Skiing & Snowboarding in Hokkaido, Japan
The Japanese island of Hokkaido constitutes 20% of the nation’s land mass but just 5% of its population. The thick piles of powdery snow – up to 55 ft annually – brought on cold fronts from nearby Siberia transform the otherwise lush green and colorful countryside into a winter wonderland that attracts skiers and snowboarders from the world over. Hokkaido’s snow is easily the best in Japan but many experts also regard it the best powder anywhere in the world.
The island is an especially great snow destination if you are looking for a variety of terrain challenges; there are top tier international resorts as well as ample remote fields of white in which to indulge your love for flying over the ground. Its undulating topography is very conducive to both beginners and professionals. The other unique feature is how the blanket of snow continues all the way down to the shore, to a lower altitude compare to what we see in the Rockies or the Alps. Most resorts have dedicated terrain parks where you can hone and flaunt your prowess; some even have half pipes.
As there are over here 100 ski and snowboard resorts here, there is quite a degree of variation between their individual policies about unpistened runs – some allow you to access them from their grounds after you have given them a plan of your route and ETA back. This is meant to prevent skiers being isolated if they are injured but it can also mean that you will have to pick up the tab if you diverge from your plans and a search party is sent to ‘rescue’ you.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Japanese resort culture is quite different from that of North America and Europe. There are few built-up facilities higher up on the peaks and even the base camp towns do not have the same variety of facilities to which you might be accustomed. The exception would be the Niseko region, where there is a large number of Japanese have winter homes. This upscale area is home to fine dining and a vibrant nightlife throughout the year, and English is widely spoken and understood.
Winter is officially between December and February in Hokkaido. This period sees the largest snowfalls and widest range of facilities… but also the highest prices. There are ways to do a skiing and snowboarding holiday in Hokkaido on a budget. Try to make your visit coincide with the week-long Sapporo Snow Festival in early February.