Niseko: Ultimate guide to planning your own snowboarding / skiing trip

To date, I have made 3 trips to Niseko, Hokkaido for snowboarding. It all started in 2016, when my friend (who’s a seasoned snowboarder) invited us to join him. And let’s just say, I am all hooked ever since.

According to my friend, the snow in Hokkaido is the best, not that I can confirm it since I have not snowboarded anywhere else. But, my friend had snowboarded around the world, and to him, nowhere else in the world can you find powdery snow like Hokkaido.

In this post, I will only cover snowboarding, and not other sightseeing activities.

Check out my other post on how to budget your Niseko snowboarding / skiing trip !

Also, there are a few ski resorts in Hokkaido. But, this post will only cover Niseko ski resorts, which is the largest, and comprises of 4 villages (An’nupuri, Higashiyama, Grand Hirafu, and Hanazono).

Niseko Resorts Overview (Source: Unique Japan Tours)

Before the trip

Rent your gears in advance

I am still considering whether I want to commit to this “expensive” hobby for the longer term, and hence I have not yet decided to invest on my own gears.

For the last 3 trips, I have rented my gears from Goodsports. This also saves me on excess / oversized baggage charges.

Tip: Pre-book your gears as early as you can to get a good discount. For my recent trip, we managed to get 30% discount, and ended up paying about 15,000 yen (USD 135) for 3 days of rental (snowboard, ski suit, and helmet). 

Arrange for lesson, if it’s your first time

If this is your first time snowboarding, I highly recommend registering yourself for lesson ! It is pricey, but I learned it the hard way, the importance to take lessons from a professional, especially if you are not as athletically natural as me.

Gosnow is the official training provider in Grand Hirafu base. Prices starts at 8,000 yen (USD 80) for group lesson, and 20,000 yen (USD 200) for 2 hours private lesson.

With group lesson, the progress of the class will be limited by the weakest link in your group. With private lesson, you will get undivided attention from your instructor, and you get to progress at your own pace. I took private lesson, and was very comfortable with the pace, allowing myself to make (and learn from my) mistakes.

I could not stress enough, the importance of taking lessons. I tried to “pick it up” from my friend. And it was the worst decision I ever made. For the first day, I was falling all the way down from the top of the mountain. It reached a point where I told my friends that I was going to give up ! “This is it for me ! No more next year !”

I am so glad I took lesson the 2nd day, and just by perfecting my brake, it gave me the confidence I needed to continue for the next few days, while I continue to practise on my own.

How to get there

From Kuala Lumpur, the most convenient way is via Air Asia, which is the only airline that flies direct to Chitose.

From Chitose airport, we will take a bus to Niseko ski resorts, which is about 2.5 hours ride.

There are a few tour bus operators running this route. We always use White Liner (Tip: Book online with Goodsports for 10% discount). Round trip costs 7,200 yen after 10% discount.

Pit stop halfway to Niseko

Where to stay

Book accommodation early

You want to book your accommodation early, for better rates, especially during peak seasons (January and February).

Of the 4 villages at the base of Niseko mountain, we prefer staying in Grand Hirafu, as there are more accommodation and food options.

For my recent trip, we decided to splurge a little and checked ourselves in Gondola Chalet. It is not a “ski in ski out”, meaning there is no direct access to ski in and out of the hotel.  But, we had a really comfortable stay. We got a 4 bedroom 3 baths apartment.

For my first two trips, we used to stay in this lodge ran by this most friendly Japanese & Canadian couple. However, it is no longer available, and is currently undergoing construction into what looks like another hotel.

Niseko village has developed so fast over the years I have visited, with more foreign investments. Last, I even saw site preparation works for a Singapore luxury condo development.

Consider ski lift side or food side

One significant consideration when deciding where to stay in Grand Hirafu is Upper Grand Hirafu (red box), or Lower Grand Hirafu (blue box).

Screenshot 2019-03-02 at 8.17.25 PM
Grand Hirafu village

Refer map above, Upper Grand Hirafu is nearer to the ski lifts. In comparison with the Lower Grand Hirafu, staying in the Upper Grand Hirafu area definitely saves a lot of energy having to climb the slope with your gears from and to your hotel.

However, from my experience, there are more food options in the Lower Grand Hirafu area. Not to mention my favourite outdoor onsen, which is also in the Lower Grand Hirafu area.

Ski pass explained

Simply put, there are two types of ski pass.

  • Points pass
  • Hourly / daily pass

Points pass

With the Points pass, it costs 4,200 yen (USD 38) for 12 points. And you deduct points (depending on ski lifts) from your ski pass as you board the lift. Top up is available at 400 yen per point.

hirafu gondola.PNG
Grand Hirafu Base

Take for example, if you take the Hirafu Gondola, it will cost you 4 points. And as you alight the Gondola, you can either take the Green route or the Black route Miharashi.

Tip: Green route is the easiest, for beginners, followed by Red, and lastly Black for experts

Click on this link to download the trail map

We prefer to go up to the highest point, and then take our time descending the slopes, trying out different routes. To do that from Grand Hirafu base,

  • Take Hirafu Gondola (4 points)
  • Snowboard left to the base of King Hooded Quad Lift #3
  • Take King Hooded Quad Lift #3 (2 points)
  • Snowboard right to base of King Lift #4
  • Take King Lift #4 (1 point)

As you see, it takes about 7 points to get to the top. And from the top, you can snowboard / ski to the other villages.

We always made sure to make a stop at Hanozono resort, for this most amazing snow crab ramen !

Hourly / daily pass

The hourly / daily pass is rather straight forward. Hourly pass starts at 4,800 yen for 5 hours, but it is only for one mountain, i.e. you cannot use the lifts in other villages.

The daily pass starts at 5,900 yen for 1 day, one mountain. However, with the daily pass, you can opt for All mountains access, which starts at 7,400 yen for 1 day.

Check out the full price list for Grand Hirafu (one mountain) lifts, and the full price list for All mountains access.

Ski pass comparison

For easy comparison,

  • 12 points pass (4,200 yen), consider you need 7 points to get to the top
  • 5 hours pass, one mountain (4,800 yen)
  • 1 day pass, one mountain (5,900 yen)
  • 1 day pass, all mountains (7,400 yen)

Now, with all these information, you can set out to plan your days.

We usually arrive Niseko village in the afternoon, and after we got ourselves checked in and gears rental sorted out, it is about 1500 hrs.

So, for the first day, if we plan to do 2 trips to the top, we will get the 5 hours pass. Else, we will get the 12 points pass.

Tip: The points pass can be shared, and you can use it for days.

Tip: Always check the weather forecast, and ski lift operations before you buy your ski pass. Cause during bad weather, the top lifts will be closed, so you may want to consider to just use Point pass. 

On other full days, it is just a matter of whether we want to do one / all mountain(s).

Of course, the above comparison and consideration is more for short stays (less than 1 week). If you are planning to stay any longer, it is worth considering weekly / season pass.

All ski pass requires 1,000 yen deposit which is fully refundable when you are done using it.

Some of my favourite and least favourite routes

I do not think I have a particular favourite route. I am still experimenting and learning, and I enjoy trying out different routes.

However, I really hate snowboarding on flats. Some of the routes I dread, e.g.

  • Silver Dream, it is just long and boring
  • King area access pass (on Green route), there is this really flat path before you go through this underground tube, and end up at Grand Hirafu base

Always be sure to take a selfie with Mount Yotei

jermpins niseko hokkaido yotei japan3.JPG
Clear sky with great visibility, 2017
Summit covered by clouds, 2019

What to eat

Below are a few restaurants we always patronise, every single time we are back in Niseko village.

  • Ezo Seafoods, they serve the best seafood in Niseko village, reservation is mandatory, if you cannot book a table online, try emailing them for assistance. We always order the Omakase, i.e. chef’s recommendation.
  • Ebisutei, Izakaya (Japanese pub) setting, they serve the best oden (one pot dish consisting of several ingredients cooked in a soy dashi broth), reservation is mandatory.
  • Tsubara Tsubara, you must try this very special Hokkaido curry, which is more like a pepper stew. It is not exceptionally out of the world, but it is definitely very comforting having it in the cold.

My recent trip, I discovered this very interesting spin on ramen, i.e. Potato ramen, which has potato foam on ramen. If you have not tried it before, you should give it a try.

One last thing you shouldn’t miss

Onsen in the outdoor under the snow

You must try Japanese onsen (hot spring) at least once if your lifetime ! And if you are like me and my friends, you cannot get enough of it.

There is really not much things to do in Niseko village besides snowboarding, and skiing. Hence, our everyday will usually start with snowboarding until about 1800 hrs (I don’t prefer snowboarding after it gets dark). After, we will drop our gears in the hotel, and head straight to onsen. We will take our shower there too, and then have dinner before heading back to the hotel to rest.

There is nothing better to do after a long day of snowboarding, than to soak yourself in a hot spring, out in the cold, cold beer on one hand, snow falling on your head. It really helps relieving the muscle aches and sores, as well as rejuvenate the skin.

Yukoro onsen is the one and only place we go to. Entry fee is 700 yen per person.

35 thoughts on “Niseko: Ultimate guide to planning your own snowboarding / skiing trip

  1. Thanks for this incredible post about skiing in Japan.
    I also heard a lot about Hokkaido snow and would love to try it once.

    What about the waiting time at gondola ? Here (in France) queuing can be very long …
    i think it’s also something to take into consideration.

    How many routes are at Niseko ? It would be nice to know that also.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Waiting time depends on time of the day. But I dont think I ever waited more than 15 minutes ? People are generally quite fast moving.

      For the routes, you can check out the link to the trail map I included in the post ! =)


  2. I’ve been to Hokkaido a couple of times, but never have gone skiing there. I have always heard the snow in this region is perfect for skiing and snowboarding. It’s great that the lines aren’t too long either 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I want to try skiing atleast once in life. It looks super scary but may be I’ll do it for a short distance where it is not too inclined? Haha. Your guide is so comprehensive. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment ! It was scary to me too in the beginning. Just find yourself a good tutor and I’m sure you’ll pick it up in no time ! =)


  4. I love those cute maps and the snow crab ramen 🙂 I’m not athletically natural at all but I’d love to give skiing a try sometime…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t snowboard or ski, but I didn’t realize Japan had such a great snowboarding culture! And I would love to visit an onsen one day

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sitting in a hot tub or spring (onsen) anywhere in the world, outside, with snow falling on your head, and a beer in one hand, and friends next to you … it really doesn’t get any better than that. And I know … sat in many outdoor hot tubs in the snow. It is AWESOME!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So funny, we totally forgot that one can also go skiing and snowboarding in Japan! Somehow we always picture Asian countries in Spring or Summer, never in winter! Now we must admit that we’re not big fans of winter sports, but it we would still love to visit Japans during wintertime someday, because apparently the summer heat is kinda unbearable! And also, the winter landscapes are even more beautiful in Japan!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Having lived by and skiied in the Canadian Rockies, I always think of Japan as a spring destination. The skiing/ snowboarding looks awesome in Hokkaido! Will have to plan a journey there!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This sounds like an incredible trip. We’ve only done snowboarding at indoor slopes but as we grew up skateboarding we would love to carry on and take it up properly… it just so expensive!! This seems like a perfect place to do it though when we get around to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love Japan but I’ve never been to Hokkaido. Mt Yotei looks just like a mini version of Mt Fuji! This is a great detailed post on skiing here – something I must try next time I go to Japan.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve never been snowboarding or skiing if you can believe that! So this post is very helpful as I’d have absolutely no idea where to start in putting together a vacation around those activities. I would definitely be taking a lesson (or two or three) starting the very first day and looking for all the easy slopes! But it looks like everyone was having a great time and the snow pictures look beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. As a ski and snowboard instructor, I thank you for recommending you take lessons! It gives you such a better foundation. Friends generally mean well, but they can get frustrated when you don’t pick it up right away and they aren’t trained on how best to translate the sport to you! I would absolutely love to visit Japan – I’ve heard the mountains there are amazing. Hokkaido is going on my list for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This looks fun, but I’ll admit I’m pretty terrified of skiing. I’m afraid of heights, so I don’t particularly enjoy standing at the tops of mountains. Honestly, I wish I did though, it looks like such an exhilarating sport. I don’t think I’d mind taking one of those group lessons though, the price isn’t bad and I imagine they take place on a much smaller hill!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I get the fear at the top too, but there’s a saying that goes something like, if when you stop having that fear, that is when you should stop doing it, cause that is when you’ll get reckless or make mistakes !


  14. Hi, I like your guide to planning a snowboarding/skiing trip in Niseko. The information you provide on where to rent gears and where to stay is valuable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks ! Glad it was helpful for you ! I always advise to not forget to consider extra baggage fees when comparing whether to bring your own gears or rent there =)


  15. I have never done snowboarding or skiing because I am afraid of falling on ice and hurting myself. I wonder if a newbie would be able to pull this off. Nice tips though and thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Very cool! I’ve always been wanting to ski and snowboard, but of course, there’s no snow in the Philippines. All we have here is sandboarding, which is doing the same thing but on sand dunes. Good thing there’s this ski park one in Japan which is much nearer to the Philippines. I also checked the exchange rate of the yen to peso—the prices seem to be reasonable.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I have never experienced snowboarding and I am sure that if I am planning to do it in Niseko, I will surely be taking help from Gosnow. Renting the equipment from GoodSports is also a very good idea. I must tell you that the pictures you have clicked are awesome and pushing me much to try snowboarding this winter.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I was not knowing about Niseko before reading your post but it would great to for a skiing trip in Niseko. I would surely take a selfie with Mount Yotei. Thanks for sharing where to eat and what to eat.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s