Around 70km south of Otaru is NISEKO (ニセコ), Japan’s premier winter resort, with awesome amounts of perfect powder snow and top-class, interlinked ski fields. The resort hugs Mount Niseko Annupuri and faces the dormant volcano Mount Yōtei-san (also known as the Ezo Fuji for its resemblance to its more famous southern cousin). The village of Hirafu (比羅夫), close to the area’s main town of Kutchan (倶知安), has seen the brunt of development, much of it through foreign investment and not all of it particularly sympathetic to the magnificent natural surroundings.
During the ski season (Dec–April) the gaijin population of Hirafu booms as skiers jet in from as far afield as Melbourne, Hong Kong and London to take advantage of a fantastic range of facilities, including stylish accommodation and dining options. Situated within the Niseko-Shakotan-Otaru Quasi National Park, the area also makes a good summer base when it’s far less crowded and becomes the focal point for many adventure sports including whitewater rafting, mountain biking and kayaking; cyclists should mark September’s Niseko Cycle Week , which includes guided road tours of the area, downhill mountain bike races, technique sessions and night parties, on their calendars.