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Niseko - how crowded is it in early January? better options?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 



We, our family of three, are seriously considering skiing in Japan late December, early January. After lots of research I think we are honing in on Niseko, but there are a few reservations that I have been unable to find any real information on - or have found conflicting views on.


About us and why Niseko has emerged as the front-runner:


There are three of us, two adults and son who will be 12 by then. We are all either advanced or advanced/expert skiers. For the last six years we have skied more in North America than domestically here in NZ. In North America over the last few years we have skied Steamboat, Red Mountain, Jackson Hole and Fernie, all of which were a good match for our preferred places to ski - off piste, trees, interesting terrain - e.g. favourites at JH were Moran Woods, the Hobacks, Alta Chutes etc. Domestically we ski relatively little because of the insane crowds in school holidays and at weekends; and because we have had a string of pretty average seasons. 


Our general MO for overseas holidays is to spend two and a bit weeks at one place and get to know a resort (as best as you can in 15 -16 days), and to minimise days lost to transfers. We ski every day, although not necessarily first to last chair each day.


So first question: Is it realistic to transfer our usual MO to Japan? 


Based on the following list of requirements / considerations and research, including looking at threads here, I came to the conclusion that Niseko was probably the best option:



Off-piste skiing allowed and accessible via lift access (at least one of our party is not interested in significant hiking)

modern lift infrastructure if it is aerial lifts including chair-lifts (suicide chairs are out for some of our group due to vertigo issues)

surface lifts are ok

accommodation with western style beds (we usually do ski in / ski out or short walk to lifts condos).

We do know that there will be some compromise on terrain, but really flat is not an option, we would like some challenge

Dates: we need to travel in the school holidays - so looking at something like 28th December to 16th January - give or take a couple of days.


Things that don't matter at all:


western food or fine dining - so long as there are good local dining options

English speaking ski school - although if DS does ski school the option for advanced lessons that are not race programmes and include off-piste are what we would be looking for, preferably with other similar aged and ability level kids.


The big unknowns / question marks?

Realistically, how crowded is Niseko? Our dates coincide with Australian school holidays and statutory holidays over new year. What is the reality of lift queues - if it is like Queenstown / Wanaka in school holidays then it is a no-go. If it is an okay wait to get out of the base area but as you get up the mountain - or to more advanced lifts it thins out then that's ok.


Assuming we can sort something reasonable with travel insurance, is there short hike or lift accessible side country (we would do this with a guide).


How big an issue are drunk and obnoxious ozzies and kiwis? Are there heaps of them or are they easily avoided? i.e. prefer not to be kept awake by other people's parties


Are there reasonable options for renting / demoing / buying new season advanced women's skis for taller women e.g. 175cm / 5'7". I was going to buy skis in NZ this season but the importer is not bringing any of what I want to demo in to the country.


Is 18 days in a row too much for one area.


Are there better options?


Sorry for the novel - and thanks in advance for your help

Gear mentioned in this thread:

post #2 of 13
I've spent entire months in Niseko, so no, 18 days can be fine! If you're bored, you're boring. smile.gif

Unfortunately I don't know the current crowd situation there post Australian invasion. It's a different world now. Local friends all comment that they hear more English than Japanese at the hill, so language isn't a problem. Toryu will have demoes that will work for and advanced 5'7" woman. (Local brand Vector Glide, good skis!) and there should be others. Other than the mountain itself, so much has changed since I've spent time there, I'm not going to embarrass myself giving you outdated advice. Man, I wish I'd bought in around 1998-99.

And yes, there is plenty of off piste / side country to do. The hike up to the top of Annapuri isn't that big a deal, and the north face is always a nice ski. There's a whole lot more if you have a touring set up to access the peaks around the area, and absolutely DO go to every onsen you can get to.
post #3 of 13

... and PM 'Jim' . 

post #4 of 13
@jimintokyo would be a good guy to ask for more info.

I spent about a month of the '13/'14 season in Hokkaido, and your MO is 100% transferable =).
In my (limited) experience early January in Niseko is crowded, mainly with Aussies, but it gets better a bit later. I arrived in the second week of January and the crowds seemed to be easing a bit by then. It was never even close to as bad as Queenstown or Wanaka, nor as bad as Turoa or Whakapapa during holiday seasons. That said, Jim told me the queues at Annupuri (one of the Niseko resorts) this season just gone were pretty serious.

Niseko is 5 resorts (4 are on the same pass), and others are close by. Rusutsu and Kiroro are just down the road and well worth visiting if you want to change it up a little - some accommodation offer shuttles out to Rusutsu if there are more than one or two guests interested (if you don't have a vehicle).

I thought the crowds were generally evenly distributed over the whole mountain within the four main areas, except gondolas and cable cars being a magnet for queues. That said, I skied straight on far more than I ever do in NZ.
  • Off-piste skiing is allowed (barring one or two closed areas) at Niseko, as it caters well to Westerners.
  • The lifts are generally modern; gondolas, cable cars and detachable hooded quads, although there are quite a few uncovered doubles. As I recall there is a suicide single at the top of Hirafu (for skiing from Hirafu into Annupuri or skiing out the top gate), and I think Annupuri has a double with no safety bar that you won't ever bother riding because it's somewhat redundant (who wants super short laps off a rickety old double when you could ski top to bottom?) That said I am entirely unfazed by heights so I might have forgotten some.
  • It is entirely possible to have a great time at Niseko without hiking, but there are several backcountry gates, notably the peak gate, where you'll get better runs if you hike. It's not a big hike, 10-15 minutes probably (time dependent on fitness of course), but the first section is moderately steep.
  • There is heaps of easily accessible "sidecountry"(backcountry) that requires little or no hiking. Please take proper equipment, though (although if you hire a guide they should make sure of that). I was deeply disturbed by the number of people riding backcountry without a transceiver, shovel, or probe, let alone the knowledge to use them. I think they also do cat skiing on Weiss now (it's an abandoned ski hill) - that could be fun too if you don't want to walk.
  • Niseko is not flat, but the fields in Honshu are often a bit steeper. There are steeper hills in Hokkaido (Kurodake, for one), but I don't know of any that would fill the rest of your needs.
  • You will have no issues with western beds, nor decent local dining.
  • Ski school is probably not going to cut it for advanced off-piste lessons.
  • Drunk Aussies/Kiwis/Swedes should not affect your sleep unless you sleep in a shared bunk room, and maybe not even then. Even if budget was your ultimate concern, with three of you bunks in a dorm room probably isn't any cheaper than shared private rooms anyway. Mainly you'll encounter the drunks out on the town. If you eat late it might be a bit rowdy but that's no different from Queenstown/Wanaka.
  • 5'7" is 170cm, not 175cm, but in either case Toryu and Rhythm will have stuff to suit your needs. Be aware that if you go out into the more remote parts of Hokkaido stuff like this will get much harder to find,

Hakuba or Nozawa Onsen might be good options for Honshu if you go there instead. It should be pretty easy to get by with zero Japanese at Hakuba (just like at Niseko), but bear in mind that the various resorts there have differing off-piste policies (a couple are strict thou-shalt-not, others encourage it).
post #5 of 13

Markop & Yoichi have pretty much nailed it. The main info I would add is my impression that the microclimate at Niseko seems to be changing. This past winter saw a lot of very unusual warm spells after storms in mid-winter, something I rarely saw in Niseko in the past. More important has been the increase in wind holds on the upper mountain, and on the gondolas at Annupuri & Higashiyama (now confusing called Niseko Village, which is not what people mean when they refer to ``the village,'' i.e. Hirafu, in regard to dining and drinking options). Niseko is pretty boring when most of the mountain is closed due to high winds. 

post #6 of 13
Thread Starter 

Thanks for all the feedback and advice Mark, Yoichi and Jim


You've addressed my major questions and it all sounds like it will work which is great. 


Yoichi, definitely no side country without  transceivers, shovel, probe etc (and in terms of hike I was thinking about things beyond the limits of "skis over the shoulder" hiking - so good to know that there are some options).


Jim, interesting about the micro-climate, I wonder if it will persist - well used to wind hold here - couldn't be much worse than when Saddle Basin is on wind hold at Treble Cone surely. 


Mark and Yoichi thanks for the demo info - it's not something that I'm wedded to, but good to have the option. Travelling to ski means that we are well used to operating a one-ski per person quiver and I have no complaints about my current skis. I was planning on replacing my skis, but I might have to be creative as the importer isn't bringing the ski I most wanted to try in to the country this season - the unisex version might be an option if it comes in.


So next steps are to get the trusty travel agent on to looking at some options - We'll look at both Hokkaido and Honshu. I'll let you know how we get on.


Thanks once again

post #7 of 13
For a big trip, I'm an advocate of Hokkaido if you don't have touring/side country gear unless you're planning a more cultural swing through places. If one were only going once to Japan, its be hard not to spend a bit of time in Kyoto, Tokyo, etc... The groomed trails on Honshu are often pretty crowded at the more popular resorts (Hakuba areas) on the weekends and holidays. That said, there are some great sort of cruisey areas that are fun to do social skis... Nozawa, Sugi no Hara, Ike no Taira, Myoko, etc.... and of course all have great onsen and beer machines. smile.gif
post #8 of 13
Yoichi, definitely no side country without  transceivers, shovel, probe etc (and in terms of hike I was thinking about things beyond the limits of "skis over the shoulder" hiking - so good to know that there are some options).
Great. Most people hike the peak at Niseko with skis over shoulder, which should give you some perspective on how short that walk is.
couldn't be much worse than when Saddle Basin is on wind hold at Treble Cone surely. 
Bear in mind that hooded chairs are more prone to wind-hold because they have a larger surface area, vs. the Saddle Quad which is an open chair. That can leave many chairs closed for the whole day sometimes.
(And as far as being out in it goes, the top of Annupuri, which is above the treeline, when windy can be like being on the saddle itself (where the Saddle Track meets Rafill's/Pete's) with a strong wind funneling through there, rather than at the bottom of the quad. Think snow in turbulent suspension, can't see much, hard to move against the wind kind of conditions.)

Good luck!
post #9 of 13

I have a pretty cool picture of a friend and I standing on the top of Annapuri in a good breeze. We're leaning with straight bodies about 35% into a head wind on the toes of our boots. Lifts weren't closed that afternoon though. :) 

post #10 of 13

Check here, post # 10:



Weekend would be a lot people.


You could make a day trip from Niseko to Rusutsu. JP 1200 one way, if I have the good memory. Taxi is better for 3 of you, only 30-40 mins.

Fox example, Sat, more than 200 persons line up at the base of Hirafu. But only 10 persons line up at Rusutsu.


Trees, best at Rusutsu.


For backcountry at Niseko, bring your phone, make sure about the power of battery. If you are lost, you have to call a taxi back to the south of the resort.


18 days is not too much. I think you will spend 5 days to get to know about those resorts. Then with weather and snow forecast, you could make the best choice where to go.

post #11 of 13
Thread Starter 

Just coming back in to say thanks once again for all your help and to update with where we have landed.


Unfortunately due to our dates coinciding with the peak Australian influx to Japan we couldn't make Japan work for us this time. Also we got offered a very attractive deal for Breckenridge that was significantly better than what Japan was going to work out at. We'll make it to Japan at some point, just not this time.

post #12 of 13

Despite Ski Kiwi not going to Niseko, I have a comparable trip in duration coming up in the exact same timeframe.  So all is not wasted; thanks to the contributors for this threads and several prior discussions.  

post #13 of 13

Rainbow Jenny, or Ski Kiwi on your next trip -- Agree with most of what's been said above, but feel free to PM me sometime if you'd like more details. I'm in Niseko for most of the season.




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