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.
The best case scenario for the ultimate powder trip would be to experience the “Niseko Express”. 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 Siberia, send it across the Sea of Japan where clouds pick up moisture, 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, a rugged spine of large peaks rising as cliffs from the ocean before carving a swathe through flat farmlands. 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 condition produces Niseko’s incredible powder snow. As the weather slams into the range, momentum pushes the snow southwards and rips through the valley between Mt Yotei and Mt Annupuri, disgorging itself and leaving behind unprecedented amounts of snow all over the countryside.
Niseko United is the name given to the four independently owned ski resorts on the southeast face of Mt Annupuri (1,309m). All resorts have slopes and terrain to suit complete beginners to professionals, and you can ski, board or bus between all with ease.
Niseko Annupuri is a part of the Niseko-Shakotan-Otaru Kaigan Quasi-National Park and is the most eastern park of the Niseko Volcanic Group. With its rich variety of terrain and beautiful winter woods, Niseko offers an unforgettable experience for all levels of skier/snowborder.
Powder, piste, pipe and parks: Hanazono is a family-friendly off-piste powder haven.
NISEKO GRAND HIRAFU
Centre of the action: Hirafu has the widest variety of accommodation and entertainment.
West of Hirafu, beyond the out-of-bounds bowl: home to up-market and slower-paced Higashiyama.
Book-ending Niseko to the west: Annupuri is a laid-back village with hidden stashes of 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.
If you book your Niseko accommodation with Powderlife we’ll arrange your lift passes for you.
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 of equipment you 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.
Skiers and boarders love Niseko for its powder snow, however it’s more than just a winter destination. There are so many reasons to visit Niseko – at any time of the year!
Spa Treatments: ease your muscles with a one-hour deep tissue massage in the privacy of your own villa.
Kids Club: international childcare centre for children aged 1 to 6 years.
Karaoke: sing your favourite songs with all-you-can-eat and drink package in a private room.
Adventure Park: move from tree to tree 5 – 13m above the ground while challenging the elements.
Naturally, Powderlife will arrange everything you need to get on the mountain skiing, snowboarding and having fun, no matter what your skill level. We also know that not everyone who comes to Niseko wants to go skiing, so we can also help you organise other winter activities suitable for the whole family!
Heli-Skiing: ski 3,000 meters of vertical with 6 drops x 650 metre runs.
Cat Skiing: ski line after line of fresh tracks without queueing for lifts or hiking.
Snowmobiling: an adventure through forests and snow-covered pastures with views of Niseko range.
Snowbiking: group or private tours with access to over of 100km2 terrain.
Backcountry Guide: improve your skiing, hunt fresh powder or simply have a friendly guide show you around.
Snowshoeing: walk through the forest at the base of Mount Yotei and discover frozen Half Moon lake.
Cross-Country Skiing: explore the countryside by gliding through quiet valleys and forests using longer, thinner skis.
Snow Tubing: snow tubing is great for kids and for those who want to act like one.
With such stunning beauty all around, Niseko is a wonderful summer destination. After the snow melts away you’ll find a range of summer activities to keep the family enthralled!
Worldclass Golf: choose from six golf courses within an hour drive of Niseko.
Cycling: explore the local area in very healthy fashion with a guided tour.
Mountain Biking: head off-road, explore the countryside on quiet roads or cruise from cafe to cafe.
Fly Fishing: try your hand at fishing the rivers of Hokkaido with a local fisherman.
Restaurant & Bar Guide
Everyone who has been to Niseko has a story about THAT restaurant that you just have to try when you go to Niseko. Actually we have a list of about 20!
But what happens if you arrive for your first trip just after Christmas, and you drop past the famous A-Bu-Cha or Kamimura to book and they tell you: “Our next open table is at the end of February.”
Niseko has a 100-day winter season, and there are tens of thousands of people in the resort every day who all want to do the same thing – ski and experience Niseko’s famed dining scene. So read on to learn a little more about how restaurants work in Niseko in winter.
SHOULD I BOOK AHEAD?
Yes and no. If you come in summer, you can walk into any restaurant you like any day of the week and you’ll be very unlucky to be turned away because they’re fully booked.
But if you come in winter, many restaurants will be booked out by the evening, a few will be booked out a week or more ahead, and some will be fully booked until the snow starts to melt and winter is well and truly over.
In the two peak periods – Christmas through New Year and Chinese New Year – you literally have very little chance of finding a table for two, let alone 10, in the main villages.
So you’re reading this as you’ve arrived on Christmas Day and you haven’t booked – never fear. There’s very little chance that you’ll have nowhere at all to go. You just won’t have your pick of in-village restaurants – you might need to ring around (or get your concierge to help you if they offer that service) or jump in a cab and head out of the village. This is actually where you might find some of the most rewarding cultural adventures that not everyone gets to experience!
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. Niseko is roughly two to three hours by bus, car or train, southwest of Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido.
Adjoining Niseko United is a fifth ski resort called Moiwa west of Annupuri. Within a couple of hours drive are two more resorts: Rusutsu and Kiroro.
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.
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.
Renting a car is a great way to explore Niseko and surrounding areas. You just have to be prepared to negotiate the snowy/icy roads. Before you drive in Niseko, read our driver survivor tips first.
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.
There are several car rental companies operating in Niseko, you just have to be prepared to negotiate the snowy/icy roads. Before you drive in Niseko, read our driver survivor tips first.
Japan is perhaps the most courteous country in the world. A bow can be used to say thank you, sorry, hello, goodbye and excuse me. It is impolite not to return a bow. The deeper the bow, the more polite it becomes. This is just an example of how you can show your respect for Japanese culture.
Please refrain from public displays of affection as Japanese people are rather bashful. Avoid eating while walking and do not wear your shoes on tatami mats (straw mat flooring) or in most indoor residences.
At most casual dining Japanese restaurants (Izakaya) meals are ordered for the table and shared. You will often receive a small snack with your first drink which may or may not be billed. Rest your chopsticks across the top of the bowl or plate – never leave them sticking out of the rice!
It is tradition in Japan to pour from a bottle into your guest’s small glass regularly. Kampai is the Japanese word for cheers – use it readily! Also please remember to stay well behaved when under the influence.
Hokkaido has some of the strictest garbage separation rules in the world. Please try to follow them, follow the signs on the bins to the letter.
Buy a ticket, strip down – no swim suits are allowed in hot spring baths, you’ll be asked to keep your clothes in a basket, your valuables in a locker. Take a little towel only into the onsen with you, wash and scrub your body well before you go in to the bath. You can fill your towel with cold water before you enter the onsen. Do not put your towel into the onsen water – leave it on your head and squeeze the cold water out when you get too hot (it’s best not to bring drinks into the onsen). After bathing rinse off under the shower. Finally dry your body well before you walk back into the changing room.
Please adhere to the very strict local dos and don’ts when visiting a Japanese temple or place of worship.
Although tipping is not generally done in Japan, some restaurants and bars will include a service fee for groups.
Health & Safety
Japan is extremely safe. There are very few cases of visitors being injured or killed in Niseko and crime is virtually non-existent. The advice we provide is a general guide only and does not replace the advice of a doctor trained in travel medicine:
Treatment for minor injuries and common traveller’s health problems is easily accessed in local medical clinics in Niseko. For serious conditions, foreigners are best served at Kutchan-Kosei General Hospital in Kutchan, which caters to tourists and expats. Ensure your travel insurance will cover you. In cases where your medical condition is considered serious, you may be evacuated by air ambulance to Sapporo or beyond.
Many over-the-counter drugs in the West require a prescription in Japan. Ensure all medications you bring into the country are packed in their original, clearly labelled containers and bring a signed and dated letter from your doctor as well as any written prescriptions.
There are no vaccinations required for travel to Japan.
Tap water in Niseko is safe to drink. Bottled water is widely available and cheap, however Powderlife encourages visitors to keep a reusable water bottle to reduce plastic consumption.
Need to Know
Here’s the absolute essentials explained:
Japanese Yen (¥) is the local currency, universally accepted all over Japan. Credit cards are accepted in most establishments and there are several cash machines (ATMs) – so you do not need to plan too far ahead – although it is advisable to carry some cash on you.
Japanese is the native languages spoken by locals but English is widely used in tourist areas.
Good morning = Ohayōgozaimasu
Good afternoon = Kon’nichiwa
Good evening = Konbanwa
Good night = Oyasuminasai
Thank you = Arigatōgozaimashita
You’re welcome = Dōitashimashite
How are you? = Ogenkidesuka?
I’m fine = Daijōbudesu
Excuse me = Sumimasen
Yes = Hai
No = Īe
Sorry = Gomen’nasai
Open = Aita
Close = Tojiru
Eat = Taberu
Drink = Dorinku
1 = Ichi
2 = Ni
3 = San
4 = Shi
5 = Go
6 = Roku
7 = Shichi
8 = Hachi
9 = Ku
10 = Juu
11 = Juuichi; 12 = Juuni
21 = Nijuuichi; 22 = Nijuuni
100 = Hyaku
1,000 = Sen
10,000 = Man
100,000 = Juuman
1 million = Hyakuman
How much is this? = Ikura desu ka?
Price = Kakaku
Expensive = Kōkana
Cheap = Yasuidesu
Great = Yokatta
My name is = Namae wa
What is your name? = Onamae wa Nan desu ka
I am = Desu
I don’t understand = Wakarimasen
Cool! = Kakkoii!
Uncool! = Yabai!
Good weather! = Ii tenki!
Amazing! = Sugoi
I’m going! = Ittekimasu!
Take care! = Itterasshai!
Let’s meet again! = Mata Aimashou!
Japan’s country code is +81. Data speeds of 3G and faster are the norm across Niseko. Most accommodation include broadband Internet and free WiFi is common in cafes and restaurants.
Niseko is on Japan Standard Time, which is nine hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) / Universal Time.
Travel insurance is absolutely essential for every traveller. A typical travel insurance policy will have coverage for a traveller’s main concerns, including trip cancellations, medical emergencies, travel delays, and lost luggage. Most policies are built to be comprehensive to protect travellers from a variety of events that may cause financial loss before or during their trip. Some policies specifically exclude ‘dangerous activities’ which can include skiing, renting a local motorcycle and even trekking.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at World Nomads and you can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.