The secret ski village in Niseko, Japan

While most visitors to Niseko will stay in Grand Hirafu, well-heeled travellers are finding their haven in Niseko Village.

There’s nothing so exhilarating as skiing in dumping powder. Fat snowflakes dusting your jacket and settling over the runs, filling any imperfections in the terrain. And then there’s the anticipation of skiing the deep powder the following day as it continues overnight.

This is my third visit to Niseko. After staying in Grand Hirafu Village, the main village, for previous visits, I am here exploring lesser-known Niseko Village. The ski town has a focus on high-end accommodation and experiences, less party-goers, shorter lift lines and international restaurants at the newly opened, Niseko-yo apres precinct. And a compact village where everything is within walking distance and ski-in, ski-out.

Niseko Village
Niseko-yo

The Hokkaido powder belt

Each year, Siberian snow drifts over the Sea of Japan and powders Hokkaido in dry, fluffy snow, an average of 15 metres per winter. Although Niseko’s world-famous snow is no secret, Niseko Village stands out as the hidden gem among its four linked resorts: Anupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu, and Hanazono. You won’t find loud pubs on corners here. The ski town is home to a swathe of après offerings and luxury hotels; the jewel in its crown – and where I’m staying – is ski-in, ski-out Higashiyama Niseko Village, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve and one of only six Ritz-Carlton Reserves in the world.

Higashiyama Niseko Village, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve

The beauty of Niseko’s natural surroundings inspires the modern design of the luxury property. Featuring high ceilings and clean lines, the open lobby flows into the Ume Lounge and library. Huge windows in the lounge frame Mt Yōtei, Niseko’s most iconic landmark. Stacked Niseko birch logs, handmade pottery and decals by a local artist bring subtle Japanese touches to the resort. In my Niseko Reserve King room, there is a delicate sakura (cherry blossom) painted on the bedhead. At 52 square metres, the room is immense. There is ample space in the entry for outer ski gear, or it can be kept in the ski lockers below. The open wardrobe is huge and will accommodate even the most excessive of overpackers. I love the USB charging ports and master light switch beside the bed.

I have a picture-perfect view of Mt Yōtei. Especially from the windows before the deep, onsen-style tub in the bathroom, with salts to emulate the mineral-rich waters of hot springs. For me, nothing can compare to the real thing. I’m called to the resort’s traditional Japanese onsen each morning, filled with water from natural underground springs. It’s pure magic watching the sun rise beside Mt Yōtei with the mountain air on my face and tendrils of steam swirling beside me. The onsen room has an indoor and outdoor pool as well as a sauna.

Yotei Suite at Higashiyama Niseko Village, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve
Yotei Suite at Higashiyama Niseko Village, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve

Other Niseko Village accommodation

All five of Niseko Village’s accommodation options are is ski-in, ski-out including the five-star Hinode Hills Hotel. Hinode Hills’ interconnecting suites are great for families looking to self-cater. It has a kitchen with an induction cooktop, washing machine, lounge which can be converted into additional bedding (the suite sleeps six) and casual dining. Guests can arrange for the kitchen to be fully stocked on arrival, giving you more time to explore the mountain’s 887 hectares of terrain. Niseko Village has five onsens within the hotels and guests are able to enjoy all of them. The Green Leaf has the most impressive, an outdoor pool surrounded by snowcapped evergreens.

Skiing in Niseko Village

I hit the mountain with a Higashiyama Reservist mountain expert to show me Niseko’s hidden gems. We dart through the trees at Annupuri, ride powder-filled ungroomed runs on Grand Hirafu, and crisscross the slopes of a wide gully in Niseko Village. It’s thrilling.

Powder skiing at Niseko Village Japan
The resort receives over 15 metres of snow

Comprising four linked resorts, sharing a 1,308-metre-high peak, Niseko United offers 887 hectares of skiable terrain. There are 31 gondolas and chairlifts to give access to 30% beginner, 40% intermediate and 30% advanced terrain. Niseko also has sidecountry gates which provide controlled access into different areas depending on weather and avalanche risks. The resorts are interlinked by the chairlifts around the peak and by shuttles at the base. The peak is wide open while the mid-mountain has tree-lined winding green runs, steep reds (the resort has no blue runs) and ungroomed blacks. My favourite part of the Niseko Village resort is a gully beside the Mori-no Chair. Here you can weave between trees, hit kickers and find powder stashes.

Night skiing is on offer from all four of the resorts, but you cannot ski between the resorts at night.

Niseko United Resort stats

  • Skiable area: 887 hectares of terrain
  • Elevation: 1,308 metres
  • Lifts: 29
  • Grading of runs: 30% beginner, 40% intermediate, 30% advanced
  • Number of runs: 61 ski trails
  • Lift pass: Ikon Pass and kids aged 6 and under ski for free
  • Average snowfall: 14 metres
Tree skiing in Niseko
Find hidden powder in the trees

Dining at Higashiyama Niseko Village

Niseko is not just a ski destination, it’s a cultural immersion. I embark on a culinary journey with cuisine that captures the essence of Hokkaido. Higashiyama Niseko Village, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve’s culinary ethos focuses on the philosophy of shun (pronounced shoon), the celebration of seasonal produce harvested at its peak. This is most apparent at Sushi Nagi, where we feast on an ever-changing omakase showcasing Hokkaido’s finest seafood, purchased from the market that day. Today’s menu features scallops, bluefin tuna and snow crab.

I have so many questions about the meal. It’s one of those beautiful moments where our Itamae (head chef) only speaks a little English. With hand gestures and helpful translations from the waitress, messages are conveyed; I learn sushi is eaten with three fingers, not chopsticks, and the fattier the fish the longer it can be cured, a lesson taught when Itamae presents a slab of salmon belly and holds up two fingers, indicating it’s been cured for two days.

Niseko Afternoon Tea

The resort and region are incredibly proud of its produce. Another opportunity to sample its delights is Higashiyama’s signature Niseko Afternoon Tea. I return from the slopes to a traditional Japanese wooden box filled with tempura tiger prawns, scallop sashimi, wagyu beef slides and potato wedges from the neighbouring town of Kutchan. It’s potatoes so famous they hold a huge annual festival devoted to them. The top drawer of the box has scones to lather with Hokkaido jams and cream.

Après at Niseko-yo

From all the time I spend snowboarding, exploring powder-filled tree runs, wide curving groomers and side-country gates, my appetite is big. In Niseko-yo’s ski-in, ski-out precinct, traditional Japanese machiya architecture meets internationally acclaimed restaurants. The hub marries Italian and Japanese flavours at Moka; Shanghai cuisine at Long Tang; and Roman-style pizza at Baby Crosta, offspring of the award-winning Crosta Pizza in the Philippines. Slurping down Hakata Tonkotsu ramen at Gogyo powered by Ippudo is not to be missed. Machiya design is closely associated with Japanese tea ceremonies and you can experience it at Chuya. By night, the tea house becomes a cocktail bar in collaboration with Penrose by Jon Lee out of Kuala Lumpur, one of Asia’s 50 Best Bars of 2023. The refined selection of internationally awarded offerings in a sophisticated setting sets Niseko Village apart from the rest.

Niseko-yo apres precinct at night
Niseko-yo apres precinct at night

Niseko’s Private Club

Other global names have also made their way to Niseko Village. Singapore’s Mandala Club, usually a members-only establishment, is open to anyone visiting the area. POPI’S, the club’s restaurant, has a rotating list of international chefs taking up residency, including Melbourne’s own George Calombaris. The entertainment heats up downstairs at Snow Parlor, where international DJs and Japanese-inspired cocktails keep energy levels high. My drink of choice is the plum wine sour.

For families

Niseko Village Ski School offers group lessons but most families will book a private lesson and all ski together, even if they are at different levels. If children aren’t on skis yet or want a day off, the Niseko Kids Day Care has a play centre for children from 12 months to six years old. When the family is ready for a rest day, snowmobiling, snowrafting, and snowshoeing are on offer. There’s nothing like the family bonding experienced on a family ski trip, the big smiles at the end of runs, the cozy restaurants and long cuddles from tired kids. And this intimate village is the perfect canvas for families to paint the memory of experiencing authentic Japanese culture melded with international finesse.

Kids tobogganing in Niseko Village
The ski-in, ski-out village is perfect for kids

Niseko Village stands out as the pinnacle of luxury in Japan. The experiences on offer are world-class and continue to evolve each season. Comprising four linked resorts, sharing a 1,308-metre-high peak, Niseko United offers 887 hectares of skiable terrain but it’s not the stats that keep bringing me back – it’s the feeling you get skiing an incredible mountain and becoming so immersed in the adventure that you let go of everything else.

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