Hokkaido’s powder is legendary, and the larger resorts like Niseko and Furano have been popular for years now with international powder hounds, especially those from Australia and New Zealand (what with the opposite hemisphere seasons and the lack of jet lag involved between there and Japan).
But there’s a lot more to riding in Hokkaido than just those main resorts, and in fact your chances of scoring all day freshies are better at quieter local hills like Teine than they are at busy Niseko.
So if you’re going riding in Hokkaido, it really is a good idea to visit a bunch of hills rather than limiting yourself to a single major ski resort; the best way to get around and hit a few different hills is of course to have your own wheels and do it as a road trip (rental cars can easily be arranged from New Chitose airport).
That may not be an option for many visitors though, but even for non-drivers it’s still possible to use public transportation to get around a few ski hills during a short trip to Hokkaido.
As an example route, here’s what I did a few years ago when I was living in Kyoto; I don’t suggest following the exact same timings, as I only had a week off from work and opted to travel by ferry as a money saver, so it was a really rushed trip – I’d previously lived in Sapporo so didn’t mind rushing it so much, as long as I got my Hokkaido powder fix! You’d want to do it a bit slower, perhaps with a few days in Niseko and a few in Sapporo, but it should give you an idea of a route you could follow and the transportation you could use, adapting it to start and finish from the airport if you’re flying in & out.
(in the event, my return ferry was cancelled and, following an alarming encounter with an angry lady armed with a pair of kitchen scissors, I ended up enduring a time-consuming, expensive, and stressful 2-day journey back to Kyoto by local train… full story here)
My Hokkaido Ski Tour Route
I arrived by ferry from Maizuru (in northern Kyoto prefecture), a journey of some 21 hours, docking at Otaru late in the evening (long-distance ferry travel in Japan is a good way to go if you don’t have the luxury of a JR Pass – it’s a nice, relaxing, cheap alternative to flying, and you get to see some beautiful stretches of coastline you’d otherwise likely not see… just be prepared (see above!) to be flexible in case of bad weather cancellations)
After checking into a hotel, I went in search of some food and chanced upon one of the best ramen shops I’ve ever been to; the owner, one Matsubara-san, spoke great English and shouted me a few beers as we chatted.
After a night there, I caught the first train to Kutchan (the town next to Niseko), took a local bus from the station up to Niseko itself, checked into a guesthouse, and then got out on the slopes.
The following day, I checked out and caught the morning Donan Bus to Rusutsu, taking all my stuff with me; leaving my bags in a locker I got an afternoon lift ticket, rode for a few hours, and then caught the evening bus onwards to Sapporo.
I then stayed in Sapporo for a couple of nights, riding at Teine and celebrating New Year with friends, and then headed back to Kyoto (as noted above, that didn’t exactly go according to plan and the journey home was rather eventful)
Obviously the schedule I was on was super tight, and this was a very rushed itinerary; but if you adjusted it to start from New Chitose airport, have a few days in Niseko, hit Rusutsu for a half-day en route to Sapporo, and then have a few days in Sapporo while hitting Teine, Kiroro, and Kokusai before flying out, you could hit five hills in a week – though I personally dig Teine so much I’d go there on each day in Sapporo!
You could also tack on a visit to the resorts further inland like Furano to make it a 10-day or 2-week job. Furano is easily reached by train or bus from Sapporo, and can even be done as a (long) day-trip from there.
However you do it, enjoy being up to your ass in the best powder you may ever ride!
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