Niseko is an Internationally recognized ski resort located in Hokkaido that is famous for the dry powder snow that falls here each winter. Mt. Niseko Annupuri (1308m) has 4 resorts that are in a collective called ‘Niseko United’. The collaboration between these resorts means that you can easily access all 4 resorts in one day with one all mountain lift pass. With around 60 courses and 30 chairlifts it can be a little overwhelming to choose which resort to start with, but hopefully, this overview should give you an idea.
Grand Hirafu Ski Resort has the largest town at its base, so it is the resort where most people will start their day. A free shuttle runs around the Hirafu area which makes it easy for guests to get up to the chairlifts without having to walk too far.
Hirafu has lots to offer to skiers of all abilities and has lots of variety in terrain including plenty of groomed runs, open steep alpine, and a terrain park. Beginners will enjoy the areas near the Holiday #1 Chair and the Family Ace Pair as there is a nice gentle slope that is not so long that it will overwhelm them. The Green run is a nice gentle but long run to ski, especially during night skiing hours and it’s great for beginners that are ready to tackle a steeper run.
Hirafu also has plenty of tree runs for the more advanced skiers, many of which are accessible for night skiing as most of the terrain from the top of the Hirafu Gondola and Ace Quad #2 are lit until 8.30 pm. Night skiing is the perfect time to get some turns in or do some speed laps with fewer crowds and often better visibility.
Many of the gates leading to the peak and other backcountry areas can also be accessed from the top of Hirafu, opening up even more terrain for expert skiers. It can get pretty busy at Hirafu, especially first thing in the morning so it is often better to head to an adjoining resort where the lines could be shorter. My favourite run is Miharashi as it offers a variety of trees from wide to tight as well as cleared open areas and even when the higher lifts are closed, you can still access it as long as the Gondola is open.
Hanazono Ski Resort is probably the smallest of the four resorts with just 3 chairlifts. 2 of these chairlifts have bubbles to protect you from the weather, so they can be a good option on a bad weather day. Hanazono has some great tree runs both closer to the top of the mountain on either side of Yotei Sunset, and on the lower section of the mountain in Strawberry fields.
There are also Beginner and Intermediate options for less experienced skiers, and Hanazono has a beginner area of magic carpets that you can access for free so it is a good place to learn. For riders who like parkour skiing, Hanazono usually offers the most terrain features of the four resorts and you can usually find rails and kickers near the bottom of the mountain. Hanazono is usually less crowded than Grand Hirafu as it doesn’t have many accommodation options nearby it’s base, but it does offer a free shuttle from Hirafu, so access is easy.
Niseko Village Ski Resort offers a wide variety of runs for all levels of ability. Beginners can practice their skills on the lower Community and Banzai chairs that give access to some gentle green runs. These two chairlifts are also open for night skiing, giving plenty of time for beginners to practice. The Niseko Gondola takes guests almost to the top of the mountain giving access to long runs for all abilities from beginners to expert.
If conditions are good, expert skiers can head into the Avalanche Control Area for some steep turns down a massive gully that has just become more accessible this year. Niseko Village has two ski-in-ski-out hotels, the Hilton and the Green Leaf Hotel, at its base. However, there are not many other accommodation options, so it can be a little less crowded on a powder day.
Niseko Annupuri Ski Resort offers a variety of terrain that will suit all abilities. Most runs in Annupuri are groomed, so it’s a good starting point for beginner and intermediate skiers. For expert skiers, there are some tree runs as well as a couple of steeper runs, but most experts will be more interested in heading out the gates into the backcountry if they are open.
Night skiing is also offered at Annupuri on the lower chairlifts. Annupuri has a Gondola to take you nearly up to the top but it is pretty old and small, so it feels a bit cramped with only 4 people with skis and boards inside. Annupuri has a lot of lodges near its base so it is a convenient option for many guests in Niseko, but is harder to access from other areas if the top lift is not open.
The great thing about Niseko United is that you don’t have to choose just one resort to ski at, you can ski at all four easily in just one day. Going between resorts is easy for expert abilities if the top lifts are open, but even with some lift closures, you can still go between some of the resorts. Niseko United also offers a free shuttle service between resorts, provided you have a lift pass which means you can access other resorts with one easy bus without having to go to the top of the mountain.
For further information, see the Niseko United Website