Once the last snow melts away, Niseko doesn’t skip a beat—it finds a new rhythm—and people find other ways to enjoy the great outdoors.
When the green season takes over in Niseko, Hokkaido’s famous winter resort, powder turns and backcountry tours are put aside for hiking, biking and following the river. The winter momentum carrying over to spring and summer has injected the area with a new vitality.
What many people don’t know is the temperature rarely reaches 30 degrees C, and there is no rainy season and little humidity—perfect conditions for enjoying the outdoors—yet the number of summer visitors remains relatively low.
Throughout spring, summer and fall, active travelers can enjoy rafting, kayaking, duckying (inflatable kayaking), mountain biking, paintball, paragliding and even go-carting. For a more relaxing experience, there is hiking, trekking, golf, tennis, fishing and bird watching.
Summer is littered with events new and old, including the Niseko Adventure Centre Challenge Race Series, the Kutchan Summer Jazz Festival and the Grand Hirafu Bike Challenge.
In June, intrepid locals and visitors move into the woods in search of mountain bike trails. Old trails are revisited and new ones are discovered. This year the Hirafu Downhill Competition has developed into the Grand Hirafu Bike Challenge. Taro Morimoto is one of the organizers of the competition.
“Our competition has a very local feel. There are a lot of regulars, and the resort is committed to raising the quality of the courses. All in all, it is going to be a great event,” he explains.
This year there will be four events including night endurance races and downhill challenges. The Grand Hirafu Bike Challenge is divided into Spring, Summer, Autumn and Final Challenges. The first two races will take place in June and July and the final two in September. After the race, prizes are awarded, and everyone sits down to a Hokkaido-style barbecue.
In addition to the MTB event, adventure companies in the area have a varied menu of activities to cater to groups of giggling school kids, families and individual adrenaline junkies. White water rafting, kayaking and duckying are the most exciting in late April to mid May but continue through to the vibrant colors of fall. The spring melt creates high water with challenging rapids popular with local river guides.
Once again NAC (Niseko Adventure Centre) will be running its increasingly popular Challenge Race Series that attracts visitors from all over Japan. Trail runs, swimming and adventure races are scheduled in 2006. The adventure races include river, run and mountain biking.
Last year more than 50 teams, comprising 118 athletes, took part in the adventure races alone. Participants range from well-tuned returning teams to first-time weekend warriors. It’s a great way to get outside, stay fit and take on a new challenge.
Each spring yusetsuzai, (black ash) is spread over many of the snow-covered golf courses. It absorbs heat and speeds up the melting process, bringing about a May start for the local golf courses.
One highlight of Niseko golf is the soucho gorufu or early morning golf. From June, 4 o’clock in the morning tee times are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Green fees are just ¥3,000 and include a golf cart. Not only does it provide a great challenge putting on dew-covered greens, but also the sunrise offers spectacular views.
Golf is cheap and accessible, and the courses are in immaculate condition. There is also a good chance one of the locals is looking for a partner on one of the five great courses in the area. The Higashiyama Prince Hotel and the Alpen Hotel offer stay-and-play packages available on their Web sites.
Paint the Town
Paintball arrived last year, with large inflatable obstructions littering the tennis court near the Hirafu Junction. Weekends are usually booked well in advance, with instruction, shooting gallery and full-on battles available. The cost is about ¥5,000 per head, depending on the menu, and requires a minimum of six to take part.
The natural backdrop to all the fun and activities is what makes Niseko special. Kagaminuma is a small marsh area located halfway between the peak of Mt. Annupuri and the Tokyu Golf Course and is accessed by a three-kilometer footpath from the North Hills area of Hanazono.
Famous for its kawajiro tombo (dragonflies) and the rare birds that feed on these dragonflies, Kagaminuma is a haven for nature watchers and photographers.
Fumio Sato of the Grand Hirafu Resort is determined to introduce the beauty of the mountain to as many visitors as possible. “The main objective is to show people that Niseko is not only about rafting and sports but is also a great place to get away from the city and enjoy beautiful surroundings,” he points out.
Plans are under way to create hiking trails from the top of the Center Four lift and provide lift access to these new courses. With trails leading to the peak of Mt. Annupuri and as far as the Sea of Japan, afternoon hikes or two-day excursions are possible.
Hokkaido’s exceptional national parks have long attracted outdoor nature lovers and, in summer, cyclists and motor bikers spin there wheels along the open roads. Still, Niseko seems to be known exclusively for the world-class powder that blankets the area in the white season. But as the beat goes on, and Niseko quickly grows into Japan’s premier year-round resort, visitors will soon be singing a new tune.
Regular trains run from Sapporo and Chitose Airport to nearby Kutchan. There are is also regular bus service to Kutchan and Niseko Hirafu. Most accommodations provide transfers to the village. Niseko Summer Connection is now offering discount domestic packages for flights within Japan.
Where to Stay
With new development popping up all over Niseko, there is no shortage of accommodations from which to choose. Cottages, apartments, western and Japanese-style hotels and pensions can be found throughout the area. There is also no shortage of great restaurants or bars, all within walking distance within the village.
Niseko Adventure Centre: www.nac-web.com
Niseko Hirafu: www.niseko-hirafu.com
NOASC Adventure Tours: www.noasc.com
Paintball Field Niseko: http://paintball.nadare.net/
Scott Adventure Sports: www.sas-web.com
Hokkaido Tracks: www.hokkaidotracks.com
Hotel Nikko Annupuri: www.nikko-annupuri.co.jp
Hotel Kanro-no-mori: www.kanronomori.com
Niseko Grand Hirafu: www.grand-hirafu.jp/en/index.html
Niseko Summer Connection: www.niseko-hirafu.com/nisekosummerconnection
GREEN SEASON EVENTS
Grand Hirafu Bike Challenge Dates
June 24-25 Spring Challenge Downhill
July 8-9 Summer Challenge Downhill
Sept. 2 Autumn Challenge Downhill
Sept. 3 Autumn Challenge Night Enduro
Sept. 30 Final Challenge Downhill
Oct. 1 Final Challenge Night Enduro
NAC Challenge Race Series 2006
June 25 6th NAC Trail Run in Niseko
July 15-16 3rd NAC Pair Adventure Race in Niseko
July 30 7th Open Swim in Toya
July 30 4th Kids Aquathlon in Toya
Sept. 10 7th NAC Trail Run in Niseko
Oct. 7-8 7th NAC Pair Adventure Race in Niseko
17th Kutchan Jazz Festival July 29-30
This year’s annual Jazz Festival at Kutosan Park features Dream Factory Jazz Orchestra, Misinterprotato (Orchestra), Fried Pride, No Name Horses, Makoto Ozone, Soil & “PIMP” Sessions, Masato Honda Band N-M-S, Kazumi Watanabe featuring Minako Yoshida and more.
Misinterprotato, Fried Pride, No Name Horses, Soil & “Pimp” Sessions
Niseko Sky Rally
Beginning of June
Niseko Flower Watching
Beginning of June
Niseko Yamabiraki (Mountain Opening Ceremony)
First Sunday in June
Kutchan Potato Festival
Beginning of August