Niseko – Getting There and What to Do
Niseko is possibly the most famous ski resort area in Japan, and rapidly becoming one of the most famous in the world. Famous for deep powder snow, the area provides both skiers and snowboarders with long courses, many tree runs, and huge backcountry areas.
When to Go
Niseko, on the island of Hokkaido in the northern part of Japan, has a long winter season. You can expect decent snow from as early as November to as late as May. Peak season runs from January to February, both in terms of snow and in terms of crowds. And every year Niseko grows busier and busier, reflected in the expansion and modernization of the ski resorts there. However, it is unusual even at peak times to have to wait an extremely long time for the lifts – especially if you’re willing to hike over to the smaller lifts and avoid the gondolas.
How to Get There
The nearest airport to Niseko is Shin-Chitose; it's over 4 hours away by bus, and 2 hours away by car. Actually, the airport is over 100km away! However, there are many regular bus routes, and it is highly recommended to take the bus if you are leaving directly from the airport. Trains only run from within the city of Sapporo itself, some distance from Shin-Chitose, and only provide convenient access to Kutchan Station, from which you may need to take a taxi. This takes much longer overall.
Hotels and hostels themselves seem to assume you’ll be taking the bus, offering pickup from the bus drop-off points but not the train station.
There are several bus companies offering routes from Shin-Chitose Airport to Niseko, the cheapest being Chuo bus. Chuo bus takes perhaps a half hour longer than some others, depending on where you plan to disembark, but can save you anywhere from ¥1000 to ¥2000 or more. Their website is also quite lacking, but it is possible to purchase tickets at the airport – both in the domestic and international terminals. If you are unsure or would prefer the certainty of a clear, English-speaking service, the following are also worth investigating:
Or Rent a Car as a Group
A car may be the more convenient way to go if you are planning on going to resorts further away than easily accessible from your hotel/hostel. Check out sites like Japan Rent-a-Car. With Sat-Navs and Google Maps as standard, there's no need to fear becoming lost, and you can easily go out in the evenings for food or onsens.
The Niseko Area
Though Niseko is the municipal area, visitors are generally talking about the area surrounding Mt. Yotei – the "Fuji of Hokkaido" and the snow sports area. Niseko United is the main resort area, with four large resorts connected to each other at multiple points. These resorts are Hanazono, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village, and Annupuri. Each resort has its positive points, and you should investigate each in turn. It is also possible to purchase an all-mountain pass, giving you access to all four at the same time – though you may want to consider before buying this, as a single resort is probably all you’ll need access to if you are A) a novice or inexperienced rider, B) planning to stay in one area and hit a specific snow park or run, or C) planning on spending most of your time beyond the gates and in the backcountry. Check out the Niseko United website to plan your days!
If You Can, Prepare Supplies BEFORE You Get to Niseko
The Niseko area is NOT like the rest of Japan. The price of food is far higher than usual, and the quality also somewhat lower than you might expect. You will not find the chain restaurants or brands you may have encountered elsewhere. This makes having a rental car a more attractive option: if you drive out of the ski area, things become less touristy, though the area is rural and will never offer the convenience of the big cities. Buying snacks and cans from Sapporo or even the airport may save you a bit, though there are a few convenience stores a short bus ride or long walk away from the ski resorts.
Niseko in Summer?
If you’re planning to visit the Niseko area outside of the winter season, there’s no better time to go than summer. Once the snow has melted and the warmth comes out, there are a variety of activities on offer. From ziplining, mountain biking, and rafting, to hiking and golf, there is something for those who want adventure and those who want to relax.
See Niseko Summer website for details.