Ski Niseko Hokkaido Terrain

Ski Niseko Hokkaido Terrain

Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded

Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded
    Niseko Trail Map
  • Vertical (m)
    260 – 1,200 (940)
  • Average Snow Fall
    15-17 metres
  • Lifts (30)
    5 Gondolas
    1 Chondola
  • Ski Hours
    8:30am to 8:30pm
    Late Nov to early May
  • Terrain Summary
    Runs – 82
    Longest run – 5.6 km
    Beginner - 30%
    Intermediate - 40%
    Advanced - 30%

Ski Niseko Hokkaido – Terrain Review & Ratings

Niseko Hokkaido is one of the largest ski resorts in Japan, but it's rather small compared to some of the European juggernaut resorts. Unlike lots of other Japanese ski resorts, there’s enough terrain variety (particularly if the sidecountry gates are open) to ski Niseko for a one to two week long holiday. Another characteristic that is somewhat unique for Japan is that the Niseko ski resort has some above treeline terrain, although the attractiveness of this is weather dependent.

Like many other Japanese ski resorts, the in-bounds terrain is not particularly steep and the Niseko skiing and snowboarding can be broadly summarised as “deep not steep”, with a variety of runs for beginners up to advanced riders, whilst experts will find some steep-ish pitches in the backcountry areas.

Of course the predominant feature of Niseko Hokkaido is snow, snow, and more snow! It often has Japow at its finest!

The Niseko Ski Areas

The Niseko Hokkaido ski resort (aka Niseko United) has four major zones that are interconnected (for intermediates and above) via lifts and the slopes towards the top of the mountains. The An’nupuri area has great groomed runs for beginners and intermediates and access to sidecountry skiing. The Niseko Village ski resort (formerly Higashiyama) is largely a beginner and intermediate area, with a couple of black piste runs. Hirafu has something on offer for everyone, whilst Hanazono is good for novices, tree skiing, sidecountry access, the best snow quality, and terrain park fun.

Moiwa is inter-connected with Niseko United via a trail and the sidecountry but it’s not considered part of the Niseko Resort and has a separate lift ticket.


Niseko United has many many lifts. There is a gondola at An’nupuri, Hanazono, and Hirafu, and Niseko Village has 2 gondolas and a chondola (a cross between a gondola and a chair lift). All the gondolas are an absolute godsend on bad-weather days, and the King #3 and Hanazono hooded chairs are also bliss. Thankfully there are no surface tows, although there is a slow single chair lift that works reasonably well in the windy conditions. If the weather is particularly foul, even these top lifts need to close. Once these top lifts are closed, access between Hirafu and An’nupuri is only possible via shuttle bus (or taxi).

In recent years a handful of lifts have been upgraded or built that are mostly targeted at beginners, but considering the huge number of lift tickets sold, it’s disappointing that the lift infrastructure isn’t a bit better for advanced riders. Some of the chairs are still painfully slow and lift lines can be problematic, particularly in Hirafu. And the staff do little to corral skiers appropriately to ensure all lifts are full.

Night Skiing Niseko

Many of the lifts are open for night skiing. Unlike other ski resorts where night skiing is just for beginners, at Niseko Hokkaido the evenings are for powder hounds too. The area that is lit up is extensive so it’s possible to ski the Miharashi trees and other advanced areas, and sometimes the visibility is actually better at night time than during the day. After a little après ski action, it can be incredibly surreal bouncing around in the fresh powder under the lights. Be sure to wear a helmet!

Lift Tickets

You can either buy a Niseko United ticket whereby the four zones of Niseko are accessible off the one lift ticket, a cheaper single ski area ticket, or there an array of other configurations with a points system or number of hours. A one day ticket or a multi-day ticket includes night skiing.

There are small discounts available if you pre-purchase lift tickets online, and there are only small discounts on multi-day passes. You may wish to pay a little more and buy a ticket each day to give you the flexibility to undertake other Niseko activities such as a day trip to a nearby resort, cat skiing, a backcountry tour, or go sightseeing. It’s also hard to predict if the weather may shut some of the lifts, or whether you’ll have the energy to go skiing every day!

You can check out prices and buy lift tickets here.

Niseko is on the Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective Pass, although only the major ticket offices will process these.

Niseko Snow and Weather

Whatever the definition of “blower powder” is, the powder at Niseko is often even better! Even though it’s near the coast, the powder is generally incredibly light and dry (aka ego snow!). The Niseko snow usually falls in great volumes and is up there as the best powder in the world. No one can really agree on the average annual snowfall as there’s too much of it to keep track of, but it’s about 15-18 metres a season (19.5 metres in the 2014-15 season!).

The Siberian weather patterns that bring the fabulous snow also create the wind and the cold, so Niseko is often very chilly. Even with gondolas, hooded chairs and plenty of trees for protection, this is a place where you may need warm clothes, a neck warmer, face protection, and a thin hat or headband under your helmet. You might not get much of a chance to use sunglasses, and you won’t often see the great views of Mount Yotei in the height of winter, so take a photo opportunity when you can.

Even though the temps are usually very cold and the powder dry, like anywhere, there are also occasions when the temps rise and the snow turns to snot. Time to hit the groomers or the bars!

See the Niseko ski season page for information on some of the pros and cons of visiting Niseko in different parts of the season.

Ski Niseko - Beginners

Beginners will largely be restricted to one resort unless they catch a shuttle bus to another area. All four areas have very good slopes for the novice as well as runs for the next progression. Hanazono has good first-timer areas serviced by magic carpets and a gondola. Niseko Village has some very mellow slopes near the base serviced by high quality lifts, and Annupuri also has a lovely low gradient slope for novices.

At Hirafu, the aptly named Family Run is very popular with families and beginners, particularly for those staying at accommodation alongside this trail (e.g. The Vale Niseko, Aya Niseko), although the run is often very congested. The zone near the bottom of the Hirafu Gondola is also very good for novices.

Niseko Skiing - Intermediates

Niseko skiing and snowboarding is paradise for intermediates. With long groomers and fantastic fall-line, there’s plenty to choose from. The challenge for intermediates that are not used to powder is that sometimes the powder is knee-deep on the groomed runs! This takes a little practice if you’re used to skiing ice or hard-packed snow, but it’s a great opportunity to learn to ride powder in relatively easy conditions.

Hirafu has the largest number of runs for intermediates, whilst Hanazono has very limited variety.

Terrain Parks

Hanazono is where it’s all happening for freestyle freaks. There are multiple terrain parks with jibs and jumps for beginners, intermediates and advanced riders, as well as features for the little tackers. Hirafu also has a couple of terrain parks. The Niseko physios must be very happy!

Advanced and Expert Skiing and Snowboarding - On-Piste

There are no super steep marked runs (ie piste) at Niseko for experts, but there are some reasonably pitchy runs on the Alpen Super Course and at Niseko Village for advanced riders. The black piste are generally ungroomed runs and it doesn't take long to mogul up.

Niseko Skiing Off-Piste

A huge plus for Niseko skiing and riding off-piste is that it is permitted. You’re not allowed to duck ropes, but otherwise you can explore inside the resort boundaries to your heart’s content. In most off-piste areas the trees aren’t too tight, so it’s a place where you can easily improve your confidence in the powder.

There are many non-secret powder stashes including the Miharashi trees at the top of the Hirafu gondola, the King #3 trees, the tight trees in Blueberry Fields (left of Hanazono no.1 lift) and the more widely spaced trees in Strawberry Fields (right of Hanazono no. 1 lift).

Unfortunately, with the increasing popularity of Niseko, the likelihood of finding freshies in the off-piste areas past about 10am has lessened significantly over the years.

There are various options for off-piste guiding.

Niseko Sidecountry / Slackcountry

Niseko sidecountry skiing is also permitted so long as you enter through one of the gates. Sidecountry aka slackcountry is defined as backcountry terrain that's outside the resort boundaries that can be easily accessed with no or minimal hiking or skinning, with an easy egress to the lifts.

The Niseko gate system allows controlled access into the sidecountry when conditions allow. Have respect for the patrollers who are pretty lenient. When the sidecountry gates are closed, it’s generally for a good reason. For daily information on the status of the gates and avalanche status, see the Niseko Avalanche Information website.

The An’nupuri bowls (entered from gates 1 or 2) are a good example of primo Niseko sidecountry and provide great open zones and tree skiing.

A long traverse from the peak gate provides an infinite number of lines and a possible chance of finding your own powder stash away from the hordes. The peak is a 20 minute hike that provides an awesome long run down to the golf course. This area also provides access to the back bowls; the piece de resistance of Niseko.

Mizuno no sawa near Niseko Village (previously a special program area) is also a highlight of the Niseko skiing and snowboarding.

See the Niseko sidecountry page for more information on the gates.

As with all ski resorts in Japan, if you go outside the resort boundaries you do so at your own risk and are responsible for the costs associated with any backcountry search and rescue. Absolutely only go into the sidecountry areas with a transponder, shovel and probe. If you don’t have the right equipment or the know-how to safely navigate the backcountry, do a guided Niseko sidecountry ski tour. They will lend you the right gear and take you to some very tasty spots!

Niseko Backcountry

If you're prepared to earn your turns with a decent amount of skinning or snowshoeing, there is an abundance of fantastic options for Niseko backcountry skiing and split boarding. There are various options for Niseko backcountry day tours.

Niseko Avalanche Risk

Considering the abundant snowfall, the occurrence of avalanches is not as common as you’d think, particularly in the height of winter. With constant sub-zero temperatures and minimal sun, the formation of unstable layers is lessened. The maritime-like snowpack and the snow crystals that typically fall during winter also make the snowpack reasonably stable. However avalanches (and associated fatalities) still can and do happen and appropriate caution should be exercised. There are commonly big glide cracks in the snow that need to be avoided, not only because of the associated avalanche risk, but also because it may take you half an hour to climb out if you fall in!

Access to Moiwa via the Slopes

Powder hounds should definitely head over to Moiwa. This is a little gem of a ski resort! An’nupuri’s neighbour Moiwa can be accessed via the 2nd An’nupuri bowl. You can purchase inexpensive single ride or 4 hour tickets. To get back to Niseko, a short hike from the top of the quad chair out gate 6 is required, but be aware that the gate is only open until mid afternoon and when avalanche risk is not high.