A holiday on the slopes!
With an average of 15m of snow per year, Niseko has been called one of the world’s snowiest alpine resorts, and its hotels and ski runs regularly get voted ‘Best in Japan’ at the World Ski Awards. Need more reasons to visit? Travel experts at The Luxe Nomad have put together a family-friendly guide that will have you strapping on your skis stat.
Best time to visit: It starts snowing as early as mid-November, but for some powder to cushion the slopes, mid-December onwards is your best bet. The season runs till end- March, though an ‘insider’s trip is to go after mid-February. The year-end and Chinese New Year crowds will have dispersed and the pace becomes less frenetic (everything is also cheaper).
How to Get There: From Hong Kong International Airport, fly Cathay Pacific or Hong Kong Airlines to the New Chitose Airport in Sapporo (the closest airport to Niseko). The flight will take approximately 5 hours.
Land Transfers: Niseko is easily accessible and you can choose between the train, local bus, private transfers and rented cars. The most fuss-free way to travel from the airport to your accommodation for families however, is by private transfer. The journey takes approximately 2 and a half hours.
- Private Transfer: Some of the private transfer providers are: SkyExpress, NGS Private Transfers and Long Prime. The price varies depending on how many people there are and what type of vehicle, starting at JPY30,000.
- Local Bus: If you’re trying to save, the local bus runs like clockwork and is pretty convenient as well as they go from the airport and stop at the Hirafu Welcome Center. A one-way adult ticket costs roughly JPY 4,000- 4,400. Some recommended local buses are: White Liner Ski Bus, Hokkaido Resort Liner and NGS Bus Runs. From there, your chalet/resort can arrange a taxi to collect you.
Top Things to Know Before You Go:
- Get travel insurance! Bookings are non-refundable and travel insurance will help protect against losses due to unfortunate circumstances such as bad weather, flight delays and more.
- Waterproof clothing and non-slip footwear are a must! Your jacket and boots, especially.
- For comfortable innerwear that will keep you toasty, Uniqlo’s Heattech range is a good option!
- Ski-in, ski-out accommodations mean that the slopes are at your doorstep and there’s no travelling needed. It’s your friendliest option because you really don’t want to lug your ski gear, snacks, hats, gloves, goggles and six kids from ski resort to ski resort on the coaches – especially with kids!
- Pick an accommodation with a ski valet. Experience the unrivalled bliss of skiing into your resort / accommodation and handing your boots, skis and poles to someone else to dry and store, ready for your pick up the following day.
- Last but not least, use a concierge! The Luxe Nomad Concierge offers coach tickets, ski equipment, ski lessons, restaurant bookings and more!
Click through the slideshow to view our favourite places to stay, eat and ski in Niseko…
Located in the heart of Hirafu Village, AYA Niseko is a luxurious ski-in, ski-out condominium-hotel with a wide range of rooms to suit every family size from studios to a palatial 4-bedrooms! Floor-to-ceiling windows offer stunning views of the snowy view while you rest from a full day hitting the slopes. AYA Niseko even has a ski valet service where you can store your ski gear so you don’t have to worry about lugging it to and from your room.
What we love: AYA Niseko’s great location means that restaurants, supermarkets and facilities are only minutes away from your doorstep, making it especially easy to get around with toddlers in tow. Plus, children below 6 stay free unless extra bedding is required.
Perched right atop a ski-run in Upper Hirafu, the ski-in, ski-out The Vale Niseko is perfect for the little ones looking to polish up on their skiing! Japanese influences and world-class design come together in luxurious harmony in the one, two and three bedroom accommodations. Plus, the floor-to-ceiling windows and open plan bathroom (your own in-room onsen included!) make it the perfect family retreat.
What we love: The slopes at The Vale are child-friendly as they are located at the bottom of the Family Run and you can get ski lessons from the NBS Kids Club or NISS Ski School. The Luxe Nomad’s concierge team will get in touch with you about ski school options if you’ve decided to stay here. Plus, the Family Ace Chair lift is only minutes away!
If your teenager is obsessed with Instagram and always on the lookout for the perfect Insta-story setting, they will love Ki Niseko (and so will you!). Comfortable, fluffy beds and wide windows that frame the gorgeous views will make you truly feel like you’re in a winter wonderland, while the ski-in, ski-out feature means you don’t have to go far for your alpine adventures. Plus, Ki Niseko has a ski valet who will store and dry your equipment for you, ready for your next adventure.
What we love: Children below 12 stay for free and breakfast is complimentary for children under 6 (when dining with an adult). Babysitting services are available at Ki Niseko on an hourly basis so you can ensure that your children are taken care of while you hit the slopes. Also, ski lessons can be arranged prior to your arrival for skiers of all ages.
As the name suggests, the Kasara Niseko Village Townhouse is located in the charming Niseko Village and is an ode to the classic design of Japanese townhouses. It is able to accommodate 6 people and features 3-bedrooms spread out over 2 floors. Despite being decorated in dark hues that contrast against the stark white snow, Kasara Niseko Village Townhouse remains cosy, inviting and warm.
What we love: It is conveniently located a few minutes walk from restaurants, ski schools, ski lifts and a coach stop. Guests who stay at the Kasara Niseko Village Townhouse have access to the onsen and gym facilities at Green Leaf Niseko as well as Hilton Niseko Village. Up to two children below the age of 12 stay free at Kasara Niseko Village Townhouse.
The beautiful and stylish units at Terrazze should be at the top of your list for an ultra-luxurious stay that will leave you with a serious case of the holiday blues. With only 6 exclusive units that can house up to eight people. The wall-to-wall windows let in both the natural light and the breathtaking views of Mount Yotei, so you’re never far from beauty.
What we love: Other than being uber-luxurious and glamourous, Terrazze is also only walking distance from a convenience store and supermarket. The Grand Hirafu shuttle bus stop is directly opposite Terrazze, making it easier for you to travel to the upper village and all the restaurants, bars and shops that it has to offer.
As the only sushi restaurant in Niseko Town, Hanayoshi can often be fully booked (reservations are required!) and this is a testament to how good the food is. The seafood is fresh and sourced from the waters of Hokkaido and also the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. For a real treat, opt for the omakase (chef’s choice) and let yourself be surprised by some traditional Japanese fare or for something familiar.
If you want a change of food scenery, go for the Euro-Japanese fusion food at Lupicia Restaurant. The restaurant puts the seasonal and local Hokkaido produce at the front and center of all their meals. While the menu evolves constantly based on the available ingredients, it always includes seafood, meat, pasta, rice and desserts. You can also opt for pre-fixed courses that are semi-buffet style with a choice of appetizers. With an awe-inspiring view of Mount Yotei and an extensive wine and sake menu, you should block out at least a couple of hours to truly savour all the Lupicia has to offer.
Other than snow, Hokkaido is also famous for producing some of the best milks and creams in the world. This is reflected in the phenomenal pastries and ice-cream at Milk Kobo, located next to the Takahashi Farm. The cream puffs at Milk Kobo are a must try and you cannot leave Niseko with getting your hands on at least one (trust us, one’s not enough). And ice-cream in winter? That’s one treat the kids will never get enough of.
At Jojo’s Cafe Restaurant, burgers take centre stage, with hearty salads, wraps and coffee all making guest appearances. It is located at the Niseko Adventure Centre and is as casual as they come. The best part about Jojo’s Cafe: there is a play-area that will keep your kids entertained for hours, or at least until they’re tuckered out.
A ski trip is not complete without having the right equipment. Head on over to one of the popular rental shops like Harro’s Snowsports, Niseko Base Snowsports or Rhythm to rent your gear. If it is your first time renting snow gear, it is a fun activity for the kids to pick out their snow boots and skis! While snow gear like waterproof jackets, pants and helmets can be rented, it may be worth buying your own gloves and goggles if you’ll be back soon.
It is both exciting and terrifying to get on a ski lift, especially if you’ve never done it before. But a ski lift is quintessential to the ski experience. Lift passes can be bought from the ticketing counter at any of the lift bases and there are a variety of passes to choose from, depending on what you’re looking to get out of your ski trip.
- To get the most out of your ski experience, we recommend the All Mountain lift pass. This allows you to ski across all 4 resorts (Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Annupuri and Niseko Village) and includes access to intermediate and advanced ski runs, this is more suitable for a family of non-beginners.
- For beginners, we recommend the Hirafu Only lift pass which allows you to ski across both Grand Hirafu and Hanazono resorts. The skin runs at both these resorts are more beginner and child-friendly. Plus, it is a convenient way to hit the slopes, especially if you’re staying within the Hirafu area.
- All lift passes require a deposit of JPY 1,000. This amount will be returned to you when you insert your pass into a refund machine.
- The good news is that children under the age of 6 ski for free. However, they do require a pass with a deposit as well.
- If it all sounds confusing, the lovely concierge team at The Luxe Nomad are happy to help you out (the concierge service is free!).
Ace Family Lift, Grand Hirafu
Located immediately in front of places like The Vale and AYA Niseko, Ace Family Lift is easily accessible for those staying in middle and lower Hirafu. It is also popular with families as it is a beginner slope and perfect for anyone just getting into the hang of skiing. It also includes GoSnow’s kids’ ski school and practice area.
Some other family-friendly and beginner-friendly ski runs include:
- Holiday Pair Lift in Grand Hirafu is located near the Hirafu Gondola.
- King Pair Lift, also in Grand Hirafu, is located between the Ace Family Lift and the Holiday Pair Lift.
- Upper Village Gondola in Niseko Village is ideal for those who prefer beginner slopes.
- Community Chair in Niseko Village is a short ride to some beginner slopes.
Skiing down the dry powder with the wind in your face is a one-of-a-kind experience but before you go tearing across the slopes, you have to hit the books. There’s no better way to introduce your children to the skiing experience or hone their skiing skills than a few ski lessons at one of Niseko’s famed ski schools. Some recommended schools are:
Located at the Ace Family lift area, Niseko Base Sports has a Kid’s Club program for children aged 3-14 to develop their ski skills and have a great time. For children younger than 3, you can book private lessons with Niseko Base Sports.
Located at the Hirafu Gondola lift area, GoSnow has a variety of programs for children, teens, adults and even private lessons for families. They even have a dedicated program for young skiers (aged 3-6) new to the sport and focuses on having fun, basics and safety!
Located in Hanazono, the Niseko International Snowsports School (NISS) also has various programs and private classes designed for both kids and adults. While you can meet up at Hirafu, lessons are all conducted at Hanazono.
Located in Niseko Village, the Niseko Village Snow School conducts a variety of private classes and group lessons for both adults and children alike. The lessons are conducted exclusively in Niseko Village so you don’t have to lug your equipment (and the children!) onto the coaches to travel for some ski action.
If your kids grow bored of skiing, snow tubing is a fun and safe snow activity that can be done with the family. Snow tubing is available at Hanazono Adventure Park, located directly in front of Hanazono 380. Slide down the slope in a tube and ride the magic carpet back up for endless fun. A 60 minute session costs approximately JPY 2500 per person.
Just like tubing, you’re sitting down but instead of just sliding down a slope, you’re being pulled along by a snowmobile in a snow raft across a glorious winter landscape. Snow rafting is a high-speed and thrilling ride that will leave you breathless. It is available at Niseko Village and children must be 3 years and above to ride.
For an even more high-speed adventure, ride across the snowy terrain in style with a snowmobiling expedition. The experienced guides will take you across snow covered trails and courses in your choice of a Rabbit Course (perfect for the young ones) and a Panorama Course (perfect for the adventure seekers). There is a minimum age of 7 years and children must ride with an adult guardian while children 13 years and above can ride on their own.
At the end of an exhausting day coasting across the slopes (and running after the kids!), it’s always good to unwind. What better way to relax your mind and your body with the famed onsens of Japan! Plus, it’s a good way to teach your kids to find some peace and quiet at the end of a busy day – and hopefully get them ready for bed as well. Onsens can both be public and private although the latter often requires bookings. Some recommended onsens are:
- Hirafu-Tei at the Niseko Prince Hotel has both public and private onsens. It is approximately JPY 1,000 for adults and JPY 600 for children
- Niseko Grand Hotel is a public mixed gender onsen. It is approximately JPY 900 for adults and JPY 450 for children
- Kanronomori is a private onsen. It is approximately JPY 3,000 for a 50 minute session.
If you think that Niseko is just for skiing, then you’re missing out on a treasure trove of culture. On your non-ski days, attend a cultural workshop like the glass making at Doumo Glass Gallery or a soba making at the Niseko Outdoor Center to get a taste of the rich Japanese culture. For a more literal take on tasting, the kids will love the ice-cream making workshop at Milk Kobo on the Takahashi Farm. By attending these, not only do you learn more about the Japanese culture, but you also get unique souvenirs to take home!
Featured image via Unsplash, Image #1 courtesy of AYA Niseko, Image #2 courtesy of The Vale Niseko, Image #3 courtesy of Ki Niseko, Image #4 courtesy of Kasara Niseko, Image #5 courtesy of Terrazze, Image #6 via Unsplash, Image #7 courtesy of Crystal Ski, Image #8 via Unsplash, Image #9 courtesy of Hanazono Niseko Japan, Image #10 courtesy of Woodloch Resorts.