The owners of Gouka Lodges are avid skiers and boarders and have invested in Niseko as it is our favourite all-around ski resort. We believe that it competes favourably with any North-American or European ski resort for après-ski and it has some of the best and most reliable powder in the world!
Here are some of our favourite tips for guests.
Getting to Sapporo from Australia
Unfortunately at present there are no direct flights between Australia and Sapporo. So there are basically four main ways to get to Sapporo from most Australian cities. Most people choose to transit through Tokyo but the other options are Hong Kong (Cathay Pacific), Nagoya (Jetstar), Osaka (Jetstar). Be aware that there are only two flights daily between Narita and Sapporo and these are difficult to book. Most people transiting through Tokyo go from Tokyo Haneda Airport from which there are flights every hour to Sapporo. The transit time from Tokyo Narita (the international airport) to Tokyo Haneda (the domestic airport) is at least 2 hours.
The "Visit Japan" Airpass
For flights within Japan, you can't beat the Yokoso! Japan ("Welcome Japan") air pass. Basically this allows you to fly anywhere in Japan for a fixed discounted price. You need to book this through your travel agent who will book you either on JAL if you fly a oneworld affiliated airline such as Qantas, or on ANA if you fly into Japan on a StarAlliance affiliated airline.
Getting to Niseko from Sapporo
From Sapporo airport there are two bus lines to choose from – Cho Bus and Donan Bus. During peak season there is a bus around every hour. Check with both desks as they often have a deal going that includes a full-day lift ticket with your return bus ticket for an extra 1000 Yen (around $10 AUD).
Buying Ski Gear
Contrary to popular myth, Japan is not more expensive than Australia. Those going at the beginning or end of the season can often get incredible deals on last-season’s gear (still new). Our top picks for ski gear are:
- Tokyo Ski Shops
Tokyo is a veritable heaven for ski shoppers.Allow at least a day to do your shopping if you want to find the best bargains. See our page on Tokyo Ski Shops with a map of how to get to the ski shop area.
- Sapporo Ski Shops
Very disappointing selection of ski shops in Sapporo. Opt instead for Kutchan if you didn’t make it to the Tokyo shops.
Kutchan is the closest town to Niskeo and despite it’s small size, has some great ski shops. There are 3 main ski shops and 1 snowboard shop.
As you might expect, buying ski gear in the resort is not going to yield the best bargains. Having said this, the prices in Niseko are not outrageously high in most shops and you can occasionally find a good bargain but it won’t be anything compared to what you would get in Kutchan or Tokyo.
See the tip above for buying a lift ticket with your return bus trip.
The other tip is to consider buying an hourly pass if you are staying for 2 weeks or more. A 50 hour pass is available that lets you ski as much or as little as you like. It is great for people who don’t like to ski all day every day.
Lessons and Rentals
Gouka Lodge clients get discounts on ski/board lessons and ski rental. Check with us for more details.
Out our preferred lesson provider is Scott Adventure Sports. Check out their web site for bookings.
For ski rentals we recommend Rythym & Beats.
Bars and Restaurants
The après ski scene has always been fantastic in Niseko and there are no lack of great spots to have a quiet (or not so quiet!) drink and recount all of those “best runs of my life” stories.
Here are a few of our favourite spots, note: things change quickly in Niseko! Last season’s best bar may have been converted into a block of apartments by the time you get there.
Also note that there are not yet sufficient restaurant tables to meet the exploding demand in Niseko so you will be disappointed unless you book at least 1-2 days ahead. We recommend booking at least the first two nights when you arrive (assuming you want to eat out). You can always cancel if you change your mind if you check out the menu and decide it isn’t your thing. Virtually all restaurants speak sufficient English to get a booking across but if you rather, you can get the office to book for you.
- Kakashi – Tiny café. Very hot and “cozy”. Food tending to more Japanese style but quite basic. Ok if nothing else available.
- Blo Blo’s – Cool little bar with Chinese antiques and good cocktails. Gets packed so fantastic if you want to really get to know your fellow skier!
- Wild Bill’s – A favourite. Great Mexican food. Book ahead if you want to eat.
- Fire & Ice – One of the “Ice Bars”. Outside Blo Blo’s. Might not be there. Good for the experience.
- The Ice Bar – Moves from year to year. Good for the experience.
- Pow Pow – Aussie hang out, good pub grub.
- Yummy's – Best pizza in town. Try the “death” chilli sauce if you dare.
- Bar Gyu (a.k.a. The Fridge Door) – Just look for the old Pepsi door and duck your head when you go in! One of the original Niseko hangouts – popular with locals. Great place to have a cocktail and chill out to some groovy jazz.
- Full Note – Good if you want to get trashed with young Aussies.
- Red Bar – Used to be a good nightclub but they changed the format to be more of a restaurant.
- The Northern Fox – Usually has live music.
A Little Further Afield
- Gentem Café (a.k.a. The Mongolian Hut) – Great spot, an actual Mongolian Hut (heated floor, sit on pillows). A little out of town but they will pick you up if you book ahead. Thai/asian food.
- Kutchan - Kutchan has lots of good restaurants. The ones close to the train station are good if you are waiting for the shuttle bus and need a warm place to have a cold beer!
- Niseko Gourmet – Fantastic service offering in-lodge dining for that special dinner in the comfort of your own lodge without all the work!
- Niseko Wine Supply - A great idea - Australian Wines at reasonable prices, delivered to your door.
- Ski Gear - Niseko has the normal selection of ski shops for essential items. See section above for more details on ski gear.
- Provisions - Lawsons and Seico Mart are really the only places to buy food to cook yourself. Better to go into Kutchan.
- Kutchan - There is a big grocery store in Kutchan next to the train station. The main road leading away from the train station has lots of shops with everything from ski gear to housewares.
- Kutchan Night Bus - There is a free bus that runs from Niseko (stops outside the Seico mart) to Kutchan. First bus is around 6pm and runs till midnight. Get off at the train station.
Niseko is famous for it’s onsen and it is an experience not to be missed.
- Yukiro – This onsen is 100m from Gouka Lodge. Indoor/outdoor. Separate male & female baths.
- Hotel Niseko Alpen – This is supposed to be a nice onsen but I have never been there.
- Hilton Niseko Village – A lovely indoor/outdoor onsen.
Part of the joy of discovering a new ski resort is checking out who has the best hot chocolate and food and we really think that most of the spots on the mountain are quite good, but for those on a short break, these are our favourites and what we like.
- King Bell – Unfortunately for its central location, this is probably not one of the best on the mountain. A little expensive and menu fairly limited. Ok pizza available at the café section. Minimal gift shop.
- Ace Hill – Of the larger huts this one is fairly good with a wider menu and a more pleasant décor. Good hot chocolate. Small gift shop but sometimes has interesting T-shirts that you don’t see elsewhere.
- Boyo-so – Can be hard to find the first time, but a really charming little hut with warm wood fire stove. Run by a nice couple who have a chalet cat who drools!
- Annupuri Hut – Very small with very limited menu.
- NOOK Annupuri – One of the best restaurants on the mountain. Lots of seating. Great cheap spaghetti bolognaise and ton-katsu (pork schnitzel) that can feed 2. Try the BBQ sauce – yum!
- Hotel Annupuri – Has an all you can eat buffet. Good value if you want a huge lunch. Also has an a-la-carte restaurant with good food but not cheap.
- Rest House – Very basic from my recollection.
- Hanazono Café – Basic décor but decent food. Try the fish soup. Planned to be renovated. 200m walk from the bottom of the Hanazono Quad #1 lift.
- Higashiama Ski Centre – Very basic restaurant. Average food & limited menu. Hard to get out from. Good if you like eating on your own.
Health and Wellbeing
Here are some other services that we have used and recommend.
- If you have a sports injury or just need a massage to soothe those sore muscles, we highly recommend Tana's Healing House. Tana is an amazing therapist who combines several gentle but effective practices. He helped one of the owners of Gouka Lodge more in three sessions than five years of chiropractic treatments! Located 5 mintues from Gouka Lodge.
More information and links
Looking for more info? Here are some sites we recommend you visit.