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Maruyama Park Sapporo


Many people who travel to Hokkaido will often not see much more than Chitose Airport and the resort area of Niseko. While this is in fact more than enough adventure for most and makes for an incredible ski holiday, with just a little deviation from the more well trodden path there is a whole island of adventures to embark on. Just an hour and a half by car lies Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido and 5th largest in Japan. This vibrant metropolis is of course a detsination of its own full of fantastic eatieries, restaurants and shopping opportunities. It also has plenty of open spaces to enjoy with some fantastic hiking trails and beautiful parks dotted through out.

Incredibly depite freezing temperatures and meters of snowfall every year the city barely bats an eyelid at a climate that could be described as siberian. The snow or the temperatures don't slow the city down a bit and many parks including are maintained year round for the city folk and tourists a like to enjoy. One such park is Maruyama Park or Maruyama Koen in Japanese.


A clock and sign board in a snowy park
Don't be fooled by the hardy locals, it's chilly out there!

The park is home to the largest shrine in Hokkaido, the Hokkaido Jingu. The shrine area of the park is dotted with statues, shrines and tori gates and if you have never experienced this side of Japan it is a unique way to do so amongst the snowy surrounds. You can wander freely through out the park, sharing it with commuters, photographers and sightseers alike. Crows will caw in the trees waiting for a passerby to drop some crumbs and you will often see squirells darting accross the path. School kids also shuffle their way through the snow on their way to class.


A school kid walks beneath a tori gate.
If you feel a chill, just be glad you're not in school uniform.

Maruyama park stretches over 70 hectares and also includes a zoo and sports facilities. In the spring it is one of the most popular spots in the city for Hanami, a celebration of the annual cherry blossom bloom, these aspects of the park are an adventure in themselves and best saved for another story. If you happen to be in Sapporo during the winter and are loking for a unique and easily accessed experience why not take a look at the winter wonders Maruyama Koen has to offer. 


A small Budhist shrine amongst trees and snow
Traditional Japan in a fairytale landscape

Getting there is easy and the city's excellent subway system will have you there in minutes. You will need to first make your way to Sapporo station or any subway station on the Tozai line and from there simply jump on the subway on the Tozai line and head to Maruyama, all fare information and stops are clearly sign posted in English. You can buy a day pass for just ¥830 giving you the freedon to explore more of the city too. If you do stop by Sapporo on your way to or from Niseko Maruyma makes for a quick change of pace from the busy city and in the winter is a unique experience fusing culture and the outdoors. Once you've done a lap of the park and shrine area you will have worked up an appetite and one of the best lunches you will find is a steaming bowl of world famous Sapporo ramen but that too is another story..


A large statue surrounded by snowy trees
Maruyama Koen is a unique winter experience and one that is easily accessed from central Sapporo.

Once you've done a lap of the park and explored shrine area you will have worked up an appetite and one of the best lunches you will find is a steaming bowl of world famous Sapporo ramen but that too is another story..


A bowl of noodles in a red soup with fresh cut spring onions
Sapporo is home to some of the most delicious bowls of noodles on earth and there is a a whole city of stores, stands and alley ways waiting for you to discover.


Truck loads Of Snow


If you have ever visited Niseko the first thing you will usually remember is the snow!  The amount of snow the area gets is really quite incredible with many years seeing more than 15m of snowfall a season. So far this winter has been no different with countless deep dry powder days through December and January.  


Hirafu Zakka with street lights on and snow lining the road.
The familiar and picturesque view of Hirafu Zakka

Now depending on where you are from, the snow you will see in Niseko is probably going to be the most you've ever seen in you life. Where I am from in New Zealand it might snow to sea or city level 2 or maybe 3 times a year and when it does roads close and cities and towns are brought to a standstill. Here in Hokkaido of course this is far from the case.The familiar shot above shows the mainstreet of Hirafu Village free of snow due of course to road heating but even with the road heating the snow has been known to stop buses in their tracks! So how does the area deal with so much snow? 


Man directs traffic with a glowing stick while a snow removal machine operates
The snowmagedeon battle continues through the night.

The answer is simple, they do so by the truck load! The machine you see above is a mighty Rotary Jyosetsushya or rotary snow blowing machine, that in part makes life here in Hokkaido possible through the long snowy winter. Of course they don't work alone are assisted by an army of tire shovels, fleets of dumptrucks and plenty of hardy men and women regulating things with glowing sticks.


A snowy tunnel like foot path with a car at the crossing
By mid winter footpaths morph into deep snow trenches.

Just a few kilometers down the road from Hirafu lies Kutchan, which according to wikapedia is one of the snowiest towns on earth. During the winter space becomes a premium as every spare inch is slowly but surely taken up by snow. The only relief is the truck loads of it that are removed on a daily basis, freeing up roads, foot paths and driveways.


A snowy road with mount yotei in the background
A break in the weather reveals Mount Yotei and snow choked roads

When the snow is falling public roads are cleared with clock work efficiency but for every grader pass the snow banks encroach a little further onto the roads until many morph into a one way impassable for two cars at a time. Until the Josetsushya and its many support vehicles return to clear the streets and fill the trucks once again.


Trucks dumping snow near a river
Snow by the truck load!

The endless tonnage of snow is taken to snow dumps on the outskirts of the town where it sits until the spring rains help it on its journey back to whence it came, back into the sea of Japan.


A truck dumping snow with a spindly tree in the foreground
Trucks run almost continuously through the winter trying to keep up with the heavy demands of mother nature.




Blissfully Average


Winter 2021 is in full swing and showing no signs of slowing down, the amount of snow is quite incredible and even after spending many winters in Hokkaido the snow Niseko has received this winter amazes on a daily basis. Everyday cars need to be dug out as do driveways, roads and roofs. Aside from the admin though the skiing and snowboarding just keeps getting better and better, the snow has been in a word incredible.


Heavy snow blanketing trees and a narrow street
A familiar view for many outside the Holiday Niseko office and Wildbill's

So is this a big winter for Niseko? We'd love to say "yes 2020/21 has been the biggest in years" but in fact it is just plain old average. This is illustrated in the graph below which shows average snowfall (black dotted line), this seasons snowfall (blue line) and last years snow fall (yellow line) in our neighbouring Kutchan town. The Niseko United resort area has received even more snow than what the graph shows but this does illustrate the fact the incredible winter so far has been just plain old average.


A graph showing cumulative snowfall
Where average meets epic!

So after last winters below average snowfall we are right back to normal, a happy reminder of just how much snow the area gets, it's consistency and just how good the skiing and snowboarding really is here. It isn't just the good times on the mountain either, the entire landsacpe is transformed into a winter wonderland where even a trip the the convenience store is an experience in itself. 


Lawson convenience store blanketed in snow.
The fried chicken tastes better when there's this much snow!

As amazing as the winter is, the resort has been decidedly quiet which has been fantastic for our domestic guests but the place is a definitely lonely without you guys! We are confident this year will be a one off and hope that we will be able to welcome you back soon!


Mount Yotei in winter with the Hirafu Gondola to the left.
That moment when the clouds part and your path becomes clear!


Snow covered roofs in Hirafu village
An average winter in Niseko is nothing less than phenomenal, just be glad you're not the one who has to clear the roof!




Opening Day 2020!


Opening day is always an exciting one, you've waited the whole summer and a seemingly an even longer autumn and finally the day has arrived! Now you're standing in line for the first chair of the winter, your gear is waxed, the new jacket and pants are looking aweseome, boots still feel good and you're ready to roll. Hope the technique's still there! 


A chair lift above a large powder field
The day before opening day and things were looking awesone!

Opening day 2020 was no different and Hirafu / Hanazono was the place to be. What made this opening day just a little bit more special was the fact that it had been snowing for a week solid leading up to it and things were looking epic! With a mixture of clear skys and light snow the weather was good and while waiting in line occaisional snowflakes fluttered down illuminated by the sun behind, winter was here and it felt great!   For those lucky enough to be in attendance lift lines were predictably sparse too. Over the hill at Niseko Village things were also looking powdery check out the video below for a glimpse at how things were on that side of the hill.

With almost 1 meter of snow to kick things off excitement levels were predictably high and there was some awesome skiing to be had. Although 1 meter sounds like a considerable amount of snow the resort still has a long way to go before everything is accessible as is usually the case this early in December. There was of great skiing on the piste and some fun powder turns to be had on the sides of the courses as you can see from the video below.

Over all it was a great start to the 2020 winter for Niseko at least in terms of snow. The streets are quite empty as is the accommodation for most of December until around Christmas when a never seen before influx of domestic guests will arrive to make the most of the powder and discounted room rates. We look forward to things getting back to normal so that we can welcome both domestic and international guests back to the snowy Niseko we all love.


Nero - step inside


Nero is one of the latest properties to be added to the Holiday Niseko portfolio and it is an exceptional one. Nero is your Niseko gateway to indulgence, a no expenses spared snow chalet that can be seen to rival any other in the area. Spread over 3 luxurious floors this 4 bedroom property is your ultimate Niseko home away from home. 


A large 3 story concrete home lit from the inside
Ski by day, indulge by night.

On the ground floor you will find the 3 guest bedrooms all of course ensuited and tastfully appointed, 2 with views out accross the tree tops. Comfort of course is well accounted with all floors heated and cozy. As we move up the stairs or the elevator if you prefer, the 2nd floor holds another 3 of the buildings gems. The sauna, the hot tub and master bedroom.

Enter the jacquzi area with genrously sized tub where you can soak away the aches and pains of the day whilst sipping a glass of crisp glass of champagne. If a sauna is more to your liking enjoy the sumptuous heat as you peak out accross the forest and beyond. 


A jacuzzi with champagne bottles and lounge suite behind
A luxurious jacuzzi and sauna await.

Now if you are lucky enough to be the one or two staying in the master bedroom simply step through from the sauna to the double rain showers that you'll find in the luxurious master ensuite. The master bedroom is as opulent as it is spacious with a moveable Bang & Ollufsen television, incredible floor to ceiling windows, lush carpets and furnishings and of course the forementioned his and hers twin showers in the ensuite. From here lay your self down for the night in the incredible master suite or head up stairs for cocktails with the team.


A large double bed in an opulent master suite
Lay back and watch the snow flakes fall.

On the third floor you will find the spacious kitchen, dining and lounge areas. Dine in style around the large dining table which has 3 built in hot pot hot plates perfect for nabe, shyabu shyabu or sukiyaki. If it's sushi or a roast dinner on the menu the hot plates are covered seamlessly. If you are cooking yourself or bringing in a chef the kitchen is fully equipped with Meile appliances and bench and cooking space a plenty. 


A lounge suite with dining table and kitchen behind
An elegant dining and lounge area are just the beginning.

Once dinner is done you can drop down a level to the ample lounge suite enjoy an after dinner tipple, watch the snowfalkes fall or take in a movie on the 85 inch Bang & Ollufsen television. Not quite ready sit down? Why not grab a beer, rack up the balls and make the most of the Italian made pool table all while enjoying your favourite tunes through the state of the art stereo system.

When the day is finally done guests can retire to their respective rooms, sleep deeply, wake to more fresh snow and head to the slopes and do it all again. Sleep, ski, indulge and repeat. If you'd like to know more about this incredible property please feel free to contact us anytime (


A view of Mount Yotei through large floor to ceiling windows
Spectacular Yotei views of course included.


Niseko United Operations 2020/21


The 2020/21 winter for better or worse is going to be a bit different to usual in Niseko with unfortunately little or no international tourism possible, at least for the moment. Due to the subsequent decrease in customers there have been some changes made to the lift operations and opening dates.

Grand Hirafu, Hanazono and Niseko Village are scheduled to open on the 5th of December, about 2 weeks later than usual . Annupuri plans to open on November 28th, which fingers crossed should go ahead as planned as snow is forecasted throughout this week.


A ski trail map for Niseko United area
Luckily for anyone lucky enough to ski Niseko this winter not too many changes have been put in place to the lift system.

lucky for those that will be able to visit there aren't too many changes to what lifts will run this winter with Hirafu being the only resort choosing not to run all of their lifts. Not running this winter will be the Ace pair Lift # 1, Ace Pair Lift #3, Ace Pair # 4, KIng Pair Lift #1, King Quad #2. The major change that this brings is that it will leave Hirafu without a terrain park chair.

The good news however is this leaves the staple lifts such as the Gondola, Ace Quad Quad (Center 4) and the King Hooded Quad open for business. Night skiing will run from 2020/12/19 - 2021/3/7 on the Ace Family and Ace Quads chairs. You can view the full trail map here


Two Go Snow ski instructors with Mount Yotei in the back ground
2020 /21 will see far less instructors on the hill than previous years.

Another major change for the winter will be the lack of lessons being taught, with Go Snow the areas largest ski school removing group lessons from their programme and only offering private lessons. Many other smaller schools have paused operations for the winter but will no doubt be back in operation for next winter.

For those lucky enough to be in Japan and looking for a private instructor Go Snow, Niseko Black and Pure Hokkaido are options for the 2020/21 winter.


A night time photo of Hirafu village looking up to the lit up ski area
The village will be quieter than we are used to but we are confident all the lights will be back on for the 2021/22 winter.


First Snow


The first snow for the 2020/21 winter has arrived here in Hirafu. The snow to village level began on November 9th 2020, with snow to the base of Hirafu pushing away the subtle colours of autumn and replacing them with the stark yet beautiful black and white vistas that define the Niseko winter landscape.


Autumn coloured trees with snow hills in the back ground
The view of Hirafu ski resort from Hirafu Station as Autumn makes way for winter.

The snow continued through the night transforming the area back into a winter wonderland with almost 40cm to shovel off the car in the morning.


A snowy road at night with snow covered trees lining the sidewalk
It doesn't take long for Hirafu to transform into a winter wonderland

Aside from the admin excitement levels are high and we are hoping this will be the start of an epic winter.


Mt Annupuri from a distance with snowy trees in the foreground
Stunning views of Hirafu and Hanazono with snow as far as the eye can see!

There is just something about that first real snow fall that brings out the kid in all of us, maybe it is incredible transformation or perhaps just that it marks the beginning of another of the incredible winters that have put Niseko on the map.

Although the lifts aren't open yet first tracks were taken by the keen skiers and riders keen to earn their turns and by the eager powder hounds below!

The transformation from autumn to winter was as abrupt as it was spectacular and we can't wait to bring you more beautiful winter scenes from Hirafu, Niseko and the greater Hokkaido area. Winter is back, already looking great and we cant wait until the lifts start turning!


A snowy roadside scene at Lawson, Hirafu
Even the convenience store car park was looking awesome!




Airport Transfers to Niseko


So you've booked your accommodation and plane tickets and are looking forward to your upcoming Niseko experience and perhaps your first experience of Japan! With tickets booked to Chitose Airport al that remains is getting to Hirafu, where most likely your accommodation has been booked. From Chitose there are 3 main methods of transportation. A coach bus service, a private transfer or the train. All of these options have their merits and of course there pit falls too,  more on these below.


The view of Chitose Airport from the plane window
It is not unusual for it to be snowing when you reach Chitose!

By for the most popular transfer option is the coach, which Holiday Niseko is more than happy to book for you and if you mention reading this, we can disount by 10%!  The coach option is popular beacuse it is commfortable, reasonably priced and runs frequently. It is also prefrerred because your luggage will be in the luggage compartment and not under someone elses feet on the train, you are guaranteed a seat and it is warm and comfortable. The bus takes about 2.5 hours depending on the weather and roads and given the incredible amount of snow the area receives, amazingly it is extremely rare for it to be cancelled. The first bus departs from the domestic terminal at 09:30am and the last for the night at 21:20, arriving at the Hirafu Welcome Center at 00:00. If you book with accommodation with Holiday Niseko we provide a free pick up drop off service to and from the Hirafu Welcome center making the journey a breeze, which exactly what you need after spending  24 hours or more getting here!


Ski luggage is loaded into a black van on a snowy day
The coach option is regular and comfortable and Holiday Niseko provide a complimentary pick up and drop off serice to and from the Hirafu Welcome Center

Tthe most efficient and convenient transfer option is a private transfer. Here you will have a car, van or small bus to your self and there will be a driver waiting for you at the arrival gate and from here you will be taken directly to your accommodation. Private transfers are good value and time saving and for an additional fee you can request a supermarket stop too. Holiday Niseko can also arrage VIP and transfers tailored for private jets.


A black van with Mount Yotei in the back ground
Private transfers are the most convenient and efficient option available

Another transfer option is the train which is a great way to experience Japan, straight off the plane. Jumping on the train will have you jumping into Japanese efficiency, culture and of course the language. The trains run on time, usually to the minute and you will find the local passengers courteous and polite. Lucky for the travelling foreigners most signs are also in English, as are the announcements on the train. The train is a great way to see the city, a glimpse of the coast and the country side. As great as all this sounds, before you climb aboard keep in mind that luggage storage is limited and during rush hour this can make things quite difficult. Another thing to keep in mind is that depending on which train you get there may be line transfers, if you have a bag or two, plus a couple of children this can be a bit of a test. 


A JR train at a snowy station
The train is a great way to see Japan but does have its disadvantages.

The most widley used transfer service to Niseko is the coach option, which is cost effective and efficient. Slightly more expensive is the private transfer option which is more direct and convenient and still reasonably priced. The train is the least expensive and most indirect way of getting to Niseko but is probaly the most interesting way to get here with lots to see and experience it is also a great option if you are interested in a quick trip to Sapporo city or Otaru.


a colourful cloudy sky behind snowy treed hills
Some of the views between Chitose and Niseko are spectacular such as this one on Bifue Pass



Autumn falls in Niseko


Autumn is a welcome season here in Niseko, a rest from the heat of the summer and step further toward the incredible snow the area recieves in winter. Everywhere you look there are beautiful autumnal scenes to enjoy, even right here in Hurafu vlllage. This makes the autum a great time to visit the area enjoy the coulurs, the restaurants and the onsens.


A road curves to the right with Mt Yotei behind.
A little snow on Mt Yotei reminds us winter is just around the corner.

Mt Yotei is just one of Hokkaido's mountains that draws visitors to view the colours. On the other side of the valley Mt Annupuri better known for it's skiing also presents a stunning tapestry of foliage. Fukidashi Park is also a local favourite and a draw card in its own right. Hokkaido in fact is brimming with autumn sight seeing opportunities, know in japan as Koyo the islands cooler temperatures make it the first to welcome the changing leaves and one of the most spectacular. The first area and one of the most specatcular is the Daisetsusan National park where you can enjoy mountain hikes or viewing from the Asahi Dake or Kuro Dake ropeways.


Maple trees with green and yellow foliage surrounding
Trees and hill sides ablaze with colour, lit by Maples and Birch trees.



A lone tree with red foliage with a green grass foreground
The parks around Niseko present some great opportunities to experience the colours of Autumn


An empty damn with red pump tower to the right
Hokkaido offers a wealth of adventures and scenery to discover and autumn is great to time to explore them.


The sun setting over a filed of sunflowers
The views from the Niseko roadside are often fantastic


A silohouette of Niseko's Mt Annupuri
Autumn brings clear skies and great views of Niseko's majestic mountains.

Thanks to the wonders of mother nature Hokkaido is an amazing destination any time of the year with every season having highlights that can't be missed. Niseko and specifically the Hirafu Village area is the perfect place to base yourself on a holiday here with a fantastic selection of accommodation from self contained apartments to large chalets and villas big enough for the whole family or groups of friends.


Property spotlight Ishi Couloir


If you are looking for a home away from home in Niseko look no further than Ishi Couloir. This set of three 2,3 and 4 bedroom apartments are modern, cozy and very spacious. Built by West Canada Homes they are as you'd expect the kind of property you'd expect to enjoy in Whistler rather than a resort town in Japan, big rooms an attractive wooden finish and carpeted floors.


A made up double bed with black throw, rolled towels and brown pillows
Big comfortable beds, large windows, ample storage and carpet under foot.

Ishi Couloir has a homely feel with very spacious bedrooms all of which can be made up as two single or 1 double bed. Each master bedroom comes complete with ensuite and bathrooms are any rooms without ensuites are located very close to bathrooms. All rooms also have large windows letting in plenty of natural light.


Large brown couch and windows behind
Spacious and comfortable living rooms

The living areas in each apartment are very generously sized with plenty of room for the whole family plus a couple more, even in the 2 bedroom. Vaulted ceilings and exposed beams give the place an alpine feel and are just perfect for kicking back after an epic day on the slopes. The living areas like the rest of the apartments are nicely appointed with comfortable, stylish furniture.


Kitchen island bench with kitchen behind
Well equipped kitchens make eating in and entertaining a breeze.

The kitchens are once again generously sized with plenty of bench space and island benchs make washing up easy and have an extra coupe of seats for the breakfast que too. You will find gas stove tops, coffee makers, ovens and a big fridge in every apartment plus every kitchen comes fully equipped with everything you need for eating in.

Last but not least all of the master bedrooms are ensuited and any rooms without are very close to their respective bathrooms and all have full sized bath tubs. The bathrooms are as you would expect spacious and come complete with towels, hairdriers, towel rails and are all nice and warm in the winter. 

Ishi Couloir is a fantastic option and the choice of two, three or four bedrooms make them perfect for groups big all small, just you and the kids or a big group of friends. You can find full details on Ishi Couloir on its property page here.


A large wooden building with peaked roof and stone stairway
A fantastic place to base yourself in Hirafu, Niseko




Hokkaido Government Travel agent Licence No. 3-777
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