Niseko is an increasingly popular ski town on Japan’s northern Hokkaido island, renown for some of the world’s best and lightest powder snow. Courtesy of constant storm cycles from Siberia, Niseko is in the elite club for snowfall levels with an average of more than 15 meters every year which ranked it No. 2 snowiest resort in the world.
Mount Niseko Annupuri is the heart of Niseko with four independently owned but interconnected ski resorts skiable with one lift tickets (i.e. Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village and An’nupuri), varied with stunning tree runs and huge powder fields.
Best time to visit Niseko is during winter months from mid-December to mid-March for the perfect winter holiday. Else in summer months, outdoor activities such as golf, rafting, cycling, hiking, and climbing are some of the favorite activities to explore the area.
Getting In – Getting to Niseko takes a bit of planning as the nearest airport is Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport, which most visitors were connecting through Tokyo as the only handful of direct international flights available from neighboring Asian countries. From Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport or Sapporo city center, you can take numerous limousine bus services to the ski resorts with a journey time of 2.30 – 3.00 hours depending on weather and road conditions. For the adventurous ones, you could try taking the train, which requires a transfer at Otaru (during the non-winter season), or limited daily direct train from Sapporo city during winter months between December and March.
Getting Around – Once in Niseko, getting around is not too difficult due to the reliable fleet of shuttle buses even deep into the winter months. Taxis are available, but advance booking is advisable.
Communication – Communication should not be a problem as many local shops and restaurants hire English speaking staffs (a lot of Australians and New Zealanders on summer breaks filled in for temp jobs) during the winter peak season. Basic Japanese could be handy but not a necessity.
Booking in Advance – Every year, December to March is the peak season and most good/value for money accommodations, and restaurants are fully booked out 3-4 months in advance. If you are looking for good deals and discounts for accommodations or hoping to dine at the highly rated restaurants, make sure you make all the necessary reservations months in advance. Even ski schools offer early bird discounts if you book before July for the coming winter season.
Staying Connected – Even though Japan’s public WIFI is easily available, staying connected with your smartphone is also made simple by ordering the B-Mobile Visitor SIM Card online and collected it from the airport or your local hotel. Price from ¥3,480 (≈USD31) for 5GB data valid for 21 days.
Dress to the Weather – Winter is the best time to visit Niseko, and it snows most days. Hence proper warm clothing and nonslippery snow boots are essential to survive the snowy weather. Temperatures range between – 2°C and – 11°C in the village and -15°C and -25°C at the peak during mid-December to February.
Currency – Currency used is Japanese Yen (¥). Major credit cards such as Visa and Master Cards are acceptable in most places, but cash is required for smaller purchases.
EXTRA TIP: If you’d like to travel by train around Japan then you should get a Japan Rail Pass! Japan Rail Pass is a multi-use discounted ticket, valid for travels on all JR national trains in Japan, including Shinkansen bullet trains and Narita Express. You can select 7, 14 or 21 consecutive validity days.
Use the search box below to find the best day trips in Niseko, Japan
Ski Lessons – English speaking ski lessons are easily available from many ski schools such as Niseko Base Snowsports or GoSnow (Hirafu area), and Niseko Village Snow School (Niseko Village area). Despite the top lift only about 4,000 feet high, Niseko has over 47km of groomed slopes and 38 lifts (including three express gondolas and more new ones coming). Why not take this opportunity to improve your skiing/snowboarding skills with the qualified instructors?
Night Skiing – Niseko is one of the world’s largest ski resorts that offer up to 4 hours of night ski with last lifts go up at 8:30 pm each night. Enormous stadium-style lights brighten the mid to lower half of the Mount Niseko Annupuri, with the lesser crowd on the slopes making it perfect to practice your skiing/snowboarding skills.
Hot Springs (known as Onsen in Japan) – After a great day on the slopes, there is nothing better than relaxing in a Japanese Hot Springs/Onsen. Hot Springs water is believed to have natural healing powers derived from the mineral content. So long you could get over the part of being totally naked in front of same gender strangers, the Japanese onsen is a must try!
Mount Yotei – This mountain is sometimes called Ezo Fuji due to it’s strong resemblance to Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji, with Ezo being the former name for the island of Hokkaido. Hire a guide for the extreme backcountry experience with a 5 hours hike to the crater of this 1,898m inactive volcano. For the novice or faint hearted, you could always admire the beauty of Mount Yotei directly opposite Hirafu at Niseko.
Where to Eat (Best Restaurant/s)
Ezo Seafoods Oyster Bar – Ezo Seafoods Oyster Bar is known to be the best seafood place in Niseko for many years since 2009. The owner, James drives 5 hours to and from Niseko almost every day to the Sapporo Wholesale markets and coastal towns to ensure customers can enjoy the freshest possible seafood. Table reservations always fully booked months ahead hence early booking is strongly advisable. Top picks from their menu are the fresh king crab legs and oysters, as well as the fried whitebait and mixed seafood stew with white wine sauce.
A-Bu-Cha 2 ( 阿武茶弐 ) – One of the best izakaya styled (a type of informal Japanese gastropub) restaurants in Hirafu. Top picks are their signature hot pot, Hokkaido Seafood Sukiyaki, and other side dishes including grilled squid, sashimi, corn, and edamame. The Seafood Hot Pot was very tasty with fresh Hokkaido crab, prawns and mussels cooked with local vegetables. It was the perfect dish for a snowy winter night.
Bar Gyu+ (a.k.a. The Fridge Door Bar)- Known to be one of the best bars in Niseko, the entrance to the bar was the most interesting part whereby it was made out of a less than 5 feet tall fridge door. Hence everyone had to bend to get into the bar. After entering, the full bar over the large window panes welcomes you with its large selections of drinks and Japanese whiskey. Top picks including the Nikka Whisky tasting set with three different whiskey for ¥3,800 and Hibiki 17 years for ¥2,400 (altogether about US$55) since Japanese whiskeys are hot in demand all over the world right now.
Niseko Ramen Kazahana – One of the cheapest dining options around, Niseko Ramen Kazahana (ニセコにあるらーめん屋) is one of the more famous ramen joints in Niseko. It is a simple no fuss ramen restaurant, with English menu for easy ordering. The waiters here also speak good English hence communications are no problems. The signature ramen here is the Niseko Ramen a.k.a. The Potato Ramen for (≈USD9), which has a layer of tasty potato foam over the miso ramen underneath it. Miso Ramen (¥850 or ≈USD7.50) is another favorite, which is a soybean paste based broth with hearty flavor.
Where to Stay
The Lodge Moiwa 834 – modern Japanese capsule styled lodging perfect for the budget seeker and solo traveler. Each air-conditioned capsule room comes with a luggage storage space, laptop counter, hangers with a hanging rack and a power socket. Bathrooms and toilets are shared, while basic toiletries and towels are included. Convenient facilities such as coin launderette and free WiFi are also provided. A heavy-duty wet locker for bulky ski equipment is located at the entrance, and a spacious storage is available under the bed. A locker key to access both storage areas will be issued to guest during check in.
The Green Leaf Niseko Village – This 200-room destination hotel offers ski-in-ski-out access during winter and a great base for outdoor enthusiasts and gourmet travelers alike during summer. It is located in Niseko Village, an exclusive part of the Mount Niseko Annupuri slopes with only two other hotels/accommodations within the village. This hotel is best known for its amazing outdoor hot springs/onsen which often voted as the best in Niseko. Though it is more secluded than the happening Hirafu area, it is also less crowded and perfect for couples and family getaway. Even so, reliable and complimentary shuttle buses make it easier for guests to commute to Hirafu (15 minutes away) for more dining or shopping options should you need it.
Ki Niseko – Nestled at the foot of Grand Hirafu Resort, this boutique ski-in-ski-out hotel that combines modern alpine charm with Japanese sophistication was nominated as the Top 5 World’s Best New Ski Hotel in 2015, and it is a work of art by the renowned Hokkaido architect – Koichi Ishiguro. It has natural indoor and outdoor onsens, and within minutes walk to Hirafu Gondola and Holiday Pair lifts with 1st ever Ski Valet service in Niseko, as well as complimentary shuttle services around Hirafu. The 1 or 2 rooms apartments on each level will have stunning views of Mount Yotei or Resort Mountain. The rooms’ amenities include complimentary WiFi, satellite TV with English language channels, humidifiers and air conditioning and a state-of-the-art entertainment system.
Day 1: Arrive at the Airport
Pick-up B-mobile SIM Card from airport post office and then take White Liner Niseko Ski Bus from New Chitose Airport to Niseko. Drop luggage and check into the hotel. Lunch at Niseko Ramen Kazahana. Ski rental and fitting at Niseko Base Snowsports followed by night skiing at Hirafu. The 1st day ends with dinner at A-Bu-Cha 2.
Day 2: Full Day Skiing at Hirafu
Whole day skiing group lesson with Niseko Base Snowsports (10.30am-3.30pm) then relaxing at hotel’s Hot Springs/Onsen. Dinner at Steak Rosso Rosso for some good Hokkaido steak then followed by drinks at Gyu + Bar (a.k.a. the Fridge Door Bar).
Day 3: Exploring Niseko
Walk around the town and chill out at the Hot Springs/Onsen. Guided snowshoe tour to enjoy the serene and still winter wonderland. Dinner at Ezo Seafoods Oyster Bar for some Hokkaido seafood.
Day 4: Full Day Skiing at Niseko Village
Whole day skiing group lesson with Niseko Village Snow School (10.00am-3.30pm). 1-hour body massage to sooth the body, followed by dinner at Yang Shu Ten (traditional Japanese cuisine), Niseko Village.
Checkout and get the flight back home or to your next destination, or head to Sapporo city for another dose of Japan holiday experience (think Hokkaido ramen, Genghis Khan BBQ mutton, Sapporo Snow Festival and Sapporo beer)!
About the Writer
Allison Wong – Corporate banker by career, globe trekker & fashionista at heart from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I’m a girl who loves travel, fashion, food and most of all, good sides of life. I just love to share my finds on all the good things in my life through pictures and words through my blog, Sassy Urbanite’s Diary.
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