When to go
January is the snowiest month by far. But beware that it is “busy” over Chinese New Year. We inadvertently booked over Chinese New Year and Australia Day. However, we didn’t find it very busy (at least relative to US ski areas!)
A few of us flew ANA from Seattle direct to Tokyo (Narita) then transferred via bus (easy to book when we got to Narita airport) to Haneda airport and then caught a regional ANA flight to Sapporo (New Chitose). We then took a train into Sapporo. Friends were able to get a flight from Narita to New Chitose on ANA. Seems not all sites showed that regional flight. It would have been more convenient and enabled us to get to Niseko in one day. I’d recommend trying to do that!
Place to stay
We stayed in Hirafu which is the center of the action. We booked through HT Holidays who were great. We ended up staying at “Kon D“. One of the nice things about Hirafu is that there is a free shuttle bus making it easy to get to the hill and to the shops and restaurants if you don’t want to walk.
The terrain is mellow but man does it snow! We skied eight days, it snowed almost everyone of those days. On the days it snowed, it snowed 6-12″ a day. The good news is, lots of snow! The bad news is that the upper mountain was almost never open. All the lifts were running only two days out of the eight. And the upper gates were only open one day of the eight. When talking to some locals they confirmed that the gates are usually only open one out of seven days.
Don’t buy the multi-day lift ticket package. We found that since the mountain was often only partially open that buying 5 hour or 8 hour passes, the day of, made more sense.
For on mountain dining, Hanazono 308 can’t be beat!
We tried to book some guided backcountry skiing when we arrived but almost all the guiding companies were totally booked up. I’d recommend booking well in advance! However, given the conditions we had over the eight days it seemed like only one would have been suitable for backcountry skiing so I’d look closely at their cancellation / rescheduling policy and figure out with them how they handle funky weather.
Here’s a Niseko backcountry map. They call it “local rules” so it took us a while to find it. Wish we had it on the day that the upper gates opened!
We weren’t expecting much of an apres ski scene, but there really is no apres ski scene! The nightlife was pretty quite too. That said, we liked…
Bar Gyu (aka Fridge Door Bar) – great cocktails
Tamashii – closet you’ll get to a Whistler style apres ski place
The Barn – french food in a modern interior
Wild Bill’s – the only busy place at night
Outside Magazine: Niseko Is Japan’s Mythical Powder Paradise