Coming to Niseko can be one of the most incredible... and confusing times in any traveller's journey. With 4 resorts on one mountain, a train line that's nowhere near the hub of the village and multiple lift passes to choose from, making your way to Niseko effectively and getting to know your way around can seem pretty overwhelming for tourists and seasonal workers alike.
We've thought of all the questions you might have about finding your way to and around Niseko - after this blog, you'll know every part of Niseko like a local!
Technically speaking, there are 5 resort entities that run out of Mount Niseko-Annupuri - the hill you ski/snowboard on:
- Niseko Annupuri Kokusai Ski Area (or Annupuri)
- Niseko Village Ski Area (or Niseko Village)
- Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu (or Grand Hirafu)
- Niseko Hanazono Resort (or Hanazono)
Each of these four resorts take up roughly a quarter of the mountain:
Each of these resorts are separate entities and are owned by separate companies, but work in cooperation with each other to enable skiers and snowboarders to ride the entire mountain (or half the mountain if you wish) easily.
At the turn of the century, the brand of Niseko United (the 5th resort entity) was created to help promote and give an identity to snowsports on Mt Niseko-Annupuri, as well as create an integrated lift pass that visitors can purchase to ride the whole mountain. Which leads us into the next question...
When you visit the Niseko resorts, you can choose from two lift passes, each covering either half or all the skiable area of the mountain:
The Niseko United All Mountain Lift Pass is recommended for intermediate to advanced riders, or guests riding in Niseko for more than 3 days. It will give you access to all lifts across the 4 resorts as well as free rides on the Niseko United shuttle, which runs between the resorts and to Kutchan town.
The Grand Hirafu/Hanazono pass covers those 2 resorts, and is recommended for beginners or those riding for a shorter amount of time.
Each resort and it's accompanying area at the base of the lifts are very different from each other - each have their pros and cons (depending on what you like in a ski resort) and provide a unique experience.
|What it's known for||Incredible backcountry and the famous back bowl that only those brave enough to hike the peak can experience. Good to stay in if you want a more quiet and understated holiday in Niseko.|
|Facilities||1 Gondola, 5 lifts, small Mountain Center|
|Accommodation||Niseko Northern Resort Annupuri, The Kamui Niseko|
|Dining||Sushi Shin, Pizza del Sole, Rakuichi Soba|
|What it's known for||Great sidecountry and a smaller yet fun collection of runs including a winding race-track-like green run. Good to stay in if you want everything within your reach while you stay at the Hilton or Greenleaf.|
|Facilities||1 gondola, 8 lifts, 1 on-slope cafe, snowmobiling, reindeer sledding, snowshoeing, sledding and snow rafting|
|Accommodation||The Hilton Niseko Village, The Greenleaf Niseko|
|Dining||Takahashi Farm - Milk Kobo/Prativo/Mandriano, Loft Club, La Villa Lupicia|
|What it's known for||Being the largest of the four Niseko United Resorts and its thriving village at the base. Good to stay in if you want world class snowsports but also want to in the center of the action with restaurants, bars and nightlife.|
|Facilities||1 gondola, 11 lifts, 2 on-slope dining options, 2 terrain parks, magic carpet area, snow tubing and sledding|
|Accommodation||Niseko Landmark View, Aspect|
|Dining||Abucha2, Kamimura, Ezo Seafoods|
|What it's known for||Arguably the best backcountry out of the 4 resorts, the 3 sidecountry 'fields' (Strawberry, Blueberrry, Banana) that have garnered a cult following among powderhounds and a great selection of off-slope Winter activities. Good to stay in if you crave powder and first chair all day, everyday.|
|Facilities||3 lifts, large Mountain Center at the base, sideslope restaurant/bar, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, snow tubing, snow rafting, backcountry guiding, CAT skiing and new indoor kids' center|
|Accommodation||Park Hyatt Niseko, Hanaridge|
|Dining||Hanazono Edge, 308 Restaurant and Cafe, Hana 1 Cafe, Somoza|
Unless you're after a getaway deep in the woods or unending luxury in the Hilton and Greenleaf complexes of Niseko Village, generally speaking Hirafu Village (the village that sits below Grand Hirafu Resort) is your best option. It is close to the base of Grand Hirafu while also having one of the best restaurant and nightlife scenes in Asia. You can find ski-in ski-out accommodation, Michelin starred restaurants, art spaces, onsens, clubs and bars all within a 10 minute radius in Hirafu Village.
When it comes to deciding where in Hirafu Village you want to stay, that is another important thing to consider since each part of the village has something different:
It's best to stay in Upper Hirafu if you want to be close to the lifts or if you want ski-in ski-out accommodation. Most accommodations in Upper Hirafu will be within a 7 minute walk of a Grand Hirafu Resort lift, as well as being close to Hirafu 188, the closest thing to a supermarket in Hirafu Village (major supermarkets can only be found in Kutchan or Niseko Town). Upper Hirafu is also home to Hirafu Village onsens, including Hotel Niseko Alpen onsen, Hirafutei Prince Hotel onsen, and The Vale onsen.
Although there are some great restaurants and bar options in Upper Hirafu like Abucha2, Bang Bang and Wild Bills, the real hubs of food and drink in Niseko are Middle and Lower Hirafu.
|What's in Upper Hirafu?|
|Accommodation||Niseko Landmark View, Gondola Chalets, TELLUS Niseko, Kizuna|
|Dining||JAM, Bang Bang, Abucha2, Shokusai, Ramen Tozanken, mina mina|
|Bars||Blo*Blo, JAM, Wild Bill's|
Middle Hirafu, as you might expect, is the sweet spot between both ends of Hirafu Village that is a great place to stay if you don't mind being a little further from the lifts and want to be in the hub of it all. It's generally assumed that Hirafu Intersection (and to an extent, the nearby Seicomart) is truly the center of the action in Niseko. Need a place to meet your friends? Hirafu Intersection. Need to give a location to a taxi driver? Hirafu Intersection. Want to party and have the deep-fried gold that is Seicomart zangi chicken closeby for a drunken feast? Hirafu Intersection.
Some really nice restaurants sit in Middle Hirafu like the Michelin starred Kamimura and funky tapas bar Temporada in the Shiki building, Bombay Sizzlers at the top of Momiji-zaka and the famous Niseko Pizza right at the intersection.
|What's in Middle Hirafu?|
|Accommodation||MUSE Niseko, Mountainside Palace, M Hotel, Hyatt House Niseko, AYA Niseko|
|Dining||Kamimura, Temporada, Greenfarm, Niseko Pizza, The Alpinist, Koko, Fujizushi|
|Bars||Musu, Tamashii, Bar Moon, Buddha Bar (Splash), Niseko Taproom|
Lower Hirafu, despite the ominous name, is actually a great place to stay in Hirafu Village, as it's the place you'll find stunning luxury accommodation like Aspect and LOFT Niseko, as well as most of the village's house and chalet offerings. Lower Hirafu is not too far from the action, with a walk up to the intersection being around 10 minutes at worst and an extensive array of bus stops scattered throughout that free shuttles circulate every 20 minutes or so in high season. So in a lot of accommodations, all it takes is a 2 minute walk and a quick bus ride to be at the lifts!
The best part about Lower Hirafu is its restaurants and bars - with seemingly endless nooks and crannies for world class food and drink to hide in, it's a foodie paradise. Some highlights of Lower Hirafu include Gyu Bar, the famous cocktail bar with a fridge door entrance, Bigfoot Bunker with epic burgers and an underground bar, and Ezo Seafoods, one of the best seafood restaurants in the region.
|What's in Lower Hirafu?|
|Accommodation||Aspect, LOFT Niseko, Greystone, Sugarpot, Forest Estate, Ginsetsu, KOHO|
|Dining||Bombay Sizzlers, Ezo Seafoods, Ebisutei, Yamanchu, Kaiseki Yo, Rin, Koharuya|
|Bars||Bar Gyu, Half Note, Powder Room, Baddies, Brick Bar, Barunba, Bigfoot Bunker|
Just down from the center of Hirafu, you'll find yourself in the East Village, which consists of 3 main areas - Izumikyo I, Izumiyko II and the growing Midtown area. Although a little further away from the lifts, these areas offer great value for money and some hidden restaurant gems that you may find are much less busy but still incredible.
|What's in the East Village?|
|Accommodation||Midtown Niseko, Heritage, Tahoe Lodge, Hana and Jo, Panorama Niseko|
|Dining||Niseko Ramen, Tsubara Tsubara, Soba Ichimura, Graubunden, L'Ocanda, Sessa|
|Bars||Yoko Oh No's, Midtown Diner|
This is most likely the thing that confuses newcomers the most when they start researching Niseko. In short, there are 4 references to Niseko, each with completely different meanings:
|Niseko Region||The area that is characterised by the Resorts and surrounding villages/townships. Includes Kutchan, Niseko Town, Mt Niseko-Annupuri and its resorts, Moiwa, half of Mt Yotei and half of Mt Konbu. Sits within the Shiribeshi subprefecture and Abuta district.|
|Niseko (United) Resort||The ski area on Mt Niseko-Annupuri that includes Annupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu and Hanazono Resorts. Does not include Moiwa or Asahigaoka ski areas.|
|Niseko Town||The township ~15 minutes from Hirafu Village that is home to Niseko station and a population of mostly Japanese locals and long term foreign residents. Not to be confused with Niseko Village, a ski resort on Mt Niseko-Annupuri.|
|Niseko Station||The station within Niseko town on the Hakodate main line. Not recommended for guests visiting Hirafu Village or the tourist hubs of the Niseko region.|
If you stay in Hirafu Village, you will be in the Niseko region, skiing/snowboaring in the Niseko United Resort. Technically you will not be in the town of Niseko and definitely should not get off at Niseko station if you are planning to travel via train.
As mentioned in the graphic above, if you are staying in the most popular area for tourists in the Niseko region - Hirafu Village - neither Niseko station nor Hirafu station is the best option to get off at if you are taking the Hakodate line from either Hakodate or Chitose Airport. In the Winter, there are no buses from these stations to Hirafu Village and Kutchan station is much larger with a more facilities such as a taxi rank and nearby supermarket.
Across the board, it is the best option to get off at Kutchan station and catch either a taxi to your hotel, arrange a pickup from your concierge if they offer it, or take one of the 3 bus services that stop at Kutchan station:
- Donan Bus (year round, day only)
- Niseko/Chuo Bus (Winter and Summer, day only)
- Kutchan Night Bus (Winter high season only, day and night)
In short - no.
The largest town in the Niseko region is Kutchan, which is still has a small-town vibe despite being the administrative and business hub of one of the biggest tourism areas in Asia. That's not to say it isn't growing more and more each year - Kutchan will host the G20 Tourism Minister's meeting in October 2019, proving that its utilization of opportunities for both physical and economic growth thanks to the nearby resorts isn't going unnoticed. There is also the exciting extension of the Japan Shinkansen all the way to Sapporo (expected to be finished around 2030), with a major stop at Kutchan, meaning the town will soon be a transit junction for the prefecture.
Second to Kutchan is Niseko Town, a small town that is not really a tourist area, but more of a town for locals that live and work in the region.
So that's pretty much it! Although there are a lot of different areas in Niseko, once you visit all of this information should make perfect sense.
If you're looking for a team that can not only book the best Niseko accommodation for you but create an unfortgettable package and provide the best local knowledge, look no further than our Reservations and Guest Services team! They can help you every step of the way through your accommodation and service booking process, and answer any questions you may have.
Vacation Niseko is based in Hirafu Village, meaning our staff live and breath Niseko, and they have the insider tips you won't find anywhere else! Contact us today to get started on your dream Niseko holiday.
Curious about the bus system in Niseko? Check out our Guide to Niseko buses for how to move between different areas in Niseko without a car.