When all the snow and clouds clear each spring in Niseko, a wonderfully lush landscape emerges, as farmers rapidly get their crops into the ground and the 15+ meters (average figure; the 2011-2012 winter set a historical record with a total 22 meters of powder having coated the famous ski slopes) of snow melting away with surprising speed. Niseko is only just becoming known as great a getaway in summer as it is the world’s powder capital.
My first winter trip to Niseko was absolute snow-lust, but my first subsequent summer trip to Niseko turned the relationship into love. On a whim, I decided to see what the area looked like in a shade different than stark white. What welcomed was a landscape of volcanic peaks and ridges, multihued fields stretching in all directions and deliciously cool temperatures in contrast to the urban summer cauldron of Tokyo. My thermometer on August 14th evening, as my kids and I hung out in a dark field watching the Perseid meteor shower generate bushels of wishes, registered 14 degrees.
Activities in the summer are plentiful. Starting in Hanazono, golfers can enjoy the beautiful 18-hole Tokyu Golf Course. Duffers can also enjoy two other golf courses in the area: the Arnold Palmer-designed Niseko Golf Course and the relatively flat but very scenic Niseko Village Golf Course, as well as another three golfing options across the valley at Rusutsu.
Halfway up the mountain with a trailhead right next to the Tokyu Golf Course’s entrance is the spectacular Kagami-numa, the goalpost of one of several scenic short hikes that can be found in the area. More serious hikers can tackle Mt. Yotei, the Fuji-doppelganger and 100-Famous Peak qualifier that dominates the valley, or any section of the trails that run along the entire Niseko range all the way to the Sea of Japan.
Other activities include mountain biking, with new hooks on the summer gondolas to gain altitude effortlessly, road biking, whitewater rafting, canoeing, river and sea kayaking, horseback riding, paragliding, canyoning (careening down small river canyons with utter abandon), fishing and, domestic favorite, beetle hunting. A half-a-dozen outfitters provide equipment, guides and instruction. The Niseko Adventure Center (NAC) was one of the original companies to establish Niseko as an adventure base, and it is joined by NOASC, GoodSports, Lion Adventures, Hanazono and the Niseko Outdoor Center as well as numerous niche guides.
Niseko Village provides an organized form of outdoor adventure in its Pure activity area. In 2008, a redundant 18-hole golf course next to the Hilton was decommissioned, and its place has been created a playground for children and adults filled with walkways and ziplines suspended in the trees, massive inflated trampolines, climbing walls, trapezes and other acrobatic contraptions designed to challenge its users safely with huge airbags attached to prevent injury from the encouraged and inevitable falls.
At the end of all the adventure, the hot springs and restaurants that are familiar to weary skiers serve just as well summer adventurers, with the enhanced flavors that freshly harvested produce adds to the talented chefs’ oeuvres.
The only word of caution is that it is best to travel to Niseko in the summer with a car, as the ample public transportation provided to skiers in the winter are not operating in the greener months.
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Cliff has lived, studied and worked in Japan for over 20 years, almost matching the amount of time spent in his home of New York. His time in Japan has spanned from student to salaryman, lawyer, investor and inn-keeper. Always an avid traveler, Cliff has experienced and continues to experience a full range of destinations in Japan, from camping on mountain outcroppings to indulging in the luxurious pleasures of centuries old ryokans, and has enjoyed witnessing the nature of travel in Japan evolve with his own perspective.