The ski resorts of Niseko cling to the slopes of Hokkaidō's imposing snow-covered mountains, with the azure blue Shiribetsu River coursing through the valley and vast forests stretching as far as the eye can see. This is one of Japan's most popular areas for winter sports, and in recent years adventurous visitors have discovered the region's potential for high-octane summer activities. A community of international adrenaline lovers in town has given rise to world-class nightlife and restaurants serving flavours from across the globe.
You can stay in a traditional Japanese mountain lodge and chill out on fluffy sheepskins in the common areas, sit by a roaring fire in a timber cabin or gather a few friends for a game of pool in a bright modern building. Lots of hostels in Hokkaidō Niseko have ski equipment hire and drying areas. Most also have free Wi-Fi too, so you can check conditions on the slopes. Look out for a Hokkaidō Niseko hostel with an on-site restaurant and bar, or a communal kitchen if you prefer to cook.
The Niseko area is made up of small towns dotted along the eastern slopes. Kutchan (a 20-minute drive north of Niseko) is the main hub for shopping and nightlife. Grand Hirafu, Annupuri and Niseko Village are connected by a shuttle and ski runs in the winter. Annupuri is the quietest spot, while Hirafu has a buzzing nightlife and varied dining options. An hour from Niseko, Lake Tōya is surrounded by lush green hills in the summer, with a sprinkling of lakefront spas and plenty of boat trip opportunities.
Skiing is the main activity in Niseko thanks to its reliable powder snow, and in summer the ski runs become Alpine-style mountain biking routes served by a high-speed gondola. Hikers can climb Mount Yōtei, the dormant volcano that's Hokkaidō's answer to Mount Fuji. Back at ground level, sign up for white-water rafting on the Shiribetsu River or head to the activity park in Niseko Village to zip-line over the treetops. For a more relaxing afternoon, check out an onsen (traditional Japanese bathhouse): there are at least 25 in the area.
New Chitose Airport is the closest to Niseko. You can catch a direct bus in the winter (around 4 hours, depending on weather conditions), or take a train into Sapporo (40 minutes) and switch for one to Niseko (3 hours). There are good bus connections between the area's villages in the winter. These run less frequently outside of the ski season, so taxis may be more reliable in summer.