If you’re looking for winter sports in Japan, Niseko is consistently ranked as one of the country’s best spots for slopes, snow, and family-oriented activities. As such, it is fast becoming an unmissable location on the global trail for skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts.
However, although Niseko is primarily known as a ski resort, the term ‘ski resort’ really does not do it justice. This phrase generally conjures up ideas of a couple of slopes and a log hut with hot cocoa drank by a warming fire – something rustic and relatively basic.
Niseko is truly something else; separated into four main areas it is a gigantic and luxurious set of resorts, with countless and varied restaurants, spas, and activities, all set in jaw-dropping natural surroundings. It sits on Mount Niseko Annupuri adjacent to Mount Yotei, in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. Covering a staggering 993 square kilometres it contains a wealth of natural wonders, including thick wooded areas, moss-covered caverns, lakes and hot springs. Mount Yotei is an inactive volcano and due its resemblance to the more famous Mount Fuji it is also referred to as Ezo Fuji.
Skiing and Snowboarding
From November to April the mountains are covered with a deep and fine snow and with a moisture content of just 8 percent, it is a powdery, light snowfall that is perfect for a number of winter activities.
Niseko has really made its name in skiing, and to a lesser extent snowboarding; with a whopping total of 48 kilometres in ski runs you can see why. There are runs to suit visitors of every ability, from professional to novice, and with various schools and classes available you need not fear the slopes of Niseko. What’s more, as the slopes wrap around the mountain you can find a place to descend from sunrise to sunset, with sublime accompanying vistas, and there are even lit runs for those who fancy a spot of night skiing.
More Snowy Activities
Although the primary attractions are skiing and snowboarding, there is something for those who are perhaps less inclined to speed down a snowy hill on a piece of polished wood. Niseko is like a snowy playground for adults (and children). Take to a snowmobile for a chance to whizz around the snow with minimal effort, a fun activity that lets you cover vast distances in no time at all, or try snow rafting, where you’re towed by a snow mobile in an inflatable dingy – something designed for groups and proves a laugh for the whole family. Snow tubing is also well worth a go; sit in a rubber ring and simply slide down the mountain side.
If you’re not so keen on speed, try snow shoeing; put on these specially designed pieces of footwear and explore the local surroundings full of pristine and quiet countryside spots off the beaten track where you can enjoy the natural scenery at your own pace.
Niseko’s Other Attractions
Aside from the winter activities there are many other things to do at Niseko. I have already mentioned the stunning natural surroundings, but it doesn’t stop at jaw-dropping scenery, Niseko is home to world famous onsen. The term onsen originally meant a natural hot spring found in Japan but is now also used to describe the bathing facilities that surround these springs and Niseko has dozens of onsen facilities. With outdoor, indoor, public and private ones to choose from, you can find a perfect spot to truly unwind after a hectic day, all whilst taking in the surroundings and perhaps even enjoy a beer or two.
Niseko is also home to fantastic dining and shopping. It is a culinary haven and offers everything from truly authentic Japanese cuisine to high-end international restaurants, serving dishes from every imaginable part of the globe. What’s more, these mouth-watering treats are on offer in a range of establishments, as well as delivered to your door. For shopping there are a charming selection of gift shops that sell artisanal and hand-crafted local products that make the perfect gifts for your friends and family at home.
Aside from the dining, shopping and winter sports, you can have a go on the zip-line and whizz down the slope, or take a ride in a helicopter for a truly magnificent chance to see the stunning scenery from a bird’s eye view. You can also have a go at horse riding; in summer or winter this equestrian adventure gives you a chance to engage in a leisurely exploration of the local countryside. Niseko also makes special provision for children, so you can be assured that the whole family will have something to do. There is an indoor game space for kids, with massive playground facility, table football and even a rock climbing wall.
Niseko in the Summer
Although Niseko is more famous for its winter activities, it is also a fun and vibrant place to visit in the summer. Of course some of the attractions can be enjoyed all year round, such as shopping, dining, horse-riding and the indoor children’s activities, but there are also a host of summer specific entertainment, which are making Niseko increasingly popular in the warmer months. With highs of 25°C Niseko is not as hot as some of this country’s more tropical areas, but the cooler weather makes it ideal for those seeking more active getaways. With so much to see and do Niseko can provide a fun-filled family holiday.
There are four major golf courses in Niseko with options for full-scale 18-hole courses and easier options for those who are less adept at the game. Niseko has fantastic opportunities for hiking, climbing and cycling, with routes to suit all ages and abilities; there are also additional kid’s outdoor activities such a zip-lining, wake-boarding and ‘tree-trekking’.
Aside from these land-based activities, there are a wide range of water-based sports that take place in Niseko’s river such as swimming, rafting, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, canyoning (using your body as a ‘boat’), to name a few! And with 8 kilometres to play in, and sports of varied speed and difficulty, you can find an activity to suit your group.
Niseko has such a range of activities on offer that it would be impossible to comprehensively detail them all in one place, and of course if you find yourself there you will, no doubt, stumble upon all sorts of charming and unlisted places. However, here a few recommendations of things you will not want to miss out on.
- If you’re planning on checking out Niseko’s onsen, and you really should, then don’t miss Ki Niseko Onsen. Set in one of the newer accommodations, there are stone baths indoors and outdoors, with amazing views, and private rooms are available for reservation. However the best thing about this onsen is that the water comes straight from a spring right next door, so it is fresh and untainted for the most authentic onsen experience.
- A good way to start your winter trip in Niseko is with an organised ski tour; with an advanced guide to show the way it’s a chance to get a feel of the land and a good opportunity to ease into the slopes if it’s been a while since your last ski trip. These are suited to people with some, but not necessarily lots of, experience.
- If you’re visiting Niseko in the summer, you must try one of the BBQs, referred to by locals as a Genghis Khan. This is a fun and delicious dining experience; cook up fresh local vegetables, meat and fish, in a traditional way, and wash it all down with a glass of wine or beer. Catering services can be arranged to come to wherever you’re staying and will take care of everything, whilst, of course, letting you decide what goes on the fire.