Niseko is one of the most popular resorts in Japan, especially for a first-time experience skiing in the land of the rising sun. With a never-ending dose of fresh snowfall, tons of restaurants, bars and nightlife, and a mixture of accommodation – you would be hard pressed to find a reason not to take a winter holiday in Niseko.
If you’re looking for a powder loaded experience for your first time skiing in Japan, you can’t go past Niseko. They see an average snowfall of 14-metres annually… fourteen metres 😱. Let me put that into perspective for those of you who are just starting out in your powder-hunting days. Resorts in Canada, such as Big White, see around 7-metres on average. Resorts in Australia, well let’s just say about a quarter of that 😬 (we try 🤷🏼♀️). Long story short, it’s a lot of snow.
So, why should you book a winter holiday in Niseko? Well, let me run you through a few important points you may consider when planning your ski trip here.
Season Duration: Late November to early May
Mountain Top: 1,200m, but you can hike 20 minutes to the highest peak at 1,308m 🎉
Skiable Terrain: Just under 45km’s worth of trails 😱 – almost 50% of these are suitable for beginners. You know what that means guys, no excuses! ☺️
Number of Lifts: 32 – and only one of these is a T-bar 🙌🏼
Night Skiing: Every night!
Snow Cannons: Not required guys, c’mon 😂
An Overview of Niseko United
The ski resort is actually named Niseko United and comprises of four different ski resorts. These are Grand Hirafu, Annupuri, Hanazono and Niseko Village. Check out the mountains trail map by clicking here.
When all the lifts are operating, you can ski freely between each area with your Niseko United lift ticket. Earlier in the season or on windy days, you can travel between resort bases using the free village shuttle.
Grand Hirafu is definitely the ‘main’ area of Niseko, both on and off the slopes. When I refer to Niseko, I am referring to Grand Hirafu Village as this is where you find all the accommodation, restaurants, bars, etc. etc. So naturally, most people will start their day riding at the Hirafu Gondola.
Of course, this means that you’ll most likely face some crowds and lines for the lifts, especially first thing in the morning on a powder day. To get away from this, just keep heading up the mountain. Up there, the runs get more difficult and more spread out 👍🏼. From here, you can ski off to other areas as you please.
I think Niseko Village gets somewhat overlooked as an awesome place to ride in Niseko, as I feel it barely gets spoken about. On this area of the mountain, you will find a somewhat harsh combination of easy (green) and advance (black) runs. I say harsh, because if you’re a beginner and turn the wrong way, you’re in trouble 😬.
There is literally a run at the top of the Niseko Village Gondola named Snorkel 😱. You’ll most likely need one for your trip too 😂. There is also an avalanche controlled, tree area in Niseko Village that can see some epic snow.
Hanazono is quite a small area compared to both Grand Hirafu and Niseko Village, however it sure packs a punch! This area of the resort is most popular for the famed ‘Strawberry Fields’. If you’ve not heard of this area before, you will undoubtedly hear other riders talking about it on the chair lift.
Strawberry Fields is basically a relatively open tree run with little hits and jumps hidden around the place. It is a lot of fun, but can get tracked out quite quickly on a powder day.
Hot Tip: I’m pretty sure that it’s basically out of bounds, but we actually much preferred the tree area to skiers left of the Hanazono Hooded Quad Lift #3. We ventured there one powder day, and literally spent almost the whole day lapping the chair and found fresh tracks over and over again 😍.
I would say that Niseko Annupuri is the least popular area of Niseko United. Mostly because it seems so far away from the rest of the resort, and it’s mostly made up of beginner runs.
Supposedly, it’s very popular with Japanese locals and tourist, and can get super busy on the weekends.
When to Plan your Winter Holiday to Niseko?
Well as I mentioned earlier, the season in Niseko does last from late November through to early May. However, if you’re looking for the best time to go, you would be looking at mid-January to mid-February.
Generally speaking, the snow is absolutely pumping all over Japan between mid-January and mid-February. Of course, you will get those years when there is a drought or it’s a bad season, and that truly cannot be predicted. I will let you know when my crystal ball is complete 😉🔮. I guess it’s what comes with weather based holidays – sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you get slammed 🤷🏼♀️.
To give you an idea, one year I went to Niseko in December, right over Christmas. This is considered somewhat early to be skiing in Japan. But we had amazing fresh snow, literally every day! Just before New Years Eve, we headed up to Furano (more on this destination later) and they had not been receiving the same treatment 😫. There was shrubs everywhere.
Hot Tip: If you can, arrange your trip for early February, that is almost perfect timing. I would say that Australian’s make up the majority of visitors to Niseko, and most of them will need to go home by late January in line with the end of school holidays.
How to Get to Hirafu Village, Niseko
Well, first things first, you will need to fly to Hokkaido. To do this, book your flights into Sapporo or New Chitose Airport (CTS). Qantas has started to do direct flights from Australia to Sapporo a few times a week, but otherwise both Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways fly to Sapporo via Tokyo.
From New Chitose Airport, you can reach Niseko via train, bus, taxi or car. The easiest and most straight-forward way is definitely bus. Hokkaido Resort Liner has the most departures from the airport, and a one-way ticket will cost around 4,000 yen. The journey from New Chitose Airport to Niseko will take around 2 – 3 hours, depending on the weather.
Where to Stay & Getting Around
You’ll definitely want to spend your winter holiday in Niseko staying in Grand Hirafu Village. It really is where everything is. You’ll have endless restaurants, coffee shops, bars and nightlife to choose from.
Accommodation options range from extremely luxurious (and a price tag to prove it) to budget backpackers. Even still, you can expect to pay around 6,000 yen or upwards for a bed in a hostel (that’s per person, per night 😬).
If you’re not fussed on fancy accommodation, I would recommend checking out a bed and breakfast style option, like Pension Full Note. They’re clean and comfortable, with private rooms and include a hearty breakfast.
Getting around Niseko and to the nearby resorts is really easy. Most accommodations will offer a daily morning shuttle to the gondola in time for first lift. And in the afternoon, you can use the free village shuttle to get home. There is a bus stop on almost every corner in Hirafu 👍🏼.
Exploring Resorts Outside of Niseko
There are two other resorts that are within easy striking distance of Niseko that are 100% worth a day-trip to. These resorts are much quieter than Niseko, so I would prefer to keep them a secret, but I’m feeling generous 😉. These resorts are Rusutsu and Kiroro.
Rusutsu is located around 40 minutes drive from Niseko, but even still they receive the same never-ending snowfall treatment as Niseko United. The resort is renowned for relatively mellow tree runs, and endless opportunities for fresh tracks. One particular day that I was there, was mind-blowingly amazing… the snow was up to my face 😱.
Rusutsu is comprised of three mountains, with a long gondola in between. You will definitely want to spend your time on Mt. Isola and East Mountain, as this is where all the juicy stuff falls. Check out the trail map by clicking here. There are a few different companies that have bus transfers to take you there, so it’s a really easy day trip.
Kiroro Ski Resort
Kiroro (pronounced Ki-oro) is somewhat of a new kid on the block, in terms of it only starting to become more known about 3 or 4 years ago. It’s located about 60 minutes from Niseko. Kiroro is actually situated on a different ‘snow belt’ to Niseko, so it can be subject to huge snowfall when there is none forecast in Niseko.
Kiroro is a small resort, but don’t let that stop you. There is some amazing tree skiing to be had there. On a clear day, it’s supposed to be a really pretty resort too. I wouldn’t know, because the day I went there it was absolutely puking down snow. I’m okay with that 😁.
Final Tips & Advice to your Winter Holiday in Niseko
To wrap this guide up, I just want to leave you with three thoughts that have always stuck with me since I visited Niseko.
Lift tickets are cheap, but the rest is not…
A lift ticket for the Niseko United mountains will cost you around 8,000 Yen for one day, which is relatively cheap compared (as long as the exchange rate is playing ball) to the cost of lift tickets in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
However, that’s where the cheap part of Niseko ends 😬. Accommodation in particular is the killer, and there is not nearly enough accommodation options to suit the amount of people who want to travel there. So, get in early with accommodation, and budget plenty for eating out 👍🏼.
You will have the best ramen of your life at Bar Moon…
I still think about and crave this ramen, 4 years later 😂. Of course, there may have been other ramen places that have popped up over the years, but do yourself a favour, and have yourself some devil ramen from Bar Moon 👌🏼🍜.
Niseko is not very ‘Japanese’…
If you were hoping that your winter holiday in Niseko was going to be a beautiful, Japanese cultural experience, you will be very disappointed. Niseko is as western as it gets. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go, you should! You will just have to visit other areas of Japan for the cultural aspect of your holiday ☺️.
Well that’s a wrap on your guide to Niseko! I hope you found it helpful. If you love powder, you will love it there! You’ve just got to be ready to go, first thing in the morning, to get first tracks ❄️. If you have any other questions about your trip to Niseko, leave me a comment below! 😄
If it’s your first ski trip to Japan, check out my posts ‘The In’s & Out’s of your First Ski Trip to Japan’ and ‘What to Expect from the Land of the Snowiest Winters on Earth!’ for some general information to help you plan your trip!