Niseko: A Guide to the Hokkaido Resort

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  • Niseko, located on the western coast of the island of Hokkaido, is widely known for having one of Japan’s biggest and most consistent snowfalls, averaging some 15 meters per year. In fact, it may be the snowiest place in the world, which makes it a pretty popular destination for Australians and the international ski market.

    by cinnamonellie

    More details about Niseko


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    Niseko United is actually comprised of four somewhat distinct yet interlinked ‘resorts’, or rather faces that skirt Mt Annupuri and converge just shy of the 1,308 m peak. The four resorts are Niseko Mt Resort Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village and Annupuri.

    The Hirafu area is the largest and springs from the main township of Hirafu village beneath, Hanazono is the home of the Niseko International Snowsports School and Niseko’s main terrain park area.


    Hanazono has all bases covered with powder snow, piste and even parks (generally hard to find in Japan). Hanazono also has one of the better trails for beginners out of Niseko United, and the tree runs of ‘Strawberry’ and ‘Blueberry Fields’ are renowned – and therefore it’s best to hit them early. Hanazono also offers a nice rendezvous and lunchtime meeting point in the HANAZONO 308 Centre.

    Opening Date: 1 December 2018 – 31 March 2019 (8:30-15:30)

    Grand Hirafu

    The largest of the four resorts, Niseko’s Grand Hirafu is perhaps the most popular place to start your day aided by the fact most accommodations in the area are in Hirafu village, situated at the foot of the resort. Hirafu’s high-speed gondola will get you up to the peak the fastest, or you can hop on the affectionately dubbed ‘pizza box’ or ‘meat hook’ single chair further up the mountain for a more scenic, and somewhat terrifying commute.

    Niseko Village

    Hirafu and Niseko Village are separated by a large avalanche control zone, although they do join each other some two-thirds of the way up the hill. Alternatively, it takes some 5-10 minutes to drive between the two. At the foot of Niseko Village lies the Hilton resort and several other large self-contained hotels.

    Opening Date: 1st of December 2018 – 7th of April 2019 (8:30-16:30-20:00)



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    Out of the four resorts, Annupuri can be somewhat overlooked as its groomed trails are predominantly designed for beginners and intermediate skiers. However, the resort offers some of the best gate accessed side country in Niseko United as evidenced in the trail map below.

    Opening Date: 23rd of November 2018 – 6th of May 2019 (8:30-16:00-20:30)

    Niseko Snow Fall


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    Niseko receives an average of around 15 m of snow per year.
    The 2017-18 season saw a cumulative total of 17.6 m settle at the top and 15.2 m at the base of Hirafu, across 165 days. This equates to a daily average of a little over 10 cm a day!

    Best time to visit


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    Clearly, the best time to visit is during December, January, and February – appropriately named the ‘powder season’. Last year, December was particularly fruitful for skiers and boarders with a fraction of the January crowds and the same quality powder snow.

    For example, on December 18-19, 50 cm fell on top of the previous days 26 cm. February also saw a lot of snow, and for 10 straight days in the middle of the month it snowed double digits every day.

    Where to eat


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    Niseko has around 17 on-hill restaurants, most of which are based at the bottom of the lifts. One of the best restaurants is Boyo-So above the Holiday Pair lift #1, which is a traditional izakaya style restaurant owned and run by a local Japanese family. Boyo-So opens at 11:30 and fills up quikcly, but it’s certainly worth waiting for a seat. Its food also goes for about half the price of most of the other on-hill restaurants.

    BOYO-SO CAFÉ Website


    Off Mountain Food

    Niseko has more bars and restaurants than any other Japanese resort, and so many varieties that they will never be found wanting. From Canadian burgers to huge ramen and 5-star dining, exploring some of Niseko’s best restaurants should be a major part of your trip. For a comprehensive list of all dining options see here.


    Sapporo Snow Festival 1/31-2/12


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    One of the largest winter festivals in the world, The Sapporo Snow Festival attracts approximately 2 million people every year from Japan and abroad. Odori Park which runs through the heart of Sapporo for 12 city blocks, serves as the main venue during the festival, hosting massive snow sculptures (some 45 feet in height!), stages built of ice and snow, half pipes for boarders and skiers, food, booze, and so much more.

    The incredible snow sculptures are lit daily until 10 P.M., and there is live music at various stages throughout the day. Other areas throughout downtown set up instillation and attractions including ice sculptures, snow tubing hills, and street food.

    Sapporo Snow Festival Website

    Resort Access:
    -Approximately 3 hours by bus from Niseko

    Otaru Snow Light Path Festival 2/8-2/17


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    90 minutes from Sapporo by JR train, this snow festival differs from Sapporo’s in size and scale, focusing instead on creating the most charming and intimate atmosphere possible. The main light display takes place on the Otaru Canal where lights and candles are suspended over the water and placed within ice and snow sculptures on both banks of the canal.

    The whole town embraces the festival and locals build their own light displays, sculptures, and snow mazes for visitors to enjoy. Wander around town with a cup of warm wine or sake and a camera, and take in the breathtaking beauty of a town united in snowy celebration. If possible, plan your trip so you can visit both Sapporo and Otaru.


    Resort Access:
    – Approximately 2 hours by bus from Niseko



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    How do I get there?

    Getting to Niseko will require two flights. The first to either Narita International Airport or Haneda International Airport (both serving Tokyo), and then one to New Chitose Airport (Sapporo).


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    To get to Niseko from New Chitose Airport takes about 3 hours and your options are bus transfer, private transfer, the train or a hire car.

    Hokkaido Resort Liner (2.5-3.5 hours and around 3,800 yen)

    This is probably the best and cheapest option. You’ll need to book the bus at least 9 days before you catch it. This bus can drop you off at various stops in Hirafu, Annupuri and Niseko Village. From there, many hotels offer free pickup services, or you may be able to walk or catch a taxi to your accommodation.

    Private transfer (2.5 hours and around 30,000 yen)

    If you have the budget, then you can opt for the convenience of a private transfer that allows you to choose what time you want to be picked up, and are then taken directly to your accommodation. There are a number of companies that offer this service, including Sky Station and MID Traffic.

    Train (2.5-3 hours and around 2,630-2,950 yen)

    While Japanese trains are fast and cheap, they’re not always convenient for those with lots of luggage. Catching a train to Niseko will require at least 2 different trains. First, you catch a rapid train from the airport to Sapporo (35 minutes). Then a train that briefly stops in Otaru (30-50 minutes) before continuing on to Kutchan or Niseko Station (1-1.5 hours).

    Kutchan Station is best for those staying in Hirafu or Hanazono, while Niseko Station is better for those staying in Niseko Village or Annupuri. It’s best to look up your train options on HyperDia.

    Car Rental

    If you have a family or group and want to explore the area around Niseko, then renting a car might be your best option. This isn’t as hard as it sounds because you drive on the left side of the road in Japan, many road signs are in English and you can get a GPS that gives directions in English. However, remember that you will likely be driving in snowy conditions, and that an international driver’s license is required.

    For more information on skiing in Japan, including weather forecasts, resort information, and more please visit Mountain Watch Website

    Would you like to stay in Niseko? Check out all the hotels in the area here!

    Related articles:
    Ladies, Relax and Enjoy an Amazing Mud Bath and More in Niseko!
    5 Things Not to Miss Out On During a Visit to Niseko
    Going for Snow Sports In Japan? Look no Further Than Niseko United!