Much like Colorado’s winter paradise of Aspen, Niseko is the premiere place for snowboarders in Japan. There are two main ski and snowboard areas in Hokkaido, but the powder in Niseko is of the deep variety that snowboarders crave. Despite the low altitude of the area, Niseko has consistently great snowboarding conditions from December to March every year. Much like Aspen, some of the worlds best skiers and snowboarders can be found taking advantage of the incredible conditions and luxurious setting of the area. However, unlike Aspen, vacationers can afford to enjoy Niseko without going broke. After large investments from a group of Australian investors, Niseko is enjoying a rebirth as the premier spot for vacationers interested in snowboarding, skiing, and other winter sports. While the area is beautiful year round, for those interested in a vacation where they can enjoy snowboarding, Niseko is a trip not to be missed.
The runs in Niseko are world class easily equal to the best runs in Europe or the United States. There are a total of about 40 kilometers of runs in the area, and about a quarter of them are considered advanced, so there is something for snowboarders of every ability level. Thanks to the influx of cash from investors and tourists, the facilities in the area are excellent- and they are continuously expanding. For those who want to spend an entire vacation on their boards, check out the wide variety of “board in, board out” accommodations on the mountain- you can find anything from budget backpacker hostels to first class ski lodges and furnished apartments as well as more traditional Japanese style hotel and ryokan lodging. While there are a growing number of places to stay, if you want to be sure you’ll be able to stay where you want to, be sure to book early- especially during the areas best snowboarding season in January and February. Despite the popularity of the area, most snowboarders will be pleased to find that it doesn’t become excessively crowded, except during the New Year’s holiday when prices rise and lift lines often get far longer.
The Niseko area is divided into three sections- the most popular is Hirafu, with Annapuri and Higashiyama coming in at as close seconds. There is another area, called Hanazono that is a short distance away and ideal for people who want to get away from the crowd and who don’t mind colder snowboarding conditions. Hirafu is popular due to the large ski lodge zone, the many places to eat, exciting nightlife, and large number of hotels. Hirafu is on the warmer, sunnier side of the mountain, making it more temperate and better for less experienced snowboarders and it offers spectacular views of the Niskeo valley. Annapuri and Higashiyama are also gifted with beautiful views of the valley, but they often become crowded more quickly and have longer waits.
One of the features that many snowboarders enjoy most in Niseko is the active night life. Many of the runs are designed for night boarding, so you can sleep in late and then enjoy the snow late into the evening. The nightlife in the area includes bars and clubs, and the dining in the area provides delicious food at nearly any hour. There is a mix of traditional Japanese cuisine, including superb sushi bars, as well as European and American fare in the area. After a day of snowboarding, be sure to head out of an onsen bath (or soak) before bed to make sure you’re ready to get out and enjoy another day of snowboarding.
Another reason that so many people enjoy snowboarding in Niskeo is that the resort area is easily accessible by bus from several of Japans larger airports. You can even take a train and enjoy several of Japans best snowboarding areas- a favorite for many visitors is to start in Sapporo Teine, then take the train to Asarigawa Onsen and visit Otaru City, then finish the trip with a short bus ride to Niseko. Those who are able to obtain a driver’s permit in Japan can easily rent a car and drive to Niseko- many companies even provide snow tires and chains to make the trip safer. If bringing your equipment sounds like a big hassle, you’ll be glad to find out that Niskeo has a number of rental shops that offer everything from skis and snowboards to clothing to ensure that you are properly equipped. If your idea of a dream vacation is to spend time enjoying some of the best snowboarding in the world, Niseko is a trip that will not disappoint!