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Niseko, or Niseko United as it’s now called, is a collection of four linked ski areas (Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village and An’nupuri)in the southeast part of the northern island of Hokkaido.  Its reputation as a powder magnet is well established, but you’ll find terrain suitable for all levels of skiers – from great beginner and family riding at Hanazono to epic tree riding and sidecountry access at An’nupuri.  Moiwa is another nearby ski area that is physically linked but uses its own lift ticket system.

The common denominator is the frequent and delightfully light snowfall that is as much a part of life in Niseko as sake and rice. Come prepared for full winter conditions and continuous snow; if you’re the type of rider who only goes out on sunny days you may want to consider another destination. To take full advantage of Niseko’s conditions, you’ll want to come with full-fledged powder skis with a waist of 115mm or more, or at least an all mountain ski with a waist width in the 105-110mm range.  Sidecountry enthusiasts will appreciate Niseko’s open gate policy;  you must enter restricted areas through a gate and obey closures, but many of the lift-accessed bowls and tree runs are fair game – check out the An’nupuri Bowls, accessed from gates 1 and 2, for a good example of what’s available. For the more adventurous, there are abundant touring opportunities at many of the Niseko areas, but be forewarned that avalanche prediction and control are virtually non-existent. If you’re new to the backcountry game, consider signing up for a guided tour.

Soothe your aching muscles with a visit to one or more of Niseko’s famous Onsen (natural hotsprings). The Goshiki Onsen is a classic, located roughly halfway between the An’nupuri ski resort and Mount Moiwa – if you’re lucky enough to get some local guidance, the onsen is at the end of an epic backcountry run.