The best value lift pass on earth?

How do you fancy skiing magnificent Japow for just £1.50 an hour? Thought so. Editor at large Jonny Richards tells you how

Plenty of resorts bang on about what wonderful value they are. But few can match glorious Niseko’s 50-hour lift pass. And even as I write this I’m thinking: I really must check the maths for a fourth time, as this seems absurdly cheap.

Anyway, now I’ve hopefully got you excited, here’s how it works. Unlike Europe, The States, wherever, Hokkaido (Japan’s north island that averages over 15m of snow per year) has a very flexible lift system. And rather than just stumping up for a day or week-long pass (which is still an option) there’s usually a choice of five or eight-hour tickets, plus various other innovative offerings.

In the case of Grand Hirafu and Hanazono resorts (which are linked and together have over 60% of Niseko’s terrain, of which there is plenty – I’ve skied here over 10 weeks and am still not bored) you can buy a 30 or 50-hour pass.

Based on the current exchange rate (of 175 yen to the pound, via, the former is £137 and the latter £217. The hour starts as soon as you click through your first electronic lift gate. Then as you move though further chairs, gondolas etc the turnstile LCD displays how many of the sixty minutes remain.

As befits a skier with Scottish heritage, I get far too excited by taking it to the wire, aiming to nick through my final barrier with just a few seconds of the hour remaining, before heading out of one of Niseko’s many backcountry gates.

Lapping up Niseko powder for £1.50 an hour | Hanazono Resort
Lapping up Niseko powder for £1.50 an hour | Hanazono Resort

By the time I’ve hiked or traversed to get to the line I want, plus done any gear faffing (remember you’re not being charged for this time, as you clicked through the previous lift within the initial hour) then usually had an absolutely banging pow run down to the bottom of the mountain, I’ve actually had two hours skiing for the price of one.

It really has changed the way I move around the hill and not in a bad way. I’m often on the mountain solo (no preaching please, all Niseko’s gates are avi checked before being opened and my beacon is always on) and the format really has given light and shade to my day. At times I charge – and need to with a time slot about to close – and at other moments when off the clock, I’m waltzing round, happily gazing towards the Sea of Japan or imagining skiing Yotei’s huge crater, the volcano that dominates Niseko’s four connected resorts.

Those of you who are not day dreaming of me prancing about the hills like Julie Andrews with a shovel and probe, will remind us the aforementioned maths means we’re only at £2.17 an hour for ever so brilliant skiing. Outrageous.

And to improve the extra 67p, you’ll need your Hokkaido Premium Tickets. Anyone from outside Japan can claim up to 30,000 yen of vouchers pre-winter (which you pay 18,000 yen for on arrival at the airport). There are limitations, such as you can only pay in cash and must collect as you’re passing through arrivals, but it’s a very simple way of getting 40% off, with the vouchers valid for lift tickets.

So, to re-cap the 50-hour lift pass (which in my view is better than the also brilliant value two-week pass as it allows days off to visit other nearby mountains like Nimbus-crew-favourite Rusutsu, bad weather interruptions etc) costs 38,000 yen, less Hokkaido Premium Ticket discount is 26000 yen.

Use wisely, and that’s 100 hours’ skiing for a shade under £150. What’s not to love about a full day’s shredding in Japan’s most celebrated powder spot for under £15? And yes, the picture was taken this week, when, you guessed it, Niseko has been dumping once more.

Book your 50-hour pass here.