AFTER skiing, rafting is Niseko’s most popular activity. Rafting is truly a sport for all seasons – yes, you can even go rafting in the middle of winter!
But the rivers are at their spectacular best in April, when the sun’s warmth really starts to eat through layers of snow which then feed into the rivers. When the 3-4m-thick layer of snow starts to melt off, it adds up to a lot of run-off that whips up Grade 3 and sometimes up to Grade 4 rapids. The water is literally icy cold. But don’t worry, before you set off you’ll be suited up in a dry suit with tight rubber seals around your ankles, wrists and neck. You can even jump in the water and not feel too cold.
The starting point in spring is just a five-minute bus ride down the beautiful Hirafu Station road. After a few instructions, you set off on a calm 100m stretch of river, which gives everyone a chance to practice paddling. As the river bends you’re straight into your first rapid. The course is about 12km from start to finish, and alternates between powerful, rocky chutes and wide, calm reaches, with an exciting dam spillway to negotiate along the way.
After the spring run-off has subsided, the river calms down and the focus is more on relaxing and enjoying the summer scenery. The season draws to a close at the end of October, when the spectacular reds and yellows of autumn fill the banks of the rivers.
And if you’re lucky, you might even get some snow!