No doubt you’ve already heard of Niseko, it’s the most famous ski resort in Japan, but for those of you that don’t know about this Hokkaido mountain town, here’s the lowdown. Niseko has grown in popularity thanks to the bountiful fresh snow that falls here during winter, attracting skiers and snowboarders from near and far. The soft powder is renowned as some of the best quality snow on the planet, but it’s not just winter sports on the menu here. Fresh mountain air, stunning landscapes, luxurious hot springs (onsen), plus magnificent dining and nightlife awaits. The truth is, you don’t have to ski or snowboard to enjoy a trip to Niseko, but it helps!

The view from the top of Niseko Village, Hokkaido.

Introducing Grand Hirafu

The Niseko United ski resort is spread out along the base of Mount Niseko-Annupuri, with four separate base areas, but we’re going to focus on Grand Hirafu. This spot is where the majority of people visiting Niseko stay, maybe because it’s home to most of the restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels. There are plenty of ski lifts and trails on this section of the mountain, but you can also easily access the Annupuri, Niseko Village, and Hanazono mountain areas.

Visit Seicomart in Hirafu to stock up on snacks, alcohol and all your daily essentials.

Start at the Ski School

If you’ve never been skiing or snowboarding before, you should kick things off with a lesson or two. Lucky for you there are some awesome ski schools in Niseko, with Niseko Base Snow sports being one of the best and operating across the entire mountain. Book up some time with one of their talented ski instructors who hail from all over the world!

Where to Ski & Snowboard

The best spots for you to shred through the white stuff depends on your ability, so here are some top picks for newbies all the way up to experts. If you’re still working on your ski skills then a few laps of the Family beginner trail is a great warm up. Another two green runs to try are Boyo and Kogen, both gentle slopes perfect for practicing.

For intermediates, one of the best ski trails is Youtei Sunset, a red run right at the top of the mountain where fresh snow can often be found. Connect onto the Crystal Garden and Stairway to Heaven red runs for a top-to-bottom ski that ends in Hanazono. Over on the Niseko Village section of the mountain, the Namara red trail also serves up some fantastic intermediate terrain.

Powder piling up on one of Niseko’s ungroomed runs.

Experts should take on the steep black run called Miharashi to get started, there’s a short hike involved to get there but it’s worth it. This slope isn’t groomed at all so after fresh snowfall the powder can be really deep. For some of the best off-piste tree skiing Niseko has to offer, try out Strawberry Fields. Our tip is to take the chairlift from Hanazono over this famous ski spot, then you can have a good look at the terrain and choose your route down!

Where to Stay

Sleep right next to the slopes at Hotel Niseko Alpen, where you’ll find everything from a relaxing spa offering therapeutic massages to karaoke rooms filled with singing and dancing! It’s one of a few places in Hirafu that offers true ski-in/ski-out accommodation, so if the convenience is worth it, book a room here! Down in the town and a short walk away from the ski lifts is Niseko Grandpapa Lodge, an altogether smaller and less luxurious establishment, but still offering a comfortable stay nonetheless. One great thing about this place is that it’s just a couple minutes’ walk from Yukoro Onsen, where you can soak in some rejuvenating hot spring mineral water.

Picking an Onsen

Yukoro Onsen is a great choice for traditional hot spring bathing, seeing as it’s open to the public and has a fantastic steaming outdoor pool, but it’s not the only onsen in town. Many of the big hotels in Niseko have their own onsen, often free to use if you stay there, so it’s worth checking for an onsen when you book your accommodation. The Vale Niseko is one of these hotels, where you’ll find an amazing onsen designed by Suzuki San. Mixing wood, stone, and glass to create a minimalistic space where tranquility reigns, the geothermal water here is sourced from 700 meters below ground.

The lavish entrance to the Niseko Hilton Onsen.

Where to Dine

If you’re somewhere on the mountain and hankering for a bite to eat, then try and get yourself to Boyo-so, a little soba and udon restaurant wedged between a couple of black runs. The dishes served here are as authentic as you can get, and it won’t cost you too much either. Once you’re in the town center of Hirafu there’s plenty more to choose from.

One restaurant you simply shouldn’t miss during your visit is Jirocho. This place serves up tasty cuisine unique to Hokkaido, from Teba Gyoza to Tachipon, and it’s regarded as one of the best eateries in the area. With fresh seafood, sashimi, smoked duck and more on the menu, you’ll find it in Niseko Town, which is a quick taxi ride away from Hirafu.

Where to Party

If a tipple takes your fancy you’re in luck, there’s plenty of drinking holes in Niseko, something that sets it apart from most other Japanese ski resorts. Lively après-skisare not exactly something Japan is known for, but Niseko bucks the trend. If you’re strolling around town and see what looks like a fridge door on the side of a rock wall, you’ve found Bar Gyu. This cozy little bar is a local institution and the perfect place to warm up with a mug of hot chocolate and Baileys!

You won’t miss Bar Gyu’s unique entrance.

To party late into the night, you should pay a visit to The Edge Bar, the only real nightclub in Hirafu (for now!) DJs spin records that fill up the dance floor in this underground venue, and the bar offers a long list of drink specials for you to try. The only downside is that a night out here is sure to keep you off the slopes early next morning!

When to Visit

For the best chance of scoring as many powder days as possible during your trip, you should visit Niseko from the end of December to the middle of February. Just keep in mind that Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and the Chinese New Year are peak times, so expect busier slopes and more expensive room rates. If you would prefer some sunshine during your visit, try arriving in March when the weather starts to improve. If you’re lucky you’ll enjoy blue skies along with white slopes. Now that should be enough to get you started on your ski trip to Niseko, see you on the mountain!