When to Ski in Hokkaido

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When to Ski in Hokkaido

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When to Ski In Hokkaido

The different parts of the Hokkaido ski season have their pros and cons, depending on your priorities for a Hokkaido ski or snowboard trip.

Hokkaido Ski Season

Even though Hokkaido has a very northerly position and is brutally cold in the peak of winter, the Hokkaido ski season is not as long as one might think. A handful of the Hokkaido ski resorts open up in mid to late November whilst most don’t open until December. Many of the ski resorts close up shop in March, whilst some of the larger and/or higher ski areas stay open until April or early May. See the Japan ski resort stats for an indication of the typical season for the major resorts.

When Is the Best Snow in Hokkaido?

There are at least three elements when considering the best time for snow in Hokkaido.

The first is the timing of the quantity and quality of the snow that falls. Late November to the end of February is best for powder, with Japanuary (ie January) and early February being the absolute ideal times for lots of quality resets.

The second consideration is the depth of the snowpack. This may be an issue on-piste early in the Hokkaido ski season, especially on the advanced slopes where some of the Hokkaido ski resorts will not open a black run if it has even one stick poking through! The snowpack depth is mostly a consideration for when to ski in Hokkaido for off-piste skiers and riders. In early season, creeks may be open which can impede egress from the off-piste or sidecountry, but the main issue is the abundant shrubbery and bamboo (sasa grass) that grows very thickly on the forest floor in Hokkaido. Often the snow gods adequately bless the Hokkaido ski areas early season, resulting in off-piste riding being a possibility, but commonly it’s not until early to mid January that the sasa grass is covered up). The SW Hokkaido coastal ski resorts such as Niseko and Kiroro are renowned for plentiful early season snow, whilst Central Hokkaido ski resorts typically receive less early season snow. Tomamu and Sahoro in particular tend to be slow off the mark. It’s also worth noting that the upper reaches of Asahidake don’t have a lot of bamboo and can be a great choice for early season pow riding.

The third element for consideration of when to ski in Hokkaido for the best snow is how well the snow is retained. This mostly comes into play towards the end of February when the lower elevation resorts (see the Japanese ski resort stats for elevation of resorts) and those with unfavourable aspects tend to have sloppy snow and melt-freeze cycles. An example of a resort prone to poor snow retention in March is Moiwa, which has a predominantly southerly aspect and a modest top elevation of 800 metres, so it’s no great surprise that the ski area tends to close at the end of March. Tomamu is another example of resort with a mainly sunny aspect (in-bounds), but at least it has decent elevation on its side. Once March hits in Hokkaido, the snow can disappear very quickly. If you’re thinking of skiing in Hokkaido at Easter, don’t expect good snow conditions. So if you’re chasing powder, the peak time overall for snow in Hokkaido is mid January to mid February. Not surprisingly, this is also the time when the most powder hounds are sniffing out the stashes, and also the prime time for Hokkaido ski tours.

Weather

Whilst December and January snowstorms can bring mega snowfalls and cold blower powder, the peak of winter is also when it blows the most and the strong winds can result in upper lift closures. The ropeway at Asahidake is sometimes closed due to foul weather and it’s not very often during mid-winter that there’s adequate visibility to go backcountry touring. If you’re looking at backcountry touring around Central Hokkaido, Niseko or Rishiri Island, late February to early March is your prime time.

It’s the frequent foul weather that is probably also the reason that the Kurodake Ropeway is closed during the middle of winter, despite them claiming it’s for maintenance.

Crowds at the Hokkaido Ski Resorts

The popularity of particular times of the Hokkaido ski season are worth bearing in mind if you want to avoid the crowds, get more fresh lines, and not pay peak prices for lodging. Of course, it’s all relative because the “crowds” at the ski resorts in Hokkaido are really nothing like those seen in many parts of USA or Europe.

As to be expected, the Xmas to New Year holiday period is the absolute peak time and accommodation tariffs are at an all-time high.

After New Year’s, many Australians on school holidays arrive at the high profile destination resorts, particularly those resorts that are family friendly. The Australian school holidays continue all of January, although early January is usually the busiest time because it’s also a common time for work breaks.

Chinese New Year /Lunar New Year can be really crazy busy so it’s best to check the timing of this before planning when to ski in Hokkaido. The first day of the Chinese New Year falls on the new moon between 21 January and 20 February and the holiday can extend a fair way either side of the actual new year. Those that celebrate Chinese New Year tend to visit the high profile large resorts and also have a tendency to be piste skiers, so the impact on intrepid powder hounds finding fresh powder is often minimal.

Other Considerations

Early February is the best time to visit Hokkaido if you want to see the Sapporo Snow Festival.