The Best Powder Resorts In Hokkaido Japan …That Aren’t Niseko

Any Snowboarder or Skier worth their salt would have, at some stage in the past ten or so years, had a conversation about Japanese Powder. A mythical snow with apparently magical properties. The lightest, driest and most “Talcum-like” powder that falls in immeasurable abundance across the northern regions of Japan and especially Hokkaido. It’s the draw of this legendary Pow-Bounty, along with the amazing food, culture and natural beauty that inspires hundreds of thousands of people to cram their board bags every year and head over to try and get a taste of the fabled “Japow.”

But as Japan’s popularity grows, so too does the number of people standing in its collective lift lines, waiting to slice out their own little moment of powdery bliss.

Family Chairlift Niseko Grand Hirafu
Crowded lift lines at the Family Chairlift Niseko Grand Hirafu – skiasia.com

I first visited Hokkaido in 2006, travelling to Niseko with two friends after hearing stories about the “World’s Greatest Powder” …. and we weren’t disappointed! The snowboarding was everything we were promised, but what we weren’t ready for was how much we’d enjoy the country itself, and we weren’t the only ones. Niseko has exploded with new developments of upscale Apartments, Chalets and Hotels catering to the nearly 1 Million skiers and snowboarders that visit the area every year!

Being so heavily advertised overseas means that Niseko has always been the number one destination for people seeking the ultimate powder experience. But there are numerous other resorts in the Hokkaido area with spectacular amounts of Snowfall that barely see a fraction of the visitors that Niseko gets. And as the crowds at Niseko become overwhelmingly huge, these lesser known resorts are looking more and more like the better option.

NOTE: ALL RATINGS REPRESENT THE AMOUNT AND AVAILABILITY OF AN ATTRIBUTE, NOT IT’S QUALITY.
A 1 STAR RATING ISN’T BAD, IT JUST MEANS THAT ATTRIBUTE IS LIMITED.

RUSUTSU

Rusutsu is the second most popular resort in Hokkaido (behind Niseko) and understandably so, it has a huge 1700 hectares of rideable terrain and an insane average yearly snowfall of 13 metres! The resort offers the perfect mixture of groomed and un-groomed runs, plus easily accessible off-piste side country and tree runs to cater for any level of rider. Spread across three mountains, there are a total 18 chairlifts to access the entire area which includes 4 Gondolas and 6 covered chairs, perfect for those heavy snow days.

During the Summer months Rusutsu operates a large Amusement park and that family-centric theme flows into its snow season with interior areas of the resort being finished in a ‘Disneyland’ fantasy style, complete with medieval castle fixtures, a merry-go-round, gaming area and somewhat disturbing Animatronic Dixieland Band.

For the more advanced riders, Rusutsu offers a Terrain park featuring all your standard freestyle fare; Kickers, Rails and Jib Hits. But if you’re feeling even more adventurous you can take a run at their new 2018 “Side Country Park,” full of features designed specifically around the natural hits of the forest and aimed at big air powder riding!

If you’re hoping to party hard while in Rusutsu you may be disappointed, visitors are limited to the Bars and Restaurants that are available within the hotels themselves and any visits to nearby facilities will involve a car or bus ride. Currently accommodation is limited to the hotel rooms and suites, almost no self contained apartments or Chalets are in the area, but there are plans for new construction to expand these options.

Address: Rusutsu Resort Hotel & Convention, 13 字泉川 Rusutsu, Abuta District, Hokkaido 048-1711, Japan

Cost: One Day Lift Pass – Adult ¥5,900 JPY / Child ¥3,000 JPY / Senior ¥4,900 JPY

Terrain Difficulty:
30%
40%
30%

VIEW THE RUSUTSU TRAIL MAP

Family Friendly
★★★★★
Bars & Restaurants
★★★☆☆
Shopping & Facilities
★★★☆☆
Value For Money
★★★★☆
Powder Access
★★★★☆


KIRORO

Kiroro is a newer snow sports destination for Hokkaido, having only opened in 1991 the resort’s lift systems, hotels and facilities are modern and gorgeous, which is a good thing as outside of the resort itself holds little or no options for eating, drinking and accommodation and there’s no nearby village to explore.

The resort keeps a large amount of its terrain un-groomed and there’s easy access to the side country and tree runs from most of the trails, all of this is accessible by 9 chairlifts which include 1 Gondola and 5 hooded fast chairs.

If you’re travelling with children there’s a Kid’s Daycare and Ski School to keep them busy while you get your powder fix. The Games Arcade is also a great option to keep any restless offspring entertained and also has a small Pachinko parlour if you’re interested in trying your hand at Japan’s version of Poker Machines on crack!

Being a quieter resort means it’s perfect for families or groups that are more interested in making the most of it’s 21 runs (with a combined length of 30 kilometres) than working on their Sake induced hangovers. That’s not to say there aren’t options for getting a little crazy, the two Hotels in Kiroro, The Sheraton and The Kiroro Tribute Portfolio Hotel, both have excellent bar and restaurant options, along with Karaoke and the new Kiroro Ice Star Restaurant and Hotel.

Kiroro Ice Star Restaurant and Bar
The Kiroro Ice Star Hotel is a great place to “Chill” – Kiroro Resort

Address: Kiroro Resort, Japan, 〒046-0593 Hokkaidō, Yoichi-gun, Akaigawa-mura, 字常盤650番地

Cost: One Day Lift Pass – Adult ¥5,800 JPY / Child ¥3,000 JPY / Student & Senior ¥5,100 JPY

Terrain Difficulty:
29%
35%
36%

VIEW THE KIRORO TRAIL MAP

Family Friendly
★★★★☆
Bars & Restaurants
★★★☆☆
Shopping & Facilities
★★★☆☆
Value For Money
★★★☆☆
Powder Access
★★★★☆


IWANAI

The newly re-opened Iwanai is a comparatively small resort when pitched against it’s bigger cousins like Niseko and Rusutsu, but its lack of size and popularity means, if you decide to ride at this little powder gem, you’ll be almost completely alone in its Spectacular Powder bowls and un-groomed tree runs. In fact, there is currently only 1 double chairlift running in the resort, with the rest of the mountain only accessible via their ultra modern 10 person Snow Cat.

Iwanai cat Skiing
The luxurious 10 man Iwanai Snow Cat with 360 degree perspex viewing cabin – Iwanai Resort

The new owner, American John Greiner, fell in love with the resort while he worked in Hokkaido during the 1980’s and is now working with the local council to revive the once forgotten resort and, in turn, the nearby fishing town. It’s easy to see why Greiner has such passion for the area, standing at the peak of the resort gives you a spectacular view of the nearby fishing town and out across the Sea of Japan towards Russia.

Hiking Iwanai Monster Energy
The view from Iwanai is definitely worth the hike – Monster Energy

Being so small means Iwanai doesn’t have the facilities taken for granted in bigger resorts, there’s no Ski School or Daycare for kids, a single restaurant, small bar and equipment store and there are no EFTPOS/Credit Card machines so make sure you take cash! (we made this mistake and it costs us a day of riding). But these issues aside, if you’re in a group of serious Powder Hunters looking to get the purest JAPOW experience Iwanai is a “must ride” destination.

Address: Iwanai Resort, Japan, 〒045-0024 Hokkaido, 岩内郡岩内町 野束350-4

Cost: One Day Lift Pass – Adult ¥3,000 JPY / One Day Cat Ski Pass – Adult ¥65,000 JPY

Terrain Difficulty:
30%
40%
30%

VIEW THE IWANAI TRAIL MAP

Family Friendly
★☆☆☆☆
Bars & Restaurants
★☆☆☆☆
Shopping & Facilities
★☆☆☆☆
Value For Money
★★★★☆
Powder Access
★★★★★


TOMAMU

The popularity and size of this unique resort continue to grow every year, with the addition of the countries first “Ski-in Ski-out shopping village” Firefly(Hotalu) Street, Tomamu expands it’s already amazing list of on-site facilities which include numerous Restaurants, Shops, Onsen/Hot baths, a Wedding Chapel, Kids ski school and “Adventure Park”, Ice Village (with skating rink) and their huge indoor wave pool “MinaMina Beach”, which resides in a completely glass building and remains heated to a toasty 30 degrees throughout winter!

Tomamu MinaMina Beach
Tomamu’s indoor wave pool is the biggest in the country – Tomamu Resort

Add to this the resort designers decision to ditch the normal ‘Japanese style’ tiny hotel rooms for much larger western style suites, ranging in size from Generous to Absolutely Huge, Tomamu is easily one of the best options for family snow holidays in Japan. Being such a well-resourced resort you might be led to believe that its slopes and trails are an overcrowded mess, but you’d be wrong!

Tomamu have again bucked-the-trend of other Japanese resorts by allowing skiers and snowboarders full access to all of it’s off-piste and tree areas. That’s right! no more whistleblowing ski patrol chasing you down the mountain every time you duck under a rope. The lift systems have been upgraded and they now boast a 4 man Gondola, 3 hooded Express Quads and 2 regular lifts, But if you want a true Powder experience try a CAT Skiing tour on nearby Mt. Karifuri.

Address: Hoshino Resort Tomamu, Japan, 〒079-2204 Hokkaidō, Yūfutsu-gun, Shimukappu-mura, 占冠村 中トマム

Cost: One Day Lift Pass – Adult ¥5,400 JPY / Child ¥3,800 JPY

Terrain Difficulty:
30%
40%
30%

VIEW THE TOMAMU TRAIL MAP

Family Friendly
★★★★★
Bars & Restaurants
★★★☆☆
Shopping & Facilities
★★★★☆
Value For Money
★★★★★
Powder Access
★★★★☆


ASAHIDAKE

Asahidake is Hokkaido’s highest mountain and essentially just a huge backcountry ski area which is lucky enough to be serviced by a single cable car (ropeway). With massive amounts of powder and unrestricted access to all the open terrain the mountain has to offer, riding at this mountain is the closest you’ll get to a genuine “hike and ride” experience, without ever having to hike!

Being an active Volcano means you have the chance to ski or snowboard near the mountains Fumaroles which constantly steam and smoke, a truly surreal experience if you can handle the smell.

asahidake fumaroles
The Asahidake Fumaroles – sweet-as-tandy.com

Accommodation in the area is limited to the handful of Hotels that line the road leading to the Ropeway station, all modest but comfortable, you’ll be sure to make use of their Volcanic hot springs at the end of a long day shredding the insane powder that this mountain is so well known for. In fact, a lot of local riders have cited Asahidake as the best Powder riding experience Hokkaido has to offer.

Tickets on the Ropeway are cheap! And considering the price of accommodation around the village is just as reasonably priced it’s surprising more people aren’t talking about this place. If you’re seeking a truly Japanese powder experience then Asahidake is a must. Be aware that this area is mostly un-patrolled, so make sure you and your group are experienced enough to handle this amount of deep snow and always carry Avalanche gear.

Address: Asahidake Visitor Centre Japan, 〒071-1472 Hokkaidō, Kamikawa-gun, Higashikawa-chō, Yukomanbetsu, JP

Cost: One Day Lift Pass – Adult ¥1,200 JPY / Student ¥600 JPY / Child FREE!

Terrain Difficulty:
20%
50%
30%

VIEW THE ASAHIDAKE TRAIL MAP

Family Friendly
★☆☆☆☆
Bars & Restaurants
★★☆☆☆
Shopping & Facilities
★☆☆☆☆
Value For Money
★★★★★
Powder Access
★★★★★