Travel Guides

Niseko | Adventure Destination Guide

A guide to Niseko, the number one skiing and snowboarding destination in Japan

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.”

Pictured: Mount Yotei, taken from the Niseko Annupuri ski area

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. 

Pictured: Night skiing at Hirafu, Niseko. Photo: Jack Clayton

Things To Do In Niseko

We’ve sort of discussed this already but err… Japan… skiingsnowboarding… snow… lots of snow… lots and lots of lovely snow. Bucket list destination if snow’s your thing. Snow, snow, snow; more snow, little bit more snow. All the snow. Big snow. Fresh snow. Snow. 

If you’re looking for local experts to show you the best of Niseko’s snow, book yourself in with Hanazono Powder Guides. Their tours offer an exclusive “First Tracks” service, which allows you access to the Hanazono lifts one whole hour before the public. Ride the legendary Strawberry Fields first thing, and make a memory that will stay with you until the day you die. Alternatively, hit up Blueberry Fields and the Hanazono Bowls. With their years of knowledge, the experts at HPG will find you the very best pockets of Niseko snow. You don’t need to be a pro either as the guides are able to tailor the tour to suit your ability. 

Niseko is also home to the largest night-skiing area in Japan. During the main season, you can use the Hirafu Gondola to get well and truly stuck in after dark – skiing and snowboarding on floodlit slopes and glades back down to Hirafu. Sliding around on snow in these parts is especially addictive so having that extra window of opportunity to get your fix in the evening will feel like a godsend. Time to recreate Slice ‘n’ Dice: Volume 4, maybe? The night skiing area operates until 20:30. 

Other good things to do in Niseko include stopping for a minute to admire the magnificent view of nearby Mount Yotei – a volcano that looks so much like Mount Fuji it’s actually known by many as “Ezo Fuji” / the “Fuji of Hokkaido”). If you’re feeling particularly extreme, and have an advanced technique, you can even go skiing and / or snowboarding in Yotei’s crater. It’s an effort but if the conditions are right, and you’re up to it, it’ll be the freshest and most unique powder moment of your life. Be sure to get yourself a knowledgeable guide though. 

If all this talk of skiing and snowboarding in and around the Niseko area has whetted your appetite but you don’t currently own your own equipment, fear not; Niseko Sports can sort you out on the rental front. 

Pictured: Skier making the most of the ‘Japow’

Where To Stay

If luxury with a capital ‘L-U-X-U-R-Y’ is your thing, and you’ve got the budget to treat yourself, consider booking yourself in at the newly built Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono. The rooms are James Bond meets Blade Runner (best shower ever), the bar area is super swanky, and there’s ski-in / ski-out access. Rooms are about £400 a night so it’s definitely not the cheapest option but if you’re feeling flash, by all means splash the cash. 

At the other end of the pricing scale, you’ve got the well-reviewed and budget-friendly Stoked Niseko Hotel. A single bed here starts at about £42 a night, for a guest sharing an eight-person dorm, with a private double room coming in at around £126 (or £63 a person). There’s also six bed dorms, four bed dorms, and private triple and quad rooms available. 

Eating And Drinking

No discussion of Niseko’s drinking scene would be complete without giving a shout out to Bar Gyu+. The iconic entrance to Niseko’s oldest bar is a small ‘fridge door’ you have to crawl through. Attracting a mixture of Japanese whisky enthusiasts, powder hounds, sake sippers and scenesters, it’s the perfect spot for some apres-skiing – situated as it is near the bottom of the Hirafu night skiing area. It’s open from five o’clock to midnight, during peak season, and has a vinyl record collection that’ll put your own one to shame. They don’t do reservations so get there early to guarantee yourself a table.

One nice restaurant in the nearby Niseko area that’s well worth considering is La Villa LUPICIA. It’s French food, but also… sort of… not French food. Probably best described as a Japanese interpretation of France’s cuisine, whisper it quietly so Paris can’t hear, this might just be the best French meal you’ve ever had. 

Elsewhere on Niseko’s food and drink front, be sure to check out Rakuichi Soba. Come here for the freshest, tastiest, soba noodles of your life (noodles handmade by a husband and wife team no less). There’s a lot of great Japanese food knocking around these parts but this place is right up there in the quality stakes. 

Check out our other adventure travel destinations for 2020.

This destination guide was brought to you in association with outdoor fashion retailer Blackleaf.

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