During the winter season, Hokkaido is one of the best places to visit in Japan. World renowned for the powder snow especially in Niseko, millions of tourists visit the ski towns of Kutchan, Hirafu and Niseko in its snowy white prime. All in the vicinity of each other, these towns are on different sides of Mount Yotei, which is the main body on which the ski resorts lie.
As Kutchan is a distance from the ski resorts, it is usually cheaper due to the inconvenience unless you have a car. That said, accommodation in Niseko and Hirafu Village could get a little tricky during peak season. Options range from bunk beds in dormitories for the light travelers or smaller groups who are less fussy, to boutique hotels or cottages for bigger groups. Unsurprisingly, the closer it is to the town center or ski resort, the more expensive it is. Dormitory style bed spaces within walking distance of a ski resort usually go for 5000 a night, with a common living room area and kitchen. Making meals at the house and eating in could help cut down on additional costs for meals.
On our recent trip to Niseko, we lucked out on Shirokuma cottage which was a little ways from JR Niseko station. Shirokuma means white bear or polar bear in Japanese. It was a quaint lone A-line cabin cottage run by a pleasant Japanese couple who lived in the main house next door, which was also a café that they ran during the day. We reached the cottage at night, and were greeted warmly by the hosts (who were presumably waiting since the afternoon) and were brought around the grounds.
The cabin was spacious and had two floors, the bottom had a kitchen and sitting area around a hearth, and the top was the sleeping area where the futons were. The highlight was definitely the wood stove that was also the heating system. Making a fire every night, sitting around it roasting marshmallows and making s’mores, cabin life is sweet. We later found out that the cabin was built by our hosts and their friends from scratch!
They were the sweetest hosts who took care of every single of our needs, including driving us from the house to the ski resorts and back every morning and evening as we did not have our rental car until the last day of our stay at the cabin. They were definitely not obliged to do so but their kind hospitality blew us away! The Grand Hirafu and Annupuri resorts were about 10 minutes away by car, and in such winter conditions, it was certainly not conducive to walking. After a long day’s worth of runs on the slopes, we were looking forward to a cozy time at the outdoor onsen near the station. Because the cabin has no showers, the hosts gave us free tickets to the nearby hot spring bath for each night of our stay. Just what our aching bodies need!
Despite the main objective of coming to Niseko being to ski and snowboard, it would have been totally perfect just spending time in the cabin by the fire. Surrounded by wood and snow and nature, it couldn’t get better than that. The cabin fits about 3 (or more) people, and costs a little more than 5000 per person per night. We saved a lot on food and transport during our stay in Niseko, and got to know the mountains a little better from our kind hosts. As there is only one cabin available, try to make reservations well beforehand. If not, stop by the Shirokuma Café for a cuppa in the suburbs, which is green and beautiful during summer!
For more information, check here.