access to the ski slopes and is the ideal base from which to explore Niseko’s attractions.

If you have the Niseko United Ski Pass for the day, you can take advantage of a free shuttle bus to and from the slopes.

 

For More Information

Niseko United Passes Page

 

Insider’s TipsNiseko - Ski Snowboard Gear

If you already own skiing or snowboarding gear, consider using takkyubin (delivery) services. You can send your gear directly to your hotel.

If you don’t have gear but plan on spending the entire ski season in Japan, pick up cheap second-hand gear in Tokyo. It will be cheaper than renting equipment for weeks at a time.

If you don’t live in Japan, Air Do has a special price of 8,800 yen for flights to Hokkaido.

For details on these tickets, see the airline’s Hokkaido page.

Visit off-season. The accommodations and lift passes are much cheaper

If you go during the off-season, many attractions and restaurants will be closed. If there’s something you really want to see, make sure it will be open before making your reservations.

 

Have You Been to Niseko?

If so, what did you like about it? Did we miss anything? Tell us about it in the comments.

Don’t forget to share this article with your ski buddies. After all, how many ski resorts have Geisha nearby?

If you like winter sports, you’ll love Niseko. Don’t take my word for it… grab your friends and find out for yourself!

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