Skiing in Hokkaido: 7 Alternative Hokkaido Ski Resorts To Escape Busy Niseko

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When is the best time to ski in Hokkaido Japan?

For prime powder conditions, snowboarding and skiing in Hokkaido Japan should be focused from mid-January through February. This applies to all Hokkaido ski resorts, off-piste and backcountry touring destinations.

Often ranked as a world’s top ski destination, why on earth would we recommend to skip skiing Niseko ski resorts in Japan all together?

It’s simple.

You come to snowboard and ski Hokkaido for powder and culture. While Niseko ski resorts and backcountry have the powder, the latter is truly lacking due to major Western development over the past decade. Not to mention the powder gets tracked out quicker than any other Hokkaido ski resort destination.

Seriously, if you are going to travel all this way when you have quality snow at home, (or certainly closer than crossing the Pacific Ocean) you want to make the most of the Japanese experience.

Skip the Niseko lift lines, chaos, rowdy Australian party scene and expensive everything and head to these lower profile Hokkaido ski destinations with classic Japan powder skiing, snowboarding and good backcountry access.

7 Alternative Ski Resorts in Hokkaido to Niseko

There is a lot more to skiing and snowboarding in Hokkaido than meets the eye on this 32,222 square mile Japanese island (Slightly smaller than the USA state of Maine).

Even the once off the radar Kiroro ski resort near Otaru is becoming too crowded, and to set the record straight, while the snow in Kiroro is consistent and deep, aside from a few small micro zones, Kiroro is flat.

Skip Niseko and Kiroro on your ski trip to Hokkaido and check out these alternative Hokkaido ski resorts loaded with cold, blower Japow.

Best Hokkaido Ski Resorts Near Otaru

skiing near otaru hokkaido
A ski trip based out of Otaru Hokkaido provides the best of both worlds- Powder and culture

Otaru is a beautiful coastal city, boasting quick and easy access to some of the best Hokkaido snowboarding and skiing outside of Niseko.

Skiing out of Otaru allows you to base out of a true Japanese port town with quality hotels and delicious Hokkaido fare (including fresh locally sourced seafood). Explore the city streets and canal zone after skiing for a true Hokkaido cultural experience.

Location
46 miles (75km) from Niseko 
54 miles (87km) from Chitose International Airport
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Sapporo Teine Ski Resort - West Hokkaido

Located between Otaru and the larger city of Sapporo, the views from Sapporo Teine ski area are outstanding, overlooking Sapporo City and the Sea of Japan. Advanced skiers and riders should focus on the off-piste terrain and fun tree runs that are mainly north facing and quite often very deep! Some of the steepest skiing in Hokkaido is right here.

hokkaido ski resort
A typical day at Kokusai ski resort in Hokkaido

Kokusai Ski Resort - West Hokkaido

Recognized for some of the driest snow in the area as well as one of the deepest snow packs, this small ski resort only has 7 marked runs and 2 gondolas and a quad chair, yet the off-piste and backcountry terrain is where you’ll be focused. All accessed from a short ski tour and traverse off the top gondola. For those that know where they are going, expect to be rewarded with deep powder and stellar Hokkaido tree skiing.

Now let’s shift our attention from West Hokkaido to the powder destinations in the center of the island.

This is where PowderQuest’s guided ski tours in Hokkaido all began and remains one of our favorite off-piste powder destinations in Japan. 

Central Hokkaido Ski Resorts Near Furano

Furano is an agricultural town in central Hokkaido (25,000 population) with an excellent mid-size ski resort and plenty of bars and restaurants allowing you to experience Japanese hospitality and culture. Furano is a great hub to access several outstanding off the radar Hokkaido ski destinations. All within driving distance for day trip skiing. Both ski resort and backcountry.

Furano offers a decent range of budget to 4 star hotels, including a few ski-in ski-out lodging options.

Location
126 miles (203km) from Niseko 
78 miles (125km) from Chitose International Airport
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Furano Ski Resort - Central Hokkaido

At the Furano ski area you’ll enjoy some of the best tree skiing in Hokkaido, with easy to access steeper faces and powder filled off-piste gullies. The cold temperatures keep snow dry and when it’s on, it’s hard to beat.

If you have ever skied Niseko, you will notice the distinct lack of crowds at Furano Ski Resort despite the growth in recent popularity. After all, this is probably the best ski resort in Central Hokkaido. Express ski lifts take you to the top in a little over ten minutes accessing over 3180 vertical feet of powder runs along with very good off-piste ski terrain. 

For backcountry tours, skins are essential and open up endless options not only outside of Furano’s surrounding ski resorts but around the Daisetsuzan National Park nestled in the stunning Tokachi Volcanic Mountain Range. 

hokkaido skiing
Hokkaido skiing is DEEP! Bring your best goggles.

Tomamu Ski Resort - Central Hokkaido

Tomamu Ski Resort hosts arguably the best in-bounds powder skiing in central Hokkaido with 11 ski lifts to access the varied terrain. Originally the Hokkaido ski resort mainly catered to the rich Japanese and Chinese tourists due to its’ billion dollar infrastructure however recently some great advanced/expert off piste terrain and backcountry touring options have opened up.

While there is no super steep ski terrain here, the deep snow, awesome tree skiing and backcountry ski touring out of the back make up for it. One hour drive south from the town of Furano.

Sahoro Ski Resort - East Central Hokkaido

Located south-east of Furano, Sahoro Ski Resort offers fun in-bounds skiing and snowboarding along with some outstanding tree runs at this off the beaten track Club Med ski resort.

If you are with a guided trip visiting Sahoro for the day, there are good options for long off-piste tree ski descents in an area very few people know about. Some really nice backcountry ski touring can be found as well.

Do note that of the 7 Hokkaido destinations in this post, Sahoro probably receives the least amount of snow due to the geographical location. That being said, we have had some stellar days here. Just be sure to check the snow and wind forecasts before making the 44 mile (70km) drive from Furano. 

I love skiing in Colorado but skiing in Japan is truly the total package; From ripping waist-deep powder, to amazing resort ramen, to relaxing in the onsen, to the crazy fresh Hokkaido sushi. I thought skiing in Hokkaido would be a once in a lifetime experience, but it needs to be an annual pilgrimage.

Daniel Barotz
Denver Colorado

We have 2 more Central Hokkaido ski resorts to cover-Asahidake Ropeway and Kamui Resort. Both can be accessed via day trips from Furano.

However if you plan on focusing your Hokkaido trip on these two ski areas and combining backcountry ski touring – splitboarding at Kurodake and Tokachidake in the bigger mountains of the Daisetsuzan National Park, you may want to consider staying closer in the city of Asahikawa. 

Hokkaido Ski Destinations Near Asahikawa

Hokkaido’s second largest city, Asahikawa is a good base for skiers and riders. With quality hotels, great eateries cooking up delicious ramen, and it’s own regional airport, skiing out of Asahikawa should not be over looked.

Your ski trip based out of Asahikawa can provide even more of a cultural experience compared to basing out of Furano. Just note that if skiing Tomamu or Sahoro is in your plans, a day trip from Asahikawa may be too long for most. 

Location
149 miles (240km) from Niseko 
93 miles (150km) from Chitose International Airport
10.5 miles (17km) from Asahikawa Regional Airport
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Kamui Links Ski Resort - Asahikawa

Kamui Ski Links is a small Hokkaido ski resort with generally plenty of fresh tracks, located 30 minutes from Asahikawa or just over an hour north of Furano. 7 lifts, (one gondola and 6 double chair lifts) accessing powder filled trees and gullies. It is one of the main Asahikawa ski resorts, but Kamui remains generally crowd free except on weekends and holidays.

Asahikawa’s Kamui Ski Links has one of Hokkaido’s most open ski area policies (as far as Japanese skiing goes) allowing us to explore even deeper. Especially if you have a splitboard or touring skis. Cold temperatures and dry snow make this resort destination a must visit.

Kamui can be a great way to spend a few warm up days back on skis or your snowboard before venturing into bigger zones like Asahidake Ropeway.

snowboarding in hokkaido
Backcountry snowboarding in Hokkaido in January is, well like his board says- A dream. @markwelshphoto

Asahidake Volcano: Off Piste Paradise for Skiing and Snowboarding Hokkaido

Hokkaido’s tallest peak, the Asahidake Volcano is known as the “playground of the gods” with over 45 feet (14m) of snow per season on average.

Located 28 miles (45km) from Asahikawa and 44 miles (70km) from Furano, You need to base your trip around a weather window on this active volcano to explore this deep backcountry powder mecca in the Daisetsuzan National Park. While certainly  no secret spot and quite busy on a powder day, Asahidake offers a great mix of alpine and classic Japan tree riding.

To get to the best terrain you should consider a Hokkaido ski guide for off piste and backcountry touring, or really do your research. It’s considered the best place to ski in Hokkaido (at least for the deep powder), but you really need to know how to plan your day. If not, you may go home cold and very disappointed.

Making it All Happen

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Traveling with certified ski guides eliminates the stress of planning where to ski and how to make it happen. Visit all 7 ski destinations with our Japanese and English speaking ski guides on a unique, 8-day cultural & backcountry focused adventure.

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How to Get to Hokkaido and The Ski Resorts

otaru to furano in Hokkaido

The best way to get to the various resorts on Hokkaido is to reserve a domestic flight to Sapporo-Chitose airport (CTS airport code). It is possible that your international flight will offer a connection with ANA or perhaps get you a separate ticket. Some of the low cost Japanese airlines have some good fares periodically – check out Peach, Vanilla & Jetstar but beware of the bag allowance guidelines.

An even better idea is to skip Tokyo and fly direct into CTS-this is possible through Hawaiian(from Honolulu) or China Airlines (from Hong Kong).

Once in Chitose, you can take a train right from the airport to Otaru (via Sapporo).

Getting to any of the Hokkaido resorts from CTS is fairly straightforward. Try Resort Liner, for the full coach service to your powder stash of choice. Allow anywhere between 1.5-3 hours depending on where you want to go and how much snow is coming down!

Finally as mentioned in the Asahikawa section, there is a regional airport just out of the city. Airport code AKJ. Flights to AKJ can be an alternative to get to Furano, Asahidake and of course the quickest route if staying in Asahikawa.

Hokkaido Snow Report

Is it snowing in Hokkaido? Chances are yes, but to stay on top of winter weather and snowfall in Hokkaido here are a few useful resources to bookmark during Hokkaido’s ski season: November – May, with spring skiing usually found from late March forward.

hokkaido snowboarding
Hokkaido snowboarding is like no other experience on the planet @markwelshphoto
So there you have it. 7 ski resort alternatives away from Niseko, and some solid backcountry options. While Hokkaido ski terrain is not as steep as you would experience on a backcountry tour in Hakuba (on the main island of Honshu), the deep and dry Hokkaido snow provides one of the best snow experiences on the planet. But as you learned, you need to select your destinations wisely. We hope this post has helped. To stay in the know on all things powder in Japan join our monthly e-mail newsletter. Tips, trip reports, discounts and more. We promise to always keep it interesting!
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