- Accommodation & Hotels
- Ski run & Terrain
- Lift info & tickets
- Activities & Things to do
- Restaurants & Nightlife
Niseko is suited to skiers and boarders of all ability levels. There are a large variety of groomed runs that are ideal for families, beginners and intermediates. For powder hounds Niseko has great off-piste skiing. The slackcountry and backcountry options are also very impressive, and thankfully both off-piste and out of bounds riding is permitted. Another element that sets Niseko apart from many other Japanese ski resorts is the combination of both alpine and tree skiing.
Fair weather skiers who want to get a tan are the only ones that might not like Niseko. Niseko rarely sees the sunshine and has plenty of cold weather in the peak of winter, but powder hounds don’t mind because it’s the bad weather that brings all that fabulous powder. And don’t worry about the cold because Niseko is equipped with various gondolas and hooded chairs.
Niseko is the largest ski resort in Japan and is made up of four interconnected areas: An’nupuri; Niseko Village (formerly Higashiyama); Hirafu; and Hanazono. The ski resort of Moiwa is also interconnected, but a separate lift ticket is required for this resort.
There is a huge range of Niseko accommodation options including hotels, pensions, lodges, and lots of self-contained apartments and houses. Some of the properties are ski-in ski-out, but many require a short walk or a shuttle bus to get to the ski area.
There is accommodation in the villages of An’nupuri, Niseko Village, Hanazono, and Niseko Hirafu. The four ski areas are interconnected by the lifts and slopes towards the top of the mountain, but the base areas are not next to each other. Consequently the first choice regarding accommodation needs to be which village to stay in.
Restaurants & Nightlife
Niseko has the best nightlife and choice of restaurants of all the ski resorts in Japan. There are Niseko restaurants across all areas but most of the dining opportunities are in Hirafu. Hirafu is also the nucleus of the vibrant nightlife that Niseko is so famous for. There might be a few rowdy Aussies (and Chinese) hanging about late at night, but you can choose to either join in the fun or avoid them. And if you really want some peace and quiet, stay in An’nupuri, Niseko Village or Hanazono.
Culture and Language
If you’re a little nervous about travelling in a foreign land then Niseko is the place to go because it caters really well to the international tourist. Communication is much easier for English speaking travellers than at any other ski resort in Japan. English is spoken by most of the staff at the accommodation and restaurants, signage around the resort is in both English and Japanese, and restaurants have English menus.
The international popularity of Niseko has lead to it being not as cheap or unique as other Japanese ski resorts. It has become somewhat Australianised and westernised, but there is still enough Japanese culture and food to make it a culturally interesting ski holiday destination.
Transportation - Get In
By public transport
Kutchan Station on the Hakodate Honsen line is the main and most convenient train station used by people travelling to the Niseko area for the ski and snowboard resorts, though many people actually prefer to use direct bus services to Niseko from Sapporo and New Chitose Airport.
Train services operate between Sapporo Station and Kutchan Station, with many requiring a transfer at Otaru Station on the way. With good connections this can be done in as little as around 100 minutes - but sometimes waiting for connections at Otaru can be fairly lengthy and greatly increase that time. During the winter season, there is a limited express 'Niseko Ski Express' service a few times a day which goes directly from Sapporo Station to Kutchan Station using the Hakodate Honsen lines. This service takes around two hours. The Niseko Ski Express train stops at Niseko Station, Kutchan Station, Otaru Station, Otaru Chikko Station, Teine Station and Sapporo Station.
The journey from New Chitose Airport Station usually takes around 2.5-3 hours.
During the main winter months a number of private bus companies offer direct services to Niseko from Sapporo City and also from New Chitose Airport. These regular and convenient services are probably the most popular way to get to Niseko.
There are also a number of buses scheduled between Rusutsu and Niseko each day during the winter season. This journey usually takes around 40 minutes and costs around 1,000 y
Niseko United Shuttle Bus
The Niseko United Shuttle bus service operates from the opening day of the season until late in the season. It is free to use for anyone who has an Niseko All-Mountain Hourly Pass or a Day Pass lift ticket. People without those tickets can also board the bus at a small charge. The bus connects Kutchan Station and Niseko Station with the Hirafu Welcome Center and the other main ski resorts on the mountain with many drop off points on the route. There are four main routes.
There is also a Hanazono Shuttle bus service that goes from the Hirafu Welcome Center to the Hanazono resort area.
The base of Niseko Annupuri Kokusai base is just over 18km from the central area of Kutchan town.
Getting to Niseko Annupuri Kokusai from central Kutchan town
Heading south from Kutchan Station on Route 5 either turn right onto Prefecture Road 343 and follow the road until traffic lights about 5km further on, then turn right to head into Hirafu. Or, continue a bit further on Route 5 and turn right onto Prefecture Road 631 and then continue on Prefecture Road 343 to head up to Hirafu. Continue through the Hirafu area and also past the Niseko Village turn off, until reaching a junction after about 7km. Turn right here onto Prefecture Road 66 and continue for just under 3km until reaching the turn off for Niseko Annupuri. Turn right to head up to the resort base.
Approaching the Niseko region from Sapporo City
From central and the southern part of Sapporo City, take Route 230 south via the Nakayama Pass and Kimobetsu town. At the traffic lights on the far side of Kimbotsu town, turn right onto Route 276. This road continues through to Kutchan town. This route is about 100km and in normal conditions takes up to two and a half hours by car.
From areas to the north of Sapporo City either take the Sasson Expressway or Route 5 towards Otaru City. From the Asari IC exit turn right onto Prefecture Road 1 and then after a few hundred metres turn right again onto Prefecture Road 956. Kutchan and Akaigawa are on the main road signpost. After about 4km, turn left onto Route 393, also known as the Askaigawa National Highway. The road turn off for Kiroro resort is about 17km along this road. Continue on Route 393 following the signs through to Kutchan.
Alternatively continue on Route 5 through and beyond Otaru City. Route 5 generally follows the same route as the Hakodate Honsen train line through to the Niseko region. There are less of the curves on this route than there are on parts of Route 393, but it is a slightly longer drive (about 7km).
Approaching the Niseko region from New Chitose Airport
From the main exit of New Chitose Airport, head towards Tomakomai on Route 36 and Prefecture Road 781. After 23km turn right onto Route 276 (signposted as Kimobetsu and Lake Shikotsu). Continue for about 18km and turn left at the signs to stay on Route 276. Go past Lake Shikotsu and keep following Route 276 signposted as Kuchan and Kimobetsu. On reaching the Route 230 junction, turning left goes into Rusutsu. For Niseko, turn right here onto Route 230 for just 1km before turning left to join Route 276 once again. Route 276 continues into central Kutchan town and the station area.
Enjoy the views of the northern slopes of Mt Yotei on the way!
This route is about 115km and in normal conditions takes up to two and a half hours by car.
There is parking for about 1200 vehicles close to the base of Niseko Annupuri. Parking is free every day of the season.
Ski run & Terrain
Niseko Hokkaido is one of the largest, if not the largest, ski resort in Japan. Unlike lots of other Japanese ski resorts, there’s enough terrain variety (particularly if the side-country gates are open) to ski Niseko for a one to two week long holiday. Another characteristic that is somewhat unique for Japan is that the Niseko ski resort has some above treeline terrain, although the attractiveness of this is weather dependent.
Like many other Japanese ski resorts the in-bounds terrain is not particularly steep and the Niseko skiing and snowboarding can be broadly summarised as “deep not steep”, with a variety of runs for beginners up to advanced riders, whilst experts will find some steep-ish pitches in the backcountry areas.
The Niseko ski resort (aka Niseko United) has four major zones that are interconnected (for intermediates and above) via lifts and the slopes towards the top of the mountains. The An’nupuri area has great groomed runs for beginners and intermediates and access to sidecountry skiing. The Niseko Village ski area (formerly Higashiyama) is largely a beginner and intermediate area, with a couple of black piste runs. Hirafu has something on offer for everyone, whilst Hanazono is good for tree skiing, sidecountry access, the best snow quality, and terrain park fun.
Niseko Snow and Weather
Whatever the definition of “blower powder” is, the powder at Niseko is often even better! Even though it’s near the coast, the powder is generally incredibly light and dry (aka ego snow!). The Niseko snow falls in great volumes and is up there as the best powder in the world. No one can really agree on the average annual snowfall as there’s too much of it to keep track of, but it’s about 15-18 metres a season (19.5 metres in the 2014-15 season!).
The Siberian weather patterns that bring the fabulous snow also create the wind and the cold, so Niseko is often very chilly. Even with gondolas, hooded chairs and plenty of trees for protection, this is a place where you may need warm clothes, a neck warmer, face protection, and a hat or headband under your helmet. You might not get much of a chance to use sunglasses, and you won’t often see the great views of Mount Yotei in the height of winter, so take a photo opportunity when you can.
Even though the temps are usually very cold and the powder dry, like anywhere, there are also occasions when the temps rise and the snow turns to snot. Time to hit the groomers or the bars!
Ski Niseko - Beginners
Beginners will largely be restricted to one resort unless they catch a shuttle bus to another area. All four areas have very good slopes for the novice as well as runs for the next progression. Hanazono has good first-timer areas serviced by magic carpets, whilst for more confident beginners, Hanazono has the least variety on offer.
At Hirafu, the aptly named Family is very popular with families and beginners, particularly for those staying at accommodation alongside this trail (e.g. The Vale Niseko, Aya Niseko).
Niseko Skiing - Intermediates
Niseko is paradise for the intermediate skier or snowboarder. With long groomers and fantastic fall-line, there’s plenty to choose from. The challenge for intermediates that are not used to powder is that sometimes the powder is knee-deep on the groomed runs! This takes a little practice if you’re used to skiing ice or hard-packed snow, but it’s a great opportunity to learn to ride powder in relatively easy conditions.
Hirafu has the largest number of runs for intermediates, whilst Hanazono has very limited variety.
Hanazono is where it’s all happening for freestyle freaks. There are three terrain parks with jibs and jumps for beginners, intermediates and advanced riders, as well as a magic carpet serviced jump for the little tackers. Hanazono also has a bag jump where shredders can practise freestyle jumps without breaking bones. The Niseko physios must be spewing! And just to top off freestyle heaven, Hanazono has a proper half-pipe, the only one left in Hokkaido.
Advanced and Expert Skiing and Snowboarding - On-Piste
There are no super steep marked runs (ie piste) at Niseko for experts, but there are some reasonably pitchy runs on the Alpen Super Course and at Niseko Village for advanced riders. The black piste are generally ungroomed runs and considering it snows so much, the bumps tend to stay fairly small and soft.
Most advanced and expert riders ride off the piste and play in the powder.
Niseko Skiing Off-Piste
A huge plus for Niseko is that skiing and boarding off-piste and in the trees is permitted. You’re not allowed to duck ropes and there are some strictly out-of-bounds areas, but otherwise you can explore inside the resort boundaries to your heart’s content. In most off-piste areas the trees aren’t too tight, so it’s a place where you can easily improve your confidence in the powder.
There are many non-secret powder stashes including the Miharashi trees at the top of the Hirafu gondola, the King #3 trees, the tight trees in Blueberry Fields (left of Hanazono no.1 lift) and the more widely spaced trees in Strawberry Fields (right of Hanazono no. 1 lift).
Unfortunately, with the increasing popularity of Niseko, the likelihood of finding freshies in the off-piste areas past about 10am has lessened significantly over the years.
Niseko Sidecountry / Slackcountry
Niseko sidecountry skiing is also permitted so long as you enter through one of the gates. Sidecountry aka slackcountry is defined as backcountry terrain that's outside the resort boundaries that can be easily accessed with no or minimal hiking or skinning, and have an easy egress to the lifts.
Have respect for the patrollers who are pretty lenient. When the sidecountry gates are closed, it’s for a good reason. For information on the status of the gates and avalanche information, see the Niseko Avalanche Information website.
The An’nupuri bowls (entered from gates 1 or 2) are a good example of primo Niseko sidecountry and provide great alpine and tree skiing.
A long traverse from the peak gate provides an infinite number of lines and a reasonable chance of finding your own powder stash away from the hordes. The peak is a 20 minute hike that provides an awesome long run down to the golf course. This area also provides access to the back bowls; the piece de resistance of Niseko.
Mizuno no sawa near Niseko Village (previously a special program area) is also a highlight of the Niseko skiing and snowboarding.
As with all ski resorts in Japan, if you go outside the resort boundaries you do so at your own risk and are responsible for the costs associated with any backcountry search and rescue. Absolutely only go into the sidecountry areas with a transponder, shovel and probe (if you don't have this, you can buy avalanche safety gear). If you don’t have the right equipment or the know-how to safely navigate the backcountry, do a guided Niseko sidecountry ski tour. They will lend you the right gear and take you to some very tasty spots!
If you're prepared to earn your turns with a decent amount of skinning or snowshoeing, there are an abundance of fantastic options for Niseko backcountry skiing and split boarding. There are various options for Niseko backcountry day tours.
Niseko Avalanche Risk
Considering the abundant snowfall, the occurrence of avalanches is not as common as you’d think, particularly in the height of winter. With constant sub-zero temperatures and minimal sun, the formation of unstable layers is lessened. The maritime-like snowpack and the snow crystals that typically fall during winter also make the snowpack reasonably stable. However avalanches (and associated fatalities) still can and do happen and appropriate caution should be exercised. There are commonly big glide cracks in the snow that need to be avoided, not only because of the associated avalanche risk, but also because it may take you half an hour to climb out if you fall in!
The patrollers don’t do much in the way of active avalanche control with blasting or other techniques. In most areas, they only monitor the risk and close areas as necessary.
Lift info & tickets
Niseko United has many many lifts. There is a gondola at An’nupuri and Niseko Village, and Hirafu. The Hirafu gondola has been replaced in recent years and it’s now roomy, delightfully fast and it can even fit fat skis in the racks. All the gondolas are an absolute godsend on bad-weather days, and the King #3 and Hanazono hooded chairs are also bliss. Thankfully there are no surface tows, although there are a few slow single chair lifts that work reasonably well in the windy conditions. These are affectionately known as suicide chairs considering there are no safety bars! If the weather is particularly foul, even these lifts need to close. Once these top lifts are closed, access between Hirafu and An’nupuri is only possible via shuttle bus (or taxi).
Many of the lifts are open for night skiing. Unlike other ski resorts where night skiing is just for beginners, at Niseko the evenings are for powder hounds too. The area that is lit up is extensive so it’s possible to ski the Miharashi trees and other advanced areas, and sometimes the visibility is actually better at night time than during the day. After a little après ski action, it can be incredibly surreal bouncing around in the fresh powder under the lights. Be sure to wear a helmet!
Considering the lift ticket prices, it is somewhat disappointing that the only lift infrastructure that has been upgraded in many years is the Hirafu gondola. Whilst there are a handful of efficient lifts, many of the chairs are painfully slow and lift lines can be problematic, particularly in Hirafu. Thankfully for the 2016-17 season the King #3 triple will be upgraded to a high speed quad and 2 new lifts will be added to Niseko Village.
You can either buy a Niseko United ticket whereby the four zones of Niseko are accessible off the one lift ticket, or a cheaper single village ticket. The electronic ticket cards require a small deposit.
Lift tickets come in an array of configurations. A one day ticket or a multi-day ticket includes night skiing. There is also an 8 hour ticket which will suit many people, or you can purchase a chunk of hours by recharging your card online. There is no financial advantage in pre-purchasing lift tickets and only small discounts on multi-day passes. You may wish to pay a little more and buy a ticket each day to give you the flexibility to undertake other Niseko activities such as a day trip to a nearby resort, cat skiing, a backcountry tour, or go sightseeing. It’s also hard to predict if the weather may shut some of the lifts, or whether you’ll have the energy to go skiing every day!
Niseko Annupuri Lift Ticket
|Valid For Ticket||Adults||Seniors /|
Junior High Students
|Elementary School Students|
|Off / Last Season||¥3,500||¥2,600||¥2,200|
|Off / Last Season||¥4,200||¥3,100||¥2,400|
|Off / Last Season||¥7,000||¥5,700||¥4,700|
|Off / Last Season||¥10,400||¥8,400||¥6,800|
|Off / Last Season||¥13,700||¥11,000||¥9,000|
|Off / Last Season||¥17,000||¥13,700||¥11,100|
|Off / Last Season||¥20,100||¥16,400||¥13,300|
|Off / Last Season||¥23,200||¥19,100||¥15,500|
|Parent & |
8 Hours Pass
|On/Off Season||¥6,200（1Adult + 1Elementary Child）|
|Last/ Final Season||¥5,100（1Adult + 1Elementary Child）|
Lift Course Data
|Name||Hours of operation||Length||Time to reach destination||Information|
|Annupuri Gondola||8：30〜16：30||2,274m||10 minute||The Annupuri first run opens at 7:20am|
|★ Jumbo Quad Lift #1||8：40〜20：30||1,117m||5 minute||The Nighter course closes at 16:30pm |
outside the following dates.
|Jumbo Pair Lift #2||9：00〜16：15||764m||6 minute||ー|
|Jumbo Pair Lift #3||8：45〜16：30||569m||4 minute||ー|
|Jumbo Pair Lift #4||8：45〜16：30||605m||4 minute||ー|
|Dream Quad Lift #1||433m||4 minute|
|Equipment||5 Hours||1 day||2 days||3 days|
|Skis + boots + poles|
Snowboard + boots
|Beginner to advanced||From ¥4,800||From ¥5,500||From ¥9,000||From ¥14,000|
|Skis or snowboard||Beginner to advanced||From ¥3,000||From ¥4,000||From ¥6,500||From ¥10,000|
|Stock equipment only||Beginner to advanced||From ¥1,500||From ¥2,000||From ¥3,000||From ¥4,000|
|Kids||From ¥1,000||From ¥1,500||From ¥2,500||From ¥3,500|
|Boots only||Beginner to advanced||From 2,500||From 3,000||From 5,000||From 6,000|
|Pants + jacket||Adults||¥3,500||¥4,000||¥6,000||¥9,000|
|Pants or jacket||Adults||¥2,500||¥3,000||¥4,000||¥7,000|
|Snowboard binding||Adults||From ¥3,000||From ¥3,500||From ¥4,500||From ¥5,500|
|Sled (small or medium)||Adults||¥1,000||¥1,000||¥2,000||¥3,000|
|3-piece accessory set||Adults||¥3,000||¥4,000||¥5,500||¥6,000|
|2-piece accessory set||Adults||¥2,000||¥2,500||¥3,500||¥4,000|
(skis, skiwear, 3-piece accessories)
Activities & Things to do
There are so many things to do in and around Niseko Japan. You can go on a guided Niseko ski tour (off-piste, sidecountry, backcountry), go heli skiing, head to a nearby ski resort, try Niseko cat skiing, or if you need a rest day from skiing or snowboarding, there are a plethora of other Niseko activities on offer.
Tours to Nearby Resorts
There are various ski resorts nearby that don’t receive as much skier traffic as Niseko, so they’re great to visit for a day trip to chase the powder. Nearby resorts include Rusutsu, Kiroro, Moiwa, Sapporo Teine and Sapporo Kokusai. If you want to get the most out of these resorts, it’s best to go on a day tour with a Niseko guide who can show you all the best powder stashes.
A soak in a hot spring bath (onsen) is the perfect remedy for aching muscles, and it’s also a quintessential activity whilst at a Japanese ski resort.
Some of the Niseko hotels have onsens that are only open to hotel guests (e.g. Chalet Ivy, Ki Niseko), whilst a few other hotels allow non-guests to use the onsen for a fee. The Vale hotel onsen is open to the public. The Vale hot spring baths are delightfully decked out with timber and stone work, and you can choose from an indoor or outdoor onsen. Don’t fear that the people skiing down the Family Run will be able to peak at you in the outdoor onsen – it’s not like the hotel onsen further up the hill!
Hirafu has a few other public onsens. We can recommend the Yukoro onsen in Hirafu which is clean and pleasant and a reasonably traditional Japanese experience.
There is a large concentration of onsens in the An’nupuri and Konbu Onsen area, with various shuttle options to get there.
The An’nupuri onsen (Niseko Grand Hotel – Konbu onsen area) can be a bit of fun but it’s more of a touristy onsen. The bathing area is mixed (ie males and females), and this is quite fortunate or unfortunate depending upon your view of things. The change rooms are segregated thankfully, and if you’re still a bit shy, make sure you visit the onsen at night time, grab multiple modesty towels, or purchase one of the funny little dresses to “cover” yourself!
Of course remember that visiting an onsen requires some etiquette and respect for local customs. Snow angels in the nuddy are probably not good manners!
Niseko Kids Activities
Beyond snowball throwing, Niseko has lots of kids’ activities on offer. Lucky, because often the powder is too dry at Niseko to make a snowball!
Niseko has a few dedicated snow parks (Annupuri, Hanazono and Hirafu) that have kids’ toys and tobogganing and tubing. Other options include snow rafting or zip lining (for the big kids too!).
There are a few companies that offer snowmobiling and snow biking which is like a cross between a dirt bike and snowmobile (but a lot more fun than either) or other adventure activities include indoor rock climbing.
Day Sightseeing Trips
In early February a visit to the Sapporo Snow Festival is a highlight to see the huge statues and sculptures created in ice. It’s possible to catch a train from Kutchan or Niseko to Sapporo – see the Hypermedia website for fares and schedules. Or check in with the Niseko Tourism office for bus timetables, or you can get a private charter transfer to Sapporo .
A train trip to the seaside town of Otaru is also interesting. It’s novel to see snow at sea level, but it’s also nice to look at the historic canals, the seafood market, the glass crafts, the wacky Japanese shops, and indulge in some Japanese culture. A train from Kutchan to Otaru takes about 1 hour to 1:20 hours, and from there, Otaru is easy enough to explore on foot. Otherwise you can head there with Limousine Sightseeing. The information centre at Otaru station can provide English maps that outline the various tourist attractions.
A day trip to Lake Toya (about 45 mins from Niseko) is also very worthwhile. Lake Toya is a volcanic caldera lake, and the associated Mount Usu is a very active volcano which last erupted in 2000. There is a museum that outlines lots of fascinating information about this geothermal region, and not surprisingly, the area also features various hot springs (onsens).
Limousine Sightseeing offers private transport services for small groups of up and large (up to 12) to a variety of locations in Hokkaido from Niseko.
Day SpasNiseko has various day spa facilities and lots of massage services.
Restaurants & Nightlife
Niseko is renowned for the fabulous nightlife and the amazing choice of restaurants. It’s the best of any ski resort in Japan, so we've given Niseko “best skiing in Japan” awards for the après, restaurants and nightlife!
Annupuri and Niseko Village (Higashiyama) have restaurants and bars, yet the Hirafu village is the heartbeat of Niseko, with most dining and nightlife options centred around this village. Some Niseko restaurants and bars don’t accept credit cards so make sure you’re cashed up with yen.
There are so many great eating spots in Niseko, prices are cheap by Western comparison, and the variety of cuisine will be a highlight of your trip. The Niseko restaurants are popular so you’ll need to make reservations for dinner at many of the mainstream restaurants during peak season.
The highlight of Niseko dining is at The Barn in Momiji - Zaka St in the lower village. As you might expect from the name, the restaurant is shaped like a barn. It’s a gorgeous building and the huge glass frontage makes The Barn the perfect place to sit and watch the snow fall (or dump!). The Barn has chic décor and beautiful ambience, and the mezzanine level in particular is rather special. Dinner is a set menu of three courses with a few gourmet options for each course. The menu is French inspired with mouth watering dishes such as beef cheeks and duck confit, and the desserts are to die for. The wine list is impressive and includes wines from the owner’s vineyards in Burgundy France as well as other international wines. Considering that this is such a delightful dining experience, the prices are very reasonable.
Hirafu has lots of western style restaurants. One example is Odin Place (on the corner of the main intersection) serving up European mountain food in the evenings such as fondue, whilst during the day there are yummy crepes, bakery goods and the best chai latte going around.
Iki Restaurant at Shiki is pretty impressive. This Niseko restaurant serves up Hokkaido western fusion fare with some exquisite menu items such as tempura sushi salmon rolls.
Hirafu also has a large range of Japanese restaurants serving a variety of fare, many of which are reasonably inexpensive.
Raku Izakaya is a good little Japanese dining experience. As is typical of an izakaya, Raku has lots of little snacks, sashimi, sukiyaki and other treats, and thankfully they have table seating so you don’t need to drag your aching body onto the floor. Raku is located in Sasayaki Ave in the upper village. They accept credit cards.
Other favourite Niseko restaurants for Japanese fare where you can buy lots of little tapa-style items include Bang 2 (towards the top of Zaka street), the rustic Otsukisama above the Moon Bar (on Zaka street just below the main intersection), and Ebisu-tei Izakaya (lower village on the main road).
Niseko Village Restaurants (Higashiyama)
There are several restaurants to choose from in the Niseko Village area. Most of these are located at the Hilton Hotel, and there are also a few restaurants at the Green Leaf Hotel. For a good dose of Hokkaido seafood, check out the Crab Shack. Freeride Lodge on the main bus route offers Mexican food at its restaurant Mexican Mule.
Other Niseko Restaurants
There’s a large variety of restaurants in the towns of Kutchan and Niseko which are not far from the Niseko ski villages. Meals tend to be cheaper and you’ll have a higher likelihood of finding a little of the “real” Japan.
Niseko après ski (ie late afternoon or early evening drinks) is really good by Japanese standards, but pretty quiet compared to Austria or Whistler. There’s the Après Bar next to the King No. 1 chairlift specifically catering to early drinkers, but our favourite is the A-frame building on the slopes, Boyo-Sowhich we affectionately named "the stinky bar" because the unplumbed toilets used to stink. This restaurant bar has become a little less rustic in recent years, but it’s still pretty low key and a great spot to sit around the fire whilst sinking Sapporo biero or rocket-fuel sake.
Niseko Hirafu Bars and Nightlife
Niseko gets the Powderhounds awards for the best nightlife in Japan for good reason. The Niseko nightlife is famous, and Hirafu in particular is very colourful and has a large range of bars to choose from. From wine bars and authentic Japanese izakayas for a quiet beer, to bars that absolutely rock, there’s something for everyone. Thankfully the majority of the pensions and other lodges have lifted their evening curfews so you can party on as long you like. Of course take care when rolling home and don’t do it alone. If you’re really likely to over do it with the revelling, perhaps consider wearing your avalanche beacon out?!
Many of our favourite old rustic bars have been bulldozed to make way for progress, but plenty of new funky Niseko bars have popped up in their place.
Wild Bill’s is a well known Niseko pub that frequently goes off and has a reputation for happy endings (and great meals too!). At the opposite end of the spectrum, head to The Barn for a sophisticated drink at the mezzanine bar. The owner Brett is an institution of Niseko, partly from his old Wild Bill’s days, and he apparently still has a heavy hand when pouring the drinks.
Another good bar is the popular Jam Café Bar. This bar has a funky vibe and good music.
The Niseko Ice Bar keeps moving around from year to year. The ice bar is generally made with love each season with plenty of creativity with respect to the ice patterns and the lighting. You can buy a drink in a glass made of ice that they let you keep as a souvenir – probably not the type of souvenir that would make it home in the suitcase?! The ice bar is great for a visit for the novelty factor, but generally one drink is enough because the shots are outrageously expensive and let’s face it, it’s a bit cold!
Next door is Blo Blo, a cute little bar. It has wallpaper that is entertaining to say the least and the cartoons may make your mother blush. The bar even has a pole in case you’re in the mood for some pole dancing!
Another favourite Niseko bar is the Fridge Door bar (Gyu) in the lower village (Yotei-Zaka St) where you literally enter the bar through a tiny coke labelled fridge door. This little bar always seems to be happening.
Other Niseko Nightlife
In Niseko Village (Higashiyama) there are a few upscale bars at the Hilton, whilst the Black Diamond Lodge Restaurant Bar has a pumped up atmosphere where powder hounds can trade their powder stories of the day. Lots of bevies, music, ski and snowboard movies, pool, and hot Japanese chicks behind the bar - all the necessary ingredients required for a good time! Freeride lodge has a Mexican restaurant & bar and is a great place have apres.
There’s not much nightlife in An’nupuri or Hanazono, so stay there if you’re looking for peace and quiet.
Niseko Ski Shops
Niseko shopping is reasonably good and Niseko is pretty much the only ski resort in Japan where there is a decent range of ski and snowboard gear. Perhaps you want to buy some powder skis or a longer snowboard? The Niseko powder is like ego snow, but ride on the right gear and you’ll feel like a complete legend. Or if you arrive completely unprepared for the freezing cold, there are lots of Niseko ski shops to pick up a new beanie, a neck warmer, face protector, or glove liners to keep your fingers warm and toasty.
Rhythm Snowsports (located near the main Hirafu intersection) is a large shop with a great range of gear and equipment. They have lots of snowboard outerwear, ski and snowboard hardwear, and they specialize in ski boot fitting. Rhythm also has a decent range of backcountry gear including alpine touring skis and bindings, skins, snowshoes, avalanche beacons, shovels, probes and backpacks.
Beats is the skiwear arm of their business (located on the corner of the main Hirafu intersection), selling an array of colorful ski clothing including outerwear from Kjus, Spyder and SOS, and helmets, gloves and inner layers.
Inski is also conveniently located in Hirafu Niseko near Seicomart. The retail component of the shop mainly focuses on ski equipment and quality ski clothing, with brands such as Spyder, Kjus and SOS. Inski also sells lots of après boots and ski and snowboard accessories.
Niseko 343 is a small ski shop tucked in behind the M Hotel in Lower Hirafu, catering to hard-core backcountry types with outerwear from Peak Performance, Norrona and Mammut, and a little hardwear.
In the Hirafu 188 building up Hirafu-Zaka Street is the iGate shop, a glitzy Niseko ski shop with lots of European branded ski jackets and pants, après boots, and an array of outdoor gear. The Niseko ski resort also has lots of ski-osks, many of which are located adjacent to cafeteria restaurants, selling a range of ski and snowboard accessories.
Kutchan has two ski/snowboard shops that have a large range and are slightly cheaper than the Niseko ski shops. It might be difficult to find a staff member who speaks fluent English, so if you don’t speak Japanese you’ll need to know exactly what you want as you may not be able to ask intricate questions about the latest in boot or ski technology.
Niseko Shops - Souvenirs
Niseko used to have a massive number of typical Japanese souvenir shops, but these have largely been bulldozed to make way for progress. Or perhaps the shop owners finally figured out that unlike the domestic tourist market, the majority of visitors to Niseko don’t want to buy local food specialties, crab meat or dried fish pieces because they can’t get them past airport quarantine!
Don’t despair – there are still a few souvenir shops remaining so if you want to buy the latest Hello Kitty accessory you’ll be able to find it (or you can wait until you go to the New Chitose Airport where there are loads of tacky souvenir shops and even a dedicated Hello Kitty shop).
Midway up Hirafu-Zaka above the ramen café is a great souvenir shop selling lots of t-shirts, chopsticks, dolls, trinkets, and tasteful keepsakes mixed in with the usual cheap trinkets. Otherwise head down to Kutchan where there are some shops in the main street selling souvenirs and Japanese kitchenware.
Niseko Grocery Shopping
There are three convenience stores in Hirafu that sell alcohol, snacks and basic groceries. The Seicomart (aka Pyschomart) is well known due its location not far from the main intersection. It sells food products such as eggs, milk, bread, cereal, limited fruit and vegies, and an amazing assortment of snacks. Unfortunately it sometimes has large queues at the checkout.
Just a little further down the road is Lawson’s convenience store. The grocery range is a little more limited but there are no queues.
The Niseko Supermarket and Deli (at Shiki) is a medium sized grocery store. It sells an assortment of western type foods such as cereal, pasta, tacos, and some fresh fruit and vegies, meat, a handful of toiletries, and lots of wine. The building also has an ATM and a coffee shop.
Large supermarkets can be found in the town of Kutchan, which is a taxi or bus ride away. Both MaxValu and Co-op have a huge range of groceries at very reasonable prices. Like elsewhere in Hokkaido, the alcohol is super cheap regardless of whether you want beer, sake, spirits or the fantastic alcopops, Chu-His. There’s probably no need to buy duty free alcohol.