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the definitive guide

History is full of great rivalries. Think Chamberlain vs Churchill. Frazier vs Ali. Batman vs Superman. If you're hoping to head to Japan for some famous powder however, there’s only one rivalry that matters; Niseko vs Hakuba. We feel like it’s time to settle the score so here’s what we love most about two of Japan’s most famous resorts… 

Which resort is easiest to get to?
Niseko is located on Hokkaido, an island north of the Japanese mainland. The route of choice is typically to fly into New Chitose Airport and hire a car or take the shuttle bus up to Niseko Village. You’re looking at 2-3.5 hours for the last transfer up to Niseko from New Chitose. If you fancy exploring away from the snow, the city of Sapporo is a great stop off and is 45 minutes by train from New Chitose.

Hakuba, on the other hand, is in the midst of the Japanese Alps, a palatial range of mountains that bisect the main island of Honshu. Most snow seekers will fly into Tokyo (Haneda or Narita airport) and make their way from there by car or train - 4 to 5 hours by car or train/ public transport.

Getting to both resorts is relatively easy. If you head to Hokkaido you’re less likely to get a direct flight but the transit time is shorter. With Hakuba you will benefit from more flight flexibility with the two main airports serving Tokyo having lots of international arrivals throughout the week.

Is Niseko busier than Hakuba?
Niseko is the smaller of the two resorts but with Hakuba in easy reach of Tokyo, you’ll find that it can also get hit by busy spells, particularly on the weekends. Overall, Niseko tends to be slightly more busy in terms of lifts and on the slopes, with Hakuba offering more space to find a quiet spot.

Take a look at the piste maps to get a sense of the size of the two resorts:

Which has the best skiing/ snowboarding?
The short answer is they’re both amazing and you’ll have an incredible time whichever you choose. We’ve put our top reasons for going to each to help you make your pick:

Spicy runs and steep thrills
The Japanese Alps are, quite literally, awesome. Their sharp, soaring peaks are flanked by wide-open faces, reminiscent of the Dolomites in Italy or the Canadian Rockies. In the heart of all this, you’ll find nine different ski resorts in Hakuba which offer a huge variety of terrain, including plenty of high gradients runs both on and off-piste. And if you really want to pee your pants a little, Hakuba is famous for its easy access side and backcountry. Just make sure you’ve got avalanche safety gear and a knowledgeable guide with you.
While the riding in Niseko could be considered slightly ‘cruisier’, you’re still going to find enough terrain to give your legs a workout. The highest peak is Mt Niseko Annupuri, which sits at 1,308 meters above sea level and is accessible via a short hike through one of the avalanche control gates. Your first few turns off the peak will be in nice, open, rolling terrain before you drop into some steeper trees and gullies. You’ll also find plenty of shorter, steeper zones in bounds and in the side country if you know where to look, or have someone to guide you.

WINNER: If you’re after a vertical challenge then head to Hakuba!


You want deep, deep powder? It’s well documented that Niseko is one ofthe snowiest places on the planet. The average snowfall is 14 meters and most of that falls as pure powder, so with a moisture content of around 4%. At Hakuba the average snowfall is ten meters and snow quality is normally excellent though general consensus is it’s not as consistently light as you’ll find in Hokkaido. 

: Niseko gets ten out of ten snorkels!


Soak Up The Culture 

This is a hard question to answer because Japan’s culture is hugely diverse.
In terms of history, Hakuba is a clear winner. The resort is located on Japan’s main island of Honshu which has been populated for thousands of years. In some ways, a visit to Hakuba is like stepping back in time. You can visit the Zenko-ji Temple which was built in the 7th Century, stay in a traditional Ryokan (bed and breakfast) that is hosted by a Japanese family or bathe in one of many ancient onsens (hot spring). 

Niseko offers a more modern take on Japanese culture. You won’t find as many historic buildings but you’ll certainly come across plenty of options for exploring Japanese cuisine. The area is also a ‘hot bed’ for hot springs! The island of Hokkaido is volcanic and naturally abundant with minerals, making it almost as famous for onsens as it is for skiing and snowboarding. 

: Hakuba by a whisker! It’s hard to compete with temples from the beginning of time.


Village Vibes

Over the last ten plus years, Niseko has grown into an international resort busting at the seams with options for dining and drinking. Hirafu Village, where you’ll find most of the accommodation and nightlife, is a vibrant hub for those who want to ski, stay and play. From the quirky to the highly sophisticated, you’ll find an array of bars and restaurants to suit your taste and budget.

Hakuba is also growing and changing rapidly. There are bars and restaurants a plenty and loads of options for accommodation, from more traditional pensions to large hotels or luxury apartments. The area is spread widely, however, which means it can sometimes be a long walk between drinks so you may find yourself occupying your ‘local’ for most of your stay.

WINNER: Niseko. You just can’t beat Hirafu’s eclectic and lively ‘village vibe.’


Riding both: Hakuba to Niseko

You’ll need more time and a bit of planning but it is possible to hit Niseko and Hakuba in the same trip. You’ll want to be mega-fit to make the most of it however you could also stopover in one of Japan’s incredible cities for a few days to give your legs a rest - we recommend Tokyo or, if you’re after some serious zen, Kyoto is your go.

Getting from Hakuba to Niseko (or vice versa) will require a flight but it’s quite a quick one at an hour and 40 minutes give or take.

Conclusion: Is Niseko or Hakuba better?

The upshot is it depends on what you’re looking for. Both resorts offer amazing snow and runs for all abilities, and aren’t shy of a technical slope to challenge the best of us.

However, if you think you may only have the chance to ski/ board in Japan once, we’d recommend Niseko as it’s so different to any other adventure and offers a powder experience like no other. Trust us though, you’ll have an incredible time whichever you choose!

Did you know there are multiple Rhythm Japan stores where you can rent the same great snowboards? Whilst we are run slightly differently to accommodate the Japanese snow season and demands, The team at Rhythm Japan offer great service and products just like here in Australia.