Rusutsu kicks ass. It’s in the same neighbourhood as Niseko (on a clear day they’re visible from one another across the flank of Mount Yotei) so gets the same awesome snow, but it isn’t nearly as busy so you get more of that lovely dry powder to yourself!
(* = max vertical drop available for a single run; not the same as the difference between the highest and lowest points, as those are in two different areas and not directly connected by skiable terrain)
Skiing at Rusutsu
As with most Hokkaido resorts, the terrain at Rusutsu ( ルスツ ) isn’t particularly steep or challenging; yet it has the best tree skiing I’ve ever experienced (along with Teine). If you’re staying in Sapporo, I’d always recommended Rusutsu as a day-trip ahead of Niseko – it’s a bit closer so you waste less time on the bus, and I always had a much better day at Rusutsu than I did at Niseko. On the other hand, if you’re staying in Niseko I’d recommend taking at least one day to head over to Rusutsu – you can usually arrange a transfer through your accommodation in Niseko, or you can just use the public Donan Bus ( 道南バス ). Another option is to hit Rusutsu en route from Niseko to Sapporo, taking the morning Donan bus, shoving your stuff in a locker at Rusutsu while you hit the slopes, and then taking the evening bus from Rusutsu to Sapporo station – schedule here, but make sure to double check the departure time at the customer service desk before you start riding!. I did this on a short Hokkaido ski tour while I was living in Kyoto (a tour with a very eventful return leg featuring a cancelled ferry, a scissor-wielding lunatic, and the grave of a legendary hero)
A downside to Rusutsu is that it probably isn’t a particularly good place to stay. There isn’t really a resort as such there, just a couple of massive hotels and the small local town; if you have the budget you can stay at the Rusutsu Hotel (the main base area) or the Westin, though as nice as they surely are it’s probably still quite boring once you finish riding for the day. The weird and wonderful stuff in the main base area hotel (an ersatz Swiss Alpine village, various themed restaurants and shops selling random tat, and a demonic singing tree) is all quite amusing while you’re waiting for the bus back to Sapporo, but probably not for much longer than that! There are also a few pensions nearby, which are also listed on Agoda here.
Sweet powder spots at Rusutsu
The sweet spots you want to be hitting are basically anywhere through the trees on Mount Isola; cutting into the trees from the top lift station down to the bottom of the no.3 and no.4 quad chairs will see you floating in deep pow and putting in lovely big turns through the nicely spaced trees.
Rusutsu access information
Coming from Sapporo, get the combo bus & lift ticket from the tourist information travel desk in JR Sapporo station (north-west corner of the main concourse). From Niseko, ask your accommodation if they can arrange transfers, or use the local Donan Bus.
Rusutsu isn’t a place for a challenging day’s riding, but it’s an absolutely brilliant place for that heavenly feeling all riders crave of floating in the driest and fluffiest of powder, with off-piste freshies available all day long. It has never let me down.
Resources and Useful Links for Riding at Rusutsu
Check out my quick guide to Sapporo
Airbnb is another good option in Japan, if you’ve never used it you can get a 30 dollar discount by signing up here
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 Rusutsu (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 Rusutsu? What did you think? Does my information need updating? Do you have any questions about skiing in Hokkaido? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.
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