If the lauded, bottomless powder that Japan is known for is your No. 1 reason for making the journey to the Far East, then you’re going to want to make the northern island of Hokkaido your final destination. Sure, Honshu (the main island) certainly receives its fair share of powder, but Hokkaido sits in the most advantageous path to receive the cold weather patterns that coalesce over the Sea of Japan. In fact, Hokkaido’s geography is so ideal that some of the coastal resorts receive 45 to 60 feet of snow annually! Interestingly enough, the coastal resorts (Niseko, Rusutsu and Kiroro) enjoy dry powder thanks to the cold temperatures.
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To help you determine which resort or combination is right for you, we compiled an overview of some of the most popular Hokkaido ski resorts.
Top Hokkiado ski resorts
Located 62 miles west of Sapporo, Niseko is easily the most internationally renowned ski resort in Hokkaido, if not Japan. In addition, it’s also the No. 1 place to score the deepest pow in Japan. Situated near the Mt. Yōtei (“Mt. Fuji of Hokkiado”), Niseko offers visitors epic views from the slopes as well as from the base villages. Backcountry, sidecountry, off-piste and tree skiing are all topnotch in Niseko—and it’s not just for experts. Niseko features a perfect range of terrain options for all ability types.
Niseko is made up of four interconnected ski areas: An’nupuri, Hanazono, Hirafu and Niseko Village. Each ski area is separately owned and operated and requires a separate lift ticket for access, but Ski.com offers a multi-resort ticket so skiers and riders can roam the interconnect slopes freely.
In addition to being well suited for powderhounds and those seeking a high-end experience, Niseko is one of the best places to visit for U.S. skiers and snowboarders who are a little apprehensive about traveling to Japan. Thanks to a prevalence of Australian locals and the resort’s international renown, English is widely spoken across the resort and at most accommodations and restaurants. Niseko is a top pick for families, too. English is spoken in childcare facilities and in children’s ski lessons. The other side of that coin is that Niseko provides a slightly less authentic experience than some of the other Hokkaido ski resorts.
Niseko accommodations + base villages
Niseko offers the largest selection of accommodations in Hokkaido. Options range from luxury hotels and condos to spacious lodges and plenty of private homes and apartments available for rent. Niseko accommodations trend towards a moneyed crowd, but there are some reasonably priced options. A few of the properties, like The Green Leaf or Hilton in Niseko Village, offer ski in ski out access, but most require a short walk or shuttle ride to the slopes.
Although it’s quite easy to ski to and from the four ski areas, it isn’t as easy to get to and from each base village when you aren’t skiing. The one downside of Niseko is that the base areas are not next to each other and getting transportation to and from isn’t simple. Thus, it’s important to select the base village you want to be in.
If you know you want to dine out a lot and enjoy some nightlife, then your decision is easy—stay in Hirafu. Featuring a collection of international fusion and European-inspired restaurants and, of course, authentic Japanese hotspots, Hirafu is a pleasant surprise for a foodie. The dining in Hirafu might be elevated, but typical gourmet prices are not. By Western standards, eating out in Hirafu is actually quite affordable. Just be sure to make advance reservations.
In addition, nightlife in Niseko is centered on Hirafu. If you’re looking for a quieter scene, but a few restaurants and bars on hand, An’nupuri and Niseko Village are perfect. For an even quieter off-slope experience, book your stay in Hanazono base village.
Of the Hokkadio ski resorts, Niseko also comes out on top for activities. In Niseko, you can experience everything from guided ski touring (skinning), heli skiing and cat skiing to tobogganing or tubing with the kids and a relaxing afternoon at an onsen (hot spring). Many hotels, including the premier Chalet Ivy, feature private onsens only available to guests, but there are also several public onsens including one at The Vale Niseko and several more in Hirafu. To learn more about onsens, read our post “Everthing you need to know for your first ski trip to Japan.”
Second to Niseko in annual snowfall, Rusutsu receives 46 feet of dry, fluffy goodness. Rusutsu sits a convenient 47 miles (90-minute drive) from Sapporo and is a 30-minute drive from the powder kingdom of Niseko. Rusutsu is also the largest ski resort in Hokkiado and is made up of three Mountains: East, West and Isola. Whether you’re staying in Rusutsu the whole time or aiming to spend a day there, the easy accessibility and stellar powder make skiing at Rusutsu a no brainer.
Although Rusutsu is lauded for its deep snow, the resort provides world-class groomed conditions on its beginner and intermediate slopes. In addition, the non-groomed powder runs provide a gentle pitch making it perfect for learning to ski or ride in powder. For the powder-hungry, adventurous skiers and riders, Rusustu offers an abundance of fall-line tree skiing easy to get to right off the chairlift. No traversing required! In addition, you won’t be in competition for first tracks. Rusustu rarely sees big crowds, especially off-piste and in the trees!
Rusutsu accommodations + base villages
With only two accommodation options in Rusutsu, the choice is easy. If you’re looking for ski in ski out access, a family-friendly environment and plenty of modern facilities, services and amenities, opt for the Rusutsu Resort Hotel. Both Western and traditional Japanese rooms are available, and kids and the young at heart will love the Disneyland-esque décor and funky Japanese kitsch. Plus, the Rusutsu Resort Hotel provides direct access to the beginner slopes that has night skiing and the kids’ snow park. Rusutsu Resort Hotel is situated at the foot of West Mountain in the small base village.
If you’re looking for a high-touch experience, upscale atmosphere and world-renowned services and amenities, book your stay at the Westin Rusutsu Resort. Situated in 23-floor tower that provides stunning views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains, the Westin Rusutsu Resort is located on the other side of the road from the main base village and offers easy access to the East Mountain (where all the famed powder can be found) via chairlift. It’s also easy to get to the main base village and West Mountain slopes, where the family-friendly and beginner slopes can be enjoyed, via monorail.
Both hotels provide an array of great restaurants and there are a handful of eateries in the base village, but the options pale in comparison to Niseko’s Hirafu village. In addition, nightlife is limited in Rusutsu, save for a couple bars.
For families, Rusutsu is a haven. There’s no shortage of activities—especially at Rusutsu Resort Hotel. Top amenities at Rusutsu Resort Hotel include a wave pool, indoor ski slope for kids and an arcade. In addition, there’s a kids’ snow park with tubing, snow biking and more! One of the most unique aspects of Rusutsu is skiing through the snow-covered summer amusement park. During the winter, the Ferris wheel and theme-park rides are buried beneath a deep layer of snow and the visual affect is unique. Be sure to snap a photo!
A quick two-hour bus ride from New Chitose Airport, Kiroro is a top pick for the ski traveler who wants the benefits of an under-the-radar resort. Comprised of 21 runs and lacking the fame of many of its neighboring resorts, Kiroro sees few crowds, but plenty of snow! Kiroro receives almost 43 feet of snow on average, so those in pursuit of powder will be pleased.
Kiroro features a nice array of terrain options, but the on-piste terrain is quite tame and ideal for beginners and intermediates. The Powder Line zones, a locals’ favorite, is where the more aggressive powder-seekers will want to spend their time.
Kiroro is just an hour’s drive from Niseko, making it possible to check out the famous resort for the day.
Kiroro accommodations + base village
At Kiroro there is no true village—it’s a bare-bones operation with minimal base area facilities and a couple hotels, harkening to the good ol’ day of skiing when things were simple. That said, the hotel options available will delight the discerning ski vacationer.
The well-appointed ski in ski out Sheraton Hokkaido Kiroro Resort is five stories high and features 140 rooms—some are designed in the Western style and others for Japanese clientele. Guests can enjoy buffet fine dining at the Rivièrouge. Breakfast is included in the rates and dinner can be added to your Kiroro ski vacation package. Ask a Mountain Travel Expert for details.
The Kiroro, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel is a three-minute shuttle ride from the slopes. The more high-end of the two, The Kiroro features well-appointed twin rooms and traditional Japanese rooms that accommodate up to five guests. With two onsite Japanese restaurants, Fuga and Shunsai, a cafe restaurant, POP, an Italian restaurant, Alla Moda and a charcoal barbecue restaurant, Yanshu, The Kiroro offers a wide and excellent selection of dining options.
Families will especially appreciate The Kiroro’s many onsite activities and attractions, like an indoor pirate-ship playground, craft area and arcade. Additional amenities include a segregated (male and female) onsen, day spa and children’s pool.
If you have enough energy after a day of skiing deep Hokkaido powder, Kiroro offers a gamut of off-slope activities. Relax at one of the onsens, indoor or open-air, take laps in the swimming pool and treat yourself to an afternoon massage or treatment at a spa. Adventurous, outdoor activities include snowshoe tours, snow tubing, snowcat tours and tobogganing.
Located in Central Hokkaido, Furano receives less snow (about 30 feet annually) than the coastal resorts of Niseko, Rusutsu and Kiroro, but what it lacks for in snowfall it makes up for in amenities and attractions. Furano is perfect for the ski vacationer who wants a crowd-free, down-to-earth resort with big resort amenities and facilities. Plus, having the nearby town of Furano provides those in search of authentic dining, shopping and sightseeing opportunities with the perfect outlet.
Furano features 24 trails, accessed by nine chairlifts, and some impressive vertical. Famed for having well-manicured, long groomers, Furano is a top choice for those who like to cruise. Advanced skiers and riders will enjoy exploring the off-piste terrain and sidecountry skiing, which is accessed via designated gates and requires avalanche equipment and prior knowledge. Furano is also the perfect basecamp for backcountry enthusiasts who’d like to explore the Asahi-dake volcano on a guided trip or check out the other two Hokkaido Powder Belt resorts of Kamui or Tomamu.
Although Furano receives 15 to 20 feet less snow than fellow Hokkaido ski resorts, it should be noted that the resort’s central location ensures that the snow quality is the driest and lightest you’ll find on the island! Plus, Furano enjoys more sunny days that its coastal counterparts.
Furano accommodations + base villages
Furano has an array of accommodation options from hotels and condos to lodges and hotels, but for the best access to the slopes and world-class amenities and facilities at your fingertips you’ll want to stay at the New Furano Prince Hotel or the Furano Prince Hotel.
The 12-story New Furano Prince Hotel is just three minutes from the chairlifts and features five onsite restaurants, two bars, three coffee shops, a bakery and relaxing amenities like a spa, sauna, onsen and more. Be sure to check out the many onsite shops housed in a charming hut village. A surprising highlight for New Furano Prince Hotel guests is Soh’s Bar for Miserable Smokers. Requiring a snowy, Christmas-light lined walk, Soh’s Bar features an open fire, great drinks and tapas-style dining, but is a smoking-friendly establishment.
Located in the ski in ski out Kitanomine base are, the 112-room Furano Prince Hotel provides everything you’d need on a ski trip, including an onsite restaurant and apres-ski lounge.
Furano’s two base villages: Kitanomine and Prince Romance are simple and have a couple retail and rental shops and restaurants, but if you’re looking for some great dining and nightlife, head into the town of Furano. Here you’ll enjoy more than 100 authentic Japanese restaurants, lively bars and clubs and plenty of kitschy shops.
There’s no shortage of off-slopes activities in the Furano area, including onsen tours, snowshoe trekking, hot-air balloon rides, dog sledding and ice fishing. In addition, the New Furano Prince Hotel is home to Snow Night Fantasy, which includes a snow dome, ice bar and snow sculptures—all illuminated by hundreds of colorful lights. The Snow Night Fantasy is available from the end of December to early March.
Do you have a better idea which Hokkaido ski resort is right for you now? Call one of our 65+ Mountain Travel Experts today to book your complete trip, including flights, lodging, lift tickets, rentals and even trip insurance. They’re standing by for your call at 800-610-8911. You can also get started by filling out a form for a free custom quote.
Originally from the icy trails of New Jersey, I moved West to pursue powder and a career in writing and editing. Now in Aspen, Colo. and working for Ski.com managing the website and blog content, I couldn't be happier. You'll find me skiing at Aspen Mountain or Aspen Highlands in the winter and mountain biking at Snowmass in the summer.