It was very atmospheric the day that we arrived to the island of Hokkaido in North Japan. What could only be described as a blizzard was sweeping across the already scenic route we were driving along as we made our way to Niseko Village. There was little doubt that the sweltering jungle tropics of Bali were well behind us. For five days we would be exploring an undisturbed magical crisp white world.
With a backdrop of a snow-capped volcano and framed by white mountains and Christmas trees, our accommodation was the new and only just opened Hinode Hills Niseko Village. This ski-in, ski-out property was the perfect place to explore all of the incredible beauty and joyful experiences that the area had to offer.
We could have just sat in our room suite and just spent the five days watching the snow fall and catch glimpses of Mt Yotei. It was so mesmerising. Several inches of fresh snowfall descends upon the slopes of Niseko every day for several weeks to create stacked white mounds made of the finest snow powder, rising as high as 18 metres.
The quality of snow found at Niseko Village is internationally acclaimed because the snowflakes are so soft and its form is described as champagne powder. With only 7% water in the snowflake, the snow at Niseko is the driest and lightest snow in the world. This makes Niseko Village one of the best places in the world to learn how to ski, which was why we were there.
Ski season is open at Niseko Village from the 1st of December to May and here’s our guide so you can combine skiing and food to create the best winter holiday:
What is Niseko Village
Niseko Village is a Hokkaido Ski Resort located around the base of Mount Niseko Ammupuri that is owned by the YTL Hotels Group. Several uniquely different hotels form a large ski-in and ski-out resort across a large area of skiable land. There are ski lifts and bus shuttles that give you access across the skiable terrain to the hotels, slopes and a small artificial village inspired by Japanese architecture that is made up of restaurants and shops.
Where we Stayed in Niseko Village
We stayed at the luxurious serviced apartment complex, Hinode Hills Niseko Village (Dec 2019). The recently opened and newly designed ski-in, ski-out accommodation was the perfect base for our winter holiday in Niseko.
Our one-bedroom suite with a sunrise view of Mt Yotei was so nice that we honestly would have moved in if we were allowed to!
You can read our more detailed review of Hinode Hills Niseko Village here.
Skiing at Niseko Village
The area is the perfect place to ski for all levels. For the die-hard ski enthusiasts who want to hit as many different slopes as possible, Niseko Village is part of a pact called Niseko United. This ski pass will grant you access to over 2,000 acres of skiable terrain owned by Niseko Village and three other independent ski resorts all located around the base of Mount Niseko Ammupuri.
How Did We Get to Niseko Village
Our transportation was arranged through our accommodation, Hinode Hills Niseko Village. We recommend doing this for ease of comfort as Niseko is a three hour drive from the island’s international airport, New Chitose Airport.
Alternatively you can get public transportation to Niseko Village. The cheapest way is via train from the New Chitose train station to nearby Kutchan, and then take a short taxi ride will bring you to Niseko Village. Such a trip would cost about $20USD per person and would take you about three hours. We didn’t do this so we can’t recommend it but it is an option for you to explore if you don’t want to arrange private transportation with Hinode Hills Niseko Village.
When to Visit Niseko Village
Niseko Village is always in season, however if your ideal holiday is to play in the snow, then ski season starts from early December and runs until the start of May – yes, that late. We went in December and caught the start of ski season when the Hokkaido ski-in ski-out resort was only starting to receive snowfall, and we loved it because of those Christmassy vibes we were able to bask in.
Where to Eat in Niseko
You can either eat at one of Niseko Village’s hotels’ restaurants or onsite at one of the outlets within The Village, which is inspired by traditional Japanese architecture with its wooden facades, sliding screens and lantern lit walkways.
Alternatively you can head to one of the nearby towns, Hirafu or Kutchan. Due to Hokkaido’s coastal location, the seafood is incredibly fresh wherever you go.
Here are some of our favourite places we ate at while at Niseko Village.
Village Patisserie – The Village
When we were particularly feeling the cold, we sought out refuge and some Christmas comforts by moseying into the Village Patisserie. Watching the snow fall from our window seat couch while having delicious cheesecake desserts and hot chocolate or coffee was a wonderful respite from playing in the snow. And after sufficiently warming up, you must try the ice cream (550 Yen). The dairy from Hokkaido is amazing, and this is coming from an Irish couple.
The Crab Shack – The Village
We got to try the Japanese equivalent of a steamboat hot pot, Shabu-shabu, which is where you throw various ingredients into a hotpot and share with the table. A concoction of fresh Hokkaido seafood and an assorted meat platter made up the bulk of our meal along with a serving of authentic Grilled Hokkaido Scallops, which you must try when in Hokkaido.
Two Sticks – The Village
Two Sticks was our lunch refuge at a time when the cold was particularly biting and we thought we might lose our fingers. Fortunately we kept our fingers by thawing them out over warm bowls of Prawn Tempura Soba Noodles.
Yang Shu Ten – The Village
Arguably our favourite dining option at The Village. There were just so many different things that we tried and every time that we thought we had gone overboard and had ordered too much, we went and got some more.
Go nuts on the food is our recommendation because we loved everything we tried. You should order a cold sake though while at Yang Shu Ten. The measure that they give is two cups worth as they fill your glass cup until it spill over into a box coaster.
Milk Kobo – Niseko
If you want to try some of the most scrumptious desserts you’ll ever have, then you need to make your way to Milk Kobo. All of the dairy comes from their local farm and is everything is freshly made, making this place an absolute gem. It’s located just a 10 minute walk down the road from Hinode Hills Niseko Village. Try the cream puff, try their Japanese cheesecake, try their ice cream – try everything, all while basking in an undisturbed view of Mt Yotei.
A-Bu-Cha-2 – Hirafu
This is one of the most popular restaurants in Hirafu. It’s a great place for large groups, as long as you make a reservation, and is located very centrally in Hirafu town. If you’re into oysters, you should try them here because their delicious and sell out fast. A-Bu-Cha-2 servers 300 types of drink and when you order sake, you get to choose your own drinking cup from a selection of about two dozen options. Apparently which one you pick tells a lot about your personality.
You can get this hearty and warming dish in a lot of specialised Ramen restaurants around the villages close to Niseko Village. We dropped into the Aji no tokeidai Kutchan Branch, which is right next to a Daiso, so it was a win win for us.
What to Do at Niseko Village
Ski at Niseko Village
It wouldn’t be a waste of a trip if all you did while at Niseko Village was ski. Neither of us had ever skied before so it was both daunting and exciting to see the mountains that framed Niseko Village full of seasoned skiers navigating the slopes with ease. However, it wasn’t long before we were joining them on the champagne powder snow. You can read our article that goes a little more into us learning how to ski at Niseko Village by clicking here.
Snow Activities at Niseko Village
There are other snow-related activities you can do beyond skiing. We went on a snowmobile adventure across white powder terrain, which is actually a 18-hole golf course during the warm season.
Take the Niseko Express
You can walk along the road from Hinode Hills Niseko to the different Niseko Village properties and The Village, but why walk when you can ride up and down the white powder slopes and enjoy picturesque views.
The Niseko Express are the gondolas that skiers use to get up and down, and walkers can also ride the enclosed capsules. You just need to get yourself a day pass from one of the Niseko Village properties.
Have a Drink in Hirafu’s Fridge
In the nearby village of Hirafu is the trendy speakeasy, Bar Gyu – also known as ‘Fridge’, named for its fridge door and tunnel entrance that leads to a popular hidden bar.
All the cocktails are 1,2000 yen and our favourite drinks were the Northern Gin & Tonic and the Warm Apple Pie, which tasted just like its name suggests.
Bar Gyu is the perfect place to be after an evening dining in one of Hirafu’s traditional Japanese or international dining outlets.
Visit the Onsen
The onsens’ (natural hot springs) 40C water is ideal for relieving any aches and pains picked up from the slopes. Clothes and swimsuits of any sort are not permitted in the onsens so it might take a while before you’re comfortable sitting there in your birthday suit. The onsens stay open all night so if you’re anxious about trying the Japanese bath experience with others, you can go in the dead of the night when the chances of you sharing with anyone would be pretty slim. If you stay at Hinode Hills Niseko Village, you will have complimentary access to all of the other properties’ onsets. The Green Leaf Village Onsen is very beautiful and relaxing.
Shop in Daiso
This recommendation is just for some fun but there was a whimsical thrill heading into a Japanese pound shop while in Japan and looking through items that you just didn’t know you needed before you knew they existed.