Fun skiing and recommended ski resorts by area ｜ WEST HOKKAIDO
- SKI Resort Niseko Hanazono Resort Niseko Annupuri NISEKO VILLAGE Niseko Tokyu Grand HIRAFU Rusutsu Resort
- AREA Western Hokkaido
- CATEGORY Ski&Snowboard
What kind of place is West Hokkaido?
Said to be the birthplace of “JAPOW”, Niseko’s powder snow may be some of the most famous in the world. Close by on the other side of the symbolic Mt Yotei, Rusutsu is another of Hokkaido’s top snow resorts. The area receives a consistently high level of snowfall of finest quality. With such blessed conditions, western Hokkaido has an abundance of free-riding opportunities.
Spreading out at the foot of Niseko Annupuri Mountain (1,308m), there are four major ski resorts and they form a hugh ski area called “Niseko United”. They are Niseko HANAZONO Resort, Niseko Mountain Resort Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village Ski Resort, and Niseko Annupuri International Ski Resort. The resorts are interlinked at the top of the mountain, so it is possible to move from one to another. Although they all located on the same mountain, each of Niseko United’s resorts have their own unique personalities.
It is also said that no mountain is as easily accessible to the backcountry as Niseko. You can glide into the vast backcountry fields from the 11 gates on the slopes. There are quite a number of backcountry guide service companies and CAT ski operations in Niseko.
Rusutsu Resort, which is close to Niseko, is proudly known as having the largest scale of any single resort in Hokkaido. Making use of its beautiful tree runs and rich natural terrain, skiers are able to enjoy a good sidecountry. The resort also features other attractive contents for overseas skiers and snowboarders, such as heli-skiing to Mt Shiribetsu, and much more.
Area mountain features
Niseko, is said to be the roots of JAPOW, a sacred place for powder. Niseko powder snow may be the most famous snow in the world.
The Niseko mountain range is a group of volcanoes on the western part of Hokkaido. The area extends about 25km east-west and 15kms north-south from Niseko Annupuri (1,308m) on the Kutchan-cho side, connecting several 1,000m-class mountains including: Niseko Annupuri, Weisshorn, Iwaonupuri and Chisenupuri, most of which are possibilities for backcountry. Mt. Yotei (1,898m), which is also known as “Ezo Fuji” due to its resemblance to Mt Fuji, is the most iconic mountain of the Niseko mountain range. The beauty of its independent peak, as a symbol of Niseko, has attracted skiers and snowboarders from all over the world.
From the original “Niseko Rule” set by Niseko, to the yearly increasing number of powder courses that skiers can enjoy, and the support and effort from ski management and local people, all have contributed to the creation of an environment perfect for powder skiing and helped to make the Niseko area a big name among powder lovers.
Area weather and snow features
The quantity and quality of snow that falls in this area is exceptional. When the cold and dry air crosses the high mountains, it becomes dry powder in the inland area. As it rises up the slopes of the Niseko Mountains facing the Sea of Japan, it becomes incredibly cold causing the air to form snow clouds again, resulting in heavy snowfall.
Not only the amount of snow falling in this area, but also the quality is exceptional. When the cold and dry air crosses the high mountains, it becomes dry powder in the inland area.
Observation data shows that during winter season in Niseko, it snows for 80 to 100 days. It is said that there is no other place in Hokkaido where the powder reset rate is as high as Niseko. On the other hand, during high season strong winds sometimes force some lifts to close at areas with altitude above 1,000m. When spring comes in April to May, the weather
is becomes more stable but snowfall is significantly reduced.
Recommended ski resorts in the area
Course variations and wonderful night ski
Niseko Mountain Resort Grand HIRAFU
Grand Hirafu, the largest in Niseko United, is located in the center of Niseko.
It has a wide variety of courses, from Steep & Deep technical faces to beautifully groomed slopes. Another big attraction of Grand Hirafu is night skiing. Grand Hirafu boasts its 8 courses as the largest scale in Japan in terms of skiable areas and course variations.
The resort features two ski centers, a high-speed 8-seater gondola, a snow plaza and much more. In addition to this excellent ski environment, the base town is packed with a variety of accommodations and restaurants. There are some high-quality natural hot springs in the surrounding area too, making this a great place to stay, eat and heal. English is used everywhere, so it’s quite an amazing international village.
Unbeatably long JAPOW runs
NISEKO VILLAGE Ski Resort
Niseko Village boasts 30 courses-the largest number among the Niseko United resorts. There resort includes 3 gondolas, providing outstanding mobility across the area. There are many gentle slopes at the bottom of the resort, so it’s a perfect area for beginners to practice.
The upper slopes cater to the advanced skiers with a range of courses, including steep slopes, ungroomed runs, and tree runs. Each course consists of a long run with varied terrain.
At the foot of the mountain, there are accommodations such as：The Green Leaf Niseko Village, Hinode Hills Niseko Village, Hilton Niseko Village, Higashiyama Niseko Village, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, and Kasara Niseko Village Townhouse. The complex “Shopping & Dining Area” and village accommodations are directly connected to the slopes, which makes it very convenient to get around the area.
13 courses and outstanding scenery that meet all needs
Niseko Annupuri International Ski Resort
Featuring a total of 13 courses including a gentle, wide-width beginner’s course, a 4,000m long groomed mid-slope run, and a powder tree run which stretches out southwest of Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Annupuri International Ski Resort will satisfy skiers and snowboarders of any skiing level and orientation. The location has a superb view giving a sense of openness, along with some of the best scenery in Niseko. Surprisingly not as crowded as Niseko Grand Hirafu, Niseko Annupuri is somewhat of a hidden gem.
Among the Niseko United resorts, it also features the largest number of gates to the backcountry, and there is a backcountry gate where you can climb the summit of Annupuri.
An all-round resort with everything you could wish for
Niseko Hanazono Resort
Niseko HANAZONO Ski Resort is perfectly positioned within the Niseko area to accumulate snow very easily, and retain long-lasting powder snow.
Here, fine powder now spreads beautifully over immaculate tree runs.The resort is easily accessible from Hirafu, and is often used to reacclimatize to the slopes after returning from the backcountry area. There is a high-speed lift in the park at the bottom of the slopes that often becomes crowded with snowboarders who like to jump and zip. There is also a tube park in front of the “HANAZONO Resort Center” which is perfect for kids.
The backcountry guide team HPG, which is directly managed by the resort, is also very popular with overseas guests. It is a resort with a variety of courses, with everything from powder to park. In the ’21₋22 season, the gondola and the First Quad Lift were replaced, further improving mobility and comfort, and attracting the attention of many ski enthusiasts.
Niseko’s hideaway, a must visit at least once
NISEKO MOIWA SKI RESORT
Due to its geographical conditions, Moiwa Ski Resort receives an abundance of snowfall which sometimes even piles up to chest-height.
Moiwa is small in scale, but features straightforward courses with spectacular views of Mt Yotei. Beside the slope course, there is also a natural terrain trail which runs through beautiful forests and parklands. Moiwa’s “back bowl” is a very famous powder spot. The resort is loved by many for the amount of snow that accumulates overnight,and it’s a common sight to see long lines in front of Moiwa Ski Resort’s main lift in the early morning.
Because it is a little far from the center of Niseko Village, it has a quiet and laid-back atmosphere and is popular as a “Niseko hideaway”.
Overwhelming scale and quality service
Rusutsu Resort is located between Niseko and Mt Yotei.
There are 32 courses laid out on the three peaks of “West Mt.”, “East Mt.” And “Mt. Isola”, and the total gliding distance is 42km, making Rusutsu the best single resort in Japan. It is an extremely user-friendly resort where you can comfortably move around the vast field by hooded lift and gondola. Rusutsu’s lift ticket price is also the lowest in terms of travel distance.
Rusutsu is located inland from Niseko, so it has a good reputation for its outstanding dry snow quality. From December to February, you can enjoy powder snow which resets almost every day. There are many ungroomed snow courses, as well as beautiful forest-based tree runs, side country parks that take good advantage of the area’s natural terrain, beautifully groomed slopes, long courses, night skiing, and even heli-skiing. To top it all off, there is also a full lineup of hotels and condominiums, as well as a range of interesting snow activities to try. In short, Rusutsu is a perfect mountain area, well equipped with everything a ski resort can offer.
Let’s try a tour of Niseko ⇔ Rusutsu
Niseko United and Rusutsu Resort are neighbors divided by Mt Yotei.
Both resorts feature some of the largest scale mountains in Hokkaido, as well as perfect powder snow. However, many skiers will want to visit both to try out each resorts’ unique terrain and fun winter contents.
Overseas guests staying in Niseko may want to visit Rusutsu to get away from the crowds, as experience the atmosphere of another ski area. Alternatively, parents staying in Rusutsu with their families may wish to visit Niseko for a day for some solo skiing.
It takes around 1 hour to travel between Niseko and Rusutsu with various transport options to choose from including: rental car, taxi and bus. Both the local Donan bus and shuttle buses are available.
Niseko gourmet recommended by Niseko locals
We asked Niseko locals what and where foreign guests should eat when they visit Niseko.
KAMIMURA – the iconic Michelin-starred French restaurant, defines exquisite dining in Niseko. Its intimate, elegant ambience together with stylish interiors offers guests a truly special experience.
One of Niseko’s most popular izakaya restaurants, run by locals for over 30 years. The mountain lodge-like atmosphere is very popular with overseas guests. They offer dishes that make use of seasonal ingredients such as fresh seafood from Hokkaido and vegetables from local Niseko.
Niseko’s famous soba restaurant. The owner’s special handmade soba made from 100% locally produced buckwheat flour is exquisite. The “Soba Kaiseki Course”, which incorporates plenty of Hokkaido seafood and vegetables, is popular. Reservations are required for lunch and dinner.
% ARABICA NISEKOHIRAFU 188
A high quality coffee shop on Hirafu’s main street. There are branches across several countries, the first overseas store being located in Hong Kong. In Japan, stores are located in Kyoto and Niseko. It has a reputation for having a stylish appearance that looks great on SNS. The friendly poster dog of a local snowboard shop in the area is also popular with overseas guests.
A stylish bistro and cocktail bar on the 2nd floor of Odin Place, located at Hirafu intersection. The relaxing, modern atmosphere and the casual menu that uses Hokkaido ingredients are popular with overseas guests. Check out Instagram for the menu.
The Australian owner also opened NAC (Niseko Adventure Center), and is famous as the first person to attract foreign tourists to Niseko. The café is located on the 2nd floor of NAC, where you can enjoy the view of Mt Yotei on the open terrace and try out their popular original burgers. Other Western-style dishes served here are also delicious.
A famous store
of serving Hokkaido’s soul food “Soup Curry”, prepared using fresh local ingredients in a Japanese-style dashi soup. You can choose the spiciness, and there are plenty of extra toppings available, including vegetables, meat and cheese. Located in the Hirafu area, Tsubara Tsubara’s interior is designed to reflect traditional Japanese Wa-style design.
A bar where you can enjoy a delightful cocktail while admiring the view of the Hirafu ski area. The original cocktails here are very popular as there are many flavors that cannot be found elsewhere. The bar is well stocked with everything from standard Japanese alcohols to rare whiskeys.
SUSHI KATO NISEKO
Hirafu’s finest sushi restaurant offering a menu of authentic Edomae sushi, crab shabu, grilled king crab, fresh sea urchin and seafood, introduced by the chef in English. There is also a bar with modern design. At the counter seats, you can take a closer look at how the chef skillfully shapes each individual piece of sushi.
An antique Coca-Cola vending machine is the entrance of this hideaway bar, which has been in business since 1999. It is one of Niseko’s most popular cocktail bars, featuring a collection of alcohols and records from around the world. You can enjoy cocktails and single malt whiskey while looking at the lighted up snowy scenery outside.