Niseko is probably the most touristy area in Hokkaido. A few years ago a couple of Australian developers arrived and started to build modern hotels and lodges so now it’s known as a mini “good day mate land”. Lots of tourist from Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, so that jacks up the prices of the accommodation/ food. The words ski holiday and cheap usually do not go in the same sentence but I found skiing in Niseko as expensive as skiing in Zermatt.
We spent a week in the beginning of 2010 in Niseko, Grand Hirafu area. The powder snow was such a welcome relief to the icy slopes of Zermatt which gave me so many bruises. I finally learnt how to ski here as I wasn’t scared of falling in the soft snow. H shipped me off to half day ski lessons while he went off alone to explore the mountains.
It is a small village so the minimart Seico Mart is the central focus of the town and most shop’s location are in relation to Seico Mart. You will meet everyone you’ve met on the slopes at the minimart in the evenings buying groceries. Supplies can run out quite fast, so load up when u can.
There are many daily flights from Tokyo to Sapporo ( more from Handeda than Narita) followed by a 3hr shuttle bus from Chitose airport to Niseko. It almost took us 18hr door to door as we had flight delays from Tokyo to Sapporo because of the snow condition. Skybus provides a semi private mini van that takes you door to door for ¥9,000 return. It is best to reserve your seat prior to arrival. A private taxi, Yotei costs ¥28,000 one way.
On the return, Chitose airport has a big section of shops where you can buy frozen or fresh seafood/biscuits/cakes, so make sure your schedule allows for an hour to walk around. The shops can pack the frozen seafood for checkin. ( I would buy the snow crab legs and uni !!)
You will not be short of options, many rental shops around the village with good quality skis. We rented from the NBS ski school which didn’t really have the best quality but was the most conveniently located next to the slopes. There was a shop opposite The Vale, either under J-Sekka or next door at Sun Sports Land that has better choice.
main street in Hirafu, behind Seico Mart
We loved the sukiyaki at this izakaya. The menu is pretty big so you can order lots of dishes to share. They have a big sake and shochu list, and also have blue beer! The have a bakery during the day time. They also have a second branch A-bu-Cha 2, which take reservations.
2) Tozanken Asahikawa ramen
Along Hirafu- Zaka Street, next to A-Bu-Cha
The ramen portions here are huge. There are only a few seats so it’s a eat and go Japanese fast food. It is adjacent to a as a souvenir shop
3) Bang Bang
Along Hirafu- Zaka Street, after Sasayaki Ave on the left walking up to the slopes.
Yakitori place so expect to smell after coming out
Hotel Yamashizen West 1F
It was not that far, but a 15min walk in the cold felt much longer. This restaurant is probably the only high-end place in Niseko and it serves Japanese-French fusion food. It was H’s birthday so we decided to give it a try. Food and service was good but nothing remarkable or distinctly memorable.
Where we stayed:
This new place is marketed as a luxury apartment under Nisede properties, an Australian development. It has an onsite restaurant and bar, indoor & outdoor onsen and outdoor heated swimming pool. Rooms are spacious but at ¥33,000/night this ski in-ski out place doesn’t come cheap.
We planned our return trip in March 2011 and unfortunately the tragic Fukushima nuclear accident occurred 1 week before our arrival. With Singapore issuing travel advisory against travelling to Japan, we decided to be safe and cancel our trip. We had to pay in full 60 days prior to arrival and despite the unique circumstances, Nisede stuck with their cancellation policy and did not have any flexibility or goodwill to allow for some compensation. Our “donation” went straight into the pocket of the foreigner owners, it wasn’t even a donation to the Japanese people! They were trying to profit from a disaster and that left a sour taste in my mouth. Other friends who booked at a Japanese run inn had their deposits returned 100% along with a very pleasant “we hope to have your support soon”. I am boycotting Nisede and hopes karma finds them soon.
Capella Niseko is slated to open in the summer of 2013.