Rusutsu Ski Resort has just dropped the dates of their planned opening for the upcoming season.
If you're planning a skiing trip to Japan, you might be wondering which resort to choose - after all - there are over 500 of them - scattered across the country including in places like Shikoku not known for snow or skiing.
Names like Niseko and Shiga Kogen are two of the more popular options you may have heard of - each with unique features on and off the slopes that cater to all holiday goers.
In this article, we'll highlight the features and benefits of each resort so you can decide which suits you best.
Niseko is commonly called the powder capital of the world, seeing on average 15 metres of snowfall during winter. The resort is a haven for off-piste, side country and backcountry skiing and snowboarding, with plenty of steep and challenging terrain.
To the confusion of some - "Niseko" is actually four interconnected resorts (Hanazono, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village and Annupuri) - two of which are in Niseko-town proper and two of which are in the nearby town boundaries of Kutchan-town (where many of the staff live).
Powder hunters across the globe come to the collective know as Niseko United in search of fresh powder. One lift pass allows for riding across all four resorts, with various "backcountry access gates" found across the mountain leading to ungroomed, unpatrolled terrain. Couple the terrain with the almost constant snowfall, Niseko offers a riding experience that's hard to match anywhere else in the world.
However Niseko is not just for expert skiers; the resort also boasts beginner-friendly slopes with ski schools running out of all four resort bases as well as plenty of family facilities. The Grand Hirafu village is the largest in Niseko which offers a great ski town vibe - with lifts spinning as late as May!
There are plenty of après ski activities to do like shopping, eating out at local restaurants and a great night life. Being such a popular holiday destination for international travelers, Niseko has a wide variety of accommodation options unlike less popular ski resorts in Japan. Grand Hirafu is home to high end luxury stays like The Vale Niseko, The Maples and Intuition which offer a more comfortable stay over traditional Japanese accommodation.
Shiga Kogen, Nagano
Shiga Kogen on the other hand is the largest ski resort in Japan, with a network of 21 interconnected ski areas, 600 hectares of terrain and 48 lifts it is perfect for those who want to explore different slopes. (For the Australians in the room, thats the same number of lifts as Perisher but packed into half the area size!)
The terrain at Shiga Kogen is varied, ranging from gentle beginner runs to challenging expert trails, and the area receives more than 5m of snow a year which is more than many other mid-country Japanese ski resorts.
With a height of 1340m to a staggering 2307m Shiga Kogen has a much higher top lift than Niseko (with Hokkaido being further north its resorts are usually below 1600m in elevation and deep snow at sea level). Shiga Kogen has similarly long season like Niseko for that reason.
Probably one of the biggest reasons for visiting Shiga Kogen instead of Niseko would be cultural: Niseko is very international, and Hokkaido itself lacks that "traditional, tiny compact road vibe" that the Japanese mainland gives. Many people choose the mainland for the more traditional Japanese ski experience. Hokkaido is flat and sparse with amazing (but widely spread) peaks like Mt Yotei - whereas in Nagano you'll experience more of an "alps vibe" - with much higher peaks.
Niseko vs Shiga Kogen Price Comparison:
Shiga Kogen's "All 18 Area Lift Pass" will set you back ¥6,300 for an adult for a single day at todays rates while Niseko United All Mountain Pass is now priced at ¥9,500 per day for the same (with the option to buy a 12-point day pass for ¥5,600.
It should be noted that a Niseko United pass includes access to arguably the world's best night skiing areas.
Whether you choose Niseko or Shiga Kogen for your next holiday (or both) - it really depends on your skiing wishes and holiday preferences.
- If you're after deep powder snow, amazing night skiing, modern ski hotels or challenging off-piste skiing - Niseko might be the better option for you. (We really think you need to visit at least ones just to see how epic the snow really is).
- However if you prefer to explore different slopes within one resort, or experience "old Japan", Shiga Kogen could be the ideal choice for you.
Ultimately, both resorts offer fantastic ski experiences and a chance to explore the beautiful snowy landscapes of Japan. We also recommend considering Furano in Hokkaido if a more "classic Japan" experience to the modern and fast-pace Niseko-Hirafu - you could even try our "Powder Triangle"!
Amon is our Japan Marketing Manager - having joined the team in late 2022 after 5 years experience in the Australian ski and tourism industry - Amon enjoys hiking, camping and snowboarding badly.
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