The Path to Powder-wonderland: The Easiest Way to get to Niseko
For anyone trying to get to Niseko, you aren't going to want to waste any time in traveling, as you will obviously be wanting to get to some epic powder as soon as physically possible. We've come up with a little guide on the best way to get to Niseko, so you can come riding with us, using planes, trains or automobiles (but if you're lucky enough to own a helicopter then you're on your own). Even though Japanese signs might be completely baffling to those of you who can't read kanji or katakana, getting to Niseko is easier than it may seem.
If you're flying into Sapporo airport (also known as New Chitose airport), you've got a few options to make your way across Hokkaido to our magical snow paradise: you can either get the bus, the train, or get a private transfer. From the domestic terminal, all your options are all pretty much right in front of your eyes.
The bus might be the laziest version, without wanting to spend a couple of hundred dollars on hiring a driver to come and get you from the airport. All bus companies work from 1st December onwards, and work almost right through until the end of the season. Prices vary from ¥2,500 to ¥4,000 one-way, and can take up to 2.5 hours (and they often stop off for a toilet/snack break about half way - if you're lucky enough, they'll take you to a mushroom centre, with a giant T-rex outside, and lots of weird and wonderful knick-knacks, souvenirs and tasty treats). Choosing either Resort Liner, White Liner, and Chuo Bus, they will often choose the best bus time to fit around your flight times, both arriving in and departing from Sapporo. In most cases, you need to book over 7 days in advance. The buses are super-comfy and will take all your luggage, too. They stop in various places throughout Niseko, so make sure to work out where your accommodation is, so you can jump off the bus at the closest spot - a lot of accommodation providers will come and pick you up from the bus stop, as well.
If you want the cheapest option (or if the you're getting to Niseko for excitement of pre-season) you will need to jump on a train. Costing around ¥2,500 to ¥3,500, it will usually take a bit longer than the bus: up to 3.5 hours. The station is downstairs from the domestic terminal in Sapporo/New Chitose. If you aren't sure what ticket to buy, there is always a friendly face to help you out, whether it's a kind local or a station worker. The easiest route is to get a train from the airport terminal to Otaru. There, you will need to change trains to one that goes to either Kutchan, Niseko Town, or, if you're lucky and the tracks aren't completely covered in all the awesome snow we get, the train might stop in Hirafu as well. Always check before jumping on one. Part of the train line runs right on the water's edge of the Sea of Japan - you might be lucky enough to spot a couple of brave soul-surfers, en-route. From Kutchan (the closest, big town to the mountain) or Niseko Town (which actually isn't part of the ski resort) you can easily find a taxi to get to your accommodation, if they don't have someone waiting for you to take you back to your nice, cozy room. Both Kutchan and Niseko Town are about 15 minutes from the main hostels and hotels that sit at the base of the mountain.
If you don't want to have to lug your bags all the way up from Tokyo, onto your domestic flight, and onto the train as well, there is an nifty, helpful company called Tac-Q-Bin, who will post it up to your accommodation in Niseko. If it often cheaper than buying a bag onto your flight from Tokyo to Sapporo, and it can take a couple of days to ship it up, but I find it's totally worth it, especially if you're staying in Niseko for a couple of weeks or more. Once you've gone through customs, just ask at an information desk in the terminal when you arrive into Japan (or look out for the green and yellow sign showing a cute cat holding its kitten by the collar). You don't have to book in advance, and it also saves the muscles in your arms from getting too tired.
If you fancy traveling with the least stress, most accommodation providers will offer - or at leas be able to organise for you - a private, door-to-door transfer. Ask in advance, as it can get pretty busy during the Christmas season and Chinese New Year. Driving straight back to Niseko from New Chitose can take as little as 90 minutes, provided the roads are clear (but if the roads aren't clear, that might just mean there has been a huge dump to celebrate your arrival in Hokkaido).
Now book that flight to Sapporo and get over here, before it's all tracked out... See you on the mountain!