Where to Stay in Niseko?
Niseko is a town located in Hokkaido, Japan. Famous for its ski resorts in Japan, there are endless light powder snow, spectacular backdrop, long ski runs, trail skis and many after-ski activities. I assume you already have plans to ski or snowboard on Niseko’s powdery snow, and now you are thinking of where to stay in Niseko.
Niseko or Kutchan?
We were confused. We were heading to Niseko but our hotel told us they would pick us up at Kutchan. Moreover, a tourist we met because of snow-delayed JR trains nearly alighted at Niseko JR station instead of Kutchan. He would have alighted at the wrong stop had we not told him about Kutchan.
Niseko is the well-known name for the area, however, within it are two separate towns: Niseko-cho and Kutchan-cho. Niseko has a small population of about 4,500 while Kutchan is a bigger town with 15,000. Both towns were known for their farming and food export to other regions of Japan before Kutchan-cho became a popular place to ski.
So your hotel is likely near to Kutchan and not Niseko JR station.
But if you are really heading to Niseko-cho, it’s accessible via taxi and occasional shuttle bus. Over there, you can check their local brewery, Niseko Brewing.
So now, where to stay in Niseko (Kutchan)?
First of all you need to decide the area or village you want to stay in. It depends on the ski area you are planning to spend the most time at and your preference for après-ski activities, such as the variety of restaurants or a vibrant nightlife. Other factors could be the distance of accommodation to the ski lifts, availability of family friendly accommodation or children’s ski school.
You can find all four ski resorts at Niseko on the southeast face of Mt Annupuri, collectively known as the Niseko United:
- Grand Hirafu (the largest resort which comprised of Hirafu Village and Hanazono),
- Niseko Village, and
These areas are connected — the ski lifts connecting at the mountain and the shuttle buses connecting the towns at the bases.
If you foresee going to the different ski areas, you can buy Niseko All Mountain Pass to gain access to all three resorts for 5,100-7,400 yen per day: www.niseko.ne.jp/en/lift. This pass also gives you complimentary rides on Niseko United’s shuttle service which ferries you to all the ski areas and Central Kutchan.
Niseko Shuttle Bus Overview
Niseko Shuttle Bus Routes
Check out this excellent map from Niseko Tourism to get a better idea of Niseko’s different areas.
Grand Hirafu (Hirafu Village)
As mentioned, Grand Hirafu comprised of Hirafu Village and Hanazono (secondary base). Mt Resort Grand Hirafu is the largest resort and most popular village to stay in. Hence the area is the busiest of them all.
Why Hirafu Village?
- Language: Interestingly, it’s hard to find many English speaking staff or people around Japan, but in Hirafu Village, they are everywhere! Perhaps it became such an English friendly place because there are many visiting foreigners. We saw so many that for a moment we forgot that we were in Japan!
- Ski: The ski area has something for everyone — from the beginners to the experts to night skiers. Being considered the main resort, the ski field is the busiest in Niseko. Hence, except for certain spots, the powder might disappear quickly from the day traffic. But it was alright for us, since we were just beginners. And not to worry, there are many ski lifts available to ease the traffic. You can also get easy access to some fun terrain for a recreational ski.
- F&B: You get a range of choices – supermarkets, traditional Japanese restaurants and izakayas, cafés and bars.
- Transfer: It’s easy to reach Grand Hirafu with regular New Chitose Airport shuttles during the high season and bus access from Kutchan train station.
- Local Transportation: The free Grand shuttle bus stops are spread out the area to get you to and from the different ski areas.
- Accommodation: Lastly, there are many accommodation options in Hirafu to suit various budget needs, from hostels to apartments to luxurious hotels. However it has limited ski-in / ski-out accommodation and it generally comes at a premium. For example, Ki Niseko is a ski-in ski-out hotel to the Hirafu Gondola area. Find out more about our Ki Niseko experience!
Which part of Hirafu is more suited to your needs?
Hirafu Village is further sub-divided. Compared to Lower Hirafu, Upper and Middle Hirafu are closer to the ski area but also more expensive.
Lower Hirafu Village
- Pros: Cheaper accommodation. Close to Yukoro hot spring. Walking distance to the main shopping and dining area. Buildings are smaller, creating an intimate feel.
- Cons: Not accessible to the lifts. Most will choose to take the free shuttle bus uphill to the lifts, and walk back downhill.
Middle Hirafu (near Family Ace Lift)
- Pros: Walking distance to main shopping and dining area, ski-in ski-out and lifts.
- Cons: Most expensive accommodation found in the village. Family Ace Lift can get slightly congested in the morning.
Above the Seicomart (between family ace lift and gondola)
- Pros: Walking distance to main shopping and dining area. Some accommodation are near to the family ace lift.
- Cons: More expensive than lower village accommodation.
Upper Hirafu (Near Hirafu Gondola)
- Pros: 100m to 200m walk to the the 8-seater gondola and day center. The rates are lower than accommodation near Family Ace Lift but still expensive.
- Cons: It’s a about 5 to 7 minutes’ walk (400m to 500m) to the main shopping and dining area in town. Otherwise, you can take the shuttle bus, but it stops operations at 9pm.
- Pros: Cheaper than most other areas in the village. Quiet and peaceful.
- Cons: It’s about 1 km to the main shopping and dining area. Otherwise, you can take the shuttle bus, but it stops operations at 9pm.
above pros and cons summarised from holidayniseko.com/niseko-faq/hirafu-village/where-is-good-area-to-stay-in-hirafu
Grand Hirafu (Hanazono)
Hanazono, Grand Hirafu’s secondary base, is the closest resort to Kutchan Train Station. At Hanazono 308 ski centre, there are restaurants, ski hire shops, ski lift, magic carpet and activities such as snowmobiling. However, the bus route is not as well serviced as Hirafu Village.
Ski: You can find powder, piste, pipe and parks here! Niseko’s best park and pipe is here. There are terrain parks, FIS half pipe and the exciting tree runs of Strawberry Fields.A great place to learn how to ride those famous pillow lines. There is also a dedicated area for children and beginners called Hanazono Bowl. Lift access is good with hooded lifts keeping you warm and dry.
Local Transportation: The Hanazono Shuttle operates daily from 7:50am to 5:10pm, every 20 minutes. The first bus arriving at Hanazono at 8.20am will be in time for first lift at 8.30am. The shuttle buses run around the Hirafu village and surroundings, operating through the upper and lower village.
Other Perks: The place is quiet and picturesque. Not a place to party, but great if you are taking the children on their first ski trip.
Accommodation: There are not many places to choose from.
Upmarket and slower-paced Niseko Village, formerly known as Higashiyama.
Ski: Great powder runs and boasts of having ‘Niseko’s Best Powder’. There aren’t many runs here but great for a quick powder fix over a short weekend stay. Not a great area for beginners though.
Accommodation: The most famous place to stay here is the Niseko Hilton. Otherwise, you can also consider The Green Leaf Niseko Village.
Other Perks: You can pretty much do everything under one roof here – spa, golf or ski. And the ski lift is just out of the door. Good for a stress free visit.
Image: Niseko Hilton (booking.com)
Annupuri is a quieter small town, with many locals and expats living here. This is a good option if you are visiting Niseko purely for the skiing.
Ski: Awesome terrain famous for its back bowls. Quiet slopes, wide open and steep in parts. Great off-piste. This area has various terrains suitable for both beginners and advanced riders. There is also a limited terrain park with a couple of jumps and one or two rails. Sometimes, there will be stashes of the best powder Niseko has to offer.
Accommodation: Not many choices, but there are still a few lovely accommodation.
Other Perks: A few nice restaurants.
Note: It takes half an hour extra by bus from the airport, but the bus routes are well serviced.
A small resort that’s that’s is not easily accessible by ski runs and requires a separate lift pass from the rest. However, it is still accessible by bus from the other resorts.
Ski: Small in terms of lifts and ski runs, but still worth a visit for a day. When conditions are good, the powder here is superb. Other than the busiest two weeks of the season, the lifts and runs are usually quiet.
Accommodation: Not many choices.
Other Perks: A few nice restaurants.
Note: If you want a Japanese experience, Annupuri or Moiwa are your best bets.
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References: japan-guide.com/e/e6720.html, holidayniseko.com/hirafu-village-FAQ, nisekoblog.com/news/where-stay-niseko, niseko.ne.jp/en/niseko/index.html
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