Bountiful powder snow, lively dining and nightlife, world-class facilities, and vibrant international atmosphere, it is no doubt that Niseko is Hokkaido’s premier ski resort.DISCOVER NISEKO
Powder enthusiasts around the world have probably heard about Hokkaido ski resorts. The talk of epic, ‘snorkel deep’ powder has spread through word of mouth from one skier or snowboarder to another, and the main resort names are commonly known. But information about about Hokkaido ski resorts as a whole is scarce – how many resorts are there to choose from, where are they located, when is the best time to travel, is there a language barrier, and are Hokkaido ski resorts the right fit for you? If you are looking to know more about this incredible prefecture of Japan, where 12 meters of snow falls at sea level each winter, worry not and let us walk you through a quick introduction, discover what Hokkaido has to offer, and ultimately why Hokkaido’s ski resorts could be the perfect pick for your upcoming winter holiday.
Historically named Ezo (or Yezo, Yeso, or Yesso), Hokkaido is the northernmost island and prefecture of Japan, separated from Honshu (mainland Japan) by the Tsugaru Strait. Despite being the second largest island, it is the most sparsely populated with most of the population concentrated in the west and southwest where major cities including Sapporo, Otaru and Hakodate are located.
Thanks to its geographical location, Hokkaido is a fantastic year-round destination. In the summer, visitors from other parts of Japan and Asia flock to Hokkaido to escape the heat and to enjoy the island’s lush scenery while in the winter, Hokkaido’s ski resorts attract a huge number of skiers and snowboarders chasing after its acclaimed powder snow. Once quiet hills, ski areas in Hokkaido gained worldwide recognition after the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics and again in the early 2000s when a great influx of Australians rebooted developments into Niseko.
Hokkaido has more ski resorts than any other prefecture in Japan at 103 ski areas, accounting for nearly a quarter of the country’s total. Being the northernmost area of Japan, it is the coldest with an average temperature of -4℃ and virtually the whole island is covered in snow throughout winter. Winds from Siberia sweep across the Sea of Japan bringing huge snow dumps, which results in about 12 metres of snowfall per winter even at sea level! Excellent ski resorts therefore exist at incredibly low altitudes in Hokkaido, with the most famous of them all, Niseko, starting around 260 metres.
Despite plentiful powder and a large number of ski areas, why are only a handful talked about? The answer lies in the fact that Hokkaido is not the most mountainous part of Japan and only a handful of ski resorts have peaks above 1,000 metres. In fact, many Hokkaido ski resorts are more accurately described as ski hills, reaching maximum heights of only a couple of hundred metres. These could be the best ski resorts in the world for you if you suffer from altitude sickness or want to enjoy a gorgeous sea view!
For this reason, most Hokkaido ski resorts are not suitable as holiday destinations but the island’s 3 main ski areas – Niseko, Rusutsu, and Furano – benefit from the island’s outstanding powder snow conditions and offer both elevation of around 1,000 metres and a good number of courses. These make them great choices for a ski holiday – visitors will get to enjoy both the snow and varied terrain, not to mention stunning accommodation options and world-class facilities.
Hokkaido ski resorts offer a unique blend of phenomenal snow, cultural immersion, and stunning scenery. Whether you are an experienced snow enthusiast or a beginner looking for an unforgettable ski experience, Hokkaido has something for everyone. Keep on reading to find out why these snow paradises should be on your travel list!
Hokkaido ski resorts are famed for their bottomless pow and we might be biased but there are only a few things that feel better than floating through the powder first thing in the morning. Niseko is well-known to receive some of the biggest snowfalls in the world and you can find bountiful ungroomed powder even within resort boundaries! Similarly, Rusutsu has so much snow that its runs are dubbed ‘in-bound backcountry‘ with deep ditches full of powder just on the sides of the ski courses and endless tree skiing. Hokkaido ski areas that are closer to the coast like Niseko and Rusutsu receive on average 10-15m of snow every winter whilst ski resorts in central Hokkaido such as Furano gets around 8-10m of snowfall but the snow there tends to be drier at the beginning and the end of the season, giving it the name ‘champagne’ snow.
From major Hokkaido ski resorts, experienced riders can easily venture off-piste into the amazing backcountry terrain. Niseko-based riders can take advantage of the nine in-resort gates for easy access, whilst skiers and snowboarders in Rusutsu can explore Shiribetsu West Bowl following the ridgeline from Mt. West. Meanwhile, Furano serves as an excellent base to venture into the heavenly ridges of Daisetsu-zan Mountain Range and nearby mountains.
Ski resorts in Hokkaido (and in Japan in general) have strict rules regarding backcountry access so make sure you check the guidance provided by each individual resort and stay within the rules at all times. Backcountry riding also comes with a risk of avalanche so don’t forget to check your equipment and the conditions carefully before you head out. If you are unfamiliar with the area, we highly recommend you book a backcountry guiding tour.
Thanks to the island’s consistently low temperature, Hokkaido ski resorts have the most reliable conditions in Japan. The snow is hard to beat, both in terms of quality and quantity, during peak season and huge dumps of fresh powder can even fall as late as March, interspersed with the joys of spring skiing! For more information on the best time to book your trip, check out our Japan ski season guide.
This is based on our personal experience – each season can be different and we cannot guarantee the conditions for every winter. Snow Japan has a large database of historical records of snowfall for major ski resorts in Hokkaido (and in Japan) and is a great place to see what the winter has been like in the previous years from the eyes of seasoned locals.
Whilst not located on mainland Japan, Hokkaido ski resorts can be easily accessed via the main airport, New Chitose Airport, located an hour drive from Sapporo. Connections with Honshu are frequent with more than 20 flights daily from Haneda, Narita and Osaka. For those coming from other parts of Asia like South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand, you are in luck as there are direct flights serving these routes.
Once in Hokkaido, multiple bus lines link the airport with major ski resorts including Niseko, Rusutsu and Furano. Alternatively, private transfers is an excellent option for a quick and comfortable journey. Both bus and private transfer bookings can be arranged as part of your Japan ski package together with your accommodation – get in touch with our team to start the ball rolling!
The culinary scenes at Hokkaido ski resorts can satisfy even the most discerning taste buds. Abundant in land resources and fresh water from the mountains, together with favourable climate, Hokkaido is the biggest producer in Japan for various agricultural products, including wheat, potatoes, onions, pumpkins, and raw milk. Surrounded by multiple bodies of water, it is natural that Hokkaido is Japan’s leading producer in marine products and aquaculture and this can be seen by the selection of gourmet seafood including crabs, salmon roe, and scallops.
Foodies will certainly be satisfied in Niseko with its wide range of food choices, from ramen and yakitori to world-class French and Italian dining. Niseko also boasts a couple of Michelin-starred and recommended restaurants, while Rusutsu and Furano’s restaurants tend to be smaller and more geared towards locals.
Spending a day exploring the island’s snow festivals are amongst the best additions to elevate your trip to Hokkaido ski resorts to the next level. Sapporo Snow Festival is the biggest winter event in Sapporo, running from 4 – 11 February (dates might vary) and attracting millions of visitors to the city. Snow sculptures line up the central Odori Park whilst Susukino Street is filled with ice sculptures in all shapes and sizes. Running from late January to late February, Chitose’s Shikotsu Ice Festival features giant ice sculptures carved by local artists. The sculptures are illuminated with colourful lights, creating a truly mesmerising sight. Both of these events can be included in your ski package to major ski resorts in Hokkaido.
What is a better way to relax your hard-working muscles after a long day shredding pow in one of Hokkaido’s great ski resorts than soaking in an onsen while watching the snow fall? Hokkaido has one of the highest concentrations of active volcanoes in the country, therefore it is not a surprise that there are hundreds of onsen on the island. In fact, Hokkaido has the most hot springs in Japan with 251 onsen areas, and many of the hot spring sources run through the ski resorts on the island. You will find an onsen at almost every corner of Niseko and many of them are along the shuttle bus route.
Be sure to check out the onsen etiquette prior to your visit if it is your first time. For those with tatted skin, great news – most onsens in Niseko are tattoo-friendly, although please do check prior to your visit, otherwise there are many accommodations with private onsen as well!
The main Hokkaido ski resorts boast a wide range of accommodations and there is an option for every kind of traveller. Niseko hosts an extensive collection of luxury accommodation, ranging from ski-in ski-out hotels to villas in tranquil forests with top-notch facilities, ensuring a relaxing and rejuvenating holiday. Rusutsu offers a spectacular range of choices, comprising ski-in ski-out condominiums and hotel rooms as well as cosy log villas. Skiers and snowboarders in Furano will find plenty of great options for places to stay, including on-slope hotels, full-service premium apartments, and homey chalets.
Coincidentally, Hokkaido ski resorts look out to some of the best views on the island. Niseko offers a prime spot to admire the beauty of Mt. Yotei, a postcard-worthy volcano also known as Mt. Fuji of Hokkaido. On a bluebird day, hike up to the peak of Mt. Annupuri for a panoramic view and don’t forget to snap a quick pic before surfing down the sea of powder!
But Mt. Yotei is not exclusive to Niseko riders – in fact Rusutsu also provides a excellent spot to enjoy Mt Yotei. Whilst in Rusutsu, make sure to get to the top of Mt Isola for an astonishing view over Lake Toya, Hokkaido’s hidden gem, and take in the scenery as you cruise down Heavenly View, the resort’s easternmost run.
Visiting Hokkaido ski resorts up on the northernmost island of Japan may feel somewhat off the beaten track in a foreign country where most of the population do not speak English – but do not worry! Most businesses in major ski areas in Hokkaido have English-speaking staff and restaurants usually have English menus. In fact, renowned ski resorts in Hokkaido like Niseko and Rusutsu attract a great number of young travellers on Working Holiday Visas and a large number of establishments have English as their working language so you can navigate the resorts with ease. Many ski schools in Hokkaido ski resorts also offer lessons in Mandarin or Cantonese if that is your preference.
Besides Niseko, Rusutsu and Furano, there are 100 ski resorts in Hokkaido. While they are not large enough to recommend as primary destinations, some of these resorts provide outstanding powder and off-piste, making them perfect to visit for a day trip.
Niseko and Rusutsu are less than an hour away from each other so either of the resorts can be done as day trip from your main resort base.
Another excellent option is Niseko Moiwa, the southernmost ski resort on Mt. Annupuri. Moiwa is reachable from Niseko via inter-resort shuttle bus from Hirafu or a quick detour from Annupuri and its location allows powder to accumulate on days other resorts in the Niseko area struggle with wind holds. With 3 lifts and 8 courses, Moiwa is the perfect choice for skiers and snowboarders looking for an easy and quiet day on the ski hills.
Slightly further away to the north, Kiroro is a fantastic destination for day trips from Niseko or Rusutsu. From gentle relaxing green runs to deep powder in the sidecountry, Kiroro has everything for everyone. There is a snow park area at the bottom of the slopes – an awesome pitstop for families with young children before heading back to their main resort base.
An hour southeast of Furano lies Tomamu, a hidden gem full of Hokkaido powder and little crowd. Skiers and snowboarders visiting Tomamu are rewarded with huge stashes of powder in the side and backcountry and a high chance of bluebird days. Tomamu’s slopes are more gentle than steep, making it one of the best day trip destinations from Furano for beginners or families with small children.
For expert riders looking for steep challenging terrain, infinite powder and fresh lines, Daisetsuzan Kurodake ticks all the boxes. Kurodake receives a massive snowfall every year, similar to the level at coastal Hokkaido ski resorts, and its gnarly terrain really brings the thrills for skilled powderhounds. Do note that due to its high elevation and exposure, conditions at Kurodake can be harsh and you might need to wait for the right day to explore off-piste. Spring is usually the best time to visit, after the high season for blizzards has subdued, and getting a private guide will ensure that you have the best experience in the backcountry.
Still not sure which Hokkaido ski resort will be the perfect fit for you? Check out our dedicated resort pages to find out more, or get in touch with our team of trusted local experts and we will be more than happy to assist you with any questions you may have!
Across the best Hokkaido ski resorts, we offer the chance to book accommodation at the best rates including the latest early bird deals, together with resort services to create your perfect ski holiday. If skiing and snowboarding in Hokkaido is on your bucket list but you are not sure which is the right resort for you then ask our team of Hokkaido ski resort specialists who are here to provide all the information you need.ENQUIRE NOW