You finally have your ski trip booked and are looking forward to experiencing this JAPOW that everyone raves about. If you’ve booked your flights and accommodation, the next thing on the list is transport.

Sapporo to Niseko

Niseko is located 106km from New Chitose Airport but is a two to three-hour drive. While there are different transport options to get from Sapporo to Niseko, you can expect to trade price for convenience and flexibility.

Depending on when you’re arriving, some of these options may not be available to you. We recommend that you plan ahead and book in advance (unless you’re taking the train), especially if you’re travelling around Christmas, New Year or Lunar New Year.

Tip: Niseko is made up of different areas and resorts so double check where exactly you’re staying. The main ski area in Niseko is actually Hirafu, not Niseko Village. Hirafu is home to the largest resort in Niseko, Grand Hirafu Ski Resort, and has more going on than the other areas around town. This is where most tourists will stay.

Snow on Mt Yotei photography

1) Take the Train – Best Year Round Option

Regular train services run from New Chitose Airport to Sapporo City and then to Kutchan via Otaru. This is the cheapest choice for getting from Sapporo to Niseko at any time of the year.

From New Chitose Airport, follow the signs to the train platform. If you’re already in the city, head to Sapporo Station. Buy a ticket to Kutchan Station.

You will be given two tickets, one to Otaru Station and another from Otaru Station to Kutchan. Take the train to Otaru Station, get off and cross to the adjacent platform. The train goes straight to Kutchan. If you need to get to Hirafu Station, you can buy a ticket from Kutchan Station.

  • Price: 2,630 JPY per person from New Chitose to Kutchan.
  • Duration: 3 hours.
  • Schedule: Every couple of hours between 8 am – 7 pm.

Pros and cons of taking the train:
– Don’t need to book in advance.
– Easy to navigate and straight forward.
– Trains may stop or be cancelled during massive snow storms.

We recommend the train if travelling before December or after March.

2) Niseko Bus – Cheapest Bus Option

The quickest way from New Chitose to Niseko in winter is by bus. The Niseko Bus (or Hokkaido Chuo Bus) only makes three stops: Niseko Village, Hirafu Welcome Centre and Niseko Annupuri.

The bus is usually faster than the train during good weather (ie when it’s not dumping down with snow) and can be as quick as 2 hours.

The bus only operates during the main ski period, usually from early December to the end of March. If this fits your dates, you should book online at least 2 weeks in advance (though the website is currently down until closer to winter).

  • Price: 2,600 JPY ($26 USD) one way
  • Duration: 2 – 2.5 hours
  • Schedule: usually 9:10, 11:30, 13:30 and 15:30.
Read more:
Backpacking Budget For Japan: A Breakdown of What We Spent (And NO JR Pass!!)

Pros and cons of taking the Niseko Bus:
– Usually faster than the train during good weather
– You’ll still get there during a snow storm
– Only a few buses a day
– Tickets book out during busy periods
– Limited operating period

3) Other Bus Alternatives

A few other companies also offer bus trips from New Chitose Airport to Niseko or Sapporo city to Niseko. These options are more expensive than the Niseko Bus or train.

The Niseko White Linter is 4,000 JPY one way and usually operates from December to March.

Hokkaido Resort Liner is also 4,000 JPY one way and runs buses almost every hour from 9:30 to 21:30 (there are ten buses daily). The Hokkaido Resort Liner usually operates from the first week of December to the first week of April.

Pros and cons of other bus alternatives:
– Better bus schedule with more buses
– Much more expensive than train or Niseko bus

4) Share a Ride

If you’re travelling solo or with one or two buddies, you may be able to share a ride with other people travelling to or from the airport. Join the Niseko Winter Staff Facebook group and post up the date and time you’re arriving in New Chitose. If you get lucky, you might score a ride and only have to chip in for fuel.

Pros and cons of sharing a ride:
– Get to meet some awesome people
– Least reliable
– Not a good option for big groups
– May not have sufficient space for luggage

Tip: This is a good option for those on a working holiday in Japan who are coming over early in the season or leaving towards the end of the season.

Share a ride with someone!

5) Car Hire

Hiring a car from Sapporo city or New Chitose Airport is the most flexible option for transport to Niseko. Car hire is fairly pricey though but is worth it if you are planning on visiting other ski resorts outside of Niseko or just don’t want to be burdened by public transport.

If you’re okay with something a little sketch (but mostly reliable), get in contact with Yoshi, a local guy in Niseko who can loan you a car for cheaper than the dealers.

Pros and cons of car hire:
– Most flexible option
– You’ll have a car to explore other resorts outside of Niseko
– Can add up if you’re staying for a while
– Not recommended if you don’t have winter driving experience

Tip: You must have an international driver’s license to drive in Japan and you must carry with you when driving. Make sure your travel insurance will also cover car hire!

Visit other resorts like Kiroro if you hire a car.

6. Private Transfer

Several companies in Niseko offer private transfers from the New Chitose Airport to Niseko and prices tend to be fairly similar.

This is a good option for anyone who wants maximum convenience and doesn’t want to hop on and off different buses or trains, particularly with loads of ski luggage.

  • SkyExpress: offers an 8-seater van for 39,100 JPY or up to 15 people for 56,100 JPY.
  • SkyStation: does the 8-seater van for 40,000 JPY or up to 16 people for 60,000 JPY.
Read more:
Japan Working Holiday Visa: A Guide for Aussies

Pros and cons of private transfer
– Door-to-door pick-up and drop-off
– Good option for large groups who don’t want to navigate public transport
– Most expensive option

SkyExpress Private Transfer. Source: SkyExpress

Between these different options, you’re sure to find the right mode of transport to suit you and your group. Be sure to double check schedules online and book advance during peak season.

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