Goodbye to Niseko’s iconic Center Four; Hello brand-new gondola

four riders sit on chairlift during a night skiing session

After 38 years of service, a much-loved Niseko lift has gone into retirement. The Center Four chairlift in Grand Hirafu took its last spin on Sunday 31 March 2024.

Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village and Annupuri are the four interconnected resorts of the Niseko mountain ski area

The chairs have been sold, going for 150,000 JPY (around £750) apiece with proceeds going to POW, after the chairlift was given a royal send off at an end-of-season party. Now, Hirafu resort looks ahead to the new gondola replacing it next winter.

The old Center Four lift is to be replaced by a new 10-person gondola, a huge upgrade from the original four-person chair. Its running speed will be 6m per second (1.5 times faster than Center Four). The new gondola can carry 2,800 people per hour, a significant increase from 1800 people per hour, and is anticipated to alleviate congestion in the ski resort.

a black and white computer-generated image of a new gondola, with text overlayed describing its arrival - the new Hirafu lift
Niseko United new gondola to replace Hirafu’s Center Four

Already in Hirafu is a gondola known as ‘Hirafu gondola’, so we’re waiting for news of what the new lift will be named. Perhaps the name Center Four will endure for another 30-something years…

When asked the most common question for any ski journalist, ‘Where is your favourite place to ski?’ my answer’s simple:

Niseko under the lights. Lapping Hirafu gondola and Centre Four, having the time (and usually snow) of my life. 

Fall Line Editor-at-Large Jonny Richard, The Dark Side

We asked our resident Japan expert, Jonny – Fall Line’s Editor-at-Large(ly in Niseko) – what made the Center Four lift so special?

“This lift was old but gold. It sort of weirdly grew on you. Rickety and cold as F on a windy day, or at night (it used to run to just past 8pm!) but there’s so much good terrain accessed from here.”

“You really can lap and lap this zone and lift – especially late afternoon or early evening, with the lights of Hirafu coming on below you and usually powder still possible if you know where to look [well into Super Ridge to skier’s right].”

the old Hirafu Center Four lift, shot from the top station, a volcanic soft-topped mountain behind it across the valley
Center Four © Niseko United

Niseko’s modernising – in the main- has been good news. It remains a mix of old and new, and is perfect for it, says Jonny: “It’s still the best snow and it’s still got soul”.

“I love the fact that the bus company owns one of the connected hills (Annupuri) and never spends anything on the lifts; while another of the hills (Hanazono) has a Louis Vuitton pop-up at the base, a heated gondola, with chic restaurants and hotels.”

lift lines sketched on image of Hirafu ski resort

Bringing us the news of Hirafu replacing Center Four, Japan Ski Experience has commented on the development of Niseko’s accommodation over recent years – such as Setsu, Sansui and Aya – that the need for increased lift capacity has arisen, as have expectations that the resort should provide world class infrastructure.

For more news of Niseko’s Hirafu from on the ground, or, better yet, to organise a ski trip to discover it yourself and ride the brand new gondola next season, visit Japan Ski Experience.

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