Hokkaido skiing is incredibly rewarding for powder hounds. Hokkaido, the north island of Japan, is ideally located in the path of consistent weather systems that bring the cold air across the Sea of Japan from Siberia. This results in many of the Hokkaido ski resorts being absolutely dumped with powder that is renowned for being incredibly dry. Some of the ski areas receive an amazing average of 14-18 metres of snowfall annually!
Hokkaido Ski Resorts
Niseko is the powder capital of the world and as such is the most popular international ski destination in Japan. It doesn’t seem to stop snowing in Niseko
, which is the major drawcard. Other famous resorts include Rusutsu
, and Asahidake
is gaining more notoriety amongst international skiers and snowboarders. Hokkaido also has many ski resorts that are somewhat off the beaten track for international tourists.
Ski Hokkaido or Ski Honshu? How Do They Compare?
Hokkaido snow is generally superior to the powder in Honshu, the main island of Japan. Even though many of the ski resorts west of Sapporo
(such as Niseko
, Sapporo Kokusai
) are in close proximity to the ocean, the cold temperatures tend to keep the powder dry. The volume of snow that dumps on these coastal mountains is also generally higher than that in Honshu (with some exceptions such as the snow factory at Tenjindaira
and at Hakkoda
in the far north of Honshu). Further inland in central Hokkaido there’s slightly less snowfall, but the quality of the powder is even better. Not surprisingly our Japan ski resorts ratings
indicate that Hokkaido comes up trumps when it comes to destinations for powder hounds.
Hokkaido has a reputation for being deep not steep, and whilst this is true of some of the Hokkaido ski resorts, places such as Sapporo Teine
blow this myth out of the water. As a generalisation, Hokkaido ski resorts are less steep than many of the high profile Honshu ski resorts, but when you compare skiing in Japan to some of the gnarly North American ski resorts such as Silverton, Whistler, Jackson Hole and Kicking Horse, all the Japan ski resorts seem really mellow!
The Hokkaido ski season generally starts earlier than Honshu because the north island of Japan tends to do much better for early season snow than Honshu, particularly at resorts such as Kiroro and Niseko. You can see the Japan ski resort stats
for an indication of the Hokkaido skiing season opening and closing times at the big resorts.
Hokkaido is not densely populated and has more of a rural feel to it than Honshu. Generally everything is cheaper in Hokkaido than Honshu (Niseko, Rusutsu and Kiroro are exceptions), and the more you get off the beaten track, the cheaper it is. The cuisine is also somewhat different to other regions of Japan, with much more emphasis on ramen and seafood specialties such as crab.
Hokkaido provides a great taste of Japan, but if you want to combine a ski holiday with some historical sightseeing, temple hopping, traditional Japanese architecture spotting, and generally just absorbing the Japanese culture, then Honshu is better than Hokkaido.
Where are the Hokkaido Ski Resorts?
Many of the ski resorts are close together so you can easily sample multiple resorts, particularly if you go on a Hokkaido ski or snowboard tour
. The following are some of the ski resorts in Hokkaido, grouped according to location:
West of Sapporo
- Niseko – 100km southwest of Sapporo and the New Chitose Airport (2.5 hours drive)
- Moiwa – next to Niseko
- Rusutsu – 75km southwest of Sapporo (90 minutes) and 89km west of the New Chitose Airport
- Kiroro – 43km west of Sapporo
Near Asahikawa (Central Hokkaido)
Ski Hokkaido with the Family
- Sapporo Teine – 20km northwest of Sapporo (45 minutes)
- Sapporo Kokusai – 46km west of Sapporo (1 hour)
- Kiroro – 43km west of Sapporo
East of Sapporo
- Asarigawa Onsen - 35km northwest of Sapporo (40 mins drive)
- Furano – 113km northeast of Sapporo (2:15 hours)
- Tomamu – 150km east of Sapporo (1:20 hours by train from Sapporo; 1 hour by train from the New Chitose Airport)
- Sahoro – 179km east of Sapporo (3 hours)
- Mount Racey (Yubari) – 77km east of Sapporo (1.5 hours)
Some of the Hokkaido ski resorts are no-frills and ideal for backcountry enthusiasts, thereby making a family ski holiday extremely difficult. Examples include Kamui Ski Links
, and Kurodake
Other Hokkaido ski resorts have well developed facilities and some have lots of activities to keep the little folks entertained (e.g. Tomamu
). Ski areas that offer group ski and snowboard lessons for kids include Niseko
, and Sahoro
(via Club Med).
Also Japanese ski resorts typically have only hotel or pension accommodation, so if you want the family to stay in self-contained accommodation (e.g. an apartment or house) you’ll need to go to a ski resort that’s somewhat westernised such as Niseko
Also see the tables on our where to ski in Japan
page that outline which ski resorts have self-contained accommodation, child care, child care with English speaking staff, and kids’ ski school with English speaking instructors.
Cat Skiing Hokkaido
Hokkaido cat skiing is growing in popularity, because it's a great way to access backcountry fresh powder without having to hike for it. New cat skiing operations include Shimamaki Cat Skiing
(with transport from Niseko), Rising Sun Cat Skiing
(near Niseko) and a new operation will start up at the former Chisenupuri ski resort (adjacent to Moiwa Niseko). And for those new to cat skiing or riding powder, Niseko Weiss Powder Cats
is a great choice.
Check out the Japan cat skiing
page for more information.
Heli Skiing Hokkaido
Or for the ultimate in scoring fresh powder, there’s also Hokkaido heli skiing near Niseko and Rusutsu with Shiribetsu Heli Skiing
Other Hokkaido Backcountry Skiing
Hokkaido is a treasure trove of powder stashes for backcountry skiing and split boarding aficionados. There are lots of options for backcountry ski tours out of Furano
, and popular BC spots include Tokachidake
and Rishiri Island
. Our Hokkaido backcountry tour listings
outline a range of day trips and multi-day tours where you have to earn all of your turns, or at least some of them!
Getting to Hokkaido Japan
For information on getting to Hokkaido, see our travel to Hokkaido
page, which includes tips on flights to Sapporo and Asahikawa.
Hokkaido Ski and Snowboard Tours