Niseko in Japan is one of the country's best ski resort areas with natural springs, first class restaurants, and a wide selection of accommodation for everyone's taste and budget.
I have to admit that I was a bit leery about ski resorts in Japan. Yeah sure Nagano hosted a winter Olympic Games, but Niseko? Never heard of it. Until now.
You'll find this spectacular resort on the island of Hokkaido, more specifically on the western side of the island overlooked by Mount Yōtei. The highest point in Niseko is at 1,308 meters, making the mountain really tower over the Hirafu Village.
Hokkaido Japan Map
Skiing in Niseko caught me totally by surprise. Not only did it have 57 runs, but it's longest one was over 5.5km long. They make it quite easy to get up to the top, offering 38 lifts and gondolas that run from 8:3am to 8:30/9:00pm every day throughout the entire season. That's a whole lotta trips taking tens of thousands of skiiers every hour. Yet...somehow it doesn't seem crowded.
Winter season runs from December to April, and it's cold up here. I'm pretty sure that cold Russian air has something to do with it. Yes, Russian--Niseko's weather is all thanks to what flows down from Siberia.
Where was I? Oh yes, I was telling you about the ski trails. Of all of Niseko's trails, the majority of them are for intermediate skiiers, with 30 percent of them each going for the advanced and beginner skiers. They even got night skiing, in case you're wondering.
Maybe the reason it doesn't seem so crowded up here on the mountain is that people are off doing other things. There's snowmobiling and cross country skiing, in addition to snow shoeing, dog sledding, and even indoor rock climbing.
Get off my mountain, I'm skiing and I can't stop. Should've taken one of those ski lessons, but too late now.
Forget it, I'm going to Niseko's natural springs. One of the best places to warm up after a Siberian chill is the Vale Onsen and Pool. Yeah, that sure makes tired, achy muscles feel better.
Everyone needs a place to stay, right? There are hundreds of hotel rooms in Niseko, and the accommodations are as varied as the restaurants. Besides lodges, there are hotels, houses, and apartments to let.
Japan is known for its seafood, and Niseko's got some of the freshest. So, even if you can't ski, you'll at least eat good. Seven of Niseko's ten restaurants are located on the mountain--so definitely if you can't ski, you can eat. Follow it all up with a drink at any one of the dozens of bars.
Have some Sake, then you won't care that you can't ski.
Come in summer then, when the area blooms with bright colors and scents the air. This is when all sorts of festivals are going on, including Golf Week (September), Cycle Week (August), and a huge Potato Festival (called the Jaga Matsuri) that's also in August.
If anyone ever suggests skiing in Japan, don't scoff. Just make sure you do it Niseko, OK?
Photo by Marek Okon