Friday, 5 December 2014

Guide to booking a winter vacation in Niseko

Let's face it, Niseko's powder snow is so amazing that it deserves to be called a powder heaven.
We have skiers from all over the world coming all the way to Niseko just for the powder snow!
Niseko is such a unique village where you could experience what it's like staying in Japan and yet everyone speaks english. You may see more foreigners than Japanese, even my Japanese friend mentioned that she felt more of a foreigner while in Niseko!

To begin planning for a winter holiday is not an easy task at all, especially for first time skiers. I didn't know what it's like working in a ski resort, I didn't know how to ski at all. But after spending a few seasons in Niseko, I'm more familiarized and able to give some advice or two. Hope I can make things a little easier for you (Especially first timers!) in planning your epic winter vacation in Niseko!

First question is, which date would you like to come?

Dec 1-15: A low peak period where snow is just starting to build up, most ski lifts are not opened yet. Restaurants are still in preparation. This would be a good time to come if your main priority is not to ski but just to experience fresh snow and to stay for a few nights.
Dec 16 - 31: Extremely crazy period. All lifts are open, all restaurants are open, all buses are running, most accommodations are fully booked. It's near impossible to book restaurants and accommodation during the Christmas and New Year period now. If you would like to coming during this time, it's recommended to book accommodations before June.
Jan 1 - 15: Still very busy, most December guests would depart by now.
Jan 16 - 31: Everything's starting to slow down, and anticipating the crowd for Chinese New Year period.
Feb 1 - 15: It gets busy as CNY gets nearer.
Feb 16 - 28: Absolutely crazy period. Close to Christmas period's craziness.
Mar 1 - 31: Normal period and you'll see discounts offered by accommodations and ski rentals / ski lesson provider as they try to attract more crowd. Snow won't be abundant for this month and if you don't like heavy snow, March would be a good month to come. It's slightly warmer as well compared to Dec - Feb as well.
April 1 - 30: Some restaurants would be closed by now, ski rental shops will start closing too. Certain lifts would be closed as well. If you prefer to ski on slushy snow, March to April would be a good time to come. You might be able to have the ski area all to yourselves.

Second Step:

1. Check for accommodation and flights at the same time.
Once you've found a suitable date, try not to book the flights first. Look for your desired accommodation and ask them to hold the room for you before you book your flights. This is especially important during the Christmas period. Christmas period are usually booked out as early as June. So be extra careful and don't confirm the flights until you have a room on hold for you. After holding the rooms, usually you'll have 2 weeks to settle your 20% deposit, so that gives you extra time to search and book your flight tickets.

What if you are ready to book everything around June but there's no flights released for December period onwards yet? Well, book your accommodation for a longer period than desired and settle the 20% deposit. You could reduce the nights without penalty (Double check first) after you have your exact flight dates confirmed. The remaining 80% room payment is due just 45 days before check-in anyway.

2. If you don't know where to start in choosing your accommodation, you must firstly set a budget. And good sites to refer would be TripAdvisor.

If you just want an accommodation at a central location, best to download a pdf copy of the Niseko Map and scan through the map and then contact the desired accommodation to book your rooms. This is especially good too if you don't wanna arrive at your accommodation and find out you have to walk 30 minutes to the nearest ski lift.

I've experienced walk-in guests requesting for a room on the spot as they were very upset with the accommodation they've booked. Mainly because of it's far location and it's room view, they mentioned it was a view of a brick wall. To avoid all these drama for your holiday, don't hesitate to ask the accommodation for floor plans or additional pictures. You'll have no one to blame if you chose the wrong accommodation.

3. Once your accommodation are booked, time to arrange your transportation from the airport and back. This is a crucial step too especially if you are coming during the peak period (Christmas / CNY). We usually call transportation as transfers. And transfers are broken down to 2 types - Private & Non-Private. Private would be a vehicle just for you and your group (Private Van / Taxi). Non-Private would be Shared Public Bus / JR Train.

The pricing for private and non-private transfers have a drastic difference. The cheapest private transfer starts around 30,000yen for 2 people while for non-private transfers, buses are about 3,500yen per person and trains are about 3,000yen per person.

4. Once transfers are confirmed, time to move on to your Ski Hire, Ski Lesson and Lift Passes booking.
Various companies offer ski hire so this part is pretty straightforward.
Ski Lessons are split into Private or Group lesson. Various companies offer ski lessons too, most of the ski instructors speaks in English.

5. Lastly, Restaurant Bookings. I would say this is the most troublesome part of all as restaurant bookings are not easy. Niseko is not a huge place, thus restaurants are mostly booked out for the night especially during the peak period. If you are on your honeymoon or are in Niseko to celebrate a special occasion, be sure to book the restaurant in advance as you wouldn't wanna be turned down when you arrive at their door step.

Most of the accommodation provider would assist in restaurant bookings. Ask them nicely for their help, you would need em'!

You are left with only one last task to do, get on the plane to powder heaven!

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