They said the snow in Niseko, Japan would be amazing. They lied! It was so much better than ‘amazing’. Incredible, insane. I’d go as far as to say that it was life changing!
Niseko, on Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido, was the perfect destination for my first Japan winter snow holiday.
If you are thinking of heading to Niseko, here is everything you need to know to plan your trip!
Niseko United is comprised of four resorts on the one mountain, Niseko Annupuri (1,308m). The four resorts/towns are:
- Grand Hirafu
- Annupuri &
- Niseko Village
The chairlifts of the four resorts join at the top of the mountain and you are able to buy a lift pass that covers all four resorts.
The biggest resort/town is Grand Hirafu, which is where we stayed. The 4 areas are also connected by a bus.
How to get to Niseko Grand Hirafu
Niseko is 100km south of the city of Sapporo on Japan’s northern island.
By car: From Sapporo, it’s a two hour drive. Driving and hiring cars in Japan is quite expensive and not all accommodation will have somewhere for you to park.
By bus: From Sapporo City and Sapporo airport there a number of bus companies that have multiple services a day to Niseko. We took the White Liner bus which was good. Pro’s of White Liner is that we were able to purchase our lift tickets with our bus tickets at a discounted rate which was super convenient. We did have a bad experience with White Liner when we wanted to change our pick up location.
By train: Trains operate between New Chitose Airport, Sapporo and Niseko. Bus or taxi services are available from Niseko Station to the resorts.
I recommend taking the bus from Sapporo the easiest transfer.
When to go
Niseko’s season runs from late November to early May. The peak period is from late December to late February, when the snow fall is at the highest and the resorts are busiest. We stayed for a week over Christmas but left before New Years Eve. It was definitely busy, but not overwhelmingly so. I guess there were many others like us that wanted to experience a white Christmas!
Where to stay
I recommend staying in Grand Hirafu. It has the biggest town with the most shops, restaurants and bars. It also has supermarkets, a pharmacy, convenience stores and many onsen’s. Whatever you need, Grand Hirafu has it.
We stayed at Always Niseko who is approx. 1km outside of the main town. The accommodation was great with views of either the slopes or Yotei San. The staff were awesome, rooms were great and there was a buffet breakfast included to fuel you up in the morning. The only nuisance was the last shuttle to take you from town to the hotel was at 9.30pm so if we out wanted a night out we’d have to walk home. 1km doesn’t seem much until it’s dark, negative 15 degrees and snowing!
You can purchase lift tickets for the individual resorts or a Niseko United All Mountain ticket that allows you to ski all 4 resorts on one ticket.
Day tickets are inclusive of night skiing which runs until 8.30pm and there are plenty of operational lifts.
You can buy your tickets online, when you arrive or when you purchase your bus transfer to the mountain. We chose the last option and they were waiting for us at our hotel when we arrived.
Hiring Your Gear
Once we realised that it was going to cost just as much in over sized luggage fees as it would be to hire our snowboards in Japan we decided to rent our gear. We hired our boards through Rhythm Japan.
We picked Rhythm because they have the option of premium or standard snowboard or ski hire. The premium rental range is updated every season with all the latest skis and snowboards on the market which is amazing. The other perk of premium hire it that you can swap your board over as many times as you like during your hire period. Perfect for if conditions change or you want to ride groomed runs one day and sneak off to find secret powder stashes another!
For any of you that know boards, I got to ride the new Burton Day Trader and the Gnu Ladies Choice and Tom was riding the new Flight Attendant.
If you are just starting out or not to fussy about what you ride, the standard hire is great value and the boards are some of the best hire boards I have ever seen! I highly recommend hiring your gear on the mountain as it made our transit so much easier.
Our favourite runs were in Grand Hirafu and they included:
- Family – Easiest
- Furiko to Green to Alpen – More Difficult
- Super – Most Difficult
Non-Groomed Runs/ Off Piste
Our favourite non-groomed/off piste runs were:
- The ridge to the left of Super at Grand Hirafu- Exit through the first gate
- Strawberry Fields at Hanazono – Enter to left of the top of Hanazono Hooded Quad #1 Lift. Pow City! (MOST difficult, don’t go it alone)
Food & drinks
Bar Moon – Get it from the small bar downstairs. Sit along the bar to watch the chef prepare your steaming bowl of noodles. I dare you to try the devil Ramen!
Green Farm Cafe – Good coffee and good food. Also try their matcha latte.
Fridge Bar – Also called GYU, Fridge Bar is a warm, cozy bar famous for being difficult to find. Enter through the vintage fridge door buried in the snow. It’s about half the size of a person! Get in around 5 or you may have to wait for a spot!
Niskeo Taproom – Niseko Taproom is a cozy bar where you can enjoy a selection of Hokkaido and North Japan craft beers on tap together with rotisserie chicken and other local dishes.
Best Izakaya (Pub)
Tamashii – They have different themed nights, hearty food and a great selection of drinks at decent prices for a ski resort.
Best Quick Eats
Food Trucks – There is a selection of about 5 or 6 different food trucks located opposite Tamashii. I loved the Indian food trucks roti wrap!
On the Slopes
Boyo-So – Tucked away in trees at the top of the Holiday Pair Lift #1 above Hirafu, the atmospheric restaurant serves delicious noodles and has great views of Mt Yotei. Try the Pork Buns!
For a more ‘touristy’, AKA ‘I don’t know what I am doing’ onsen try the Niseko Prince Hotel. This was the first one that I went too and it has a view of one of the runs. Try go at night when the night skiing is on!
For a more traditional onsen that foreigners are allowed into try Yukoro located in the lower village. The outdoor onsen among all the snow is amazing.
At both onsens, simply buy your ticket from the machine and then head to the desk to check in and your away.
No photo’s for obvious reasons guys!
If you aren’t sure what the go is here are a few tips!
There is plenty of other activities to keep you busy when you are not on the slopes but my favourite would have to be the Snowmobiling! We did a 1 hour snowmobiling tour with White Isle! The only way I can describe it is like driving a ride on lawn mower across the snow. On a clear day you can also see some pretty spectacular views of Mt Yotei from another perspective!
Now all that’s left is to start packing!
For a complete guide on what to bring with you check out my week in Niseko Packing Guide Here!
Disclaimer: I received complimentary snowmobiling tour with white Isle and snowboard hire from Rhythm Japan. 4 others in my group hired from Rhythm Japan (2 Standard hire and 2 premium hire) and paid full price. All 4 said they loved the equipment and would hire again. As always I only recommend brands that I love and all opinions are my own.
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