Luxury Chalets in Niseko
Every winter, Hokkaido, a large island to the north of Tokyo, is gifted with snowstorms blowing in directly from Siberia, bringing with them some of the world’s lightest, driest, fluffiest snow – around 15 metres of it during an typical winter. In the heaviest years Niseko can receive up to 17m of the white gold. In comparison, the annual average of Val d’Isère is a mere 5m. While locals have been lapping up the crème-de-la-crème snow drifts and world-class tree-skiing for decades, foreigners have only recently begun to appreciate the wonders of snow sports in Japan. Over the last decade, this deep cover has attracted film-makers, photographers and increasing numbers of European and North American skiers to what many consider is the holy grail of powder skiing.
Yet that is not all that comes with the territory under Mount Yōtei’s shadow, be prepared for some Japanese-styled Après-ski (think Onsens surrounded by Japanese Pink Cherry blossom and snowflakes the size of apples), with some Saki on the side. Then there’s the gastronomy, even if you hate snowsports, the cold, jet lag and onsens, the cuisine will never disappoint.
Huge average snowfall
Niseko Ski Overview
The generous showers of supersized flakes swing in straight from Siberia day and night. They are punctuated with clear spells, usually in the morning, when the huge volcano opposite, Mount Yōtei, emerges from the cloud. In comparison to the big North American or European ski fields, the runs tend to be shorter with less steep sections, however the guaranteed quality and reliability of the snowfall is enough to justify the jet lag, and as for the night skiing, Niseko has the best in the world. Rumour has it that they use 9 different shades of halogen lamps to illuminate the pistes at night. The result is impeccable visibility, enabling better sight than during the day, to the point of being able to see every dimple and bump.
Whilst It’s never possible to guarantee powder snow, the conditions in Niseko are as close as you’ll get. Add to these unique conditions a brilliant resort with several funparks and features for all progressive riders and skiers to enjoy, as well as hardly any queues for lifts and you end up questioning the sanity of the millions who flock to Europe.
There’s also a huge amount of off-piste available. The risks of skiing the back country are relatively high given there’s no avalanche bombing and the weather sets in quickly, therefore guides are highly recommended.
Don’t forget to help prep yourself again for your next day on the mountains with the age-old tradition Japanese après-ski tradition of stripping off in an onsen – the natural hot spring water will do wonders for aching muscles after a hard day on the slopes (you’re welcome).
Key InformationSeason: December – April Elevation: 1,308m Average Snowfall: 15m+ Lifts: 3 Gondolas/30 Lifts Terrain: 30% Beginner/40% Intermediate/30% Expert Park: Yes
Hiking & Snowshoeing
Recently, snowshoeing, one of the fastest growing winter sports in the world, has taken Japan by storm too, and it is one of the best ways to see the pristine yet rugged landscape up close, to fully immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Hokkaido.
For those craving a faster pace than snowshoeing, cross-country skiing is the winter sport match for you. Throughout the resort, there are ample and well-selected cross-country trails to keep you busy for weeks on end, and like snowshoeing, Niseko offers group and private cross-county skiing tours.
A great way to explore the region’s stunning mountain views is by snowmobile, cutting through the vast blankets of Niseko’s powder by snowmobile. Suitable for families and thrill-seekers alike, take in the magical snowfields where Japan’s Mt. Yōtei basks the landscape. In addition, Niseko has plenty of other snow-based activities including snow-banana boats, sledding and tubing.
Don’t come to Niseko expecting western-style gastronomy on and off the slopes. Forget the heavy, cheese and potato-dominated Alpine cuisine, dining out in Niseko is a culinary feast. The resort provides a sensationally diverse range eateries, restaurants and takeaway places, from sushi, sashimi, noodles, yakitori, Nepalese curry, and, for those craving a slice of home, pizza and burgers. In spite of the number of Australians in town, European-style après-ski is fairly hard to find: locals tend to either opt for the night-skiing or relaxing in onsens, saving the sake for later on. Once night has set in, Hirafu is the centre of the action, which takes place in fairly small, niche and lively bars.
1000m HutAprès-Ski, Japanese
Our favourite spot on the mountain is the 1000m Hut - what Niseko does best. A small traditional restaurant where the atmosphere is warm and friendly and the excellent food reasonably-priced.
KamimuraJapanese, French, Contemporary, Gourmet, Wine Bar
In town, Kamimura, Hirafu is well-worth checking out. Yuichi Kamimura, head chef at his eponymous restaurant, creates perfectly presented dishes using local produce that combine the tastes and traditions of Japanese cuisine with French classics and are complemented by an excellent wine cellar.
Gyu BarCocktails, Après Ski
Gyu Bar (AKA Fridge Door bar due to the old fridge door entrance) serves great cocktails in a shabby-chic and relaxed ambience.
Ice & Dragon Bar LohasAprès-Ski, Bar
Whilst the Ice Bar, an igloo that serves vodka and spirits in ice glasses, is a must before heading for Dragon Bar to help warm the soul.
With English-speaking children’s ski schools, sledding, and professional babysitting services, Niseko is a fun and easy resort to bring kids of all ages while giving them a taste of Japanese culture — and you can enjoy all the amazing local food, wine, and relaxing onsens! Children below school age have lift passes free of charge (with 1000 yen deposit, refundable on return).
Niseko has an official ski school as well as several independent schools operating out of Hirafu. There are plenty of international instructors but it’s still advisable to book an English-speaking teacher in advance. If the small ones are keen for some festive fun, we recommend the Reindeer Sledding at Niseko Village where real live reindeer are guests between December and February!
Looking for a warm retreat from all the waist deep powder? Kids are allowed to run free and climb to their own ability under the eye of a professional guide at the Niseko Adventure Centre (NAC) Building. Likewise, The Hanazono Adventure Centre offers a range of fun and exciting activities for all ages. Zip-lining, snow tubing and sledding and the option to take a cheeky snowmobile tour are just some of the things your family will love about this awesome facility.
There are dozens more activities around town too to keep children content to their hearts delight, season long festivities, culinary delights at Niseko’s range of restaurants, offering something to tantalise even the fussiest of eaters. Or for the more traditional, of course there is the daily Snowman/Igloo Making and Sledding!