It’s one of the Japan’s (and the world’s) premier ski resorts for a reason…
But before you slip on your skis here’s a few things to know before you go.
1. Expect snow so unreal it looks like it’s straight out of a Disney movie
Niseko and its legendary whiteout barely needs introduction. With an average snowfall of 12 metres per year, the region more than promises powder—it dumps it.
You basically wake up with everything coated in a pristine foam, so there’s a constant temptation to just fall back into it like a child and let the bone-dry flakes cover you like a feather duvet. Not an exaggeration.
The mountain isn’t huge—it’s literally half the size of Thredbo—it makes up for it with some of the best powder in the world.
Although you can safely assume that you’re in prime ski territory when you accidentally find yourself sharing beers with pro snowboarders Benji Ritchie, Eero Ettala over dinner.
The quality and quantity of the snow also does come at a price. You don’t get a lot of sun. Sometimes skiers only score about an hour of picture perfect sunlight but when you do get lucky with blissful bright white days it’s magical on a whole other level.
Plus, vision is pretty overrated when you’re skiing in a place like this. The snow lashes at your face and you’re lucky to see half the time when you pop out of waist deep powder for a turn.
2. You’re going to get naked with a lot of people
The onsen or thermal pools are arguably one of the biggest draw cards to skiing in Niseko and relaxing in one after a long days ski could be the highlight of your holiday.
The catch? Most traditional (and therefore the best) onsen have a fully nude-only policy. The good news is each bath usually reserves different times for each gender and, let’s be honest, this is Japan and everyone is hugely respectful.
Also it’s worth getting over a bit of shyness in order to soak up the multitude of health benefits that come with soaking in the minerals of an onsen bath.
Sodium bicarbonate saline, which helps beautify the skin.
Sulphate, which helps heal cuts and bruises.
Sulphur for high blood pressure.
Manageable levels of carbon dioxide which is said to expand blood vessels and help with rheumatism.
Many hotels offer indoor baths (noten-buro) but we say the best way to wash in style is to enjoy a hot sake in an outdoor pool (roten-buro) as soft flakes of snow land overhead. We recommend Onsen Yukuro for its convenient location near the lower Hirafu village.
3. Gird your belly because you’re going to eat like a king
Niseko’s incredible foodie scene is something that leaves other ski resorts in the dust (or, powder). For a small mountain the choices are super diverse, ticking off spectacular traditional Japanese food for all budgets, as well as Korean, Italian, Thai and Nepalese.
A few highlights that won’t break the bank include:
Bar Gyu (A.K.A The Fridge Door)
Husband and wife team, Ioanna and Hisashi Watanabe, own this cosy den. It only fits around 25 people but if you’re lucky to nab a spot you’ll be treated to excellent service, well-crafted cocktails and floor to ceiling windows looking out onto the snow.
If you’re from Sydney, then yes, you’ve already heard of Don Don. It’s bang on—lots of hearty rice bowls for only about $AUD12 a serve. The waiter even said he’s never seen someone finished one completely, so that’s your first challenge.
So there’s obviously two of these (if the name didn’t give it away). This is one of the only restaurants you have to walk in, no bookings allowed. Enjoy a steaming bowl of Suki-Yaki soup, adding your own choice of uncooked meat and vegetables.
4. …but if you want the very best you’re going to need to book
Most of the great places only take bookings and they’re very tough get into and it’s a good idea to book your dinners before you even fly out to Japan.
Most places do the standard 6 and 8pm sittings but we recommend opting for the 8 because it’s nice to have a post-ski bathe and beer in an onsen before dinner.
Some of the restaurants you might want to look at booking include:
Home to some of the freshest seafood you’ll find on the mountain and it’s for this reason that it’s one of the most popular spots in town.
Blending a mix of Eastern and Western flavours, Kamimura is famous for its choice of degustation menus.
The latest venue from 3-star Michelin chef Hiroshi Nakamichi features a fusion of French food with a Hokkaido twist.
Steak Rosso Rosso
Sometimes you can get lucky and score a table without booking but to be safe just secure your spot to enjoy one seriously melt-in-your-mouth meal. This is your ‘I deserve it’ meal splurge and definitely only if you love your steak. The wagyu is said to be beyond comprehension but if you have cash to splash indulge in the Kobe beef but at $AUD130 for a 180g piece it’s an indulgence.
5. Everyone speaks English but knowing a few key Japanese phrases will go a long way
Niseko is obviously a huge tourist town so you’re going to be able to get away with English in most places, however in Japan it’s always appreciated when you endeavour to master a least a little bit of the language. Especially on piste.
Here are few key phrases that will go a long way to smoothing out your ski run:
Hello – Konnichiwa
Goodbye – Sayonara
Good morning – Ohayo gozaimasu
Good afternoon – Konbanwa
Good night – Oyasumi nasai
Thank You – Arigato Gozaimasu (or Arigato to be casual)
Yes – Hai
No – Iie (ee-eh)
Please – Onegai Shimasu
Excuse me – Sumimasen
Sorry – Gomen nasai
How much is this? – Ikura desuka?
What’s your name? – Onamae wa nandesuka?
I don’t understand/know – Wakarimasen
Where we stayed:
This resort connects to 3 others which you’re welcome to visit at your will. The nightlife is fantastic with heaps of great small bars and a mix of bargain and high-end restaurants. It does miss a good apres ski bar though.
Where we hired equipment:
Obviously an Aussie icon in the industry, these guys also supply Japan for ski hire. Best to get a premium package in case the opportunity arises and you’ll need to change to some big fat powder skis.
Want to know more about skiing Niseko or anything else about travelling in incredible Japan? Visit Japan National Tourism Organization.