Niseko is the king of Japanese ski resorts. It boasts great snow, great facilities and off piste options for more advanced skiers and boarders.
The mountain is divided into four main areas, each with its own base area and chairlifts which converge high on the mountain. The resort is close to the coast and exposed slopes can be wind affected.
Planning your trip
Niseko could keep you entertained for a week or more due to its bountiful terrain. Rentals are excellent for Japan and there is ample choice. The official ski resort website: http://www.niseko.ne.jp/en/
The resort is accessed by three different villages. Most westerners stay in the Grand Hirafu area. This spoils the Japanese experience somewhat but there are plenty of other places in Japan where you can get your fix of proper culture.
Accomdoation consists mostly of hotels and apartments and self catering isn’t common so confirm this if it is important to you. Tripadvisor and Booking.com are good places to research and find recommended accomodation options in english. Owashi lodge is a good backpackers option located close to the lifts.
Lifts are good and there are vending machines that serve beer in the base lodges! Local competition means accommodation and dining options is relatively good. There is a small service station grocery store in the town.
Access to and from
Trains stop at nearby Kutchan station. From the station you can arrange transport to your accomodation or catch a bus to the centre of Hirafu. The bus is not particulary frequent.
The train system in Japan is excellent, although consider how much luggage you have as carrying skis can be awkard especially during rush hour. If you are pressed for time than your will probably arrive at Sapporo if you are only a longer holiday the train connections from Honshu are excellent.
Late afternoon we caught the train on round to Hirafu where we chanced upon a guy picking someone up for a ride to our backpackers (Owashi Lodge) in Niseko. Bingo – free ride to our pre-booked accommodation. The Owashi Lodge was about the cheapest accommodation in Niseko and, being the old staff quarters for the resort, was very close to the slopes.
31 Dec: Niseko
An early start and we were stoked to discover that Niseko has an excellent range of rental gear. Near new boots [that fitted] and decent skis had us ripping up the slopes in no time. Niskeo is more relaxed with its definition of in-bounds versus outta bounds, even having gates to allow and control back country access. This really made the ski field for us and we were in our element blatting through trees, over bumps, around humps and through bamboo groves – magic!
We kicked off the New Year’s celebrations with an apres-ski can of beer from the vending machine at the rental shop. A hot shower and some of the best food, sake and beer (Asahi on tap) ever set the scene for a great night. The place we dined at doubles as a bakery by day – go figure. Back at the lodge and after a few more cans of vending machine beer we became best friends with an array of fellow travellers.
After some fireworks at the lodge (sky rockets!) we headed to the slopes to watch a professional display. Highlights included an Australian bloke climbing a lift tower to moon the crowd of several thousand.
1 Jan: Niseko
Feeling slightly worse for wear we strolled the town in search of sustenance. Niseko is full of Australians (by our guess about 50%) so we didn’t struggle to find a café selling excellent coffee and a western brunch.
2 Jan: Niseko – Hakodate
Revitalised we hit the slopes for the day. The wind had strengthened and the top lifts were being closed due to the conditions. We managed to find a nice set of gulley’s outside the ski boundary and had several breathtaking runs with thick deep snow. It wasn’t powder but it was deep enough to drop some cliffs.
We jumped in the lodge shuttle with Manu, rode back to the train station and hopped on a train to Hakodate. We stayed at a Toyoko Inn near the railway station and it was the first of many. Despite being dated and having small rooms the Toyoko Inns are cheap, have 24hr reception enabling late arrival, and are located within sight of most major train stations. They also serve a free, but fairly mediocre, breakfast. For us it was the McDonalds of the Japanese accommodation world: not your first pick if you wanted to enjoy a meal but a great value and dependable fall-back option.