I had heard many things about Niseko, both good and bad, so after 2 seasons based in Furano, decided I should see it for myself.
With a mid-March arrival, I was expecting less crowds and Spring-like conditions but I hadn't bargained on the Tohoku earthquake and consequent exodus of people and cancellations.
I based myself in Hirafu and spent the first few days exploring the Hirafu and Hanazono ski areas, having scored a cheap Hirafu pass. The slopes were relatively quiet and I even got some fresh snow - not the full-on powder dump that Niseko is famous for but enough to put a smile on your face! I then ventured over to Niseko Village and Annupuri which were even quieter, though I'm assuming that's normally the case. It then started to snow some more and I got 3 consecutive mornings of fresh powder to play in - sweet!
Much has already been written about Niseko so here are my brief additional comments:-
The good things:-
The terrain. There's a lot to explore over the 4 areas, both on piste and off through the gates.
The gate system. I wish more Japanese resorts adopted the same policy - namely, this is the up-to-date avalanche risk, you go through the gates at your own risk and this is what it's going to cost if you have to be rescued! It's simple, clear and removes (or at least reduces) the need to duck ropes elsewhere!
The snow. I didn't experience a big powder day (the most was 20-30cm) but could see from the rooftops and roadsides that Niseko gets a lot of the white stuff.
Mt Youtei. A stunning sight, particularly on a bluebird day.
....& the bad things:-
Well, to be honest, I didn't experience any! Yes I'd heard lots about Niseko (and Hirafu in particular) being mini-Australia and whilst I could see the influence of Western culture, it wasn't as bad as I'd expected, though I can imagine it being a different place in the busier months of the season.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Niseko and plan to return next year.