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.
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 never stayed there though as I was living in Sapporo at the time, and you can hit Furano as a day trip from there – this involves a long rail journey (2.5 to 3 hours depending on your connection) so you only really get half a day on the hill, but perfectly doable.
Furano’s snow and terrain
As for the hill itself, thankfully the days are long gone when Furano had a strictly enforced zero-tolerance approach to off-piste riding and would even have ski patrollers shadow groups of gaijin snowboarders to make sure they didn’t do so – I speak from experience! We managed to give ours the slip but then I rode the ropeway line and got collared by a waiting patroller at the bottom…
The mountain has a slightly unusual twin layout, with two distinct sides (Furano Zone and Kitanomine Zone) with completely separate base areas but connected by the Link Run & Link Lift near the top. Arriving at Furano Station puts you near the Kitanomine base area (though you’ll need to hop in a taxi or bus to get there anyway).
The best powder spots are the ungroomed run called Premium Zone on the Kitanomine side, off-piste under the lift in the link zone, and through the gate at the top of the Downhill Romance No.3 chairlift on the Furano side (cutting back to skiers left to get back to the run – riding out to the base should also be possible, but with some fairly flattish terrain towards the bottom). Premium Zone is quite a small area so does get tracked, but you can do the short hike up the ridge from there to get into the trees on the other side, or keep going to the next ridge & bowl beyond that.
How to get to Furano
It’s quite far for day trips from Sapporo to Furano (though you certainly can hit it that way), but Furano is definitely a good choice of base for a Hokkaido powder trip and offers a cheaper, more chilled, much less crowded, much-less-overrun-by-summer-holidaying-Aussies-and-Kiwis alternative to Niseko.
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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