Niseko Ski Resort Guide & Trip Planning Advice from A Snowboarder

Niseko Ski Resort is probably the most popular Japan Ski Resort, it’s very likely you will pick Niseko as your first Japan ski resort since it’s just so “easy and nice”. Super duper great powder snow, Interesting terrains, everybody speaks English, loads of nice restaurant and bars, and close to the airport… It’s just a perfect stepping stone for your Japan snowboarding experience. In this article, we are going to talk about everything that’s important for your Niseko Snowboarding trip planning.

Basic Information

Niseko Weather & Snow Report

The weather of Niseko Ski Resort is probably one of the best you can find in the world in terms of snowboarding, especially for powder lovers. Niseko is locating in Hokkaido, and they usually start having snow from later October to early November, sometimes it’s still snowing by May!

During resort operating time, the weather is usually mild and nice, for sure it’s cold, cold enough to snow (around -5 degrees to – 15 degrees), but nothing like -20 degrees to -30 degrees, this is a great temperature because you don’t need to wear that many clothes and it won’t get too icy.

The snow quality is probably the top of the range, powder, fluffy, dry and smooth. Champagne powder is probably the best adjective of the snow in Niseko. January to February is probably the days with most heavy snowfalls, I’ve lived in Niseko for few seasons, once I’ve experienced 28 concession snowing days. So yeah, typically, don’t expect too much lovely sunny day from late December to end of February, but then from March onwards, you can expect more different weather experiences like a combination of sunny and warm day, snowing day, icy day, snowing day, all within a week. Just do bear in mind that because of the greenhouse effect and the rapid weather change lately, such typical Niseko will change too but this is what’s happening in most cases.

The average snowfall of Niseko is usually from 10 cm to 30 cm per day on a typically snowing day. For daily snow report, you can check this website. Most of the time they update their report by Japan Time 8 am in the morning.

Map of Niseko Ski Resort

Although it’s usually called “Niseko Ski Resort”, it’s actually called “Niseko United Resort”, and is a combination of 4 resorts on one mountain: Niseko Hanazono Ski Resort, Niseko Grand Hirafu Ski Resort, Niseko Village Ski Resort, Niseko Annupuri Ski Area. Niseko resorts are considered as kinda big in terms of Japan standard, there are trials covering all aspects, for examples, fantastic tree runs, natural half pipe, ungroomed powder zones, wide and not too steep trials for beginners, moguls and sidecountry rides. Suitable for all levels of snowboarders and skiers.

Opening & Closing Dates/Timing

The operating hours of Niseko United of 2018/19 season are as follow:

Annupuri: 23 Nov, 2018 (Fri) – 6 May, 2019 (Mon)
Niseko Village: 1 Dec, 2018 (Sat) – 7 April, 2019 (Sun)
Hirafu: 23 Nov, 2018 (Fri) – 6 May, 2019 (Mon)
Hanazono: 1 Dec, 2018 (Sat) – 31 March, 2019 (Sun)
Night Ski: 11 Dec, 2018 (Tue) – 20 March, 2019 (Wed)
On season (no discount): 11 Dec, 2018 (Tue) – 20 March, 2019 (Wed)
Offseason (discounted ticket): 23 Nov, 2018 (Fri) – 10 Dec, 2018 (Mon)
Last season (discounted ticket)  21 March, 2019 (Thu) – 6 May, 2019 (Mon)

Niseko Ski Resort Guide

Accommodation (Hotels, Homes, etc.)

Niseko Ski Resort is probably the most internationalized ski resort in Japan. Accommodation options are spreading out within all 4 areas. You have almost all accommodation options in Niseko, from luxury holiday homes and hotels with private onsen to pensions and hotels.

If you have never been to Niseko before, it is very likely you will be staying either in the Grand Hirafu area or the Niseko village area.

For group travellers like family or a group over 4 persons, it’s probably the best for you to book for a holiday home in Grand Hirafu area, after several years development, Grand Hirafu area is now becoming a small town, you can find nice onsen (hot spring), restaurants, bars, shops in the area, and there is shuttle bus running around the whole Hirafu town, from upper Hirafu to lower Hirafu.

Hirafu is divided into 3 sections: upper Hirafu, middle, and lower Hirafu. Upper and middle Hirafu are more close to the chairlifts and welcome center (where the buses stop). The accommodations there are usually more expensive than those in the lower Hirafu area considering they are at the same standard.

The accommodations in lower Hirafu are usually cheaper, and is further away from the chairlift but more close to the dining area. However, the very well developed shuttle bus system makes it kinda easy for you to reach to each different part of the little town. Plus most of the designer house are located in the lower Hirafu area, so do compare the price of the accommodation and the location before you decided where to stay. Because sometimes it may be a better option to stay at a house in lower Hirafu and rent a car rather than staying at the upper Hirafu.

Attached is a Hirafu Village Map

For couples or families with young kids, you may want to choose to stay at Niseko Village, for example, Hilton Niseko is a ski-in / ski-out hotel located right next to the chairlift of Niseko village resort. There are nice onsen, restaurants inside the hotels so you’ll find everything you need for your holiday. They even built a small shopping village with few shops just right next to the hotel building because they know people love to walk around!

There are also some nice large scale hotels like Hotel Green Leaf in Niseko village area, not ski-in / ski-out hotels but there is a shuttle bus running around the area.

To be very honest, going to Niseko is more expensive than going to other ski resorts in Japan. But then it is also the most convenient option though. You can find English speaking staff and instruction everywhere. You may need to pay a higher price for a Niseko snowboarding trip but you will be rewarded.

According to my experience, I would say around 60% to 70% are luxury accommodation while around 20% is 3-4 stars price. Low-cost accommodation like hostels and pensions are very limited and they are mostly full during the proper winter season (December to February).

For snowboarders on a budget or want to stay for a longer time, you may consider staying in Kunchan town which is around 30 minutes from Niseko resort. There is more and more Airbnb available over there and some of the hosts can drop you off and pick you up at Niseko resort too.

Accommodation booking tips: Quite a bit of accommodation in Niseko have their own management – so it may be better for you to book from their management directly, for example, you can book via HolidayNiseko and Hokkaido Tracks for peak season accommodations since they would have more choices available than popular booking sites like booking.com and Agoda.

Tickets

You can either purchase the all mountain pass or pass for just one resort, normally it would be much cheaper if you can pre-book your tickets earlier. For example, booking the lift tickets for the 2018-19 season by July 2018 and you can enjoy around 10 to 30% off discount on your lift pass!

The price for the upcoming 2018 – 2019 winter lift ticket has not yet been released. But then you can check the information via here.

Packages

It is not that common for ordinary travel agency would offer all-inclusive packages for Niseko so it may be a good idea for you to check with some ski holiday specialists like this. Coz most of them would spend their winters there every year and they know the area really well.

Trip Planning Advice

Recommended Transportation Means

The best way to go to Niseko would be by bus. There are buses going to Niseko from Sapporo airport and Sapporo city, either way, takes about 2 to 3 hours for you to arrive in Niseko. For more details, you can click here.

Tips: If you are going to Niseko from Sapporo Chitose Airport, there are fewer buses going to Niseko from the international terminal than going from the domestic terminal. So you can just pick the bus from the domestic terminal since both terminals are connected with each other. In fact, there are more shops in the domestic terminal! It would be a great idea for you to purchase your first dinner in Niseko there since you can find some very nice sushi and Japanese takeaway meal box there.

If you are staying in the Grand Hirafu area, it is very likely your accommodation will pick you up from the welcome center. Just make sure you check with your accommodation and confirm they will pick you up. If you are staying in Niseko Village area, like the Hilton Hotel or the green leaf hotel, the bus will stop right in front of the hotel. For sure, you gotta double check with your hotels.

If you miss the bus and don’t want to spend a night in Sapporo, you can simply take the private transfer to and from Niseko to other parts of Hokkaido. Here is the fare table for the private transfer.

Another way which I love the most is driving. It is always a great experience to drive in Japan however it is very important for you to acknowledge that driving in Hokkaido by winter time is totally different from driving in other parts of the world because the snow could be really really heavy and sometimes you can’t even see the road. So I would say if you have no winter driving experience on the snowfield, don’t pick this option. However, for a group of 4 or more, this could be the cheapest and most convenient option. For more details, please click here.

Taking a train may not be a good idea simply because the closest train station is around 15 mins to the closest resort by driving, unless you have a JR Hokkaido Pass so you can go to Niseko or Kunchan station for free, and your accommodations offer free pick-up for you, I won’t suggest going by train because you may end up need to go to your hotels by taxi. The worst thing would be – since there are really not that many people to go by train, you may not be able to find a taxi upon arrival at the train station….

Travel insurance

Since you are going snowboarding, make sure your insurance plans support dangerous activities too, if you are planning to drive in Japan, they may ask if you want to purchase insurance for your journey. If it is the case, do check the auto insurance part of your travel insurance. If it’s overlapping then there would be no need for you to purchase the insurance from the car company and you can probably save a lot of money out from it.

Just one super-duper important reminder: always buy travel insurance and make sure it covers snowboarding!

Language barriers

Honestly, there are not much language barriers in Niseko… most shops and hotels have someone who can speak English. Sometimes you can see more white people than Asians there. But then in case you are planning to go for some sightseeing, it may be a good idea for you to get a translator device like this.

Other Things You Should Pay Attention To

  • Try out the onsen and follow their rules – it’s super duper nice and that’s something really Japanese! One of the best things in Niseko is – they accept people with tattoos to go to these onsens! (because it is very common in Japan not to allow people with tattoos to enter their public bath or onsen). Just make sure you read and follow the rules of entering the onsen.
  • Pre-book the restaurants during peak season – there are some very nice restaurants and bars in Niseko but it is very like they are full during peak season. So it is a good idea if you can book in advance.
  • Rent for a powder board – Niseko is very famous for their powder snow, so do rent for a powder board if the weather is nice enough.
  • Appreciate Japanese culture – be polite, clean and nice. Japanese is very polite and there are several rules and norms they follow. For example, they are very detailed in separating their rubbish, they even bring their own rubbish back home. So just be a nice, polite and clean person when you are in Japan.
  • Enjoy their restaurant and bathroom! – Most of the self-service restaurant in Japan ski resort will offer free water, a free resting area with a heater, you can find slippers there too! Just make are you are keeping the place clean and tidy.

Final words

So that’s all for what I can think of about Niseko Ski Resort at the moment, it’s a really nice resort and probably one of the best choices if you have never been to Japan for snowboarding before. I gave the same suggestion to my friend Shirley in this article. Everything is so easy: easy to go, easy to find what you want, easy to communicate with local because there’s no language barrier.

I hope you find this article useful, if you have any questions about Niseko Ski Resort, just drop me a message or comment. I’ve been living there for many years, so probably I can answer most of your questions.

Happy snowboarding and be safe! Cheers!

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