Niseko was unheard of a decade ago, but has grabbed the skiing world’s attention as the planet’s most exciting and authentic ski destination.
Although the famous powder snow makes the long trip well worth it, and skiers head here from every corner of the globe, there are many less well known benefits that help to deliver the best Japanese ski holiday in Niseko.
Why is Niseko so Snowy?
Niseko is one of the most perfectly positioned ski areas on earth for getting abundant amounts of the right type of snow. The air that brings the powdery deluge has travelled east across the world’s largest landmass becoming ultra dry before it reaches the Sea of Japan where it sucks up moisture. Then rising sharply as it hits the mountains of Hokkaido, the ultra light fluffy snow pours out of the sky and on to Niseko.
Other areas famous for their powder snow are in North American states such as Colorado and Utah. They rely on being several miles high top get their powder, Niseko’s highest point is only 1308m so there is no risk of altitude sickness.
There are only one or two places on the planet that get a little more snow, on average, than Niseko’s annual 16 metre norm and it reached 20 metres last season! But in these snowier places the snow is usually heavier and wetter such as at Mt Baker, across the Pacific from Niseko in Washinghton State on the west coast of the US. Its snowfall comes from right across the pacific, so wet all the way.
Not Just The Skiing
Although the tales of skiing in Niseko invariably boil down to crazy powder hounds enjoying the amazing powder, you don’t have to have that mindset to enjoy the best Japanese ski holiday in Niseko.
In fact if you completely ignore that great snow for a moment (difficult though that is) you might consider a ski holiday to Japan for many other reasons, most of which are underplayed in most reports.
Firstly there’s the amazing culture. Unless you are very, very well-travelled, arriving in Japan (where few people speak English and there are few English language signs outside the airports), may be the closest you’ll get to arriving in another world. It’s a refreshingly different experience because happily the local people are friendly, polite and keen to help you. It’s very different from the grumpy disinterest you can experience in the Alps or the sanitised smiles of North America.
That said in Niseko itself there are no language barriers as it is the only truly international resort in Japan – all menus are in English and the majority of guests and staff are non-Japanese. You can also be met at the airport by English speaking staff if you wish.
Secondly, the food is fantastic. Yes for sushi lovers Hokkaido has a reputation for being the place to get the world’s best seafood, but Niseko is also home to artisan bakeries, wonderful chocolatiers and many other different styles of restaurant, even Michelin-starred French restaurants. Besides its sushi Hokkaido is particularly famous for its potatoes and its noodles and many scrumptious dishes are made with them.
Thirdly, a holiday to Japan oozes quality throughout. Along with great service you can expect everything to work and work well. The hi-tec toilets are worth the 12 hour flight from London to Tokyo alone!
Fourth the scenery is stunning, Mount Yotei, reputed to be a 50% scale replica of Mount Fuji, is the perfect volcanic cone and looks stunning from the slopes of Niseko.
Fifth, sticking to Niseko’s groomed slopes you’ll find a great range of terrain. The extensive slopes have 47km of groomed runs suitable for all standards and a highly efficient lift network all of which is up there with the best quality in any ski resort. To add to this there are very polite (and very short!) lift queues.
Sixth – those onsen baths – the hot springs are all over the area. You need to learn the correct etiquette and overcome any British reserve against getting into a giant natural (and public!) hot tub naked with a lot of strangers, but once you expel your personal demons, the experience is divine.
Seventh – its 100s of miles from Fukishima and on a completely different island! With Fukishima still in the news we want to take this opportunity to let you know it has no affect upon Niseko. In fact background radiation in Niseko is less than the naturally occurring levels in the UK making it a perfectly safe destination.
All these attractions and more make a Japanese ski trip worth the effort even without that light powder. But add arguably the best powder in the world and…
The Skiing Is Epic
Regardless of all of its other attractions, Niseko’s big draw remains its amazing powder snow. And, crucially for Japan, the fact that when considered safe, you’re allowed to access the off piste.
Although this is slowly changing, traditionally Japanese ski resorts have not allowed off piste skiing and Niseko was initially unique when it began to allow people to go through boundary gates and into off piste areas. With the global success of Niseko, some other Japanese areas are attempting to mirror that success but Niseko still leads the way.
Pushing the boundaries still further for the past five years or so, skiers and boarders have been allowed to enter areas of steeper terrain that can be avalanche prone after it has been made safe (if necessary). To ski this area you will need to attend a lecture, prove you are fully equipped for the challenge and join a guided group to ski through this exciting terrain.
To top it all off for those used to one powder day in a week in Europe (if you are lucky), it is more likely to be seven days out of seven in Niseko. And the deep powder and the extensive groomed trail network interconnect efficiently above four different base areas. These are all next to one another so groups that include powder and piste skiers can enjoy the best Japanese ski holiday in Niseko together.
Where To Stay
Although Niseko has several separate resort bases, the main village of Hirafu has by far the widest selection of accommodation as well as the lion’s share of the restaurants, shopping and apres ski.
Apres ski can be as wild or as sophisticated as you like and as Japanese or as international as your tastes desire. A sizeable part of the Niseko scene is Australian, with Aussies being among the first to realise that they didn’t need to travel west to Europe or east to North America to find the world’s best powder, they just needed to fly due north. So you’ll hear a lot of friendly Aussie accents here, and of course they know how to party.
HT Holidays (www.htholidays.com) offer the widest range of accommodation in Hirafu village with special offers available to those who join the company’s mailing list via their website. You can choose from fully equipped luxury condominiums or resort homes with Jacuzzi through to smaller apartments and houses. HT Holidays manage over 170 properties in the village and can find something to meet everyone’s needs and budget.
Staying in Hirafu with HT Holidays ensures the best Japanese ski holiday in Niseko with high quality accommodation and friendly staff. All accommodation has free wifi and exclusive access to the Gondola Ski Valet. This means you can leave boots, skis, snowboards etc overnight in heated rooms at the base station of the high speed gondola saving you taking it back to your accommodation.
HT Holidays guests also enjoy an extensive in-resort guest benefit program with the HT Holidays passport card that gives unique discounts in restaurants, shops, onsens and on activities and rentals.