Hooked on Hokkaido

By Juulski on 21 February 2016 · 4

Skiing in Japan is so much more than just world-class powder. It is a completely unfamiliar world, a country of idiosyncrasies with for example vending machines selling beer accessible to anyone and located in every imaginable location. It is a society that values personal responsibility and hard work, as well as modesty and a sense of solidarity. This paradoxical and fascinating culture combined with amazing food, Japanese hospitality and the best chances of powder, even during an El Niño winter, are reasons for us two ski journalists and powder addicts to come back every winter.

The last weeks we have been road tripping around Hokkaido, the north island of Japan, joined by two Japan virgins, Len & Omar, who were continuously stunned by the huge amounts of fresh snow.

AdreneLen in ation
AdreneLen in ation

With an average of six days of snowfall a week, fifteen metres in a season lasting just 3.5 months, Japan is no game of roulette.

it’s a guaranteed jackpot!
it’s a guaranteed jackpot!

We often get asked where to go in Hokkaido and which guide to ski with, so we have summarized our trip for you. If you prefer to look at pictures, check out our Dutchiesdoski Facebook and Instagram.

It is 8pm in Niseko and big, white, fluffy snowflakes dance through the pitch-black sky. It is a magical three-dimensional dream world where the eerie, elongated shadows of the birch trees appear to bring the forest to life. While most skiers are enjoying yet another Asahi beer, we are on a totally different kind of high!

During the day Niseko Powder Guides showed us the quiet resort Niseko Moiwa, where we skied fresh lines all day. We’ll be back for more, hoping to climb Mt. Yotei, the volcano we only partially got to see from our apartment, the spacious and modern Niseko Landmark View apartments, located right next to the gondola.

Kiroro is a resort you might know from the latest Teton Gravity movie Paradise waits. Just a short skin away from the resort we found ourselves in the same amazing backcountry: bowls with well spaced trees with literally no tracks!

It is actually the first year you are allowed to ski the backcountry at Kiroro, but only if you fill out a climbing plan before leaving the resort or you ski one of the many tree lines within the resort. Keep in mind you can’t find a guide in Kiroro (yet), so it is easiest to book one in Niseko.

Sapporo Kokusai is a small and still fairly undiscovered resort not far from Sapporo. We were looking forward to go touring here but upon arrival we had 40cm of fresh waiting for us (with another 25cm falling during the day). So we put our skins away and lapped the gondola all day. After a full day of shredding with our group of 4, there were still many untracked lines to be found!

Another cool resort is Sapporo Teine, where on a clear day you can see the Japanese sea from the hill. The large quantities of fresh pow prevent us from being able to see the sea, but we find plenty of action in the trees. Yes, it dumped a lot during our trip and believe it or not, we skied powder everyday. Inshredible!

The town of Higashikawa is located in the centre of the Hokkaido Powder Belt: the powder Mecca of Japan consisting of seven different ski areas.

What goes up..
What goes up..

..must come down
..must come down

This region is home to the driest powder in Japan and our Japanese guide Makoto Asakawa takes us for a three day all-you-can-ski buffet: a tour around the Etanbetsu area near the Daisetsuzan, Japan’s biggest national park. We immediately understand why Daisetsuzan national park is known as “the playground of the gods”.

The snow for sure is divine
The snow for sure is divine

Asahidake is smoking hot: it is an active volcano (with 22 craters!) that you can climb ánd it is the snowiest place on earth! We skin right up to the 2 heavily smoking craters, looking straight into the smoking volcano, definitely a first for us! The Asahidake gondola, that was built to bring hikers to the active volcano in the summer. Although Asahidake is not an official ski area, the gondola runs every twenty minutes in wintertime. Keep in mind there is no ski patrol and we would recommend you to ski there with a guide for example Yasuhito Arata.

The snow for sure is divine
The snow for sure is divine

A very convenient and relaxed place to stay is the Deer Valley Hotel and they also run a shuttle from Sapporo airport. If you prefer to stay in a typical, luxurious Japanese ryokan with the best onsen we experienced this trip, Yukoman-so is a great pick.

The biggest resort of Central Hokkaido is Furano and it is gaining popularity quickly. The last years the resort has relaxed its off-piste policy and it is no longer strictly forbidden to ski off-piste.

When we skied in Furano two years ago it was still a touchy subject. Our guide Hiroshi Etori told us “to act as ninjas and to quietly follow his exact steps while hiking into the backcountry” so patrol couldn’t see us. Good thing we don’t have to sneak around this year as we stand out in our colourful outfits! Once again we get to ski with our favourite guide Etori-san who takes us to one of his favourite lines, the west face of Furano.

Furano delivers
Furano delivers

We drop in from the top and ski our steepest line of the trip of nearly 1000 vertical meters all the way back to the parking lot the Prince Hotel where we our staying. In Furano the Natulux hotel is a beautiful hotel with (according to us!) the best coffee of Hokkaido. Furano Tourism Association can help you find other accommodation options too.

Never dreamed I would ride a snowmobile on a closed highway through 50cm of powder! After a 15-minute approach we put on our skins and follow our cool guides Hiroyuki Fukuda and Kiko to their secret spot outside Minamifurano where we don’t cross another skier or track all day. This was another day of all you can skin faceshots! Having worked up a ravenous appetite, we go for dinner at our hotel, the beautiful Canadian style wooded lodge, the Larch Lake Kanayama and order a bowl of steaming udon noodles, which we loudly slurp in keeping with Japanese custom. The healthy and delicious Japanese food has had a very positive influence on our trip and, in no time, our diet consists of miso, rice, noodles and other local delicacies.

Our trip ends on a high note with an epic karaoke session joined by our new friends Shigeo and Tohru, our ice fishing guide who had the patience to teach us how to fish, Japanese style: while drink hot coco in his heated hut!

Luxury fishing
Luxury fishing

For more general information on Japan, have a look on the site of the Japanese National Tourism Organisation

Sayonara and we’ll be back next year!
Caroline-san & Julie-san


Photography: Caroline van ‘t Hoff
Skier: Julie Nieuwenhuys


  • Bart-First
    Bart-First op 16 October 2017 · 03:47
    Such a nice post! It is exactly why I've been coming to Japan for 5 years now! It's just the best.
    Funny because we also skied with Hiroshi in Furano. Small world...

    When you're back next time try to visit Kurodake as well, the skin to the summit from the top chair is nice and on a good day the run down is pretty awesome!

    Next year (2019) I want to try and visit Mt. Rishiri as well. It looks like such a beautiful volcano coming from the ocean and I heard the seafood there is just delicious..

    Anyone heading to Japan this year?
    I will be there from Feb - March with First Tours and there are still some spots left on the Powder Hunter and Volcano Tour. . .

    See you there!!
    First up - First tracks - First tours
  • FredKorua
    FredKorua op 30 October 2017 · 08:42
    Heading over in February, I cannot wait! Guide booked for Furano, Asahidake... and finishing the trip on Rishiri Island!
    2 weeks of awesomeness!
  • BASC
    BASC op 1 November 2017 · 23:52
    Heading over in February, I cannot wait! Guide booked for Furano, Asahidake... and finishing the trip on Rishiri Island!
    2 weeks of awesomeness!FredKorua op 30 Oct 2017 08:42

    Rishiri is amazing!!! Going back next year. You do have to be pretty lucky with the weather as it's super wind affected..
    Have fun! Might see you in Japan!
    First Tours
  • RoboNova
    RoboNova op 9 December 2019 · 16:21
    Hey there,
    ..trying to revive this topic from back in the days...
    Any seasoned Nippow veterans here willing to share tips/spots? (

    Will be heading to Hokkaido 3rd time in early Feb 2020. Previously, we covered Kiroro, Sapporo Teine, Furano, Asahi, Kuro, Tokachi dakes, Kamui. Staying away from crowds of Niseko and surroundings. We will for sure repeat central Hokkaido, but we’re wondering what other spots worth visiting are out there. We’re going cardanchi style (sleeping in a van), so very mobile and flexible following weather (and thus don't want to/can't be tied to guiding services - those require booking well in advance), we’re considering:
    - Kokusai
    - Rusutsu (closest to Niseko we’re willing to get)

    Other honorable condidates, though with considerable doubts:
    - Rishiri: seems too risky weather-wise
    - Sahoro: mixed reviews I'm reading

    We're not afraid of hiking, coming fully geared, splits, snowshoes, pow decks and stuff.
    Any additional tip or experience highly appreciated (or links to more info and other forums).



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