Japan City Guides: Niseko, Hokkaido
Niseko is a top-class ski resort in Hokkaido, the northernmost island in Japan. Because of its easy access from Sapporo, and direct flights from Australia, it has become very, very popular as a summer/winter destination for Aussies, as well as visitors from Korea and more recently China.
Niseko (nisekoan) is originally an Ainu word meaning "river which runs around the bottom of a sheer cliff." The Ainu are the indigenous people in Hokkaido.
Niseko is framed by Mt. Yotei - a dormant volcano that looks quite similar to Mt. Fuji - which is pictured above right.
Modern Niseko is made up of a total of seven ski areas: Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu, Niseko Higashiyama, Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Hanazono, Niseko Moiwa, and the smallest of the bunch Niseko Weiss.
The main four are the closely linked resorts Hirafu, Higashiyama, Annupuri, and Hanazono.
In addition to the skiing, there is also good hiking in the nearby hills and mountains.
In March 2008, Niseko was voted as the sixth in a list of the top 10 ski resorts in the world. The Niseko area also offers a number of onsen (hot spring baths).
Average annual snowfall is 595 inches (15 meters), which makes it the second "snowiest" resort in the world.
By March, the average depth is 138 inches (351 cm).
In general lift fees will run about 4,000 - 5,000 yen a day.
It is possible to buy the Niseko All Mountain lift pass which allows you to use any of 38 lifts. The longest run at Niseko is 5.6 km.
It should also be noted that summer is a wonderful time to visit as well. Hokkaido does not have a rainy season - unlike the rest of Japan. Days are warm and nights are cool and pleasant. Hiking and nature are the main draw.
Hirafu ski resort and Mount Yotei, Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan
Plane (to Sapporo)
The closest airport is Sapporo's New Chitose Airport. Chitose is primarily served by domestic flights from all over Japan including Naneda Airport in Tokyo, Centrair in Nagoya in KIX in Osaka; however, come winter (in Japan), flights from abroad increase, primarily from Australia and there is also a twice weekly flight to Changi Airport in Singapore coinciding with the ski season and school holidays in Singapore.
From Sapporo Airport, you can use limousine bus service to Niseko. The cost per person ranges from 900-300 one way.
There are also several public bus lines that run from the airport to Hirafu. During ski season the Chuo Bus (+81 11 231 0500) makes 5 trips a day to Niseko. Donan buses (+81 123 465 701) make four runs a day. Other bus lines include Good Sports Whiteliner and Hokkaido Access Network.
For booking, go to the domestic travel agent counter on the 1st floor New Chitose Airport.
The trip takes 3-4 hours. This will of course depend upon the roads--and snow.
From Sapporo to Otaru is 1 hour by bus and a further 80 minutes to Kutchan Bus Terminal from Otaru.
There are a number of shuttle buses in the Niseko area: the Niseko United Shuttle runs around Niseko Mountain Range from late November to early May. The Hot Spring Hopping Bus connects hot spring onsens in Niseko. The Kutchan Night Go connects Kutchan urban area with Hirafu from December to late March (free). The Hanazono shuttle bus runs from Hirafu and hanazono from December to early April (free).
Niseko By Road
Niseko is 61km from Otaru, 100km from Sapporo and 127km from Chitose Airport on the highway. On National Highway 276 it is 15km to Kimobetsu and a further 75km to the port town of Tomakomai, which has ferries to Nagoya and Sendai.
View from the chairlift , Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan
This is not recommended in non-ski season. You will need to change at Otaru, and wait for one of the six daily local trains to Kutchan (the closest railway station to the Niseko-Hirafu Alpine Resort) and Niseko town. Then take a bus to Hirafu (15 minutes) from Kutchan.
From December to March, there are direct trains to Kutchan and Niseko: the Niseko Ski-Express. This will get you to Niseko in 2 hours and cost 560 (free if you have a Japan Rail Pass).
New Chitose Airport is 36 minutes on a rapid train to Sapporo; Sapporo to Otaru is 33 minutes by rapid or 45 minutes by local; Otaru to Kutchan is 90 minutes by local train.
Tourist Information Center
Niseko Resort Tourism Association, Inc.
As the property boom continues apace in Niseko, new apartments, hotels, pensions and ski lodges are quickly being built with many foreigners involved in the growing property market. Most of the accommodation options are located in Hirafu, with Annupuri and Higashiyama being more peaceful options. Self-catering apartments are also available for rent.
The European-style Freedom Inn, Hanazono, a short stroll from the new Hanazono 308 base lodge and the Niseko United ski lifts, offers Western and Japanese-style rooms and a dorm. Facilities include a restaurant, terrace and hot bath.
The Hotel Nikko Annupuri (Tel: 0136 58 3311) and the Niseko Prince Hotel (Tel: 0136 44 1111) are two of the upmarket western-style hotels in Niseko. The Hotel Ashiri provides free shuttle buses to various places in Niseko while the luxury Hilton Niseko Village Hotel has an outdoor bath (rotemburo) and a night club for apres ski. The Niseko Pension Grandpapa is a favorite with Australian visitors with a great bar, table football, bicycle rental and darts. See our recommendations for hotels in Niseko.
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