How does Japan’s Niseko rank in our Battle of the Ski Resorts?
Nominated by Jonny
Ease of access 2/10
Not good. Best is London (or Manchester) to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific, then straight into Chitose, where there is a regular/cheap three-hour bus to resort. However you look at it, think long (24 hours door-to-door) and expensive.
Sense of scale and epicness 6/10
Volcanic Yotei (the island’s answer to Mt Fuji) is not half bad on a clear day. It’s just that there aren’t many as it’s always snowing! But that’s why you came here – for 15m plus per season.
Variety and quality of the pistes 8/10
I would have had this as a 9/10, but in the last two years Niseko has got busier. It’s a bit like Whistler – get out of the choke points early, be smart and you’ll not get frustrated. With four distinct interconnected mountains (Hanazono, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village and Annupuri) there is every type of piste, bar really, really steep. But with so much snow, that is not a worry. The hike to the peak (the area’s highest point, with loads of options from it) or runs out of gate 5 to Jackson are worth the lift ticket money alone.
Off-piste potential 8/10
This blends into piste for me, and that’s why I love the area so much. Yes, have your avi pack on, checked and all that. But you can relax and just suck up the pow without too many cares if you head into one of the dozen or so marked ‘gates’ that are all avalanche controlled/assessed zones. The best – in my view – are at the extreme edges, so either Annupuri or Hanazono.
This place never gets old. I must have done 80 days here and I’m still finding new lines, hits and hikes. Even over a two-week stay the mountain can change so much too, simply due to the amount of snowfall, with 80cm a night not uncommon.
On-hill grub 8/10
Fantastic, especially if you like your noodles/ramen/sushi and all that. The King Bell hut is my favourite, and thanks to the current good exchange rate a good lunch costs you less than £5. The base at Hanazono is excellent too and has an ultra-modern plush number, with free Wifi plus pizzas, Heineken and all that…
Après scene 7/10
Nightlife that I have seen is strong. If packed with Aussies. Anywhere on the main Hirafu streets will do: Jam bar, Mena Mena, Edge bar etc.
Base suitability 8/10
More people are touring out, but it’s hardly Asahidake (the mythical volcano with just a single ropeway, further north) that’s packed with Euros, ready to get skins on when the weather closes in and the lift shuts. By bus (or car) options are very good, with cheap and simple day trips to Rusutsu, Kiroro and Moiwa resorts.
Family friendly? 5/10
Pretty good in terms of apartments, nannies and so on, as so many Aussies visit. Some prefer Sahoro or Tomamu (further north and quieter). The slopes can get busy in Niseko, and there’s no real ideal learner area bar a small strip at Hanazono, which is a 20-minute bus ride from the main area of Hirafu (or two lifts and long traverse).
RANK: Joint 20th