Year after year, Niseko keeps attracting more and more skiers and snowboarders looking to experience that famous Japow. After figuring out the best time to visit Niseko and how to get from the airport to the ski slopes, it’s time to get orientated and navigate your way around Niseko. Though it’s possible to rent a car, it’s not the best option for first timers, especially if you don’t have prior experience of driving in the snow. Hopping on a bus is an easy and hassle free way of hitting the slopes and restaurants. Here’s our guide for getting around Niseko by bus.
Orientation – What is Niseko United?
First, let’s get orientated and take a closer look at some of the names that will pop up in this guide. Niseko United is made up of four ski resorts, all located at the same mountain, Mount Niseko Annupuri:
- Niseko Annupuri
- Niseko Village
- Grand Hirafu
All four resorts are located a short drive from each other, with the furthest two, Annupuri and Hanazono, about 30 minutes apart. You can also access all resorts by skiing down from the top of the mountain, no driving required, so long as the weather is good, and all ski lifts are open.
Each Niseko United resort has its own unique appeal. Grand Hirafu is the largest and most famous of the four resorts and offers great beginner runs and terrific night skiing. To the left of Grand Hirafu, Hanazono is great for families with slopes to suit all levels and a big focus on comprehensive ski and snowboarding lessons. Located between Grand Hirafu and Annupuri, Niseko Village is known as the sunniest spot in Niseko. Owned by a single company, Niseko Village has the five-star feel of a private resort. Finally, to the right of Niseko Village, Niseko Annupuri offers easy access powder and quieter slopes.
Which Lift Pass Do I Need?
This is another important point to consider when planning your way around Niseko. You can either purchase a pass to an individual resort or opt for the Niseko All Mountain Lift Pass. The latter will give you access to all four resorts: Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu and Hanazono. This means you can either shuttle between the resorts or simply ski from resort to resort.
Prices for the Niseko All Mountain Lift Pass start from JPY ¥8,000 (USD $73) for a single day pass during the normal season, with reduced fares available for early and spring seasons. You can also opt for a 12-point pass with the option of adding points as needed.
You can buy lift passes at ticket offices at the base of all four resorts. When booking your Niseko accommodation with Ministry of Villas, we can organise lift passes for you, leaving you more time to explore the resorts and to enjoy the slopes!
Note that the nearby Moiwa and Kiroro ski resorts are not included in the Niseko All Mountain Lift Pass. If you’re planning to ski at these resorts (which we definitely recommend for great powder and minimal crowds!), you will need to get a separate lift pass for each.
Niseko United Shuttle Bus
The Niseko United Shuttle Bus connects the four Niseko United ski resorts, providing easy access between Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu and Kutchan town (Hanazono has its own shuttle service with more details below). The shuttle stops at main local landmarks, including the Hirafu Welcome Centre, Hirafu Gondola, Hirafu intersection, Niseko Village ski centre, Hilton Niseko Village and Annupuri Ski Resort. To help plan for the next season, you can find the 2018-2019 route and schedule here. Niseko United Shuttle Bus operates from the beginning of the ski season (usually late November) until late March, with limited service available in April.
The Niseko United Shuttle Bus is free for holders of the Niseko All Mountain Lift Pass (see, we told you this information would come in handy!). Using your pass on the bus will activate a new pass so it’s prudent to only use your lift pass on the bus if you plan on skiing on the same day. If you have a 12-point ticket, one point will be deducted per ride. If you don’t have a ski pass, you can use the buss against a small fee – make sure you have cash at the ready.
Hanazono Shuttle Bus
The free (yes, free!) Hanazono shuttle bus connects Hanazono ski resort with Grand Hirafu. This shuttle brings you to the doorsteps of the Hanazono 308 restaurant, rental shop, snow sports school and activity centre located right at the base of the Hanazono ski hill. The buses run every 20 minutes between 7:50am – 5:10pm during the ski season.
In Hirafu, the shuttle operates two routes, with one running through the upper village and the other through the lower village. The upper village route also makes a loop around Hirafu East or Izumikyo. To make the ride comfy for all passengers, no luggage is allowed on the shuttle. You can download the Hanazono shuttle route here.
Grand Shuttle Bus
The Grand Shuttle Bus is the local shuttle bus servicing the Grand Hirafu ski resort. This free shuttle is a handy way to get from your accommodation in the lower village to the ski lifts or from your chalet in Izumikyo to the restaurants waiting in the main village. There are two lines, with the main village line running through the upper, middle and lower village and the east village line looping through the upper village over to Izumikyo.
The shuttle runs every 20-30 minutes between 8:30am – 9:30pm during peak season and between 8:30am – 4:30pm during early and spring season. The shuttle operates from December 1 until March 31, based 2018/2019 dates.
During peak times (that would be morning and evening when everyone is heading to and from the slopes), priority is given to skiers and snowboarders – in fact, you can spot a sign stating “skiers and snowboarders only” plastered on the busses. Also keep in mind that you can’t bring large pieces of luggage on the shuttle. You can find the Grand Shuttle route here.
Though it might seem confusing and even overwhelming at first glance, travelling around Niseko by bus is fast, easy and efficient. After all, we are in Japan! If you need any help planning your trip to Niseko, contact our team of seasoned Niseko experts.