Praised by world-class skiers as “the best powder snow in the world”, Hokkaido is home to many outstanding ski resorts including Niseko, Rusutsu, and Tomamu. Hokkaido is fast becoming the number one destination for skiers, snowboarders, and backcountry enthusiasts from around the world.
Hokkaido is perhaps the most attractive place in Japan to go skiing or snowboarding, and the reason for this is the high quality of its snow. Powder snow with a low water content, which falls in colder temperatures, is said to be ideal for skiing. Hokkaido’s powder snow is so high quality that when the US magazine National Geographic Traveler selected the prefecture for their “Best Trips 2016” list, the title of the related article was “Absolute Powder.” During the winter season, Hokkaido ski resorts have a high probability of enjoying the finest powder snow and depending on the area, the slopes are covered with fresh snow almost every day. In Hokkaido, you can have the pleasure of making tracks on the slopes where fresh snow has just fallen, on a daily basis. It’s a wonderland for skiers and snowboarders from around the world. While mainland resorts are typically open from December to April, the colder Hokkaido weather enables skiing as late as May. There are many ski resorts across Hokkaido, and each has its own set of unique courses, as well as after-ski activities, such as bathing in onsen or trying regional foods. Among these resorts, the Niseko area is world-famous. From New Chitose Airport, Niseko is two hours by car or three and a half hours by train or bus. However, once the trek has been made to this remote winter spot, traveling around is made convenient by the local transportation system; the four main ski resorts the area is home to—Niseko Hanazono Resort, Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village Ski Resort, and Niseko Annupuri International Ski Area—all are connected by shuttle bus. This article will introduce the details of these four world-class ski areas.
Niseko Hanazono Resort
Located in the northeast of Mt. Niseko Annupuri is Niseko Hanazono Resort. Here, guests are offered the unique opportunity to begin the skiing day an hour before everyone else. During the resort’s guided tour, run by a team of knowledgeable locals, guests are taken to hidden powder spots and backcountry areas inaccessible to the general public and are provided with a “First Track” guarantee, in which the ski lifts can be ridden while the slopes remain empty. Group sizes are extremely small, with a maximum of four guests per guide. Knowing the mountains of Niseko inside and out, these guides prepare tailor-made plans to ensure the best experience for everyone, from first-time backcountry skiers to those with years of experience under their belts, all depending on the skills and preferences of the group and the conditions of the mountain on the given day. For the more experienced skiers, Hanazono Park, at Niseko Hanazono Resort, is one of the largest terrain parks in Hokkaido to be designed around banked slaloms, kickers, and jibs, allowing guests to practice their favorite tricks. New obstacles are added as the snow cover increases, making for novel and exciting layouts that can be enjoyed afresh several times in one season. Niseko Hanazono Resort is an enjoyable destination for families and advanced skiers alike, with plenty of great experiences to enjoy.
328-36 Iwaobetsu, Kutchan-cho, Abuta, Hokkaido
NISEKO Mt. RESORT Grand HIRAFU
With 30 courses to choose from, Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu is the largest ski resort in Japan. These 30 courses are serviced by 15 lifts and gondolas, so beginners and experienced skiers alike can choose the path that suits them best. For the more daring skiers, the highest lift reaches 940 meters above the baseline, making for a thrilling descent. At the end of a fun-packed day carving up the powder on the slopes, the base town offers many ways to relax and unwind in the form of local restaurants and high-quality hot springs and provides a wide variety of lodging facilities. Grand Hirafu is especially recommended for those wishing to celebrate the festive season; every year on December 31, about 150 skiers and snowboarders hold a “torch run”, which is followed by a firework display to celebrate the New Year.
204 Yamada, Kutchan-cho, Abuta, Hokkaido
NISEKO VILLAGE Ski Resort
Located at the center of Niseko United Ski Resort, in between Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu and Niseko Annupuri International Ski Area, is Niseko Village. What makes Niseko Village special is its forest course that weaves through the surrounding native forest. While the confidence to zip between the trees may be the reserve of more experienced skiers, a snow school and activities and programs for kids are also available. The names of the courses are unique and add a fun twist to amuse all guests: Jagaimo (potato), Misoshiru (miso soup), and Namara (meaning “extremely” in Hokkaido dialect). In addition to the ski slopes, two luxury hotels are located at the foot of the mountain: a boutique hotel, “The Green Leaf Niseko Village”, and “Hilton Niseko Village”, which boasts 22 stories, as well as luxury Kasara Townhouses. Niseko Village is also home to a shopping and dining-area complex: an Edo-themed commercial facility built on the concept of traditional Japanese “machiya” architecture. In addition to enjoying dishes made with fresh vegetables from local farmers and seafood from Hokkaido, guests can also enjoy shopping for designer and novelty goods.
Higashiyama onsen, Niseko-cho, Abuta, Hokkaido
Niseko Annupuri International Ski Area
For newcomers to the sport of skiing, Niseko Annupuri International Ski Area, a peaceful snow resort with the finest powder snow, is perfect, offering a variety of wide and gentle courses that beginners and families can enjoy with ease. What is more, the four-star resort hotel Niseko Northern Resort An’nupuri, located at the foot of the mountain, has a designated slope for small children to enjoy sledding. That being said, there is still much to enjoy for adults, such as the numerous hot-spring facilities in the surrounding area—the one that offers the chance to enjoy an outdoor snow bath is a must-visit. Moreover, while the resort is popular among novices and families, there is also a championship course for advanced skiers, making this resort suitable for all.
485 Niseko, Niseko-cho, Abuta, Hokkaido