I had heard about the famous “Japan powder” (aka “japow”) in Hokkaido even before I started skiing. The quality of snow in Hokkaido is known as one of the finest in the world. I had always been curious why, so when my friend suggested a trip to Niseko, it didn’t take me long to commit.
That hype for the famous japow? It’s real. I haven’t had extensive experience skiing, but I could tell it’s different from the previous ski resort I’ve been to in Yuzawa. The snow in Hokkaido is so fine and fluffy, and it doesn’t melt right away so you’re able to just brush it off your clothes. Honestly, having been to Niseko now, I get the hype.
How to get to Niseko
The easiest way to get to Niseko is to fly to New Chitose Airport (CTS) in Sapporo. From Sapporo, you can either rent a car and drive to Niseko yourself (please do this only IF you have experience driving in snowy conditions) or you can take a shuttle bus to the Niseko resorts.
Where to stay in Niseko
If you are keen to minimize the logistics of getting to and from the slope (which as we all know can be a big headache with all the gears), you might want to stay near the slopes in Hirafu. Staying at these locations would allow you to walk to the slopes and save time (and energy!) for more fun in the snow.
Here are some recommendations:
- Ki Niseko – The location of this hotel is just amazing. It is next to the Grand Hirafu Mountain Center, where you can buy your ski lift tickets and rent gear.
- Skye Niseko – Close to the center four ski lift and the Hirafu welcome center
- Sansui Niseko – Also close to the center four ski lift
If you are traveling in a big group and keen to rent a multi-bedroom chalet, here are some of my recommendations:
- Country Chalet Niseko – This is where we stayed. We got a 3-bedroom chalet for two families with young children, but they also have 2 and 4-bedroom chalets. I loved our stay here! The kitchen was complete enough that I could cook breakfast and lunch for everyone and the children. There is a washing machine in the unit, which is a godsend for families. They didn’t have a dryer, but hanging our clothes in the boiler room (where the washer is located) is sufficient to have them dry overnight, as long as you’re not drying too many things. They also provide transport to the slopes in Hirafu right from your doorstep!
Tips for Enjoying Your Time in Niseko
I had no expectations coming to Niseko, but a few things surprised me:
Be prepared to pay more – The price of goods is way higher than the average cost in Japan. I was surprised at the cost of dining out – it’s comparable to Singapore. Because of this, we went to the grocery store and cooked some meals to keep costs down.
Send your equipment straight to your hotel – If you have your own gear, have it sent to your hotel so that you don’t have to lug it around while traveling. Logistics in Japan are great, and sending the equipment would not cost much for next-day delivery.
Rent a car if you can – If you’re traveling as a group, you might want to rent a car from Sapporo and drive here. That is, provided you’re comfortable with driving in snowy conditions. Having a car allowed us not to have to rely on shuttles and taxis (which can get expensive in Japan). We’re also able to make trips to the grocery store to reduce food costs.
You’ll be fine not understanding Japanese here – Niseko almost doesn’t feel like Japan. There is a high influx of foreigners coming here to experience the fine japow. Some foreigners even work and stay in Niseko through Japan’s work holiday program. Walking into some of the shops in Hirafu felt like I was in Melbourne. On the slope, I barely encountered any Japanese people.
Ski and Snowboarding Lessons in Niseko
Niseko is a pretty beginner-friendly place to learn how to ski or snowboard. If you’re just starting, fret not! There are plenty of lessons you can choose from:
Transport to and from the Slopes and around Hirafu
There is a free shuttle bus in Hirafu that runs every day from Winter (mid-December) to Spring (mid-March). Find out more about them here. Additionally, your hotel might be running its own pickup van. Please check with them.
Amenities in Hirafu
Niseko is a well-oiled machine when it comes to snow activities. here are some amenities you can enjoy during your time in Niseko:
Lockers can be found at Grand Hirafu Mountain Center. This is possibly the most convenient location, as it is located at the bottom of the slope (the one with gondola) so you can just pick up your stuff when you’re done.
2. Food Options on the Slope
There are some restaurants on the slope, but they are only good for lunch. The restaurants close early at around 4 PM.
3. Grocery Stores near Hirafu
The nearest grocery store from Hirafu is located in a town called Kutchan. It is about 10 minutes drive away. My favorite is AEON MaxValu.
Snow Gear Rental in Niseko
There were a few places I noticed for rentals when I was in Hirafu:
Rhythm – I rented from Rhythm. 11,500 yen for a full-gear ski jacket, pants, boots, helmet, ski, and spokes. Rhythm is very foreigner-friendly. All the employees are foreigners, likely on work holiday visas, like the nice Czech guy who assisted us with our boot and jacket fittings. They also provide valet for your gear, meaning you can store your gear at their place overnight.
Grand Hirafu Mountain Center – 10,500 for a full gear. They only stock certain brands, so if you are more specific about gears you might want to check out Rhythm instead. However, their location is very convenient, right at the foot of one of the slopes in Grand Hirafu and next to the gondola. Find out more about rentals in Grand Hirafu here.
Lift Tickets for Niseko and Grand Hirafu
The prices for Grand Hirafu in 2023-2024 for adults (16-64 years old) are as follows:
|Hlaf day (5 hours)
There are longer passes as well. You can check the full prices here and buy the tickets online if you want to.
Easy Routes for Beginners in Grand Hirafu
As a fellow ski beginner, this is the route I followed for the day.
I recommend starting from Grand Hirafu Mountain Center and taking the Hirafu Gondola up. Don’t be discouraged by the view going up the gondola, which was mostly black routes.
From the top of the gondola, you’ll be able to access many green routes that lead you to another location with ski lift (Ace Quad Lift #2 Center Four), which you can take back up again to access the same green route again.
If you want to go back to Grand Hirafu Mountain Center or the Hirafu Gondola, there is a shortcut area called King’s Area Access Pass which will allow you to “cut” through the mountain and go down the slope back to Grand Hirafu Mountain Center.
Of course, this is not the only beginner-friendly route in Grand Hirafu. You can view the complete Niseko route map here.
Where to Eat in Niseko
During peak skiing season like late December to February, restaurants are in high demand. I highly recommend booking your table early because these places do fill up. But, all of them do offer takeaway if you’re not able to secure a place.
- Genghis Khan Eijin in Hirafu and Kutchan – Genghis Khan aka Jingisukan aka lamb barbecue is a must-try in Hokkaido.
- Niseko Pizza in Kutchan – Delicious assortment of wood-fired pizza.
- Patty Daddy Burger in Kutchan – Decent option for a burger in Kutchan area.
- Taj Mahal in Hirafu and Kutchan – Fine dining Indian option
- Niseko Loft Club – Another option for Jingisukan
- Bar Gyu+ in Hirafu – Solid cocktail bar
And that’s my experience skiing in Niseko. If you have questions or comments, please do not hesitate to leave me a comment below.
More on Hokkaido: If you find this post useful, don’t forget to check out my other posts about Hokkaido
Have fun in Niseko! ⛷🏂