I have been snowboarding in Niseko since 1999 and have spent the past 5 seasons (Jan & Feb) there.
The snowfall is amazing but so are the crowds. The point of chasing powder is to ride it when it is fresh and untracked....this is becoming increasingly difficult at all 4 Niseko united resorts and Moiwa. The crowds have stomped on every bit of untracked powder across all resorts by approximately 10.30am. After 5 seasons I know the resorts and the areas out through the gates very well and I struggle to find fresh lines after about 10.30. The crowds are unbelievable and most skiers/boarders are accomplished skiers/riders chasing powder so it gets tracked out very,very quickly. There are now a huge number of guides showing guests the best lines which used to be unknown/ hard to find....so even those lines are trashed very early. Even out through the gates is trashed within an hour of them opening...meaning you get maybe 2 decent powder runs in before it's all chopped up.
The lift queues are farcical....you need to be lined up at the Hirafu gondola at least 20-30 minutes before it opens on a powder day to get in one of the first 10 gondolas. Ditto at Annapuri and Moiwa. Don't even think about getting first tracks at Hanazono because they allow a small number of skiers/boarders who are willing to pay around Y25,000 (approx. $250) to ride the Hano 1 lift for an hour before it opens....this usually results in Strawberry Fields and Bluberry Fields being tracked out prior to the lifts opening for the ordinary ticket holders.
Wind and warm days during January and February have also been a problem the last few seasons. Warm days create an ice layer which then requires at least 30-40cm of fresh snow to return conditions to bottomless. If you get no snow or less than this amount it turns into dust on crust and the huge crowds stomp it so severely that it is unpleasant to ride and then you're back to square 1 needing 30-40cm.
The snow at Niseko is often awesome but don't think you're going to be casually riding powder into the afternoon. Getting the good powder is now a mad scramble and as good a scrambler as you may be, even if you know the mountain really well, you will struggle to find fresh lines after about 10.30am. I used to be Niseko's greatest fan but like many great ski resorts and surf spots, it has been loved to death. Given that there are hundreds of other resorts throughout Japan, where you are unlikely to see many westerners there are now many better options for riding powder than Niseko.
Do yourself a favour and venture further afield and you will reap the rewards that Niseko used to offer but sadly no longer does.
From 01 January, 2000 To 28 February, 2015
Snow condition on visit:
Things I liked:
Food, Japanese people
Things I didn't like:
Hoards of American, Australian and European skiers/boarders. Guides showing punters the good spots.