[Hokkaido] Travel Guide to Niseko for Skiing

Skiing in Niseko is a dream come true! I've always wanted to check out this popular ski resort in Hokkaido and what better time than now with absolutely no crowds at all. The snow is amazing this year and the light powdery snow here lives up to its hype. Niseko is actually comprised of 4 ski resorts - Hanazono, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village, and Annupuri. You can get lift tickets for each resort or better yet, Niseko United offers a special combination ticket - the Niseko All Mountain Pass which gives access to all resorts! While they are connected at the top of the mountain, you can also use the Niseko United Shuttle Bus to conveniently access the base of all resorts.

The resorts:
Hanazono is relatively small compared to the other resorts, but makes up for it with a terrain park and is very family friendly. The brand new Park Hyatt Niseko is located here along with a new restaurant EDGE next to the lifts where one can grab a refueling bite before hitting the slopes again.

Grand Hirafu is the largest resort with the best developed facilities and services in Niseko. It's probably the most popular village to stay in with a vibrant night life and lots of restaurants, bars and shops in the area - plus it's also very foreigner friendly.

Niseko Village is the second largest resort with a few hotels at the base including Hilton Niseko Hotel and The Green Leaf Hotel. There's also a collection of shops and restaurants in an area called The Village which is built to look like a traditional Japanese town.

Annupuri is rather quaint and quiet with a handful of accommodations and restaurants in the area. The ski trails are not as wide or steep as the other resorts but are less crowded at the same time.

On a clear day in Niseko, you can see the beautiful Mount Yotei (aka Ezo Fuji for its resemblance to Mount Fuji) from the slopes!


From New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido, you can get to Niseko by car, train, bus or private transfer. If you take the train, you will need to transfer at Otaru Station and get off at Kutchan Station where you will need to take another form of transportation to the ski resorts. The bus is more convenient and direct - there are multiple bus companies operating between the airport and Niseko with stops at different locations around the resorts. We took the Hokkaido Resort Liner where the trip took around 3 hours and cost 4500 yen per person. Finally, you can also take a taxi or private transfer (some Niseko hotels offer this) but this will be the most costly option.

Where to Stay:

For our first time in Niseko, we wanted to stay in Hirafu where there are more restaurant options. We also wanted an accommodation near the ski lifts so we chose to stay at Ki Niseko - a boutique ski-in ski-out hotel located next to the Hirafu Gondola.

Pros and Cons of Ki Niseko:


  • Good Location for Skiing - while it is technically not a true ski-out as you have to walk up a small hill to access the main ski lift in Hirafu, it is only a short walk away.
  • Ski Valet - you can store your equipment and boots at the Ski Valet instead of your room where they will be kept warm and toasty. The staff there are also very helpful in recommending trails or answering any questions about the mountain.
  • Service - the service here is great. We had a few problems with our room and they were quick to respond. The staff were also helpful with restaurant recommendations - many were not open during this time and they helped us check which ones were still operating and available.
  • Complimentary Shuttle - the hotel picked us up from the Resort Liner bus stop upon arrival and dropped us off upon departure. They also have a complimentary car service around Hirafu which is useful if you want to go out to dinner in town and don't want to walk in snow. The service ends at 8:30pm though.
  • Onsen - the hotel has separate male and female onsen with both indoor and outdoor baths. There are also two private onsen rooms which are complimentary for hotel guests and you can reserve it for 40 minutes each time. There's really nothing better than a soothing soak in the onsen after a long day of skiing!
  • Expensive - accommodations are known to be pricey in Niseko compared to other ski resorts in Japan and Ki Niseko is no exception.
  • Small Rooms - for the price, the rooms are rather small with little space for luggage. We stayed in a standard room with a long and narrow hallway; at first we placed our luggage in the hallway but we kept tripping over it so we had to put it next to the window which left no other place to sit aside from the bed.
  • Noisy - I'm a light sleeper and there was an obscene amount of noise emitting from the heating system in the room. Even after we turned off the heater, there were still random loud creaking noises coming from the vents throughout the night, so I had to wear ear plugs to sleep. I've stayed in a lot of hotels around the world and this is the first time I had come across this problem. We also had issues with a next door neighbor that pumped loud bass music, but at least the staff allowed us to move to another room.
  • Mediocre Breakfast - our room included breakfast in the hotel's restaurant with both Japanese and Western options. Unfortunately the food tasted like they have been left sitting outside for a long time so most of the items tasted stale and oily. On the first day, the breakfast was served to us while afterwards, it was served buffet style. The food choices basically remained the same everyday and food quality did not get better with buffet style. 

Where to Eat & Drink:

We were in Niseko for 4 nights and managed to try a few restaurants at night. My favorite place to grab a drink before dinner was the famous Bar Gyu+ with a refrigerator door as the entrance! Not only were the cocktails great, the ambiance was fantastic as you get a magical view of the snow outside while sitting at the counter. The bartender was very friendly and could speak English as well.

Rin is an authentic izakaya in Hirafu that was recommended by our hotel. The food was great and the prices were reasonable; some standout dishes included the Aburi Salmon, Buta Kimchi, and Deep-fried Oysters. Hospitality was also amazing as one of the staff (possibly chef owner) gave us a lift back to our hotel when she realized we didn't drive!

Kumo is a modern izakaya located at Skye Niseko - the more premium sister hotel of Ki Niseko. There are lots of choices on the menu from yakitori, sashimi, seafood, meat, starters, rice, noodles and more. Prices were reasonable and food was mostly decent.

Rakuichi Soba is a very famous soba restaurant in Annupuri. The chef makes the soba from scratch in front of you during the meal. It's known to be booked out well in advance in the past with long queues for lunch, but now the restaurant has changed to reservations only for both lunch and dinner. The same soba kaiseki course is served for lunch and dinner at 12,000 yen per person. While the soba was indeed very fresh and enjoyable, the rest of the meal was just okay. We basically started with 5 courses of sashimi and while the seafood was premium, I was hoping for more variety of cooking. It was followed by an Iberian pork shabu shabu and vegetables tempura which were decent. Since they don't serve soba by itself anymore, you are forced to get the full course if you want to try the soba and I'm just not sure that it's worth it. Oh and they also charge 10% service charge plus 10% tax on top of the menu price.

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