Niseko Ski Playground, Japan

What was once a remote, quiet and sleepy town in the north of Japan is now booming with Australians, Europeans and locals. Niseko is known for its abundance of dry, fluffy snow that pours over the region from December to March each year. Many Europeans are coming to Japan now as their ski seasons haven’t been great with hardy any snow falling.

The Après–ski atmosphere that Europeans are accustomed hasn’t quite reached Niesko but the largest town, Grand Hirafu has plenty of bars and restaurants to enjoy, although out of your ski gear. Fridge Bar has great cocktails and great views of the snow and forrest that makes you appreciate the fresh alpine air even more. Wild Bills is great for a big night and has plenty of lively atmosphere to go around.

The main road has heated foot paths and roads but the side streets can be very slippery, so bring your mates to roam the streets arm in arm or wear the appropriate shoes. There are also free shuttles that pick you up at various bus stops every 20 minutes if you are set on waiting. It’s a huge God send when you are carrying your skis, poles and can’t really walk in your boots up to the gondola in the morning.

The fresh seafood for your sashimi or crab legs, ramen noodles, teppanyaki meats, Japanese gyoza dumplings and miso soup make Niseko a food paradise. The style of restaurants are still very traditional with wooden interiors and stoneware plates and the flavours true to the farmlands that were once here. Also the magnums of sake are impressive and far too easy to drink in tiny cups. The plum wine is also unique to the area and served over ice is very refreshing.

There is a huge variety of choice of skiing in Niseko and four main areas, Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Annapuri and Niskeo Village. There is a really reliable shuttle to Hanazono where the rest are a little testing to visit unless you can handle the black run from the top.

Annapuri has some gentle runs and great restaurant (for the ski slopes!) and food trucks. Still having the original gondola from the 70s it is a great spot also to go off piste.

Many spend a few days outside of Niseko in Sapporo or Mount Moiwa also offers some unique resorts, although best to hire a guide and get your fix of fresh powder.

After a day on slopes the mineral rich onsen offer the perfect way to unwind are recharge your battered legs or use the snow to ice your sprains. The Hilton as a great onsen that is open to guest not staying there and there is a shuttle from the main street (outside Rhythm sports) that goes almost every hour. In Japan you shower first before slipping into the natural hot water and that is completely au natural. You can’t wear any clothes besides a towel on your head. It is split between men and women just to keep things black and white.

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Mt. Yotei from the beginner slopes

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Snow falling on piste

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Nature on the mountain

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Covered Ski lift

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Night skiing

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Coffee fix

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Fridge Bar

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Fuku Fukutetei restaurant near the welcome centre

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Outdoor fire pitt off main street

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Shop on the main street

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Handful of snow

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Niseko Chalet

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Chateau Billopp view

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Chateau Billopp room

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Natural Fridge

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Top of Mt. Niseko-Annupuri

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Mt. Yotei

GETTING THERE

Best is to fly into Tokyo and get a connecting flight to Sapporo. There are two domestic airports in Haneda, Tokyo but there is a free shuttle bus outside that is easy to find. It can be tricky to find your airline as they are spilt across the two airports. You only need two hours for the connection to be safe and make sure you have something to eat before going though to customs as there isn’t much choice there. There are plenty of phone charging stations but the wifi was not easy to connect to. Excess baggage on Skymark airlines was only $10 for anther 4kg and checking in your skis was very easy.

Once you are in Sapporo then you need to book a coach transfer that takes a max of 3 hours with a 10 minute bathroom stop. The goodsports whiteliner is the cheapest and really good. Only an hour is needed to pick up your bags go to the counter on the right hand side of the terminal to mark your name off, pick up a few snacks for the trip at Lawson and then go to the cream waiting seats at the opposite side so you can get on the coach 15 minutes before it leaves. There are staff to help you get your bags on the coach but can be a bit tricky before that if you need to pick up a few things.

The coach stops at the welcome centre in Grand Hirafu and then your accomodation will be able to send someone to pick you up and take you to where you will be staying.

Also if you do any shopping in Japan and are needing a tax refund this needs to be done on the day and in the store rather than at the airport.

STAY

Best is to stay in Grand Hirafu as you are close to the main gondola to get up the mountain and all the night life. Accomodation does book up fast and you need to get this locked away before November.

Samurai Snow offers a range of choices

EAT

Best is to book your restaurants in advance as they book up and it is very difficult to get tables.

Abacha 1 & 2

Bang Bang 1 & 2

The Barn 

Fuku Fukutetei 

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