If you have never been to Niseko, it can be a bit confusing trying to figure out how the resort works and where you might want to be for your stay, so here is a little guide to help you decide.
Nearest Airport: New Chitose Airport, Sapporo (CTS)
New Chitose is an international airport but only to South East Asia, most often you will find the best value option is to change at Tokyo, as there are so many flights between Tokyo and Sapporo that the layover is painless, Bangkok is another popular option, particularly for those coming from Australia.
Train Station: Kutchan
Hirafu and Niseko do have train stations, but the most efficient arrival strategy is by train to Kutchan and then getting a lift or bus to the resort. To do this you would need to get the airport train to Otaru and then change, but as Otaru is the end of the line you don’t have to worry too much if you fall asleep. The Japanese do like to travel light though, so you will not find stations or trains particularly conducive to ski and snowboard bags. You could act like a local instead and get your luggage delivered to your accommodation so you only need to carry your cabin bag. I had a ride to the resort, so I’m not sure how much the airport charge for the delivery service, but I stored my snowboard and suitcase there for around £20 a day for both.
There are other transfer options and it may be included with your accommodation. But should you want to venture into Sapporo then the train is the best way to do some independent travel.
Where to Stay
This is going to mostly be down to personal choice, but each area has a different vibe and accessibility to the rest of the resort.
The 4 areas are (From West to East) Annapuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu and Hanazono.
Annupuri is by far the quietest area on the mountain and was where Propeak took us to do the majority of our training so we had loads of space and the snow mostly stayed in reasonable condition despite the warm weather. This is because it is only connected to the rest of the resort at level 4. If however you are looking for apres this is not the place for you. The village is quite scattered and you would benefit from having a car. There is a bus connecting Annupuri to Niseko and Hirafu.
Hanazono is also at the quieter end of the spectrum, and is connected to Grand Hirafu inbound at level 2 and outbound at level 3, it also has some great off piste terrain in the fruit fields and some runs which are only half-pisted so you can play in the mogul fields down the side if you would prefer. There is a free shuttle bus to Hirafu every 20 minutes, from 8.30am.
Grand Hirafu is the busy spot where everything comes together. This is the main haunt of the ski schools and there is some really good beginner terrain in this area. The final run into .Base is preety steep but with so much powder around it doesn’t matter if you fall over. Here you will also find the Welcome Centre, where all the buses go, so if you need to change between Niseko and Kutchan for example it would be here. If you are looking for dinner or bars then this is the place but don’t expect the same amount of drunkeness as you would find in Europe.
Niseko Village is a quieter area but really well located. I’m told the best back country exit gates are here. Niseko Village Ski School has exclusive use so there are proportionally fewer snakes of kids creating traffic and there is a pedestrian connection to Hirafu when Level 4 isn’t open, with the added benefit of being the closest to hop over to Annupuri too. It is dominated by the Hilton and Greenleaf hotels, but there are lots of other smaller establishments in the area. The runs are predominantly green at the bottom half with quite a big step up once you go up some of the bigger lifts.
Another thing to note is that there is night skiing here! That means that a small selection of pistes are open until as late as 8pm. The main area for this is Hirafu, but it is also available in Niseko Village and Annapuri. For a slightly higher rate, you will also be able to book lessons between 4 and 6 at most ski schools.
The resort as a whole is still developing, Hanazono for example are planning to expand to the next mountain, making it equal in size to the rest of Niseko United which will be a massive boost. There is lots of construction underway of hotels and apartments as the destination becomes more well known around the globe. The target audience for the resort is very much the high end luxury side of things, so you have to look pretty hard to find dinner that doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg, but it is achievable if you look in the right places.
For my first few weeks here, we were staying in Stoked Niseko Hostel. This is a fantastic hostel, within walking distance of the slopes and bars (or theres a shuttle if the hill is too much for you). Run by the lovely Yoko and Peter who cooked us some amazing local foods, which I’m told will be a regular thing throughout the season. The building has been there for a really long time so you may even spot it in the old skool movies that attracted you to Japow in the first place! They have been working in the area for a few years now and have all the local knowledge you could possibly need including onsen recommendations and explanations of particular customs.
For more information, I recommend checking out Niseko Tourism. The app is not super clear, but it is the best available information for the area in English including daily avalanche info and interactive piste map. They also have a hand in producing some very extensive guides such and the food and wine guide.
Hope this helps!