Summer’s fast approaching and I can’t stop thinking about the crisp snow days in Niseko, Japan.
Asia has never really been top of mind when it comes to snow sports and the picturesque winter wonderlands we are used to seeing in Europe or North America. Then again, it’s slightly more difficult to find information on countries where English isn’t widely spoken. Japan is one of those countries.
If you’ve seen my Japan travel videos;
You would know that I am completely in love with this country and for good reason. So naturally, 5 years ago when I started hearing about the fluffiest perfect powder conditions in Japan, my interest was piqued.
In 2015, we finally decided to take a winter trip with the family to Niseko and since then, I want to go back for every season.
If you’ve been skiing in Europe and North America, you know how inconsistent the snow can be during certain seasons, the prices can be quite high and people seem to be quite aggressive on the mountain. Now imagine Japan. People have an innate respect for each other, the snow is pretty consistent every season (even on a bad one) and who doesn’t want fresh sashimi and sake pares ski?
Here is a video I made from our recent trip there in February 2017:
Ever since going in 2015, the amount of people I know who are going to Niseko has increased consistently and I always get asked about some tips to make their trip more interesting. Here’s a list to help you out.
1. Mount Niseko is a mountain (duh), and that means that there are multiple faces to this mountain with little villages at the bottom of it. You’re not limited to just Niseko Village (not recommended). You can stay in Hirafu (where most of the action is), Annapuri (quiet, less people, great snow) or Hanazono (good for beginners, great gates for advanced skiers and boarders). They each have a bunch of hotels and restaurants but Hirafu wins in terms of options.
2. Now note that the only way to get from each of those places to another village is by shuttle/bus (can be quite slow), taxis (expensive) or by skiing down a separate side of the mountain (conditions need to be good for you to to be able to take a lift to go to Annapuri from Hirafu and ski down).
3. Hence, I think it’s important to rent a car. It changes everything. You can go to the different villages and more importantly to the different mountains. Yes, it’s not just Mount Niseko, there is Moiwa, Rusustsu (both close by) and a bunch more in and around Hokkaido. Remember information online can get quite limited for Japanese destinations, so talk to locals, translate Japanese sites and do your homework. There are so many other consistent quality mountains in Japan with good facilities, you just need to get there. Renting a car can help with this. Just make sure you book ahead and that you get an International Licence.
4. There is a small town called Kutchan, where most of the Japanese people and seasonal foreigners live during the winter. If you have a car you can go there. It’s a great town with the BEST authentic restaurants around Mount Niseko and you’ll have access to massive supermarkets with all the Japanese produce you may desire. It’s no secret that the villages that surround the base resorts of a mountain cater to both local and international tourist, so the facilities, quality or food, authenticity and availability of restaurants can be quite frustrating (if you are a big group, forget it). So why not skip all that hassle, rent a car, drive 15 mins to Kutchan and be spoiled for food choices.
5. Rent a house. In my opinion, if you want the best experience, try renting a house or chalet instead of staying in a hotel. Just make sure there is a daily service, lots of space, a parking space and a good kitchen. If you really want to save money, instead of eating out, buy stuff from the groceries in Kutchan and cook it at home. If you stick to just Hirafu, you won’t find much to cook with at home, except what you might get from a deli and convenience stores.
6. Stay away from the crowds. The only negative thing about Mt. Niseko is that the lifts are pretty old, so if one breaks down, you’re going to be lining up. To avoid the crowds on the mountain, show up to the base of the mountain at 8am and try out the different mountain faces, don’t just do Hirafu or Niseko, switch it up. If you want even more privacy, go to Moiwa (15 mins) or Rusutsu (40mins) – back to my point of renting a car.
7. Finally, the last thing you want is for Niseko to get overrun and if you’re like me, you like trying out different things. Research all the mountain spots in Japan– there are a bunch to choose from and there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to get your fresh tracks.
Restaurants and Bars in Hirafu:
Robata Niseko Naniwatei.
Crab Dining Kanon
Sessa Wagyu Hot Pot
Del Sole Pizzeria
Restaurants in Kutchan:
Café le Cochon
Others (accessible by Car)
Milk Kobo (Soft Serve and Egg Tarts)