Mention skiing in Asia and Niseko is inevitably mentioned. Located in the southwestern side of Hokkaido, Niseko is made up of the six ski areas of Hirafu, Higashiyama (Niseko Village), Annupuri, Hanazono, Moiwa and Weiss. The first four are the most popular with 38 gondolas and lifts connecting over 60 ski runs spread over 48km. The Niseko United Mountain Lift Pass gives you access to all of that at approximately RM230 for an eight-hour pass.
So, what’s so great about Niseko’s ski runs? The snow! With regular snowfall from November to April, the snow has been described as incredibly light and powdery with a low moisture content, impressing powder hounds and beginners alike. Slope fun doesn’t stop when the sun sets, as that’s when the night skiing kicks in.
Besides the main ski areas, there are also back country ski trails for the more adventurous to tackle. The most famous of these is the idyllically-named Strawberry Fields in Hanazono, characterised by the silver birches and is particularly popular with snowboarders. There’s also Sannozaka, located at the far right of Annupuri with high quality snow but can be prone to avalanches; meanwhile, Higashi One in Hirafu is challenging but also prone to avalanches.
Not everyone wants to ski and snowboard and that’s where the problem arises when travelling with family or in a group for a winter holiday. This is where Niseko comes into its own and offers lots of fun activities like horse riding, snowmobile tours, as well as snow rafting and snow tubing for the kids. Or you also strap on a pair of snowshoes and explore the beautiful surrounds. After a long day of snowy fun, the best way to relax is to take a dip in one of the 15 local onsen (natural volcanic hot springs), some of which are outdoors. The mineral-rich waters are known to soothe stress and leave your skin soft and smooth.
Photo: The Westin Rusutsu Resort
This area is famed for the Sapporo Snow Festival, which began in 1950 when local students made the first snow sculptures in Odori Park. Since then, the festival has become renowned worldwide for its stunning showcase of around 250 snow and ice sculptures.
The Snow Festival features three main sites, one of which is Odori Park. It has hosted a skating rink, snowboarding and skiing air shows, as well as the star attraction of the sculptures. Some of the best are at The International Square where the traditional International Snow Sculpture Contest is held. It’s highly recommended that you visit at sunset as everything is colourfully lit up for a truly magical atmosphere.
Next up is Tsudome, also known as the Community Dome. It’s usually divided into two: the first area is an open-air venue with slides, snow rafting, zip-lining, snowball-throwing and other snow-related outdoor activities. The second part is indoors, where you can head to for stage performances, authentic Hokkaido food and drink stalls, an Adventure Land with a variety of rides, markets and shops selling unique local merchandise and more.
Finally, the Susukino site is the smallest out of the three, but still hosts an impressive array of 100 ice sculptures and is the location of the Ice Sculpture contest. It’s considered the ‘nightlife’ zone of the festival with its Illumination Street, which presents a world of picture opportunities, as well as the Ice Bar. Every year, Susukino holds a beauty pageant to crown a ‘Susukino Queen of Ice’.
Photo: Hilton Niseko Village
Where to stay
The Westin Rusutsu Resort is located 90 minutes away by car from the New Chitose Airport in Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido. The hotel won top honours as ‘Japan’s Best Ski Resort’ at the World Ski Awards 2017. The area gets approximately 12-14 metres of snow every season and has 14 ski lifts and four gondolas providing access to 37 trails and 42km of ski runs, making it ideal for every level of skier and snowboarder. Check the site for special winter packages. Hint: there’s a deal happening now till 31 March!
If you’re headed to Niseko, the Hilton Niseko Village in Hokkaido is one of the most famous hotels for winter holidays in Japan. Located at the foot of Mount Annupuri, it offers stunning views, its own onsen and access to some of the best skiing in the area. This is also a great summer destination, but if it’s snow you’re after and the perfect ski break, this is the place to be.
Also, on the island of Hokkaido is Club Med’s latest family-friendly destination, the Club Med Tomamu. The concept of the all-inclusive resort is perfect for families and Club Med has always been first choice for families due to their great kids’ clubs and range of activities. Located 90 minutes from the New Chitose Airport, skiers have access to 29 slopes and four ski trails catering to all levels. There’s also the Snow Garden for kids with slopes for beginner and intermediate skiers – perfect for the little ones to learn.
When to visit: Early December to early April.