Release | Yulia Ezhikova
Niseko check-list: things you need to know before your trip
Planning a trip to Niseko may be quite challenging even if you have experience with snow holidays. However if this is your first winter vacation, it becomes even harder to predict what you may need to consider, book and pack in order to get the most out of your stay.
We’ve prepared a list of tips for you to keep in mind when getting your logistics sorted for a trip of a lifetime.
Choose the right timeThe winter season in Niseko lasts for almost 5 months starting from the end of November to early April. It is crucial to pick the right month and even week for your trip, as prices, availability and snow conditions vary considerably throughout the season.
Peak times like Christmas and New Year celebrations or popular school holiday dates require planning long ahead of time, with some of the dates getting fully sold out even half a year prior. On the other hand, coming in shoulder season during early December or March makes for a much more budget friendly trip, but keep in mind that the snow quality is weather dependant and really hard to predict. You can refer to our detailed guide to Niseko snow following this link.
Decide on the resort areaThe next thing to consider is which of the resorts would you like to stay in, as Niseko United is comprised of four different areas - Hanazono, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village and Annupuri. Each located about 20 minutes drive from one another they are none the less connected at the top of the mountain, so if you are an experienced skier you can get across quite easily.
The most developed and densely populated area by far is the Grand Hirafu Resort with best hotels, restaurants and bars located here, although there are quite a few outstanding restaurants scattered around Annupuri area as well. Niseko Village has a reputation of being the most family friendly area, but it’s limited to a couple of large scale hotel developments being your only accommodation options for a stay there. Also keep in mind that Niseko Village is quite an isolated area and your choices of apres ski activities will be really narrow.
Consider the distancesOne of the most commonly made mistakes when planning a holiday in Niseko is not leaving enough time to explore and enjoy the area properly. Keep in mind that it takes about 2.5 hours to drive to the resort area from the New Chitose airport in Sapporo, and if you’re booking just a 1 or 2 nights stay, it really won’t leave you with much time to experience the beauty of Niseko and have some fun on the mountain, too.
Book ahead of timeAnother Niseko specific issue is low availability of accommodations and airplane tickets in peak times of the season. Be sure to coordinate both when booking, not to end up with non refundable tickets and nowhere to stay for your dates or the other way around.
In fact, this goes for all of the other additional services you may require during your stay. Unfortunately it’s not unusual for guests to walk out of the New Chitose Airport without any transfers to the resort booked, thinking they can just get a bus ticket right there and then, only to discover that they either have to take an incredibly expensive taxi ride or two local trains to get to Niseko instead.
We recommend that you make a list of everything you may require during your time in Niseko - car rental, covered overnight parking spaces, restaurant bookings and snow activities and try to get as many of them booked beforehand as possible to avoid disappointment.
Shot by Daniel Honda
Many first timers to skiing also struggle with getting their snow program in place, so double check you have all of the below prepared for your time on the mountain:
GearYou don’t have to spend a fortune and buy all of the equipment you need if you want just to try it out for a few days first. There are a few sports stores in Niseko that will set you up with skis or snowboard, boots and even a jacket and a pair of ski pants for rent on a daily basis. However, you may want to purchase a few smaller items that are not usually available for rental due to hygiene reasons. This applies to face masks and gloves, so make sure to budget and shop around for those before you show up for your class.
LessonsIf you are tempted to head for the slopes on your own as a first timer, you are in for a very rough and most likely disappointing day that may turn you off snow sports for quite a while. Do yourself a favor and book a few classes first. There are always a few schools offering ski and snowboard lessons depending on which resort are you going to be learning in. Your choices will include group or private classes that can go for half of a day or whole day, as well as some specialized workshops once you are confident enough to learn more advanced tricks. Beginner classes start in a safe fenced off area at the bottom of the mountain with access to magic carpets in order for you to avoid the lifts while you’re still learning to hold your balance.
Lift passesYou will require a lift pass to get access to the mountain resort area even if you’re not taking the lifts itself and staying in beginner zone. These are fairly straight forward and can be purchased on the day, however it’s great to have the passes pre-booked to avoid lines and be at your lesson on time.
Keep warm and stay safeLast, but not least - pack for your trip wisely. Niseko winters are considered to be quite mild, but if you are coming from a tropical climate, you will need to dress well to stay comfortable and warm, so you can enjoy your time in the snow. The key to winter dressing is having a few layers on, with the base layer being the most important, but often overlooked necessity. We recommend that you invest in a light merino wool or tech-fiber based layer that consists of a pair of leggings and a fitted knit. Add a fleece, a crew neck or a hoodie and don’t forget a soft shell down jacket on a colder day to go under your waterproof wind shell.
Probably the most important part of resort wear is the shoes since you will need something waterproof, warm and very stable to get across icy and snowed in streets of Niseko. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that more people get serious injuries just walking down the slippery streets, than on the slopes. If your pair of shoes feels unstable, be sure to pick up a couple of rubber grips with spikes that can be attached to any type of a shoe and make your soles truly slip proof.
Text / Yulia Ezhikova
Photo/ Daniel Honda