First Time Skiing in Niseko Japan

GET READY FOR YOUR FIRST TIME SKIING IN NISEKO!

Planning your winter trip skiing in Niseko, Japan? This is the ultimate guide for your first time skiing in Niseko! Everything from the best ski area, where to eat, where to stay, how much to budget for, and much more! 

I have been skiing in Niseko for three years in a row, so I have plenty of useful tips for planning your perfect trip to the slopes. 

Whether you are traveling solo, with a partner, or visiting Japan with your kids, there are loads of things to do in Niseko. Balance hopping from slope to slope with exploring the local cuisine and culture for the best experience in Niseko in winter.

Let’s ski straight into it, shall we? 

view of Mount Yotei from Niseko
The view of Mount Yotei from the ski runs in Niseko. | Photo by Luis Reid from Unsplash

About Niseko Japan in winter 

One thing Japan is known for, particularly in winter, is its incredible skiing. Skiing is especially popular in the northernmost region of the country known as Hokkaido – which is home to some of the most beautiful winter wonderlands in the world

Niseko, which is located in Hokkaido, is Japan’s most famous ski resort area. 

Niseko is actually a collection of interconnected ski resorts. The main resorts within the Niseko area include Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village, Annupuri, and Hanazono, which we’ll explore in more detail later.

Niseko is renowned for its consistent supply of powder snow, backcountry access, and beautiful scenery. It’s no surprise it’s one of the best ski destinations in the world!

Its snow is often referred to as “Japow” or sometimes “champagne powder,” a skiing expression used to describe a type of snow that is exceptionally light, fluffy, and dry. 

How to get to Niseko

If you are an Aussie, a trip to Japan is a fantastic choice for a ski adventure. Around a 10-hour trip, with no jet lag due to the similar time zones! Beats a 24+ hour journey to Canada or Switzerland.  

If you are traveling from the United States or Canada it takes a bit more effort. While there are plenty of incredible ski resorts in North America, like Aspen, Vail, and Telluride in the USA, plus, Whistler and Banff in Canada, there are plenty of die-hard skiers who want to experience skiing in Japan and elsewhere. 

If you’re traveling from the states to Japan for skiing, plan for a longer travel time and give yourself an extra day or two for yourself and your children to recover from jet lag.

To get to Niseko, you’ll fly into Sapporo, which is the transportation hub for Hokkaido, although you’ll likely connect through Tokyo or Osaka. From the Sapporo New Chitose Airport, there are buses, trains, and hotel shuttles you can take to get to the ski resort, or you can rent a car

ALSO READ: WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT FLYING WITH SKIS

First-Time Skiing in Niseko Japan

people skiing in niseko down a mountain at rusutsu
Skiing in Niseko for the first time? Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced skier, you’ll find terrain you’ll enjoy. | Photo by Olivia from Defining Decade

The abundance of soft powdery snow makes Niseko a great place for beginners and children to learn to ski.

Just a word of warning, if it’s your first time in Japan, don’t expect Niseko to be the cultural explosion you would see in Tokyo. Over the wintertime, Niseko is flooded with tourists, including loads of Aussies. Recently, there has also been a lot of investment ino Western hotels and restaurants, as the resort is seeing an increase in visitors from Europe and North America.

If you’re keen to explore Japanese culture I’d recommend extending your trip to include a stay in Tokyo.

Where To Stay in Niseko

I recommend staying in Hirafu due to its proximity to a range of ski resorts and the abundance of cafes and restaurants within walking distance. Hirafu is home to the popular Niseko Hirafu Ski resort that offers soft powder snow skiing day and night! More on Hirafu skiing later. 

I stayed at Chatrium Niseko, formerly Shiki which was fantastic both in terms of location and facilities, but it is more on the pricier side. Below are a few additional suggestions to suit every budget and number of travelers! 

  • The Maples Niseko (ski-to-door access, a minute’s walk from Niseko, Grand Hirafu luxury)
  • Chatrium Niseko (located in Hirafu, 5-minute shuttle bus to Niseko United Ski Resort, great for families or groups) 
  • Lodge 401 (mid-range lodge, ski-to-door access in Annupuri, close to hot springs)

First Time Skiing In Niseko – The Best Resorts

Next up, let’s cover the best ski resorts in Niseko for beginners and beyond.

Grand Hirafu

a sign in Japanese on a ski run at Grand Hirafu in Niseko
Grand Hirafu is the largest of Niseko’s ski areas. | Photo by Eric Ward

Starting off with Hirafu, the main attraction when it comes to skiing in Niseko. The Grand Hirafu Ski Resort is the biggest of the four interconnected Niseko United ski areas, home to some of the best facilities and services in Niseko. However, keep in mind it can get pretty crazy during peak times! 

I highly recommend you grab your ski rentals and ski lessons in Hirafu as you are guaranteed top quality and an abundance of choice. Grand Hirafu attracts loads of Aussies in particular as well as some internationals to spend a season working abroad in ski shops, cafes, bars, hotels, and ski instructing. This is great for new skiers who are concerned about a language barrier

However, as Hirafu is very Westernized, there isn’t much Japanese culture to explore, which to me is a shame. I don’t travel from Australia to Japan to eat a cheeseburger and sip a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, I want to immerse myself in the culture and way of living in Japan. To enjoy a taste of Japan you need to venture a little further out. 

Back to the ski resort. In Japan, there aren’t many resorts that have a village where you can wander around, dine in, and explore quaint cafes. Hirafu has plenty to offer on and off the ski fields. 

There is extensive terrain, with runs for beginners and off-piste and side-country skiing for advanced skiers. 

Have a sleep-in, explore the outskirts of Niseko, soak in a nearby onsen, and still get a ski in at nighttime. Night skiing at Hirafu is very impressive

Annupuri

a person skiing at Annupuri in Niseko
Annupuri is a quieter ski area compared to Hirafu and it is great for beginners. | Photo by Olivia from Defining Decade

Next is Annupuri, my personal favorite ski field for beginners! Home to excellent ski schools for newbies and a range of great runs with varying difficulty to allow for progression. The quad ski lift is perfect for getting the hang of jumping on and off lifts and accessing the slopes via the parking area is a very short and easy walk. 

As you progress, take the top lift to experience fresh powder snow and more advanced runs. 

Since Annupuri is slightly quieter than other ski areas in Niseko such as Hirafu, it is often more popular with powder-chasing advanced skiers. There aren’t as many bells and whistles in terms of cafes and nearby activities. And you know it’s good terrain when the Japanese army holds training sessions at Annupuri! 

Take the 30-minute drive from Hirafu (if you choose to stay there) and spend the day exploring Annupuri’s well-kept runs.

Rusutsu

People skiing in Niseko going down a slope at Rusutsu
Rusutsu is great for skiers looking for longer runs. | Photo by Olivia from Defining Decade

Moving onto Rusutsu, a ski resort for intermediate and advanced skiers looking for longer runs with loads of variation and captivating views. Rusutsu has some of the most incredible powder snow which is very dry so you can blast straight through it with minimal resistance. Not only is it some of the best snow in the world but it is also fantastic for tree skiing

Advanced skiers enjoy amazing off-piste runs, whilst intermediates can stick to the range of red runs (called blues in the US and Canada), from wide to narrow, steep to flatter. 

Around a 40-minute drive from Hirafu village, Rusutsu is less busy than more built-up ski villages.

Personally, I found Rusutus the most challenging yet rewarding ski experience in all of Niseko. If you have only been skiing a few times it will test your courage, skills, and technique! 

Kiroro

Not ready to tackle the challenge of Rusutsu? The beautiful runs of Kiroro are for you! Located slightly further out, about a 45-minute to a 1-hour drive from Hirafu, Kiroro is great for beginners or those days when you just want to take it easy. Ski through flat runs with trees surrounding you and practice your turns on wide runs with varying steepness. 

The resort has 23 runs, with an equal spread of green, blue, and black piste. The on-piste terrain, including the black runs, is not as challenging as nearby ski resorts in Japan. 

Although it’s great for beginners if you’re game, ski touring the Kiroro backcountry offers phenomenal powder! 

Hanazono

Last but not least, we have Hanazono, known for its superior snow quality to neighboring resorts and range of gentle slopes for beginners. 

Hanazono is smaller than other ski resorts in Japan, with only 12 ski runs. From easy beginner runs that allow for progression to incredible off-piste ski treeing, Hanazono is great for beginners and advanced skiers alike. 

For the adrenaline junkie skiers, grab your avalanche safety gear and venture out of the backcountry gates for some fantastic fresh snow and spectacular views. 

Although there isn’t a proper village at Hanazono, other than the luxury Park Hyatt hotel, Hanazono is only a short 10-15 minute drive from Hirafu town. 

Getting Around Niseko

a natural hot spring surrounded by snow
Wanting to explore the area when you aren’t on the mountain or visit an onsen or hot spring? Renting a car is a great way to get around. | Photo by Olivia from Defining Decade

I highly recommend renting or hiring a car or van when skiing in Niseko as it will allow you to experience all the top-rated slopes, explore the best dining spots, and venture to neighboring towns and après ski activities. 

If you want to save some money and are happy sticking to one mountain, I would choose the accommodation that has ski-to-door access or a free shuttle and plenty of dining options nearby. Hirafu is my personal preference. 

Where to Eat – First Time Skiing In Niseko

Next, we have the best places in Niseko to enjoy some local Japanese cuisine and soul-warming meals. Spending all day on the slopes can work up quite an appetite, at least for me it does! These are my favorite restaurants to visit when I’m in Japan. 

Hirafu food trucks 

A visit to the Hirafu food trucks for a quick and hearty dinner is a must. My personal favorite is the Taj Express, an Indian food truck serving delicious curries and naan breads, it always hits the spot when you’ve spent the day in the snow! Other popular food trucks serve hot dogs, burgers, and fish and chips. 

Tsubara Tsubara

Next, we have a family favorite of mine, Tsubara Tsubara. Dine sitting on the floor in Niseko’s most famous soup curry shop.

A must-try dish with locally harvested ingredients in a rich spicy soup. Choose your meat (or the vegetarian option), select your spice level from 1-20, and any add-ons. Tsubara Tsubara is one of the more authentic dining experiences in Niseko, a great way to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. 

Okonomiyaki Ju

Up next, we have Okonomiyaki Jui, quite a mouthful right? Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savory pancake topped with sauce and Japanese mayonnaise. Okonomiyaki Ju is a fantastic cozy, original pancake house.

The food is prepared in front of you at your table hot plate, whether you decide to go for the traditional okonomiyaki or try a noodle stir fry. Pair your dish with a Japanese beer and you have yourself a satisfying meal. 

Teuchi-Soba Ichimura

a meal at Teuchi-Soba Ichimura in Niseko
Teuchi-Soba Ichimura is a great place to stop for lunch when visiting Niseko in winter. | Photo by Olivia from Defining Decade

You can’t visit Japan without eating some freshly made noodles! Teuchi-Soba Ichimura is a fabulous little place to stop in for lunch to indulge in fresh soba, tempura, and miso soup. Get in quick, they tend to sell out! 

Ramen Shingen Minami 6jo

Speaking of noodles, Ramen Shingen serves delicious hot bowls of ramen noodles. Yet another favorite with the locals, it will be one of the best ramen joints in town. Another small restaurant that can often have queues waiting for a seat, so arrive early or be prepared to wait for a table. 

A Bu Chu 2

The perfect restaurant to taste Hokkaido specialties. On the menu is a range of delicious plates and hot pots to share or you can opt for a set menu. As guests arrive the waitstaff shout to greet them, a standard practice in Japan. This friendly family-run, lively restaurant will sure to leave an impression. 

Fridge Door

Lastly, we have a cozy bar to enjoy a few after-dinner cocktails and small bites. Wander off the street of Hirafu’s lower village into the quirky doorway of the Fridge Door Bar (Gyu+ Bar).

Duck through the door and be enticed by the shelves of records, Japanese whisky, gorgeous street views, and eclectic lights. Enjoy an apple pie cocktail, a glass of Sake, or a whisky sour. 

How Much Does It Cost – First Time Skiing In Niseko

Some of the best powder skiing in the world comes at a cost. But it is an experience I recommend for all ski enthusiasts and with some careful planning it can be done without breaking the bank. 

Below I have listed some average costs you can expect for a mid-range trip of 5 days for 2 people. You can certainly spend less by staying in hostels or private rooms, eating out less, and sticking to cans of Sapporo beer from the supermarket instead of treating yourself to Apple Pie cocktails at the Fridge Bar (guilty!). 

  • Niseko all mountain pass: ¥36,900, $398 AUD, $272 USD / per person
  • Accommodation:  ¥148703.66,  $1600 AUD, $1098 USD 
  • Food: ¥20,910,  $225 AUD, $155 USD / per person
  • Ski rentals: (skis, boots, helmet and poles): ¥20,850, $224 AUD, $154 USD / per person
  • Car rental: ¥35345.71, $385 AUD, $258 USD

Total for 2 travelers:

  • $3679 AUD 
  • ¥337,758
  • $2471 USD

FAQs: First Time Skiing In Niseko

a family riding up a chair lift while skiing in Niseko
Skiing in Niseko can be fun for the entire family. | Photo by Frederick Wallace from Unsplash

Moving onto some commonly asked questions about your first time skiing in Niseko.

How many days do you need for skiing in Niseko? 

I highly recommend spending at least 5 to 7 days skiing in Niseko. This gives you plenty of time to explore the various ski resorts and allows for a rest day that you can fill with après ski activities. 

If you have more time to spend, why not extend your trip to explore neighboring cities, other areas of Japan like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara or even other countries near Japan!

Is Hakuba or Niseko better for beginners?

Both Hakuba and Niseko offer fantastic Japan skiing experiences, but when it comes to beginners, Niseko tends to have a slight edge due to its generally milder terrain and consistent snow conditions.

Here’s a comparison to help you decide.

Niseko for Beginners

  • Gentle Slopes: Niseko’s ski resorts, particularly the Grand Hirafu area, offer a range of gentle slopes that are ideal for beginners to build their confidence and skills.
  • Powder Snow: Niseko is renowned for its abundant powder snow, which is forgiving for beginners as it provides a cushioned landing.
  • English-Friendly: Many of the ski schools and instructors in Niseko are English-speaking, making it easier for beginners to receive proper guidance and instruction.
  • Lift Access: Niseko’s well-developed lift system ensures that beginners can easily access beginner-friendly slopes without having to tackle more advanced terrain.
  • Resort Facilities: The Niseko area has well-equipped rental shops, cozy lodges, and a variety of dining options, making it convenient for beginners to enjoy their time off the slopes.

Hakuba for Beginners

  • Variety of Slopes: While some areas in Hakuba offer beginner-friendly slopes, there are also resorts with more challenging terrain. Beginners might need to research specific resorts known for accommodating their skill level.
  • Snow Quality: While Hakuba also experiences good snowfall, the snow conditions can vary, and beginners might find the powder snow to be slightly less forgiving than Niseko.
  • English Assistance: While English-speaking instructors are available in some ski schools, the availability might be more limited compared to Niseko.
  • Varied Experience: Hakuba offers a mix of traditional Japanese culture and modern amenities, providing a unique cultural experience for beginners.

In conclusion, while both destinations can cater to beginners, Niseko tends to be a more popular choice due to its beginner-friendly slopes, consistent snow quality, and English-speaking support.

When can you start skiing in Niseko?

3 people skiing down a wide open ski run in Niseko
Peak season for skiing in Niseko occurs in January and February when the snow conditions are the best. | Photo by Jedidiah Brady from Unsplash

The ski season in Niseko typically starts in late November and lasts until early May. However, the exact start and end dates can vary from year to year depending on snowfall and weather conditions.

Here’s a general breakdown of the ski season in Niseko.

Early Season (Late November to December)

  • The ski season usually kicks off in late November or early December.
  • During this time, only a few slopes may be open, and snow conditions might not be optimal. It’s a quieter period with fewer crowds.

Peak Season (January to February)

  • January and February are typically the peak months for skiing in Niseko.
  • Snow conditions are generally excellent, with consistent powder snow.
  • This is the busiest time, so accommodation and lift lines might be more crowded.

Late Season (March to Early May)

  • Skiing continues through March, with the possibility of good snow conditions.
  • In April and early May, the ski season gradually winds down as temperatures rise and snow melts.
  • Fewer slopes might be open, but it’s a quieter time with fewer visitors.

It’s important to note that Niseko’s reputation for powder snow is most prominent from December to February. While skiing is possible outside of these months, the best time for optimal snow conditions and a vibrant skiing atmosphere is during the peak winter months.

If you’re planning a ski trip to Niseko, it’s a good idea to check with local ski resorts or official websites for the most up-to-date information on opening dates and conditions. 

Is skiing in Niseko expensive?

a group of people stopped at the top of a ski run in niseko japan
Niseko is a great ski resort for families or groups of varying levels. | Photo by Olivia from Defining Decade

Skiing in Niseko can be considered relatively expensive compared to some other ski destinations, but the costs can vary depending on factors such as accommodation, dining preferences, equipment rental, and the overall level of comfort you’re seeking.

Here are some cost considerations for skiing in Niseko.

Accommodation: Accommodation prices can vary widely depending on the type you choose. Luxury resorts and ski-in/ski-out accommodations tend to be more expensive, while budget options like hostels and guesthouses can provide more affordable alternatives.

Lift Passes: Lift pass prices in Niseko can be relatively high, especially during peak ski season (January to February). There are different pass options available, including single-day passes, multi-day passes, and season passes. Multi-day passes might offer better value if you plan to ski for multiple days.

Additionally, if you are an IKON Pass holder, you can use your pass to ski in Niseko for up to 7 days. The IKON Pass also gives you access to several of the best ski resorts in Colorado like Winter Park, Steamboat and Aspen, as well as other popular mountains like Big Sky and Jackson Hole.

Equipment Rental: Renting skiing or snowboarding equipment can add to your expenses. The cost varies based on the type of equipment and the duration of the rental. Some accommodations offer ski packages that include equipment rental, which can be more convenient and cost-effective.

Lessons: If you’re a beginner or looking to improve your skills, taking lessons with a qualified instructor can be beneficial. While lessons can be an additional expense, they provide valuable guidance and a better experience on the slopes.

Dining: Dining costs can vary based on where you choose to eat. On-mountain dining and resort restaurants tend to be pricier than dining options in nearby towns.

Transport: Transportation costs can include flights to and from Niseko, car rental as well as transfers between the airport and the resort. Public transport within Niseko is generally affordable and efficient.

Overall: While skiing in Niseko might be considered expensive, the experience of skiing in renowned powder snow and enjoying the stunning natural surroundings can be well worth the investment.

It’s a good idea to plan a budget, research accommodation options, and explore deals or packages to make the most of your skiing experience in Niseko while managing costs.

The Wrap-Up: First Time Skiing In Niseko

people walking up a snowy mountain to access back country terrain in Niseko
Niseko boasts plenty of in-bounds runs as well as epic backcountry skiing that requires a short hike to access. | Photo by Kristian Klausen from Unsplash

And that’s a wrap on your first time skiing in Niseko! Can you believe you shredded those powdery slopes and rocked that après-ski scene? You’re practically a snow guru now!

From those wobbly first steps on the snow to those triumphant whoops as you conquered a tricky run, every moment was like a scene from your own winter movie.

Don’t forget the cozy lodges and the way that hot cocoa warmed not just your hands, but your heart, too. 

A trip to Niseko is one you won’t forget! It’s no wonder Japan is one of the best places in Asia for a family vacation

Do you have a question or comment about skiing in Niseko, Japan? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments below.  

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