As we all know too well, skiing is an expensive hobby. From overpriced hot chocolate to bank balance-destroying lift pass prices, the words ‘budget’ and ‘skiing’ are rarely seen together. Niseko, a resort famed for having perhaps the best powder in the world is no different.
But even on the most expensive mountains, there are ways of keeping the costs down. I’ve put together a list of seven ways you can save money during your ski trip to Niseko, and make sure you’re more focused on getting the first tracks of the day rather than the gaping hole in your wallet.
1. Don’t visit during peak season
Perhaps the biggest way to save money when skiing in Niseko is to book your holiday either earlier or later during the season. Not only will your accommodation be cheaper, but you should get much better discounts on flights, ski passes, rental equipment, and even resort food. If we go via the Niseko United website, the regular season for 2022-2023 runs from December 17th to March 19th (expect roughly similar dates each year) which means anything on either side of those dates will likely see you spending less money.
While it’s possible that going earlier or later in the season may not provide you with the perfect conditions, if you’re on a budget then it’s a fantastic way to save a bunch of money without sacrificing your perfect holiday. Plus, with an average snowfall of 15 metres (often more), you shouldn’t have too much to worry about!
While you’ll no doubt be aware that hotels have higher prices during peak season and lower prices at other times, let’s take a look at the difference in lift pass prices. A 7-day lift ticket costs ¥51,100 during the regular season, and ¥36,000 during the early and spring season. That’s over $100 difference, easily enough to cover your transfers to and from Chitose Airport.
Admittedly, conditions can be unpredictable outside the peak season, and if you’re set on skiing Niseko’s famous powder, then your safest bet is going to be a January holiday (be prepared to pay for it). However, if you’re a beginner or intermediate skier and not likely to be skiing waist-deep powder, then a spring skiing holiday can be a really good choice, for reasons mentioned above and more: fewer crowds, sunny days, milder temperatures.
2. Chose your resort carefully
Technically Niseko isn’t just one resort. While it’s collectively known as Niseko United, the area itself has four separate resorts on the mountain, Niseko-Annupuri. Deciding which of these ski resorts to base yourself at will have a significant impact on the cost of your holiday. Each of the four areas is connected though, so you can still access the whole mountain as long as you have the right ski passes.
Tree skiing and terrain parks set this resort aside from the rest. From the ever-famous ‘Strawberry fields’ to some of the most luxurious accommodations in all of Niseko, this is truly an exceptional resort. Park Hyatt Niseko is by far the best accommodation in the area, offering an incredible ski-in ski-out experience, but you’ll be paying a hefty premium for the privilege of staying there. With few other dining options around, this definitely isn’t the best way to ski Niseko on a budget. But if you’re set on staying near this resort, you could check out some of the options further back towards Kutchan. You won’t have the luxury of ski-in ski-out accommodation, but the hotel or hostel you book will be a lot cheaper. Don’t forget, if you have an All Mountain ski pass, you can still ski here even if you’re based in another resort!
The main resort out of the four, and the largest. A fantastic selection of slopes and memorable one-man chairlifts further up. Book this resort if you want to be as close to the action as possible, and love a bit of nightlife. A great pro of staying in or near Hirafu is the vast choice of accommodation you’ll have available to you. From cheap hostels like Owashi Lodge (from ¥18,000), to mid-range stays at places like Hotel Niseko Alpen (from ¥23,000), to the incredible luxury of the ski-in ski-out AYA Niseko (price depends on time in season), it’s a resort that has something for everyone, even those on a budget.
Lots of beginner-friendly slopes over here, and ski-in ski-out accommodations such as Hinode Hills, The Hilton, and The Green Leaf. It’s a convenient location if you love skiing and a bit of peace and quiet, but the hotels can be expensive. That said, lots of these hotels offer all-inclusive pricing. That means you’ll likely get a free daily breakfast and have access to anything else (rental gear, food, lift passes) you need very easily. If your budget is a little bigger than hostels and shuttle buses, the convenience of the resorts in Niseko village is worth factoring into your overall costs. It’s important to understand that on the whole though, there is very little to do in Niseko village, so if you’re looking for different nightly food options and entertainment, base yourself in Hirafu instead.
Annupuri has a load of long groomed runs, as well as a few trickier slopes to master. It’s great for a variety of abilities and features a number of options to keep the whole family interested. There is a good selection of accommodation options for all budgets, including lodges like Annupuri Lodge and Annupuri Oasis Lodge, as well as the beautiful Kamui Niseko which is just a 10-minute walk from the gondola. Keep in mind, Annupuri is a fair distance from Hirafu. So if you want to go shopping or experience Niseko’s nightlife, you’ll have to use a car or take the bus each day or night.
Booking into the heart of any of these locations will be far more expensive than booking slightly out of them and taking another form of transport to the slopes. That said, if you can find a hotel that offers transport, inclusive food options, and other cost-saving benefits, then it might be a different situation.
3. Pick a hotel that offers ski pass discounts
Following on from our last point, certain hotels will offer ski pass discounts if you book early and book with a hotel. If you’ve got a bigger group or are planning to stay for a longer time then this can quickly add up to a nice saving. I managed to save around $50 by researching this beforehand. However, make sure that you don’t book a hotel specifically for that reason and end up paying more for the privilege.
4. Cook your own meals and bring your own food
Ski resort food is notoriously expensive, and Niseko is no different. One of the best ways to ski Niseko on a budget is by cooking your own meals and bringing your own food up the mountain. Granted, sitting on the side of a mountain eating a half-made sandwich is quite a task during the height of winter, but there are plenty of rest stations dotted throughout the mountain which makes it a far easier task.
While we’re on this subject, even drinks can be expensive on the mountain. I paid ¥450 for a basic black coffee at one of the mountain stops. I may be out of touch with the price of coffee, but for me, it just wasn’t worth it. Even vending machine coffee is cheaper!
If you’re staying at a hotel without cooking facilities, it will likely be cheaper to pay for their dinners at the same time as booking your room (if they offer that) which means you’ll probably have some sort of hotpot or buffet each night. By all means, take one or two nights to eat in Hirafu, but it’s certainly not something you could do every night if you’re looking to ski on a budget.
5. Consider your ski pass: All Mountain vs Individual Resort
Sure, by travelling not in peak season and getting a discount through your hotel will mean you won’t pay as much, but there’s something that will reduce your costs even more and that’s the specific ski pass you chose.
I advise you to think long and hard about whether an all-mountain pass will be worth it for you, or if a single resort pass is a more economical option. For instance, if you’re based in Niseko village with your family and aren’t looking to shred some of the hardest slopes on the mountain, there’s plenty to do at this single resort.
A one-day pass during the peak season will set you back ¥6,800 if you’re after a Niseko Village lift ticket, but it’s ¥8,500 for the all mountain counterpart. Once again, if there is a bigger group of you or you’re going for a long period of time, those costs really do add up.
Each of the four resorts has slightly differing lift ticket prices, but they’re all well under the cost of an all-mountain pass. Don’t get me wrong, I made great use of mine by visiting each of the resorts, and you might do as well. But be honest with yourself and the type of ski holiday you’re on because you could save a decent chunk of cash!
6. Stay outside the resort and use a shuttle or car
We briefly touched on this before, but staying just outside of your base resort is a fantastic way to save a few extra pennies. Plus, if you check with your accommodation beforehand, because they might offer free shuttles to and from the ski resort!
If you’ve decided to hire a car, it obviously makes perfect sense to stay a little further out of the resort. Yes, you’ll have to pay for the hire costs, but it will likely be easily offset by the amount you’ll save by booking further away from the slopes.
7. Pre-book your transfers or take the train
Especially relevant if you’re travelling during peak season, pre-booking your coach transfers to the resort is a great way to save a bit of money, and give you peace of mind on the day. Of course, hiring a car is a good way to avoid this and possibly more economical if you’re staying out of the resort.
You can also take the train from the airport, through Sapporo, Otaru, and all the way over to Kutchan if you’re feeling adventurous. We had a night in Sapporo so decided to take this option, which actually worked out cheaper than coach transfers. It was cold, relatively busy, and slightly uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t change the experience for the world. If you’re a fan of train journeys or just fancy seeing more of the Hokkaido countryside, this is a great option. Be warned though, trains can be cancelled so make sure you have enough time!
Skiing is expensive, there’s no getting around it. And resorts like Niseko aren’t exactly known for their budget options. However, there’s no reason that Niseko should be too far out of reach for anyone planning a ski holiday. Book early, book sensibly, and you’ll be one step closer to skiing the deepest powder of your life!
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