Every winter, Niseko gets covered by a beautiful layer of snow and suddenly transforms into a heaven for skiers & snowboarders from all over the world. While the whole island of Hokkaido is gifted with the legendary dry powder, Niseko remains the top destination for travelers. The reason for this success, in one word (or two): APRES-SKI.
Thanks to the near-constant storm cycles coming from Siberia, Hokkaido's mountains are renowned for having some of the most consistent, lightest powder on Earth. And with its laid-back, surfing-town vibe, Niseko is the most popular town of the island. Besides its awesome ski runs, it holds an incredible après-ski scene -from hot chocolate on the slopes to creative Japanese whisky cocktails.
Let me share with you the best of Niseko après-ski scene in 10 good addresses...
1. Hot chocolate & marshmallow in the snow @hana 1 café
If there is one way to survive to -15°C, it's that hot chocolate & marshmallow -that, or a Japanese whisky. The Hana 1 Cafe is a tiny hut located at the base of Hanazono Quad Lift #1. Perfect to grab a hot drink and refuel between two Strawberry Fields sessions!
2. BURGERs WITH A VIEW @JOjo's café
Excellent alternative if you need a day off or if you have kids: Jojo's Café is situated in NAC Adventures where you can experience some indoor climbing after your burgers. It offers sweepings views of Mt. Yotei -see below the Summer version- and some delllicious homemade cakes.
3. DELICIOUS SUSHIS & SEAFOOD @FUJIZUSHI
You probably came in Japan hopping to eat sushis... so head to Fujizushi. Located at the junction from the Hirafu ski slopes, it offers great Japanese seafood -sushi, sashimi, nabe hotpot, tempura- and impeccable service. They also do take-out if you'd rather eat in your chalet.
4. Japanese WHISKY COCKTAILS @bar gyu+ -aka THE FRIDGE
Ok, this is a must. Bar Gyu+ -aka the Fridge- is a small bar hidden behind that little fridge door. The place is warm and cosy, with gorgeous panoramic views of the forest covered with snow on the backside. It's time to taste some Japanese whiskies -either dry or in one of their fantastic cocktails. They also have craft beers and a long menu of other original drinks.
For us, it's a must-stop, every winter. Actually, not only for us: Bar Gyu+ has been elected one of the World's Best Après-Ski Bars by Travel+Leisure.
5. YAKITORIS @yosaku yakitori
Push this little door and discover the best yakitoris in Niseko (Japanese skewers). Prepare to stink grilled food afterwards, as it's an open kitchen preparing hundreds and hundreds of yakitoris every night.
As usual in Niseko, it might be hard to get a table straight away, so be patient, the food and the ambiance are really worth it. Yosaku serves great tasting yakitoris cooked on traditional bincho grills plus many izakaya-style dishes* as well as cold local beers of course. There are really all kinds of yakitoris: mushrooms, pork, chicken... try them all, they are all excellent! Awesome place to spend a warm and friendly night your friends.
*izakaya: Japanese version of gastropub. Casual after-work/after-ski drinks & food.
6. french crêpes & pâtisseries @the alpinist
As I told you, Hokkaido can get really, really cold in winter. So it's important to keep you body warm. Meaning... eating French crêpes has never been more healthy! At The Alpinist, they do all the French sweet stuff but not only... they also do cheese fondue and raclette! Yes, I know: IT TASTES LIKE HOME!! We can't help but coming back every year.
Open from 11am to 10:30pm for the last order.
7. Darts, pool, ping pong & jazz @half note
Half Note is not only the only place in Niseko that features live jazz music, it's also a nice intimate lounge equipped with a pool table, ping pong table and dart games -and plenty of cold local beers of course. As they say, they have it all!
8. IZAKAYA* FOOD @A-BU-CHA 2
You haven't seen Niseko if you haven't been in A-Bu-Cha 2! If you still have this stereotyped image of the shy Japanese, prepare to change your idea. In A-Bu-Cha 2, the staff screams to say hello, thank you, goodbye and to take order. In short, it's a very unique super-friendly/super-noisy/crazy atmosphere. Don't forget to give a hug to the drunk teddy bear in the bar. The food is excellent, the ambiance awesome. Better make a reservation if you don't want to wait.
9. jumbo ICE CREAMs ON-THE-GO @SEICOMART
Did you know Japanese are CRAZY about ice cream? Whatever the season -even when it's -20°C outside- they love their cream. You will see in the convenience stores, there are always hundreds of varieties to choose from -and the good thing is, you can treat yourself for just a couple of hundred yen! What would you even try to resist?
Our favorite choice: the Jumbo ice cream! It's a classic ice cream sandwich: a soft wafer shell, a layer of crisp milk chocolate, vanilla ice cream, yet another layer of chocolate in the middle. If you have to be freeeezing cold, it better be for a reason!
10. alpine recipes & cocktails @the barn by odin
I was saving the best for last: The Barn by Odin. If you have been in Niseko, you've probably seen this magnificent barn in Hirafu. I've dreamed about a dinner there for a while, then finally booked us a table for my birthday.
Set in a stunning building inspired by traditional Hokkaido farm architecture, the restaurant offers an authentic yet chic bistro atmosphere. When you open the door, you are welcome by the awesome 'Red Man statue', to then enter into the warmest ambiance. The menu is fantastic, it's a combination of French classical cooking with Hokkaido's extraordinary vegetables, meat and seafood -signature dishes include a delicious foie gras! If you do not fancy a chic dinner, go for a glass of wine or a cocktail in The Barn Bar. You will be able to enjoy the beautiful setting with the finest drinks.