The famed snow grounds of Niseko in Japan’s Hokkaido region are reputable not only for their soft, fluffy and dry powder snow, but as a ski destination that warmly welcomes skiers and snowboarders of varying levels. From beginners seeking their first taste of winter sports to intermediate riders looking for well-groomed courses, and even advanced skiers in search of adrenaline-pumping off-piste runs, Niseko offers a diverse range of slopes that cater to all. Beyond that, Niseko also captivates visitors with its stunning scenery, with Mount Yotei at the centre of all that’s beautiful within this winter wonderland.
In this article, we’ll explore each of the ski resorts to choose from: the four interconnected ski resorts under Niseko United (Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village and Annupuri), Rusutsu and Furano – all of them guaranteeing to make your wintry Niseko experience truly magical.
The Grand Hirafu ski resort sits in Hirafu Village, the bustling hub of the Niseko area in Hokkaido that provides a vibrant atmosphere with a wide range of restaurants, shops, and services. The ski resort itself comes equipped with well-developed facilities, rentals and English-speaking instructors, and with 30 marked courses it caters to both beginners and advanced riders – beginners can confidently start their journey on the gentle slopes of the Family run, while intermediate and advanced skiers can explore thrilling tree terrain, off-piste areas and even the peak of Hirafu, where excitement awaits at 1180 metres above sea level.
Hanazono may be smaller in size as compared to its immediate neighbour, Grand Hirafu, with only 12 courses, but it offers equal excitement – one of its courses, Strawberry Fields, is famed in Niseko for its tree runs and lavish deposits of deep snow that’s a dream for any snowboarder. This ski resort caters primarily to beginners and intermediates, with gentle slopes and a magic carpet for beginners. On days with low to no snowfall, Hanazono’s appeal shines through with a beginner and intermediate park consisting of boxes and rails, and a terrain park filled with kickers and banks.
Hanazono also boasts modern facilities, such as a 6-person hooded chair lift with comfortable seating at its base, and Hanazono EDGE, a brand new building consisting of a cafe, restaurant and bar.
A favourite for Niseko regulars, Annupuri ski resort offers an authentic and affordable powder experience. The area retains its tranquil Japanese charm, making it a serene base for skiers and snowboarders, and while it can get busy, Annupuri is generally less crowded than other areas in Niseko. Despite its size as compared to somewhere like Grand Hirafu, the resort’s 13 courses and easy access to excellent sidecountry terrain provide ample opportunities for both the amateur, the intermediates and the adrenaline junkie. For those looking to relax after a long day of hitting the powder, the nearby Konbu Onsen facilitates that relaxation.
Although not as popular as its powder-filled neighbours such as Annupuri, Niseko Village remains a firm favourite with beginners due to its 13 beginner courses, myriad ski-in ski-out accommodation and English-speaking instructors. The ski area may not offer extensive off-piste options, but families without budget constraints who are looking for family-friendly offerings and services such as childcare would appreciate the variety of options available.
Views from Rusutsu ski resort. Image Credit: Jerome Lee
A 45-minute drive from the main Hirafu area, Rusutsu is a powder paradise blessed with an average annual snowfall of 13 metres a year, offering some of the most incredible powder and tree runs in the world. Divided into two separate mountain areas, West Mountain and East Mountain, Rusutsu offers a variety of terrain and breathtaking views. West Mountain caters to beginners, with gentle slopes, a dedicated kids’ area and the nearby Rusutsu Hotel that houses shopping, onsen and dining facilities all in one. The East Mountain boasts groomed pistes catering to beginners and intermediates, and accessible and exhilarating tree skiing for the powderhounds. While Rusutsu may not offer steep thrills compared to somewhere like Annupuri or bustling nightlife like Hirafu Village, it provides a modern Japanese cultural experience amidst a world-class snow destination.
Furano may be far away from the main Niseko area, but its appeal as a ski resort still draws locals and travellers alike to this quaint town. Striking a balance between facilities and fun, Furano caters well to foreign travellers, with its self-contained accommodations and reasonable prices adding to its appeal. The lift infrastructure is efficient, and the prohibition of off-piste skiing has been lifted in most areas. Despite receiving slightly less snow, the quality of its snow is said to be even better than coastal resorts like Niseko on some occasions. The resort features around 23 courses and powderhounds are also able to explore nearby backcountry areas such as Furano-dake and Tokachidake.
Where to stay
Should you desire a property that complements your winter adventure in Niseko, there are a few luxury options. Intuition Niseko was recently launched during the 22/23 ski season and is nestled in a tranquil forest overlooking Mount Yotei. It comprises a six-storey building of residences, with dining, onsen facilities and a shuttle service that takes you to the various slopes around Niseko. Combining spectacular natural vistas with an exceptional location adjacent to Hirafu Village, Intuition Niseko is a dream location for those seeking out luxury in the tranquil.
The Vale Rusutsu is located at the base of Rusutsu resort, and designed with nature as its focus – the hotel’s architecture invites the morning sun’s rays to illuminate its interiors, while the subtle hues of sunset allow guests the luxury of nature’s beauty from dawn until dusk. Guests are able to indulge in the ultimate ski-in/ski-out experience in winter and the outstanding beauty of Hokkaido’s green season in summer.
Fenix Furano is a new luxury accommodation in quaint Furano, its ski-in-ski-out location between the chair lifts and rolling mountains of Furano’s ski grounds a draw for travellers. Luxurious and versatile, the thoughtfully designed space features 62 full-service units that range from sumptuous suites to lush to multi-bedroom apartments and penthouses. With an on-site ski shop, in-house dining that furnish gastronomical delights and convenient access to restaurants, cafes and bars, Fenix Furano is the sensible choice for the holiday of a lifetime.