What is it like to ski in Niseko? What can I expect?
I short, Niseko has some fun terrain for skiiers and for December, January and February has an awesome amount of snow. Nothing really steep and no big mountain terrain, but lots of pillows, tree runs and powder. Spring time brings the usual sunshine and slush. There are also a couple of average parks if you are into freestyle. The setup for beginners is pretty poor in the main resorts, but Hanazono is a nice place to learn. There is a pretty even split of difficult and easy runs, but nothing particularly challenging for experienced skiers.
There are a hand full of ski-fields in the Niseko area, the three main ones are pretty busy and are joined by the ski lifts. The independant resorts are quieter but have less runs.
Now if you want to know more, here is a little extra detail:
There is not much sun during winter, and it snows on an almost daily basis. Average snowfall this December and January was well over 10cm per day. This creates a lot of pillows and nice soft landings. December seams to provide more features to play with as the terrain still has a lot of shape, whereas in late January the snow fills in and covers over a lot of the little fun stuff. The off-piste in December still has a lot of bamboo-like sanso grass poking through the snow, which can easily knock your ski off course and even bring you out of you binding if you hit a buried stump. This gets covered up by January though, and the ropes seem to disappear as the previously off-limtis becomes safe and the off-piste becomes open.
There are some open powder fields of you just want to cruise, most notably down from the mountain peak, or the top level one-man chair lifts. As you might expect in the busier parts of Niseko, especially during peak times of the year, these get tracked-out pretty quickly.
The tree runs can provide powder all day long, even during busy times, especially if you are willing to hike a little or traverse to the fresh stuff. The tree runs can get a little tight for a lot of skiers, but there are a few more open tree runs if you pick the right spots.
This constant snow means the pistes are a bit soft and not great for getting your carve-on. The moguls are also soft and forgiving, hence the lack of national competitions in Niseko. So if you love to carve or moguls ski, I would probably look elsewhere.
Night skiing in Niseko is awesome! There are a couple of resorts that offer night skiing, most notably Grand Hirafu, where you can get genuine powder runs, drops and even tree runs until 9pm every day. The only disappointment is that the park completely closes for night-skiing.
The constant snow does not hinder visibility too much. The could cover is usually quite thin, so as long as you bring a suitable goggle lens you should be able to see through the snow. If the visibility does disappear then the trees should provide some contrast and help keep you on track.
In terms of gear, a slightly wider pair of skis will make life easy and allow you to ski for longer. Plenty of skiers use the super wide powder skis and float around with little effort. A few lifts have hoods and there are a few gondolas, however a lot of the good terrain requires a cold and often slow lift ride, so wrap up warm!
I would say skiing in Niseko is not epic, it is not big or steep, but it is lots and lots of FUN!