OK it’s not pretty but it is a clear and informative map of the three biggest resorts on Mt Niseko An’nupuri, the best winter sports slopes in Hokkaido and one of the three best winter sports areas in Japan, along with Hakuba and Zaō on Honshu (that’s the big island to the south that contains Tokyo). On the far right there is a small resort called Hanazono.
Niseko Winter Sports: Choosing your slopes
Checking out the panoramic view over to Mt Yotei (aka Little Fuji) from near the top of Mt Niseko Annupuri (1,308m high), Hokkaido.
Being in a far north latitude Hokkaido snow is very dry and falls in small soft flakes that create a brilliant powder- and lot of it, averaging 15 metres a year, more than most of the world’s top ski resorts.
Due to the northerly location the snow season starts early and finishes late:
• Most Niseko resorts open towards the end of November thru to the first week of December but snow cover could be a little thin at the start of the season and some lifts/restaurants may not yet be open, though room prices will be low.
• The peak price and powder season runs December 21 – February 20, a busy time with crowded restaurants, high prices, snowfall instead of sunshine.
• The shoulder season from February 21 – March 20 offers excellent snow conditions, less crowds and more sunny days.
• Springtime (aka the end of days) March 21 – May 6, a good cheap time with a fair amount of sunshine but possibility of rain and services closure towards the end.
The beauty of Niseko – which won the title of ‘Japan’s Best Ski Resort’ at the World Ski Awards 2015 – is that all four resorts work together. Buy a pricey United lift pass anywhere, use it almost everywhere and change slopes as you wish. Or do one resort pass per day for a lower price. Many other options are available.
We sent Ikuko – our tame downhill racer – off to spend one very full day testing various lifts and slopes and let us know her favourites. Actually the number one choice became immediately apparent…
Grand Hirafu low down at Base1, Niseko.
Another pozz about Grand Hirafu is that both the friendly and informative Welcome Center and the Base1 building – from which that photo was taken – provide free, fast wifi, unlike our budget hotel which was an epic fail in that department.
#3 Niseko Village
The Green Leaf Resort in Niseko Village, which is not at all a village, it’s an area with scattered houses, apartment blocks and two resorts, Green Leaf and the Hilton.
Condos/apartments in Niseko Village, with the inappropriate glass tower of the Hilton visible on the right. Both of these resorts offer comfortable lodgings and immediate access to gondolas/lifts. In fact the Hilton Niseko Village has regularly won ‘Japan’s Best Ski Hotel’ award.
The Hilton lift about halfway up the mountain side. Note the ski/board tracks in and around the trees.
Ikuko thought that the main slope above the Hilton, a Black Diamond, was too narrow and bumpy to be enjoyed by most skiers/boarders.
One thing you should be aware of if you’re planning to drive hereabouts – Japan has draconian penalties for drink-driving, practically zero-tolerance. In fact 0.03 blood alcohol is the maximum permitted, meaning one beer will take you over the limit. If you are well above that you could be looking at five years in the slammer as well as a huge fine. And your passengers can also be busted for allowing you to drive drunk!
So, either go drinking with a designated non-drinking driver, take a bus or taxi, bring booze back to your apartment or live within walking distance of bars and restaurants. Cheers!