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Why Hokkaido Might Just Be The Dream Ski Venue

Discover the holy grail of ski destinations and prepare to glide through as much powder as you can handle

With a high average snowfall and clean, dry air which prevents the soft powder from clumping and becoming icy, and hundreds of hectares of backcountry ski routes, Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, is renowned as being one of the best destinations for thrill-seeking skiers looking for unbeatable snow conditions. 

We’ve written about Hokkaido before, focusing on the range of outdoor adventures in and around the capital city of Sapporo. Today, we’re shifting our focus even further west to Hokkaido’s premier spot for all things powder: Niseko. This name can be confusing, as it can refer to many things. The Niseko region is home to both the town of Niseko and Mount Niseko-Annupuri, the 1,308m high peak with a varied terrain and stunning winter woodlands. While the region is also home to the iconic Mount Yotei, the smaller Mount Iwaonupuri, world-class restaurants and a range of natural hot springs, it is the vast Mount Niseko-Annupuri which is the star of the show. The sprawling mountain is home to four ski resorts, each of which offers their own unique pistes and back-country gates, as well as leading down to the foothill restaurants and hotels.

Photo: vacationniseko.com

Of course no trip to Niseko is complete if you only explore one resort, and thanks to the creation of Niseko United, skiers can obtain an integrated lift pass and ride anywhere on the mountain.

How To Access Niseko’s Resorts

Japan is preparing to reopen to the world, flights direct to New Chitose Airport resume in July, 2022. Before, heading to Hokkaido required a full day of travel, including a twelve+ hour flight to Tokyo and then a two-hour flight to New Chitose. Fortunately, Finnair’s direct route from Helsinki cuts the air travel down to a mere 9 hours. 

Once you arrive in New Chitose Airport, a two-hour drive, bus ride, or train journey will shoot you into the heart of this prestigious ski spot. Where to stay and ski on Mt. Niseko is your choice – here’s our roundup:

The Four Resorts of Mt. Niseko Annupuri


Annupuri International

We’ll begin with the resort that’s best suited to serious ski purists. That’s Annupuri Ski Resort, where there’s access to some of the best side-country terrain in all of Niseko. Being a quieter spot allows skiers to focus on their own experience and take lines through totally untouched powder. This is especially true for those determined enough to hike up to the famous back bowls – natural half pipes. 

Choose the right line down from the summit and you could find yourself arriving in Moiwa Ski Resort, a lesser known (therefore less crowded) resort which sits close to the Konbu Onsen area. Here, you can finish off a long day by skiing directly into a natural hot spring. Just make sure to unclip from your skis or snowboard before diving in.

Again, this is the best resort if you’re focused on getting the most out of the slopes. The village of An’nupuri is authentic, reminiscent of the old-school, quiet, traditional Niseko. The side of Japan one always pictures growing up. This village is great for most budgets, as dining options range from casual, familiar eateries all the way to high-end gourmet restaurants. Stay close to the resort at the luxury Kamui Niseko for a cozy lodge vibe or choose from a range of peaceful cabins and onsen hotels in town.


Niseko Village

With less side-country access but 30 pistes catering for all different abilities, the Niseko Village Ski Resort is our pick for less experienced riders or a diverse family holiday. While there are certainly some exciting, advanced trails at the top of the mountain, the lower half is generously populated with accessible routes which allow novices and learners to enjoy their time on the slopes without feeling pressure to match the faster paces found elsewhere in Niseko. Skiers and snowboarders are also able to take group lessons with an English-speaking instructor, and even first-time riders are likely to advance to the point of taking on the extra-long green run which stretches from almost the very top of the resort. 

It’s a tricky run, especially in the wind, but a route like this may serve as your first real taste of high-octane riding and get you hooked for life.

For families looking to dodge the crowds and bring their dog(s), there’s SnowDog Village. This accommodating apartment space is less than 2km from the Niseko Village ski lifts and is ideal for large groups. Those seeking the very height of luxury may consider staying at the Hilton. Along with ski school, winding racetracks, and a range of on-piste activities for kids, families will also enjoy Niseko Village for its proximity to Kobo, Takahashi Farm. This charming spot teaches its visitors about the immense care and love put into dairy farming. Meet the cows, sample fresh milk, cream, and cheese, and even have a go at making your own ice cream! For a more grown up equivalent, head down to the Niseko Distillery to see elegant machinery and sample the Ohoro Gin at the adjoining night bar. 


Grand Hirafu

Now we arrive at the beating heart of Niseko. The Grand Hirafu resort and Hirafu village beneath it are the largest and most populated of the group – both on and off the mountain. This may be seen as a pro or a con, but if you enjoy ski trips for the atmosphere and nightlife as well as the powder chasing in the day, then Hirafu is sure to impress. With 22 courses and 11 lifts this spacious resort is varied enough to accommodate everyone. You’ll never be short of tree paths just off piste, and they’re certainly worth exploring as the pistes themselves can become congested at peak seasons. Luckily, the range of modern facilities includes babysitting services and kids play areas, along with multiple on-slope dining options, all of which serve to keep the main slopes moving briskly.


Grand Hirafu offers in-resort accommodation, including ski-in and ski-out chalets which are a rarity for most Japanese ski spots. Go for one of these if you simply cannot wait for the morning gondolas, or head for somewhere like Hotel Niseko Alpen for a good proximity balance between the slopes and the streets. As we’ve mentioned, Hirafu village is the commercial and entertainment hub of Niseko. Browse in the shopping district or spend your nights seeking the finest food – we’d recommend the vibrant Bang Bang in upper Hirafu if you’re seeking a thrill, or the cozy, family-run Café If… in lower Hirafu for those after something sweet. Oh, and don’t forget to grab a smoked cocktail from TOSHIRO’s.



With the recent opening of the Park Hyatt at its base, the Hanazono ski resort and village is becoming a hot spot for those who want to be big spenders for the week. While a relatively quiet town, the luxury accommodation options provide plenty of amenities and dining options, allowing guests to wind down and prepare for tomorrow’s slope session. This resort is small but satisfyingly varied; several gentle green runs will get novices started, though the main attraction here is the terrain parks. Put on your coolest ski jacket and prepare to freestyle on the beginner, intermediate, or main park which all feature kickers and banks of all sizes and skill levels. A perfect spot to learn your first trick or impress the locals with your Cab 5 double grabs. 

Hanazono also boasts some of the best in-boundary tree routes as well as the famous sidecountry ‘fields’ (Strawberry, Blueberry, Banana) which are coveted far and wide. For those seeking a unique adventure in the backcountry, this resort offers their own guide service to ensure that you can experience the best powder and stay safe while doing it. For a relatively small section of Mt. Niseko, Hanazono is definitely on the rise, with its focus on quality over quantity being clear and effective. The resort’s contemporary design blends harmoniously with the natural beauty of the landscape, their new gondola (built in 2021) is a comfortable ride to the top of the mountain, and let us not forget the most important aspect of any of these resorts: they are all connected. If you want the luxurious comfort of Hanazono’s accommodation but fancy spending your afternoon skiing down Hirafu, go for it. 

Bonus Resort: Rusutsu

The rumours are true: Mt. Niseko Annupuri has amazing powder, but it isn’t the only spot in Hokkaido for thrill seeking skiers to enjoy bountiful mornings of fresh fallen snow. About an hour away from Niseko Village and around thirty minutes from the edge of Hirafu is the Rusutsu Ski Resort and this stretches across multiple mountains including mt. Isola. This award-winning resort has an extremely impressive lift infrastructure, allowing residents to hop around the different peaks while staying protected from the snow and comfortable. Rusutsu offers some of Japan’s most exciting off-piste skiing, tree skiing, and most importantly, an opportunity to try out heli-skiing.

Photo: Rusutsu.com

Unlike most other heli-skiing companies, Hokkaido Backcountry Club provides ‘proper’ excursions up the mountain adjacent to the Rusutsu resort, including qualified backcountry guides, long and satisfying runs, and a safe helicopter ride to the peak of the Shiribetsu-Drake volcano. From the landing zone at the summit, you’ll have a choice of lines heading down in any direction, so its up to you whether to cruise through the open powder or take on the twists and turns of the birch tree woodlands.

Located only 120 minutes from New Chitose airport, we’d recommend staying here if you’ve come to Japan for the ultimate snowsports experience. There are modern facilities and accommodation options and Rusutsu Resort offers three different ski-in ski-out hotels, including the Rusutsu Resort Hotel, the Westin Rusutsu and the Vale Rusutsu which provides large suites and condos for groups and families as well as a spa, sauna and a variety of restaurants provide a range of services that can be enjoyed even for long-stays.

There’s also a well-equipped kids’ snow park where the young’uns can enjoy a range of winter activities. While the nightlife may not be as raucous as Hirafu, we’d certainly recommend heading here for one of the most entertaining and varied ski trips in all of Hokkaido.

To find out more about powder capital of the world, visit HOKKAIDOLOVE!

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