Furano ( 富良野 ) is a small town in central Hokkaido with a largish ski area (by Japanese standards) and wonderful snow. Wonderful snow does of course come as standard in Hokkaido, but in the central area of the island the snow’s even lighter and drier than elsewhere (though it is also slightly less abundant, there’s still more than enough to go around!)
As Furano is an actual town and not just a ski area, it makes a viable alternative to Niseko as an in-resort base for a ski holiday in Hokkaido – several other ski areas are located an hour or so from Furano, including Kamui Ski Links and Tomamu, so it’s possible to stay in Furano and visit multiple ski areas. I didn’t stay there though as I was living in Sapporo at the time, and a few of us decided to hit Furano as a day trip from there. This involves a long rail journey (2.5 to 3 hours depending on your connection), so we only really had half a day on the hill.
Furano’s snow and terrain
As for the hill itself, well the terrain was decent and the snow was lovely – but unfortunately we fell foul of Furano’s strict no off-piste rules. We could see copious amounts of snow stashed in the trees and obvious areas of fantastic off-piste and sidecountry, but being the only four gaijin on the mountain that day we found ourselves being not-so-subtly shadowed by a ski patroller; as in, they saw they had foreigners on the hill and actually assigned a dedicated patroller to us! This, of course, was absolutely right of them if they wanted to make sure we didn’t go off-piste, and as soon as we managed to give him the slip (we split off different ways) I was under the rope and into the trees – I ended up riding the lift line below the main ropeway, which was a sublime run of waste-deep super-fluffy powder with a ton of natural hits and rollers. It was also not a very smart place to be in terms of dodging ski patrol – the staff on the cable car probably called it in, and patrol were waiting for me at the bottom of the run. They demanded my pass and I handed it over, expecting that to be the end of my day; but they did give it back to me with a stern final warning. Oh well; that one run was amazingly sweet, but the overall experience of Furano was that here was a mountain with incredible potential for tree skiing and off-piste powder being stymied by its zero tolerance off-piste policy.
And because of that, I can’t really recommend Furano for advanced snowboarders. For a family ski holiday it makes for a much less crowded and much-less-overrun-by-summer-holidaying-Aussies-and-Kiwis alternative to Niseko, but otherwise the off-piste policy puts the dampeners on it and it’s just a little too far from Sapporo to be worth the day trip anyway (Niseko and Rusutsu are easier to reach and more fun… but you may as well just hit Teine!)
If, however, they ever relax the off-piste rules, Furano will be right up there with Rusutsu and Teine in my book – perhaps even better!
Update: apparently Furano has in fact now started to allow off-piste riding. Although I’m not going to re-write my review as it’s still an accurate description of our experience there at the time, this is fantastic news and in light of it I’d say that Furano is definitely a good choice for a Hokkaido powder trip and is a cheaper and more chilled alternative to Niseko.
How to get to Furano
If you’re flying in to Hokkaido, Furano is about a 2-hour bus transfer from New Chitose airport. The train connections aren’t good and it would take at least 3 hours by rail, so it’s better to arrange a bus transfer.
Coming from Sapporo, the best option is probably the bus & lift ticket combo packages available from the tourist information centre in JR Sapporo station (located at the north-west corner of the main concourse). If you want to DIY it and go by train, check the timetables and make sure you catch a train which enables you to transfer at Takikawa ( 滝川 ) rather than Asahikawa ( 旭川 ); going via Takikawa it takes around 150 minutes, whereas changing at Asahikawa will add an extra 30 minutes or so to your journey. This happened to us because we missed the train we’d intended to catch – the one good thing about that was we saw some cool ice sculptures at Asahikawa station. Also the views of the Daisetsuzan area were good from the train… but really, you want to change at Takikawa! (As always in Japan, use Hyperdia to check train times; see here for a good explanation of how to use it)
Resources and Useful Links for Riding at Furano
Travel insurance with snow sports cover from World Nomads. Their flexible insurance can be bought even if you’re already in Japan – I once found out the hard way (in Thailand) how important this can be!
Snow Forecast for Furano (snow-forecast.com does exactly what it says on the tin – my go to for accurate snow forecasts!)
Click the banner to pre-order a JR Pass for a 40-dollar saving (read more on whether you should get a JR Pass):
Have you been to Furano? What did you think? Does my information need updating? Do you have any questions about skiing in Furano? Leave a comment below!
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