This was my third year visiting Niseko and everytime I come here there is always something new to experience. I was lucky enough to win an all mountain day pass through the SnowJapan prize draw which I put to good use!
The mountain is split into 4 resorts from left to right: Annupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu and Hanazono. Purchasing an all mountain pass will allow you access to all 4 resorts. There is also a smaller less frequented resort called Moiwa just a few minutes drive left of Annupuri. This resort does not form part of the 4 resorts mentioned above so you have to buy separate lift tickets to access the Moiwa lifts. I have boarded quite extensively on all 5 resorts and my opinions:
Grand Hirafu: The largest with most variety (and lifts) and the best night skiing runs. All the nightlife will be in Grand Hirafu making it most people's choice of stay. Plenty of trees between runs.
Hanazono: No night skiing here but the powder is much deeper and much easier access to the gates. Strawberry and blueberry fields is a personal favorite of mine on a powder day as well as access to the eastern ridge from Gates 4 and 5.
Annupuri: Similar to Hanazono in terms of deep powder and access to off-piste runs via gates. Much less crowded here due to the distance from Grand Hirafu. There is night skiing here which also has pretty decent runs.
Niseko Village: Pretty average compared to the other 3 resorts mentioned above. If you are staying at the Hilton then this will be your ski-in ski-out resort and access to the other resorts via the top lifts.
Moiwa: No crowds, no long queues and extremely fun off-piste powder runs to be had. Moiwa only has 3 lifts but instead of thinking of it as a resort I'd prefer to think of it as a backcountry terrain that so happens to have lifts to access it. Definitely worth a day-trip here for the intermediate to advanced boarder.
There is an amazing variety of terrain here. Whether you are looking for off-piste or on-piste, groomed or ungroomed, green, red or black runs there is something to suit snowboarders of any level here. There is an abundance of trees between runs and outside of the ropes for the snowboarder looking to create their own tracks! There are also tour guides that you can hire to take you through the backcountry areas of the mountain (some fitness and an intermediate skill level required as the backcountry terrain may get unpredictable). We went with NOASC tour guides for a full day in the bowls behind Moiwa and it is definitely and experience I will never forget!
Powder, powder and more powder! This place receives so much consistent snowfall out of all the mountains I have visited. Due to the location of Niseko, it receives an abundance of light and dry powder brought over by the Siberian winds. Of the 10 days I spent there, only 2 of those days had no snowfall but this was compensated by a bluebird day so it's really hard to be disappointed as much of the powder will still remain from the previous days' dump.
Over the past few years this resort has exploded with new bars, restaurants and hotels/lodges. Every year more and more tourists come to experience the powder and as a result there is a vibrant nightlife. Places I recommend to visit after a hard days boarding include Abucha 2 (fine Japanese dining), the Fridge Door Bar (great drinks to warm you up) and the various onsens that you'll find scattered across the area. Unfortunately I was unlucky enough to experience the ugliness of drunken Aussies on the streets during New Years Eve but they are few and far between and shouldn't be a decision changer in visiting Niseko.
There is accommodation to suit everyone's price range from shared lodge dorms to high class hotels and serviced apartments. It is best to book early on in the year because all the places close to the base of the mountain will be snapped up VERY quickly.
I will most likely be going back to Niseko again next December/January and recommend any powder hound to give the place a visit if they haven't yet!
From 23 December, 2014 To 01 January, 2015
Snow condition on visit:
The mountain had about 15-30cm of snow everyday for an entire week before I arrived and luckily for me it continued on throughout my time there with the exception of a few days of warm weather. Snow was deep and fluffy off-piste and even the on-piste runs had plenty of powder.
Things I liked:
The powder is unbelievably amazing! As the about 80% of the visitors there were foreigners (a lot of Australians) it was easy to communicate and find our way around. Wide selection of places for food and drink Easy access to all 4 resorts (Annupuri, Niseko Village, Hanazono and Grand Hirafu) + a short drive to Moiwa The ski patrols are very lenient with going off-piste (ducking the rope). A variety of terrain to suit boarders of all levels.
Things I didn't like:
Has been very westernised in the past few years - if you are looking for an authentic Japanese experience you will not find it here. Due to the large volume of foreigners frequenting this mountain you may get the odd drunken and loud trouble-maker on the streets. Waking up to 30cm of fresh snow on a rest day!