Located on the northern island of Hokkaido, Niseko averages 9m of snow per year and it receives the deepest and driest powder you will experience, thanks to the Siberian storms! We travelled outside of the holidays, so the lift queues were small and we were guaranteed fresh powder tracks. We found so many good spots in resort and when the snow falls, it doesn’t stop! Many of the tourists stay on piste, and even stay inside when it is snowing, which meant more powder for us!
Niseko is really easy to get to. Pre-book your resort transfer by coach online from Sapporo airport. Just allow 1-1.5 hours after landing to collect baggage and the transfer takes around 2-3 hours. We pre-booked with Resort Liner or try White Liner depending on your flight time.
Where to stay
We stayed in The Green Leaf Hotel in Niseko Village which is a fairly luxurious hotel with ski in/ski out access. We got our ski pass from the hotel, but there are plenty of resort information centres where you can do this.
Niseko village is perfect for ski in/ski out, to fairly quite slopes and lift queues in comparison to Grand Hirafu. There are also so many, what we would call ‘accessible ‘off piste tree runs that you can lap from the closest chair lift.
Although, there isn’t much going on for food and drinks here, so if we went again we would look into staying in Hirafu, although quite a lot of the accommodation isn’t ski in/ski out…which is a must for us.
Hirafu is centrally located in the Niseko United resort so it’s a great base to explore the mountain. It’s also the busiest resort with lots of shops, restaurants and bars which means you can walk home after Apres Ski! The three other villages are a 10 minute transfer/taxi from Hirafu, just in case you end up on the other side of the resort once the lifts are closed.
Getting around Niseko United Resort is fairly easy, but much better if you’re located in Hirafu as you don’t need to travel to restaurants and bars. The best way is definitely by taxi!
There is a free shuttle bus between resorts, but if you don’t check the time, you can end up waiting around for a while, and they didn’t come that often. Also the bus stop locations were not obvious. There is also a public bus where you take a ticket at the start of your journey and pay when you get off. Again, the reliability isn’t like clockwork as you would have expected.
Taxis aren’t overly expensive, especially if you are in a group, but beware, they stop around 1am so don’t get stuck in the wrong resort after a few drinks.
Where to Ski
You have four resorts within Niseko United Resort so make sure you try them all. You can ski between all four, and if you end up in the wrong resort, jump on a bus or in a taxi to get back. But beware, the distance by road is longer than you think – about 10 minutes solid driving between each.
Like Canada and the US, the resort boundary is around the resort, not either side of the piste so there is a massive amount of in-bound off piste to explore. Since the resort is fairly mellow in terms of steepness and no major cliff edges, exploring the in bound trees is relatively safe. (Always make sure you check out a run/take it slow before to ensure it is safe to ride at speed, and of course never go on your own!)
The infamous gates in Niseko open around 9.30am if they are safe to ski. They give you access to side country and backcountry skiing. They are technically out of resort and you are therefore responsible for your own safety so make sure you know where they lead to, never go on your own, and you should really have avi gear. There are 9 gates located on the edge of the resort which take you further to the side, or behind resort, but bring you back to the mountain as long as you don’t take a wrong turn.
See our Niseko Top 10 Adventures here.
Our Best Ski Spots
- One of our favourite areas was the natural back bowl in Niseko Village. Take the Mori-No Chair, or you can start from the top of the mountain and just where the green Enchantment run starts, drop into the bowl. Don’t also forgot to explore the trees either side. You can lap this run from the Green Leaf Hotel all week without getting bored.
- Hike up from gate 3/4 into the back bowl. Best run of our lives…so far…!
- Gates 1 and 8 are great side country and bring you back to Annupuri as gate 3/4.
- Gate 5 takes you far right through an almost infinite amount of trees where you’ll hopefully find some pillows to drop, but don’t drop too low and remember to cut back into the resort.
- From the Lookout Cafe in Niseko Village, take a small hike towards Gate 11 and drop down to the black runs following it all the way down alongside the Avalanche Control Area.
First Tracks is a must, and it’s heaven if there has been a massive dump the night before. It’s an early start but definitely worth it. We booked with Hanazono Harmony Resorts and it was the best powder day ever! An hour of fresh tracks, followed by a hike and massive powder run down the back bowl (gate 3/4).
We also arranged a day trip to Kiroro, which is a smaller resort but steep and deep! We had booked another Niesko backcountry tour, but due to the weather, Niseko Xtreme Tours suggested a trip to Kiroro and I’m so glad we did this instead as it’s always great to try another resort.
The only real nightlife we found was in Hirafu. It wasn’t anything compared to European standards, more of a chilled vibe so you can get up for the powder the next day.
Still there was plenty of places to try such as the infamous ‘Fridge’ bar, Wild Bills, Blo Blo etc. Try to also check out an authentic Japanese Izakaya for a quiet beer.
If you’re not staying in Hirafu, make sure you get home before the taxi’s stop around 1am.
The food on offer in Niseko is varied with local and international cuisine on offer. With the resort’s popularity growing, more places have sprung up since we visited. In 2015, we loved:
- Kabuki, Grant Hirafu
- Karabina, Grand Hirafu
- Two Sticks, Niseko Village
See Vegan Food in Japan here.
The shopping compared to North America is not so plentiful, but since we visited, a massive Burton shop has opened and I’m sure many others are planned. It’s more expensive buying ski equipment in Japan so get your new board or jacket back home where there’s also more variety.
There is no language barrier in resort. It’s very popular with Australians so there are plenty of English speaking seasonnaires at the hotels, restaurants and other facilites.
Once you’ve paid for the flights to get to Niseko, the cost of lift passes, food and drinks is no different to any other resort in North America or Europe so get packing.