Niseko is where international sophistication melds with old-world Japanese culture in a dream-like powder covered landscape. It’s unlike any other ski resort in Japan, or any other ski resort in the world for that matter.
Once a sleepy rural region with narrow roads surrounded by rice paddies and farms, Niseko has transformed into one of the most popular holiday destinations in Asia, thanks to its five-star accommodation, fantastic après ski scene and incredible powder snow.
As a result of Niseko’s transformation into a modern day winter wonderland, it caters to just about every desire: you’ll find onsens, an amazing choice of restaurants with Michelin Star chefs, funky bars and, of course, incredible powder snow that attracts skiers and snowboarders from all over the world.
Niseko is a designated “heavy snowfall region” – when it snows here, it snows long and hard. And thanks to its northern locale at latitude 42 degrees north of the equator, the climate makes for much more regular perfect powder days than many locations down south.
If you want the best powder skiing holiday you could ever imagine, you might well find it in Niseko. We were lucky enough to interview the great JP Auclair and buddy Chris Benchetler half way through a trip in January 2008. JP told us in 25 years of skiing he’d never had a such a consistent run of epic powder as this period of three weeks in and around Niseko.
Source: Japan Meteorological Association
Note: These are government recordings taken in the local town centre, which receives much lower snowfall than the ski slopes
The absolute best case scenario for the ultimate powder trip would be to arrive just as a “Niseko Express” event rolls in. This phenomenal weather pattern occurs when a swirling low pressure system sets up over the ocean to the north of Hokkaido, delivering a constant north-west air stream for up to weeks at a time.
These low pressure systems suck cold, dry air off the frozen expanse of the Siberian continent, send it across the mild waters of the Sea of Japan where clouds pick up moisture, which then unload incredulous amounts of super light, dry powder on the coastal ranges of Hokkaido.
One of those ranges just happens to be Niseko’s Annupuri Range.
The Annupuri range is a rugged spine of large peaks rising as cliffs from the ocean before carving a swathe through flat farmlands to Hirafu. From here, just a small valley, cut by the Shirebeshi river, separates the range from the region’s highest peak, the ubiquitous symmetrical volcano, Mt Yotei.
This unique geological setup contributes to Niseko’s seasonal climate and incredible winter snow conditions. As the weather slams into the range, momentum pushes the wind and snow southwards and, looking for a way through, peels along the range before tearing through the valley between Mt Yotei and Mt Annupuri, disgorging itself and leaving behind unprecedented amounts of snow all over the countryside.
Niseko is one of the most popular ski resort regions of Japan. Located on the southern slopes of Mt Niseko Annupuri and with stunning views of nearby Mt Yotei, it has iconic views as well as magnificent powder.
Hokkaido is the second largest island of Japan. It has coastlines on the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk and also the Pacific Ocean. Hokkaido is home to the largest number of ski hills in Japan. While the majority of them are very small, some of the larger ski resorts are amongst the most famous in Japan.
There are four independent ski resorts that combine to make Niseko United: Hanazono, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village and Annupuri. Adjoining Niseko United is a fifth ski resort called Moiwa west of Annupuri.
Niseko is two to three hours drive from Hokkaido’s international airport, New Chitose Airport, just outside Sapporo. It is an international airport but not all airlines fly direct to Chitose. Most international visitors will have to catch a domestic flight from Tokyo via Narita international airport or Haneda domestic airport:
The bus is the cheapest form of transport from the airport in winter. Buses depart about every 30 minutes from the airport to drop-off points in the three major resorts in Niseko – Hirafu, Niseko Village and Annupuri. They take about 3 hours, and most include a rest stop halfway and some drop-off at Rusutsu. One way will cost about ¥4,000 per person.
Powderlife works with several companies offering a door-to-door transfer service from the airport to Niseko or Sapporo from ¥30,000 per vehicle. Wi-Fi and DVD systems included in each vehicle.
There are basically three options for getting around Niseko: shuttle bus, taxi and rental car. If you’re staying in Hirafu, pretty much everything you need will be on the free village shuttle bus route. If you want groceries or to head out of town at night you might want to take a taxi, and if you want ultra mobility, think about hiring a car:
Shuttle buses connect the resorts and different areas of Niseko including nearby Kutchan. Some are free or included in the cost of lift passes.
Taxis are readily available, particularly in Hirafu, and can be hailed on major streets. Taxis cost about ¥2,500 for a ten minute trip. Drivers probably won’t speak English, and you will need a business/place name and map for where you are going – often if you just have the address they may not be able to find it. For best chance of success, take directions / street names in Japanese if possible.
Renting a car is a great way to explore Niseko and surrounding areas. You just have to have to be prepared to negotiate the snowy/icy roads. Before you drive in Niseko, read our driver survivor tips first.
Niseko United is the name given to the four independently owned ski resorts on the southeast face of Mt Annupuri. All resorts have slopes and terrain to suit complete beginners to professionals, and you can ski, board or bus between all with ease.
The most well known resort is Grand Hirafu, which has a great range of terrain and the best variety of accommodation and entertainment.
If you’re looking up at the mountain from Hirafu, the family friendly / off-piste powder haven Hanazono is over a few hills and gullies to your right.
To the left, beyond a massive out-of-bounds bowl, is the up-market and slower-paced Niseko Village, home of the Hilton and formerly known as Higashiyama.
And to its left, book-ending the Niseko United is Annupuri, famous for its laid-back village and tendency to hide some of best stashes of Niseko powder.
The Niseko All Mountain Pass provides access to all 4 resorts (Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village and An’nupuri) as well as the Niseko United Shuttle service while the Grand Hirafu Pass enables access to the Grand Hirafu and Hanazono zones only.
Lifts are open until 8.30pm every night of the week from mid-December to late March and night riding included on full day and consecutive day lift passes.
From JPY ¥5,100 per adult
From JPY ¥3,100 per child (7-12yrs)
Kids 0-6 yrs FREE
If you book your Niseko accommodation with Powderlife we’ll arrange your lift passes for you.
If you’re looking for world-class ski accommodation, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Niseko. This was the first Japanese ski resort to be discovered by the rest of the world, and continues to be the resort that attracts by far and away the most investment. As such, you’re spoilt for choice between five-star hotels, chalets and condos right down to hostels and bed-and-breakfast-style “pensions” run by local families.
Book your accommodation in Niseko via our Niseko accommodation search engine below. Or send us an enquiry and we’ll do the ground work for you to help you plan the perfect holiday. Tell us exactly what you want, including preferred dates, location, number of guests and budget and we’ll make it happen.
Every resort in Niseko has at least one ski gear rental store, and Hirafu has several to choose from to suit all budgets. Beginners gear to advanced powder skis and boards can be rented, so we will hook you up with someone that can look after all your travel party’s needs.
Everything required to get out on the slopes can be hired, from skis and boots to gloves, jackets and beanies.
If you book your Niseko accommodation with Powderlife we can arrange every piece rental of every piece of equipment you will need.
There’s no need to be nervous about learning to ski in Niseko – thanks to the fresh snow falling almost every day, the slopes are kept soft and cushioned throughout the winter, unlike the ice-skating-rink-hard slopes found elsewhere around the world.
Ski schools cater for crying toddlers through to nervous adults – they’ve seen it all before and will get even the most tentative of skiers gliding down the mountain.
If you book your Niseko accommodation with Powderlife we’ll arrange your ski lessons for you.