When planning a trip to Niseko, timing is everything. This famed Japanese ski resort is known for its champagne powder, but weather in Niseko varies throughout the season and the snow conditions change with it. To enjoy the best possible skiing with minimal crowds and to secure the best rates on accommodation and lift passes, you need to time your trip strategically.
All too often, people overlook Niseko’s stunning summer season all together and typecast Niseko as a winter destination only. So rather than focusing on the ski season alone, we’ve included the summer months too to give you an idea of what to expect after the melt.
Instead of following a linear calendar year, our Niseko calendar starts off when the ski season does, which is typically around late November. As always, a little disclaimer is in order – predicting weather is not an exact science and weather conditions vary from year to year.
Winter is coming! The chance of a snowy day in Niseko hikes up from just 2% in October to 34% in November while the average temperature is around 5°c. Usually there’s enough snow to open the Niseko ski season in late November, though some years see the opening date pushed back to early December. If you don’t mind a gamble (will there be enough snow or won’t there?), late November is a good time to visit Niseko as you’ll beat the crowds to the slopes (provided they’re open!) and you’ll be able to secure some amazing deals as accommodation will still be available at lower rates. Heading to Niseko this early in the season can mean some of the seasonal facilities, including the ski shuttle service, night skiing and certain restaurants might not be up and running yet.
In December, things really start to pick up in Niseko. If you can swing it, the first half of the month is a great time to visit Niseko as the crowds haven’t descended yet which helps keep prices reasonable and there’s also plenty of powder to go around. You’ll also have full use of the resort services, with the Grand Hirafu shuttle bus starting operations in early December and night skiing available from December 9 onwards (based on 2017 dates). Starting from December 20, the silly season really kicks in and you’ll see accommodation prices shoot up to their peak. Christmas and New Year are a very busy time in Niseko so it’s vital that you book your accommodation months in advance. Restaurants and ski lessons can also become fully booked during the peak dates. In December, weather in Niseko averages around 2°c but can easily drop far below zero.
The hustle and bustle of the Christmas season doesn’t die in January with Australian families heading to Niseko for the school holidays. Early January in particular tends to be very busy. The average temperature is at a frosty -4°c with plenty of snowfall and great quality powder a plenty. That being said, weather can get a bit rough at times and perfect bluebird days tend to be few and far between. Overall though, the weather in Niseko is still perfect for skiing and snowboarding with January and February regarded as the peak powder season in Niseko. As a result, chalets tend to book out months in advance.
Come February, the peak season in Niseko is far from over. Following the lunar calendar, the Chinese New Year falls between late January and mid-February (February 5 in 2019) which means hordes of Chinese and Singaporean powder hounds will be hitting the slopes and checking in to the chalets of Niseko. Due to high demand, chalets and hotels tend to be fully booked with prices reflecting the peak season. If you do decide to travel on or around Chinese New Year, it’s very important to book both accommodation and ski lessons months in advance. Like January, February offers amazing pow and the weather remains at a chilly -4°c. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, it’s best to plan your trip for late February.
In March, the weather in Niseko begins to clear up with beautiful bluebird days proving spiffing views of Mount Yotei. As the peak dates fall behind, you’ll be able to book accommodation at great rates. Snow conditions remain great, though the rising temperatures might affect snow quality at times, but really – nothing beats hitting the slopes on a clear sunny day! Unlike during the peak dates, you won’t have to line up for the lifts or fight for a seat in Hirafu’s restaurants. March is a great time to visit Niseko for stellar skiing and snowboarding at a terrific price point. Things begin to wind down in late March with night skiing and the shuttle bus not available after March 18 and April 8 respectively (based on 2018 dates).
Though powder days in Niseko are pretty much over come April, that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy great skiing and snowboarding. The slopes are still covered in snow but not people, meaning beginners and intermediates get to enjoy the ski hills in private – well, almost. You’ll be able to get great discounts on everything from accommodation to ski lessons this time of year. If the great rates alone are not enough to turn your frown upside down, the sunny weather in Niseko is sure to brighten your mood. Since the busiest ski season is already over, you might find some resort facilities and restaurants already closed for the season.
As the weather in Niseko begins to warm up (the average monthly temperature is around 13°c), the Niseko ski resort typically closes around May 5. After the skiing has stopped and things are only just starting to gear up towards the summer season, there isn’t all that much to do in Niseko in May. Obviously, you’ll have your pick of accommodation at great rates but seeing that the resort facilities will be closed, this isn’t the best time to go out of your way to visit Niseko. If you’re heading to Niseko for the season close in early May, you might just be lucky enough to catch the region’s cherry blossom season (typically in mid-May) on the same trip!
Come June, all that famous snow will be gone and Niseko reveals its summertime beauty. This is a stunning time to visit Niseko and the scenery offers a stark contrast to the snowy views the area is usually associated with. The hiking trails of Mount Yotei are ceremoniously opened for the summer season in mid-June with Shinto priests praying for the safety of hikers. There are plenty of other activities to enjoy too with the likes of Niseko Adventure Centre and Pure at Niseko Village offering everything from rafting to mountain bike tours and zip lining.
In July, the weather in Niseko hikes above 20°c, offering the perfect setting for outdoor activities in and around Hirafu Village. CNN recently highlighted the Niseko United ski resort as one of the best ski resorts to visit during the summer and really, what’s not to love? Summertime Niseko sheds its winter whites for a coat of green while still catering to adrenaline junkies and outdoor enthusiasts. The scenic Summer Gondola starts operating on July 14 (based on 2018 dates). To beat the heat and to cool off after a hike, this sunny time of year is also the perfect time to visit Niseko’s famous Milk Kobo ice cream parlor.
August is the hottest month of the year in Niseko with the average temperature at 23°c. Though the turnout is nothing compared to the ski season, August is a relatively lively time in Niseko with a few local festivals taking place. Hirafu Festival offers food, games and live entertainment in Sun Sports Land Kutchan, while Niko Niko Niseko Village Festival offers fun and games at Niseko Village. Another great reason to visit Niseko during the summer is the fresh seasonal produce offered in local restaurants. Sought-after restaurants like Kamimura and Sushi Hanayoshi are also open during the summer season.
The summer lingers on until September, with weather in Niseko hovering at a pleasant 20°c. With the temperature slightly cooling down from the toasty August weather, this is a great time to really explore Niseko through scenic hikes and biking tours. The green hues of summer start turning to the golden tones of Autumn in late September which reveals yet another side of Niseko’s natural beauty. You can also enjoy rides on the Summer Gondola until September 24 (based on 2018 dates) which is a great way to take in the views.
In October, autumn is in full swing with leaves painted beautiful hues of red, orange and yellow and the average temperature in Niseko dropping down to 13°c. For the best chance of catching the autumn colours or koyo, head to Niseko around mid to late October. Lake Hangetsu and the Panorama Line are popular spots for taking in the autumn views within easy reach of Hirafu Village and its surroundings. From late October to mid November, things in Niseko wind down before picking up for another pow filled season come late November.