Niseko, situated on the northern island of Hokkaido, is Japan’s biggest and most famous ski resort. The neck-deep powder, the totally unique culture, and the chance to swap fondue for katsu curry; it’s whispering out to you from the far east even now, giving you a look so seductive you’re unable to think about anything else. This place is real bucket list stuff. Here’s what you need to know.
Made up of four interlinked ski resorts – Grand Hirafu, Hanazano, Niseko Village and An’nupuri – Niseko, and the other ski resorts on the island, are famous around the world for its consistent powder throughout the winter season. So good is the snow here that even Hokkaido’s “bad” winters in the snowfall stakes would be considered extremely decent in the majority of its European counterparts.
“The excellent snow on Hokkaido is a result of the island’s close proximity to Siberia”
The excellent snow on Hokkaido is a result of the island’s close proximity to Siberia. Cold temperatures, caused by that particularly Russian weather front, mean that even the comparatively low down places you’ll find here are rewarded with some seriously dreamy snow conditions.
The Niseko ski area is located on Mount Niseko Annupuri, a mountain which rises to just 1,308 metres. The ski season is long here, running from late November to early May, and the area gets an annual average snowfall of over 15 metres.
Admit it. You want to go. You want to go so much that you’re actually leaning forward while reading this. “Take me there,” you’ve just said to yourself, “Please. God. Take me there.”
How To Get There
The nearest airport to Niseko United, as the four connected ski resorts of Niseko are collectively known, is New Chitose Airport. Roughly an hour drive south of Sapporo, New Chitose Airport is about a two hour drive from Niseko. If you are planning on hiring a car in Japan, remember to apply for an International Driving Permit from the Post Office beforehand. You won’t get far without one. They cost £5.50.
Finnair have recently launched flights to Sapporo, via Helsinki, from London Heathrow and Manchester. This new route cuts at least two hours of travel time. Previously, those wishing to visit Hokkaido would have had to fly into Tokyo and then get an hour and a half flight to Sapporo from there. The Finnair flight from London, via Helsinki, takes around 13 hours compared to a much less fun, much more tiring, 15 hours if you pick another flying option.
The twice-weekly Finnair flight from Helsinki departs on Thursdays and Sundays, and arrive straight into Sapporo at 9am on Fridays and Mondays. Return fares with Finnair from London Heathrow to Sapporo, via Helsinki, start from £760 in economy class and £2,815 in Business Class.
“This new route cuts at least two hours of travel time”
If you’re looking to explore this beautiful, epic, country by train you’ll be pleased to know that you can now get a bullet train to Hokkaido from the main Japanese island of Honshu. In March 2016, the Hokkaido Shinkansen route was opened allowing travellers to get from Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto in about four hours.
There are plans to join the bullet train up with Kutchan and Sapporo but this project won’t be completed until 2030. From Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, it’s about another three to four hours via normal train (non-bullet) to Kutchan Station – which is the closest one to Niseko. A one-way train ticket, going this way, is the equivalent of about £165.
If you’re in Japan for a while and want to really get around, consider getting yourself a JR Pass. You’ll pay a one-off fee and get unlimited train travel across Japan for a select period of time. It costs £207 for a seven day pass and £331 for a 14 day pass. It’ll definitely save you money if you’re looking to move about a lot.