During the peak of winter 2018, my friends, together with my brother Edd and I headed north of Japan to witness the groundwork of Sapporo Snow Festival, a week before the celebration. We stayed for three days in Hokkaido – two days in the prefecture’s capital Sapporo, and a day at Japan’s most famous spot for skiing – Niseko!
We all availed of the Unlimited JR Pass, so we thought of making the most out of it and spent a day in Niseko, just to have lunch and meet Mt. Fuji’s li’l sister, the active stratovolcano Mt. Yotei.
Traveling from Sapporo to Niseko
It takes about 172 minutes via 3 JR Line train + bus from Sapporo to the resorts of Niseko. We took the first trip at 7:14AM taking the JR Hakodate Line bound for Otaru, which is approximately a 47-minute train ride. From Otaru, we made a quick train transfer for Kutchan, traveling about 73 minutes. And from Kutchan, we hopped on another train bound for Rankoshi, and alighted at JR Niseko Station.
We then got on a bus to Hirafu Welcome Center. The first bus from JR Niseko Station leaves at 10:10AM, so better hurry and be on your feet if you want catch it. You may read more about the Niseko bus schedule HERE.
Tip: Check Hyperdia.com for the train schedules atleast a day before your travel date.
You may also take the bus from Sapporo bus station to Niseko, which will give you about the same 6 hours to spend wandering around Niseko if you take the train. The downside is, the bus fare isn’t covered by the JR Unlimited Pass, which means additional fare expense if you take this mode of transport. Here’s a quick instruction just in case you need it:
1. Take the 07:55 bus from Sapporo bus station.
2. Arrive at 11:01 at the Niseko Welcome Center
3. Enjoy Niseko
4. Catch the 17:09 from the Welcome Center back to Sapporo
A Quick Winter Bliss in Niseko
Niseko is adored for its powdery snow during winter, one of the reasons why it’s famous for skiing. Blessed with clear skies during our visit, we were fortunate to get an unobstructed view of Mt. Yotei from the Hirafu Welcome Center (HWC). From HWC, we hiked for 10-minutes to the Grand Hirafu Mountain Center where we hopped on the gondola going up to the Mountain Hut Cafe to have lunch. After our midday meal, we basically just played with the confectionary- sugar-like snow before we headed back down the foot of Mount Niseko-Annupuri.
Note: Grand Hirafu Mountain Center Gondola roundtrip ticket is at Y2,000. Price as of 04 January 2019. You may check updated and various lift ticket prices HERE.
There are three big ski resorts in Niseko – Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village and Annupuri. A special combination ticket called Niseko All Mountain Pass gives access to all three resorts. You may check pass prices HERE.
Our trip was really short – 6 hours to enjoy Niseko to be exact, so we only had time for lunch, goof around the heaps of snow, enjoying the view from the top of Mt. Niseko-Annupuri and reveling in a cup of Japanese fresh coffee brew. On my next visit, will make sure to be able to ski at least for a day.
We took the 5PM bus the same day to JR Niseko Station to catch our train back to Sapporo. Here’s our train details. You may check hyperdia.com for your preferred train schedule.