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Release | Yulia Ezhikova

First timer's guide to Niseko Snow

The fact that Niseko is one of the best places on the planet to experience powder snow is a common knowledge among snowsports professionals and newbies alike. However, with a 5 months long winter season that brings on average 14 meters of snow per year, conditions both on and off the mountain can be quite different depending on when exactly you choose to visit. 

We’ve put together this Guide to Niseko Snow to help you pick the best time for your holiday goals and budget.

First timer's guide to Niseko SnowShot by Daniel Honda - Niseko Promotion Board

Pre-season: Nov 23rd to Dec 7th

Given that it takes a meter of snow base on the mountain to get the lifts running, the resort is usually scheduled to open at the end of November. It’s a good idea to double check lift operation schedule for the area you plan on going to, when choosing the dates for your trip. For example here is this year’s schedule for Grand Hirafu Resort. However, please keep in mind that the dates are not cut in stone and are very much weather dependent, with lift operations being delayed well into the first week of December in the last couple of years.

If you are coming to Niseko to enjoy the famous powder snow, pre-season is not the best time to pick. However there will be snow and skiing and snowboarding may still be possible depending on the weather in each particular year. It may be wise to keep an eye on forecasts, so you can arrange a last minute trip if the lifts open early. 

Pre-season is a great time to come to Niseko if you are looking for an overall snow experience, as the village will already have a winter wonderland feel to it, with hotel prices still at their lowest and airplane tickets readily available. You can enjoy walks, snow ball fights, fresh air and the many local onsens available for resort guests. Restaurant bookings are hit and miss this time a year, with most of them scheduled to open in the first week of December. You may not get to choose from as big of a variety as in winter peak, but there are definitely always a few both casual and fine dining options available to try. 

Great for: overall winter experience, last minute trips if the lifts open early

Pluses: low accommodation prices and lots of availability, no crowds, easy to get airplane tickets

Minuses: conditions are weather dependable and hard to predict, lifts may be closed, some of the restaurants and services not yet open, night skiing and backcountry skiing not yet available  

Early season: Dec 7th to Dec 20th

First timer's guide to Niseko Snow / Shot by Daniel Honda - Niseko Promotion BoardShot by Daniel Honda - Niseko Promotion Board

By this time in the season all lifts should already be running and ski and snowboarding become the main activity for guests to enjoy. Accommodation prices will go up slightly, but lots of the benefits of pre-season still remain including better hotel availability and less crowds, plus all bars and restaurants should be up and running by now. 

Advanced skiers should keep in mind that any big powder day during the early season  is subject to luck, backcountry gates won’t yet be open and off-piste skiing may be limited to areas high up on the mountain.   

Resort will start getting busier from December 15th onward, but overall this is a perfect time to come to Niseko if you are a ski or snowboard beginner, since it will allow you to build your confidence on the slopes when they are still relatively empty. 

Another major attraction of this time of a year is opening of night skiing, which is currently scheduled for the 9th of December for Grand Hirafu Resort and is a great experience for both advanced and beginner skiers to enjoy while in Niseko. 

Great for: beginners, families and overall snow experience

Pluses: resort is fully open including ski lifts and restaurants, not too crowded, prices for accommodation still reasonable, night skiing available

Minuses: backcountry gates still closed, off piste skiing is limited, big powder days are rare

High season: Dec 20th to Feb 20th

First timer's guide to Niseko Snow / All rights reserved by Niseko Promotion BoardAll rights reserved by Niseko Promotion Board

Mid December to the end of February is the snowiest time in Niseko, with lots of excellent powder days that are a major attraction for winter enthusiasts from all over the world. This is the time to enjoy all that snow has to offer - from groomed runs to off piste and backcountry skiing. 

Coincidentally this is also the time for winter holidays starting with Christmas in late December and finishing with Chinese New Year in late February. These two factors combined make it the busiest time in Niseko with accommodation prices at their highest, airplane tickets scarce and restaurants and hotels being booked out months in advance. Coming in high season will definitely require a bigger budget and lots of forward planning to make sure you get to book places and experiences you’d like to have before they sell out. 

On the plus side, this is also the most fun time to be in the area not just on the mountain, but also in the village with apres ski and celebration vibes going strong and nightlife being at its peak. 

Great for: winter holiday celebrations, advanced and beginner skiers alike

Pluses: the famous Niseko powder snow, all of snow activities available including backcountry, fun atmosphere

Minuses: accommodation and airplane tickets availability is very low, most of the holiday dates book out months in advance, prices are at their highest, restaurants require reservations, can get quite crowded, coldest time of the year

Shoulder season: end of February to the end of March

First timer's guide to Niseko Snow / Shot by Seishin Kosai - Niseko Promotion BoardShot by Seishin Kosai - Niseko Promotion Board

It becomes significantly less crowded in Niseko right after Chinese New Year, which falls on the end of February in winter 2018, but the snow conditions remain great for a few more weeks. Usually there are still plenty of powder days all the way to the third week of March, the snow base is at it’s highest and there are much more blue bird days on the slopes. There’s also a higher chance of rainy days towards the end of March, but overall snow conditions remain favorable.

One of the biggest reasons for coming to Niseko around this time is taking advantage of better accommodation prices and availability throughout the resort. March is also traditionally the time for “children ski and rent for free” promotions around town, which makes it the perfect time for a visit with the family. Bars and restaurants in the area start to quiet down and reservations ahead of time are not essential anymore, which makes for a much more laid back atmosphere than in season’s peak. 

Great for: advanced and beginner skiers alike, family holidays

Pluses: more sunny days on the slopes, still lots of snow, less crowded, more budget friendly

Minuses: less powder days, quieter nightlife, some places start closing towards the end of March

End of the season: first two weeks of April

The resort starts to gradually shut down with night skiing stopping at the end of March and lifts closing one by one in the following days. It is again a good idea to double check lift operation schedule for the area you plan on visiting to make sure the lifts are still going during your trip, although most hotels will provide free shuttle buses to the nearest functioning lift if the one nearby is already shut. 

Prices for accommodation are at their lowest at the end of the season and this is really the quietest and sunniest time to be on the mountain, which still makes it a great option for beginners and families with kids. Do keep in mind though that restaurants also start to close down for the season at the end of March and group ski lessons may be not available anymore, which mean that you will have to book private instructors instead.

Great for: overall snow experience, beginner skiers and snowboarders, family holidays

Pluses: lots of sunny days, prices at their lowest, slopes are not crowded

Minuses: snow starts to melt, lifts may not be running up, resort starts to shut down
  • First timer's guide to Niseko Snow