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NYC --> Niseko: Is it worth it?

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

Every time I see a photo or video of Niseko in a segment of ski porn, it looks like a utopian winter wonderland. I'm looking to get some skiing friends together for a cultural adventure. I've done Austria, Germany & Switzerland a dozen times and kinda looking for something new. Also been to Las Lenas in Argentina.


For those who've skied Japan, is it worth the haul out there? The trip would be early March.


Also, what are the best sites to book condos and/or ski packages for a week in Niseko?

post #2 of 11

IMO, earlier is better for Japan, so if you can go early/mid February, that would be better. You've got a choice of traditional accommodation and Western style. Make sure you find out what you're booking when you do. I've stayed in traditional and thought it was fine - I booked through Deep Power Tours

post #3 of 11

My contrarian view (after 30 years of skiing in Japan) is that if you have a reason to be in Japan, definitely bring you skis and check out Niseko/Hakuba/Nozawa and other places. But if you're only looking for a ski trip, traveling to Japan from North America is just silly.

Niseko is a terrific powder area, but not any better than Alta/Snowbird, Jackson Hole, Fernie, etc., and cannot match them for terrain.

If you just can't resist, you should definitely book sometime between mid January to mid February, when Niseko lives up to its reputation. FWIW, since the Aussies discovered Niseko a few years back, powder is typically skied out before noon, but they have made up for that lack of consideration by bringing in a raft of new and better bars and restaurants.

Check out snowjapan.com for info, and its forums for other opinions.

post #4 of 11
Thread Starter 

Thx for the advice. I can see where you're coming from.


I spent 2 weeks in Japan about 10 years ago and have been looking for an excuse to go back ever since. Figured skiing's as good of an excuse as any. May hold off until 2012 and plan for Jan/Feb though if that's when the best snow is. Back to the drawing board...

post #5 of 11

I'd agree in general with JimInToyko's comments on terrain, certainly with on course skiing. However the exception, is that in Niseko they permit out of bounds, which includes tree skiing - and the trees are cedars which are very close together. I recall speaking with a racing instructor from North America on the lift saying that Niseko was the "first time I've been challenged by terrain in ages ....." , and I suspect for this reason

post #6 of 11

I have been living in Hokkaido and exploring the island's mts for 20years or so.

Couple of things:

  •  agree terrain in Japan isn't as steep/big as elsewhere, but the powder is epic -can't fault it.Having said that, there are steeps if you look for them. Ask real locals -not some dude on the lift.
  • March can be awesome in NIseko -depends on year. Even April can be bottomless-especially in the centre of the island.
  • Despite the huge increase in tourism in Niseko there is still plenty of fresh tracks to be had provided you know where to go and especially if you don't mind hiking-even 15mins can open up areas 99% of tourists wouldn't dream of entering.
  • Hokkaido is full of mountains -go explore. 
  • Trees in Niseko are mostly silver birch and well spaced. Cedars can be found at many other resorts/mts, but generally aren't that tight, except in the central mts
  • Just remember so many people base their "knowledge" on the one or two seasons they're here.
post #7 of 11

The OP said Niseko for a week, not touring for a month. I stand by mid-January to mid-February. Yes, there can be powder in March, just like anywhere else. But a week in early March is as likely to be sunny (and sun at Niseko's low altitude and open slopes is a killer for powder) and might even be rainy. Niseko's powder season has definitely shortened at both ends in the past 10 years.


I would not recommend heading out into Daisetsuzan (the central mountains) on your own unless you've got some serious mountaineering experience -- check that, even then I wouldn't suggest it without a guide. There's some serious high alpine weather up there, white-outs can last for days.

post #8 of 11

I have compiled the 8 years of Niseko snow data from the snowjapan.com website and Jim in Tokyo is absolutely right about timing.  FYI the monthly pattern with December/January concentration is exactly the same in Hakuba, just an overall lower average of ~375 inches vs. ~575 in Niseko.


Average Niseko monthly snowfall in inches:

Nov. Dec. Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr.
56 150 169 112 81 7


This is an unusual pattern by North America/Alps standards.  I doubt you could find mountain resorts here where average March snowfall is only half of January's.  Most places they are not too different, and many places in Colorado March averages more snow than January.


Most of Japan has weather like similar latitude on U.S. East Coast.  It is not dry in the summer; I was there 9 days in July 2009 and climbed Mt. Fuji in the rain and fog.  If snowfall decreases it's a safe bet it's not being replaced by a lot of sunny days, more likely an increase in rain.  Lift served altitudes are low, 1,000-4,000 feet in Hokkaido at ~42 degrees latitude and 4,000-7,000 at ~36 degrees latitude in Hakuba.  For the backcountry types in spring the Japan Alps behind Hakuba go up to 10,600 and Mt. Fuji is 12,300.


I will be making my first ski trip to Japan Jan. 17-31.  I will be with http://www.blackdiamondtours.com/ and hope to get some of the exploration Tengu recommends with their guidance.

Edited by Tony Crocker - 12/15/10 at 4:46pm
post #9 of 11
Thread Starter 

Just, wow. I was a stats major back in college and I may (or may not) have a chubby right now. In any event, thanks for putting together the research!


I only have March to put together a big international trip so I think a group of us are going to check out Zermatt instead, and we'll save Japan for early Feb 2012.


And btw, you're 100% right about the correlation to snowfall in US & Europe. It's odd for me to see snowfall weighted towards January.

post #10 of 11

One last tip: avoid Chinese New Year!

post #11 of 11


It's odd for me to see snowfall weighted towards January.

Actually not.  It's common in the Pacific Northwest and January is also the highest average snow month in Jackson Hole.  But much more extreme in Japan.


Percent of season snowfall in December/January:

Niseko 56%

Mt. Baker 43%

Jackson Hole 43%

Mt. Fidelity B.C. 41% (near Rogers' Pass/Revelstoke)

Alyeska 40%

Kirkwood/Mammoth/Donner Pass 39%

Alta 37%

Vail 36%

Loveland 33%


The above percentages do not count snowfall before Nov. 1 or after April 30.  The Loveland percentage would fall relative to the other places even more if it did.




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