Your Complete Guide To Niseko This Season
Niseko is a global powder powerhouse known for some of the driest, lightest snow in the world – with 15m snowfall in an “average” season, and up to 19m in a good season! If you’re keen to experience this powder mecca for yourself, we’ve put together your complete guide to Niseko for the 2023/24 winter season.
It’s the frequency in which the snow falls at Niseko that sets it a cut above other reigning international resorts and makes it a popular destination for every kind of skier or rider. With a wide variety of terrain across four interconnected resorts, easily accessible back and side country and the best dining in Japan, there’s a reason people love Niseko! Ready to find out more? Keep reading our guide to Niseko below.
What’s New This Season?
- Accommodation providers, Yama Shizen, Youtei Tracks and Kisetsukan have all added free transfers to the mountain
- Self-contained apartment, Konkurito is now offering free van usage throughout your stay
Guide to Niseko’s Slopes
With so much terrain on offer, Niseko has perfect runs for everyone, whether you’re new to the snow or a total powder lover. However, it definitely pays to know where to go as each of the four interconnected areas have their own specialities. Use this guide to pick the best places for you within the An’nupuri, Niseko Village, Hirafu and Hanazono ski areas.
Families & Beginners
Niseko is a great family ski destination and has plenty of beginner slopes for those wanting to learn how to ski or snowboard. The magic carpet at Hanazono is great for first-timers, but once you’ve got the hang of the basics you’ll want to move on. An’nupuri and Niseko Village offer plenty of wide-groomed runs for those wanting to develop their skills. An’nupuri has the aptly named Family, Junior and Paradise green runs. While, Niseko Village has a great variety of shorter beginner runs from the Banzai chair, Community Chair and Village Express Chair. Hirafu also has some long, scenic green runs to explore.
Experienced Skiers & Riders
If you’re a competent skier or rider and love deep powder you’ll want to head to the Hirafu area. On the left side of the Niseko Gondola head to the the Minuno No Sawa (the avalanche control zone), for a variety of trees and natural features. Just to the left of this run is Misoshiru, a black run that ranked at #68 on CNN’s ‘100 Best Ski Runs in the World’. Or head to the right side of the gondola to experience the local’s favourite – the un-groomed Miharashi run. The Hanazono area is also well known for its great tree skiing, top notch snow quality and sidecountry access.
Insider’s tip: Niseko is known as the best place to night ski in Japan. Unlike most resorts that only light up one or two runs, Niseko has four major lifts in operation with a huge set of high-powered flood lights. This means you have access to runs from the green Holiday to the black Miharashi.
Outside of its huge trail map, Niseko is full of back and side-country gems, with 11 unique gates that allow access to these prime spots. Local’s favourites are the An‘nupuri and Hanazono gates, including wide open bowls from gates one and two and fantastic tree stashes from gate 11. It’s important to respect the rules in regards to these gates and be aware that leaving them means leaving the ski resort. If you’re after the park, Hanazono is also the main place to get your jump and jib on. It’s complete with three parks, a half-pipe (rare in Japanese resorts) and a bag jump to practise the really tricky stuff. There is also a smaller park down the bottom near the Hirafu Mountain Centre.
Insider’s tip: The best way to explore backcountry spots is to do it under the wing of an expert guide. There are plenty of highly-qualified guides in resort. Otherwise, we’d strongly recommend that you educate yourself in proper backcountry safety.
Getting to Niseko
There are three ways to get to Niseko from Sapporo:
Direct Coach Transfer
Once you arrive in Sapporo the best way to get to Niseko is a pre-booked direct coach transfer. This will take around 2.5 hours from either New Chitose Airport or Sapporo City. Depending on where you’re staying the coach will drop you off at your accommodation or the Hirafu Welcome Centre (where you’re accommodation will pick you up). P.S. We can pre-book this for you!
If your flights don’t quite line up, or you want a private shuttle, this can also be arranged. Your driver will meet you in the airport arrivals and take you directly to your accommodation. This option is generally more expensive, although it can work well if you’re travelling with a large group or family.
Another option you have is a local train to Otaru Station and then another train to Niseko Station. With limited services per day and the hassle of changing trains, we would recommend the more direct options. If you’re coming from Tokyo or somewhere else in Honshu, you can take the scenic route on the famous Shinkansen (bullet train). You’ll then need to take a local train to Niseko Station.
Lessons & Rental Equipment
There are a couple of options when it comes to ski lessons and one option when it comes to rentals in Niseko:
- Go Snow is the official international snow sports school of Grand Hirafu Resort and is located at the Hirafu Gondola. This conveniently provides easy access to the mountain and beginners’ magic carpet area. Book a group or private lesson with the friendly, English-speaking instructors to level up your ski or snowboarding game.
- Rhythm Snow Sports is your one-stop rental shop in Niseko. With a fleet of over 7,000 skis and snowboards from a range of iconic brands, you can’t go wrong. They also offer private Niseko lessons, guiding, kids programs, and backcountry touring through Rhythm Rides, so you can elevate your adventure!
Guide to Niseko’s On & Off Snow Adventures
Are you keen to experience the best powder in Niseko? Or would you like to add a touch of Japanese culture and an ‘off-snow’ experience to your ski holiday? You’re in luck. For option one, continue to get knees-deep in powder with a guided backcountry tour or a day trip to a neighbouring resort. For option two, how about experiencing an annual snow festival that has been around since the ’50s? Keep reading to find out more.
If you’re advanced on the slopes and keen to head away from the lifts, take a backcountry tour and be rewarded with some of the best snow conditions of your life. There are several highly qualified, knowledgeable operators in Niseko who will take you on some epic runs whilst keeping you safe. Ride unique terrain in some of the driest and deepest snow on earth!
Day Trip to Rusutsu
Located just 40 minutes from Niseko, Rusutsu boasts the same epic snow without the crowds. With a variety of terrain for all abilities, insane powder and perfectly gladed tree runs it’s the perfect day trip from Niseko. To get to Rusutsu you take the shuttle bus from the Hirafu Welcome Centre – you can also purchase a transport and lift pass package to make your life easier.
Sapporo Snow Festival
The annual Sapporo Snow Festival is returning to Niseko from February 4-11, 2024 bringing with it a magical celebration of snow and ice! Prepare to see incredible ice sculptures across three main sites: Odori Park, Tsudome, and Susukino.
Guide to Niseko’s Accommodation
With plenty of hotels, self-contained apartments, chalets, and lodges, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation in Niseko. Most people stay in Hirafu, which is broken down into two boroughs – Lower and Upper Hirafu. The accommodation generally ranges from mid to high-end, however, there are some great value options available too.
For true ski-in ski-out luxury accommodation, Skye Niseko is a stunning hotel that will to elevate your stay on the slopes from one of the best locations in Upper Hirafu. The deluxe, Green Leaf Hotel is another great option for more affordable luxury. For those wanting self-contained, the Horizen Townhouses offer a range of great value options in a convenient location in Lower Hirafu Village. Or in Upper Hirafu, the Youtei Tracks apartments offer a fantastic concierge service and free transfers to the mountain. If you’re watching the wallet this time round, M Lodge or North Point Lodge are both comfortable, yet affordable options.
Guide to Niseko’s Restaurants & Après
When it comes to food, Niseko boasts the largest and best range of hospitality offerings out of all of Japan’s resorts. So, if you like to dine out for breakfast, lunch, dinner and après in between, you’re in the right place. Keep reading for our guide to Niseko’s best restaurants and après-ski hot spots in Upper and Lower Hirafu.
If you’re after a taste of traditional Japanese cuisine, A-Bu-Cha is a must. The hot pots and sushi are local favourite and perfectly complement the cold weather. You’ll find all your Western breakfast, lunch and dinner classics at Green Farm Cafe and dining. With a focus on fresh, local and organic produce and plenty of options for all dietaries, it’s a crowd-pleaser. If fine dining is your go, Kamimura Restaurant, helmed by Michelin-starred chef, Yuichi Kamimura, offers a delicious blend of French and Japanese cuisine. Its seasonal menu showcases local produce, paired with an impressive wine list. For après, Wild Bill’s is the place to be. What starts as a relaxed après bar with good Tex/Mex turns into party central as the drinks go down.
For a laid-back Japanese meal, family-run Izakaya Kougetsu serves delicious Hokkaido delicacies like oysters, juicy dumplings, and hot pots in a warm, inviting atmosphere. As the sun sets, the excitement continues with Niseko’s vibrant après-ski scene. A good place to start is Niseko’s iconic Bar Gyu+, also known as the ‘Fridge Door Bar’. Unwind with craft cocktails or a selection from their extensive range of Japanese whiskies.