Niseko, Japan

Have you encountered the hashtags #japow, #japanuary, or #powmageddon?

In skiing and snowboarding social media circles, Japan almost runs out of hashtags when describing its legendary snow.

The country’s unique snow conditions make it one of the best destinations for a winter sports getaway. Its ski resorts also offer great experiences for non-skiers and include skiing and snowboarding schools with an international appeal. In addition, its beautiful landscapes are unparalleled.

And you’ll love skiing in Niseko.

Due to its unique positioning, icy cold Siberian winds cross the Sea of Japan from the northwestern end of Hokkaido. The moisture-laden winds then ascend the Niseko mountains, forming thick snow clouds that dump vast amounts of snow in Niseko’s resorts.

But Japan’s snow is better experienced, not told. 

So we have prepared this handy guide to help you prepare for a fantastic skiing and snowboarding getaway. You’ll also learn the following:

A Little History of Skiing in “The St. Moritz of the East”

Japan’s ski history goes back to 1912.

In 1910, an Austrian Lieutenant, Colonel Theodor von Lerch Edora, visited Japan to inspect its troops. Later in 1912, he visited Kutchan to climb and ski Mt. Yotei. 

Having mastered the art of skiing, Colonel Theodor was asked to train Japanese schoolteachers and soldiers in the Niigata Prefecture. The Lieutenant’s achievement received much acclaim and was subsequently published in local newspapers. It became the first recorded instance of skiing in Japan’s history.

Today, Colonel Theodor von Lerch Edora’s statue stands proudly in Kutchan, depicting him in full ski gear.

In 1927, Japan entered the Winter Olympics held in St. Moritz, Switzerland. The same year, Prince Chichibu visited Hokkaido for skiing and was impressed with the snow quality in Niseko. 

After the Otaru Shimbun Newspaper (later Hokkaido Shimbun) reported on the prince’s visit, the term “The St. Moritz of the East” was coined.

Timeline of Skiing in Niseko

Today, Niseko is still the most popular winter sports destination in Japan, loved by revellers for its abundant and powdery snow.

How to Get to Niseko, Japan

Niseko is located 100 kilometres southwest of Sapporo, in the Hokkaido prefecture of Japan. Four resorts combined to form Niseko United, a massive ski area on the Niseko Annupuri volcanic mountain.

Niseko Annupuri is in the Niseko-Shakotan-Otaru Kaigan Quasi-National Park, which is located on the eastern end of the Niseko Volcanic Group.

First, Fly Into New Chitose International Airport

This is the nearest airport to the Niseko United resort complex. This airport is about 50 kilometres from the ski field.

Depending on your origin, you may or may not find direct flights to this airport. For example, flights from Hong Kong fly directly to the New Chitose International Airport. However, if you can’t find a direct flight, you can connect through either Narita or Haneda, which have connecting flights to New Chitose Airport.

Then, Connect to Niseko by Road, Rail, or Ferry

The best way to get to Niseko is by taking a coach directly to “Hirafu Welcome Center.” From his station, most hotels and accommodation services provide transport in the form of taxis and shuttle busses to their facilities.

Another way to ingress Niseko is by taking a train ride to the resort area. There are also several shuttle bus services to the resort. Buses can take between 2.5 and 4 hours, depending on traffic conditions, pick-up location, and destination. For more flexibility, you can rent a car which will enable you to access more places.

Lastly, you’ll find ferry services that operate from Otaru, Hakodate, and Tomakomai, about an hour from Aomori.

Whichever transfer option you choose, it is essential to make prior reservations before arrival for convenience.

Snow Conditions in Niseko

Skiers and snowboarders love Niseko because of its consistent snowfall and deep powder. 

The resort complex receives a phenomenal average seasonal snowfall of 15 meters, resulting in waist-deep dry powder. In comparison, this is double the amount of snow in most North American Resorts.

The best season to ski in Niseko is from December to April, when snow conditions are optimal. Ski tracks left by other thrill-seekers get quickly covered in snow, making the slopes have constant, fresh snow. 

You can also expect more crowds and expensive service prices during these peak periods.

Top Ski Resorts in Niseko

Niseko is Japan’s most popular ski resort. It consists of four interlinked snow resorts sprawling across the 1,308-meter volcanic Mt. Annupuri. The resort complex is the crown jewel of Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.

These constituent resorts are:

The four resorts form the Niseko United and are lift-linked, with their trails converging at the top of the mountain. Each snow field offers unique characteristics, ideal for beginners, intermediates, advanced skiers, and snowboarders.

1 Grand Hirafu

Grand Hirafu is also called Niseko Hirafu. It is the largest of the four villages, even though it may pass as a town due to its sheer size. It also covers the most extensive terrain in the interconnected region. The ski field has a wide range of slopes with something for everyone. 

Location of the Grand Hirafu Resort

The resort and the village are both located between Hanazono and Niseko Village. Hirafu village is situated in Kutchan, even though the town of Kutchan is about 8 kilometres to the northeast.

Why Skiers and Snowboarders love Grand Hirafu

The resort has 30 marked trails served by 12 lifts. The lifts ascend an average of 940 meters, with the lowest point being 260 meters and the highest at 1,200 meters. The lifts include a gondola and different types of chair lifts.

The trails are classified as follows:

The beginner and family runs tend to be congested during peak periods in the peak seasons. There are also several red runs for intermediates and short black runs for advanced revelers. Expert skiers and snowboarders love the few off-piste trails that offer adrenaline-pumping tree skiing.

Many eager enthusiasts visit the Grand Hirafu to take on the “Super Course.” This is a ski trail with multiple elements such as steep descents and condensed undulations where snow easily accumulates, creating a swap-like terrain.

Where to Stay in Grand Hirafu

The Hirafu village consists of upper Hirafu (which overlooks Highway 343) and lower Hirafu (which is below Highway 343). Upper Hirafu is closer to the slopes and features ski-in/ski-out access. There is a wide range of accommodation options which range from higher-end lodging and dining to budget-friendly options.

2 Hanazono

This snowfield has great snow due to the little sunshine it receives. Due to its north-facing side, sunlight does not reach the field very well, even during the day. This unique characteristic of Hanazono makes it have consistent snow conditions, which snow lovers love. 

The ski field is popular with the more affluent skiers and snowboarders who frequent the massive Park Hyatt Niseko.

Location of the Hanazono Resort

Hanazono is situated between Grand Hirafu and the old Weiss Ski Resort (home of Weiss Cat Skiing). It is connected to the others in the ski domain via fast lifts and trails.

Shuttle busses ease the movement between Hirafu and Hanazono. They operate between 7:50 in the morning to 5 in the evening and leave every 20 minutes.

Why Skiers and Snowboarders Love Hanazono

Hanazono resort has a modest 12 courses of variable terrain, ideal for all abilities. Gondolas and chairlifts transport revelers up the 732-meter vertical. The resort's highest point is 1,040 meters, while the lowest is 308 meters.

Hanazono’s terrain is classified as follows:

Skiers and snowboarders love this snow area for its thrilling tree skiing and wide-open powder bowls. The resort is more family-friendly, with an expansive area for beginners to try out first-time skiing in a ski school.

Where to Stay in Hanazono

The snow area does not have a dedicated accommodation section, save for daytime buildings and Park Hyatt Niseko at the mountain's base. Park Hyatt Niseko caters to high-end customers and offers deluxe accommodations. For more budget-friendly options, you may try Niseko village.

3 Niseko Village

Formerly known as the Niseko Higashiyama ski resort, this ski village is located at the foot of the Niseko snow area. The resort's rebranding helped draw in more visitors by giving it a more international-friendly name. However, the Higariyama mountain village still exists and offers a range of amenities.

Niseko Village can sometimes be confused with Niseko town, which lies about 6 kilometers away. 

Location of the Niseko Village Resort

This resort is situated in the Niseko region, about 9 kilometers from Hirafu village. The village has various hotels which offer shuttle services from the New Chitose International airport. The transfer options include shuttle busses, taxis and private conveyances.

Why Skiers and Snowboarders Love Niseko Village

The village lies between Hirafu and Annupuri. It has 27 marked trails, the largest number of trails among the four ski areas in the Niseko United snow domain. The trails have great uncompressed snow that skiers and snowboarders love.

This ski area’s terrain is classified as follows:

Beginner trails are located in the lower area of the resort, where the slopes are gentler, with the more advanced slopes being on the upper end. Of the eight lifts that serve the slopes is the fast and efficient Niseko Gondola which transports revelers up a 1000-meter ascent.

The resort also offers fun activities for non-skiers, including reindeer sledding, snow rafting, and snowmobiling.

Where to Stay in Niseko Village

The village was built to replicate a traditional Japanese village. It is dominated by the glamorous Hilton Niseko Hotel and the Green Leaf Hotel. 

The Green Leaf Hotel offers excellent ski-in/ski-out access and a wide range of amenities. In addition, Hilton Niseko and the Kasara Townhouse offer deluxe accommodation services. 

For more budget-friendly options, the Higashiyama village offers lodges, pensions and small BnBs. However, they are a bit further away from the slopes

4 An’nupuri

This resort boasts unobstructed views and gentle slopes on spacious terrain, making it an excellent destination for families and beginners. That said, the resort has the highest number of gates that lead to off-piste and backcountry opportunities.

Location of the An’nupuri Resort

The Niseko Annupuri resort sits on the base of the slope between Niseko village and Moiwa snow areas. It is interconnected to Moiwa and Niseko village via pistes. In addition, several accommodation facilities offer transfer services from New Chitose Airport to their premises.

Why Skiers and Snowboarders Love An’nupuri

The terrain has a modest 13 courses served by six lifts that ascend an elevation of between 400 and 1,156 meters (average of 756 meters).

An’nupuri’s terrain is further classified as follows:

Due to the Niseko Annupuri’s proximity to the Sea of Japan, the resort’s terrain has some of the most abundant and high-quality snow in the world.

Where to Stay in An’nupuri

There are various accommodation options available at Annupuri’s base. They offer excellent ski-in/ski-out access and have various lodges and dining places. However, they are limited to Niseko Northern Resort Annupuri. 

Let Brealpa Help You Choose Your Next Winter Sports Destination

Japan is a snow lovers' paradise, from scenic landscape views to culture-themed ski resorts with deep, powdery snow. The country’s snow resorts have the highest average snowfalls worldwide, leading to deep, powdery snow-covered trails.

Niseko has the best snowfalls in all of Japan and, arguably, the world. Powder enthusiasts flock to the four resorts that constitute Niseko United to experience the phenomenal snow. For a truly unforgettable winter getaway experience, head over to Japan’s powder capital of the world.

So many ski resorts in the world offer unique winter sports experiences. To help you make the most informed decision, Brealpa has a treasure trove of handy and practical information. You’ll find plenty of information about: