top of page




One of our guides on our Eyjafjallajökull-Lyngenalps tour in Norway 2011 was Luca Gasparini, one of the greatest telemarker on the snow of this white planet. 2012 at Skieda in Livigno, he convinced some members of the 2011 group to join him on a trip to Hokkaido 2013 and one of the members convinced me to join too. 

Little did I know about skiing in Japan. I only heard before, that there must be snow heaven. So I needed to upgrade my skis and I ordered a real off piste ski at my skishop. And I waited. And waited.  And waited for my new skis. And when I called them right before christmas 2012  to ask where my new skis are, the answer was: "Uh, you are right, but we didn't hear from the supplier and now it is too late in the season, they are sold out." Finally, they sold me the only pair of freeride skis that was standing in their store. I did not really like it, it was a 'Mötörhead' - normally, this merchandising stuff is not my thing. But in Hokkaido than, it was love at the first turn!

The Story behind


Although whole Hokkaido-Island is a winters paradise, only the stations west of Sapporo are the ones that are blessed with daily fresh powder. So while planning the trip, the majority of the group wanted to stay in this area, while Martin an me, we decided to visit also central Hokkaido. Therefore we rented a car, that we had to pick up after a few days on January 11th at Chitose Airport.We met the rest of the group that night at Sapporo, went with them back to Niseko and left again on January 17th. We met them again at the airport, where some of us returned to Europe, while the others headed to Tokyo for a few days.



2013 Hokaido.jpg
The Tour


Lifts 25

09/10&16 01/2013

Welli Hill Park




Lifts 4


January 9th: 1st day of the Hokkaido Boucle: Niseko. After a never ending journey we finally reach the Black Diamond Lodge in Niseko yesterday. Although the sun welcomed us when we arrived in Hokkaido, it has been snowing continuously since the beginning of our bus ride from Chitose. The snow walls are also getting higher and higher and reach a good 1.5 meters in Niseko. In addition it is cold - winter just the same.
 The first day of skiing on Asian soil starts in Niseko Village via the Banzai Lift and soon we are at the top (=1100 m), where the sun is snowing and the wind is really calm, as if the Pacific Ocean wanted to tell us: Don't forget me, I am only 15 kilometers away from you. The first rides in knee- to waist-deep powder will be done on Niseko-Annupuri from gate 1 - the official access to the off-piste areas is exclusively through "gates" (this name limits a lot) - a step forward, because until recently off-piste was totally forbidden in this safety-loving country (NISA-Tepco salutes).
The wind got stronger and our attempt to get to the more sheltered Hirafu-Kogen on the east side was disturbed by the closed connecting lift. We still made it and were able to experience the moment on the chairlift when the lights of the impressive night ski area were switched on. Of course with consequences for our skiing day :-). Niseko is a surprisingly varied and large ski area with mostly easier slopes, but countless treerides (the area is almost completely below the tree line), which are simply fun to ski in the loose snow. Let's see what day 2 brings.

January 10:Today it was again "Snow who can! And many here can do that: 30 cm of fresh snow over the night are normal here. Every day. The whole winter. You probably have to see it yourself to be able to grasp it.
We didn't get to know the whole area yesterday, the fourth part of Ni-seko Hanazono was still missing. It consists of a great single chair and then a row of other chairlifts with decreasing inclination, but with bubble. But we still focused on the single chair - so much snow simply needs a slope.

On the second day, the impression of Niseko remained the same: white in white with some trees in between. Simply u.n.b.e.l.i.e.v.a.b.l.e

January 16: Actually, we planned to make a tour to Yotei today, probably the only possibility to top yesterday's downhill run over the Luca-Run. After a bad sleep (how can you sleep with a ski tour ahead, 3 hours with minus 20° and a storm wind?) we get up at 5:30 a.m., at 6 a.m. we get into the van with the densest Niseko flurry, when the guide says: Sorry, you can get out again, too much snow on the Yotei. Next time maybe. I dare to say that I wasn't the only one who slipped back into bed in mega relief.




Lifts 4

Januar 11: After a short bus ride through the snowy Hokkaido back to New Chitose Airport to pick up the car, we drove to Sapporo and then to our first of the many house skiresorts of the 2 million metropolis Sapporo: Bankei. We finally found it only thanks to the kind help of the lady at the information desk of a highway rest stop who was kind enough to give us the telephone number of the ski resort - thanks to the telephone numbers our Japanese navigation system finds the desired destinations, the whole preparation with coordinates, that I was preparing at home, was for nothing. A great ride through downtown at rush hour and up the Sapporo hills, past the Olympic ski jump and soon down again to Bankei, which is an estimated 5 minutes away from Sapporo on a second ridge, not to be missed thanks to the floodlights.

Bankei is a mini station with all the facilities typical for Japan: changing rooms, lockers, skirental, cash desk, restaurant and kiosk. Everything is done for the well-being of the guest. Thanks to this customer orientation, buying tickets is no problem and soon we will be standing on the skis and looking at the sea of lights. The area offers one steep (hard) and several less steep short (but also hard) slopes (artificial snow!!), on which many children and some adults are on their way. From Bankei you can see the lights of the next ski area right next door, where we continue our trip and reach the valley station Moiwayama in 10 minutes.
There we first have to ask for the ticket office, where we then buy the ticket (11 swiss francs) for the second night skiing area the same evening (record?). A chairlift takes us up to a hill, where we are surprised to find that we entered the area via a side entrance, because four more lifts are located in the next basin - all flooded, of course. Apart from some shorter ones, the area also offers some longer descents. Especially Route 1, which leads directly into the lights of the city, is very impressive. 

 Although there are fewer skiers than in Bankei (we learned that snowboarding is not allowed in Moiwayama), Moiwa is the much better area, because the slopes are longer, more varied and have more scenic emotions and better snow than Bankei. Deeply impressed we say goodbye to Moiwa and make our way to the hotel where we meet the rest of the group again, who just arrived from Niseko with a second guide and a minivan.

kokusai 2.JPG


Lifts 4



The night in Sapporo was not as long as I had feared, but still full of new impressions in a culture that was completely foreign to me until then. Impressive the snowy mountains at the roadsides, impressive the mirror-smooth streets on which people who have fallen down constantly pick themselves up again - and all this in a metropolis of millions. We drive south, leave the city area and suddenly find ourselves in a deserted environment. No fraying on the outskirts of the city, the settlement area ends in one fell swoop. Spatial planning seems to work a lot better here than it does here.
We drive up a beautiful valley, pass a reservoir and after a bend in front of the ski area of Kokusai, which seems to have a certain importance, we look at the number of cars and the impressive valley station. This reminds me (although no rooms are offered) of France's stations: Built somewhere in no man's land, because that's where the slopes are at their best. But the stations of the Grande Nation could learn a lot about the standard of the facilities: What surprised me yesterday in Bankei is convincing in Kokusai in three versions: Pure customer orientation!
The area itself offers a black run and a lot for beginners. There are many of them, much to our delight, because the treeruns were hardly lost! Hayden, our new additional guide, led us to great bowls and treelines and finally on a short tour even further up, where an insane slope with madness-sinnspowder awaited us. The tour ended with an adventurous return through a narrow river valley just before dark - perfect timing! I would never have thought that this area offers so much powder experience. And the day wasn't over yet: On the way to Sapporo we stopped at an onsen in Jozankei, where we were tired but happy to splash around in the hot water. There's something here already. A perfect ending for a perfect day.


Lifts 9



Last night lasted a bit longer - therefore the text here is shorter.


Although we had to learn yesterday that Russi Bernhard and Nadig Marie-Therese won their downhill gold at the 1972 Olympic Games in Eniwa (an area that no longer exists) and NOT as we had believed on Teine, our local mountain, the path led there today.

A great area, so close to the city, with big beginner areas and great steep slopes - yes, off-piste stuff is also available (mushroom)! 



Lifts 7



We leave Sapporo and drive along the highway and Otaru and shampar snow covered roads to Kiroro, a resort located in the middle of a lovely valley surrounded by lovely hills. 

Thanks to our additional guide Mitch (we now have 3 guides!) we find some good spots, which offer rather short runs with longer rides in the riverbeds back out to the lifts. So the whole thing lives more from the breathtaking winter pictures and the view over the country, to Yotei and Niseko.

The crowning glory was the short but equally breathtaking tour up one of the surrounding hills, one hour of flay for a run over 200 meters of altitude - that's what they do here. But also only because they don't have split skins.

Nevertheless: Kiroro was also worth a trip. At least for one day.¨

Information to plan your trip


Lifts 7



January 15: After we had an unexpected change and upgrade of our accommodation after our return from Kiroro yesterday, today we are going to the Rusutsu Resort, the 'neighbor' and competitor (No 1 in Hokkaido) of Niseko. 

We drive about 40 minutes over snowy land and past the Yotei and end up at the resort, situated between other smaller volcanoes and the Shiribetsu Dake. Luca (we only have one left, but again our original guide) leads us to the western slope of the West Mountain to warm up and from there down to the actual village Rusutsu, from where Andrew from Black Diamond Tours takes us back to the resort. From there we drive back to the West-Mountain, fells and climbs up the ridge to the east, where a great steep slope lies directly to the resort - including great trees down below. 

Afterwards we change to the east side of the area. At the end of the day and the highlight of this trip so far, we take the Gondora to Mount Isola, climb over the barrier ropes and walk southwards along a short ridge along the sunset before we enter the first open and completely untouched bowl. After numerous swings we cross a saddle and an even bigger bowl lies in front of us, of course with complete powder. The way out leads over a creek and through a forest before we stand on the road and are picked up again by Andrew. 800 vertical meters downhill without losing a drop of sweat on the ascent - you notice the different guide style compared to yesterday. 


Januar 17: Today the vacations end, because there is also something to be done. We say goodbye to the powder freaks who are staying in Niseko and stick their noses into the snow - we want to collect some lifts, that's what we finally mobilized for!

First we drive to Rusutsu, there are still a few lifts left. The area as such does not offer much excitement, and if we hadn't had the incredible Luca-Run still in our memories, the verdict would have been even harder: A better Schönried is this one.

We complete the lifts in record time and set off on the approximately 4-hour trip to Furano in Central Hokkaido. Here we want to visit the one or other area.


NOBORIBETSU (no pictures)

Lifts 2



Lifts 10



We arrive in Tomamu, praised by the Black Diamond Guides over in Niseko. Tomamu itself praises itself as the place of the "Silk Powder", which is supposed to make you forget the Champagne Powder. Unfortunately, we don't find the powder in the usual masses (did I mention that Niseko destroys life because powder is only perceived from half a meter on?), besides, you have to get accredited for off-piste (sic!), for which you get a helmet and a beep. Due to the lack of fresh deep snow and suitable slopes (with the exception of the top section, everything is covered with coniferous woods), we do without it and instead set out to ski the slopes and lifts, which stretch from an endless area up to 2 hills - the Tomamu (with 1210m the highlight of this trip) and an unknown side hill, to which another 4 lifts lead up. This sounds like a lot, but it's not: With the exception of the uppermost slopes, which all end at lift 8, the descents are short and above all very flat. A slight disappointment that tempts us to continue straight away.



Lifts 7


So it's just fitting that the navigation suddenly led us into the small area of Noboribetsu Kogen Sanraiba - thank you very much!

Afterwards we actually drive to Furano. Less snow, but also less temperature. We are curious!


After 30 minutes we reach the resort Sahoro via the Karikachi Pass. There are no skyscrapers far and wide, only a Club Med (!), but it is also discreet. After having bought the 2-hour ticket we take the gondola up to Mount Sahoro-Dake (1059m) and experience this amazingly versatile area, which Tomamu tops in all aspects: More interesting, varied and steeper slopes, open tree-ride terrain all over the mountain, no (!) off-piste limits, faster lifts, the only ski lift in Japan and a pretty impressive view of the Obihiro area. We don't understand why Tomamu has the better standing than Sahoro and simply attribute this to Tomamu's marketing investments. We are very impressed by this small but nice destination.


After 30 minutes we reach the resort Sahoro via the Karikachi Pass. There are no skyscrapers far and wide, only a Club Med (!), but it is also discreet. After having bought the 2-hour ticket we take the gondola up to Mount Sahoro-Dake (1059m) and experience this amazingly versatile area, which Tomamu tops in all aspects: More interesting, varied and steeper slopes, open tree-ride terrain all over the mountain, no (!) off-piste limits, faster lifts, the only ski lift in Japan and a pretty impressive view of the Obihiro area. We don't understand why Tomamu has the better standing than Sahoro and simply attribute this to Tomamu's marketing investments. We are very impressed by this small but nice destination.



Lifts 2



On the way back we see a small station Minamifurano at Minamirfurano. It would be unfair not to visit it, wouldn't it? 2 great descents reward this stop. And many thanks to the local, who helped me with the ticket machine. He was the only english information in the house: The ticket machine was Japanese only and so were the rest of the people there.



Lifts 10



Furano: Isn't that this exotic place where Swiss ski stars in the 80s collected podiums like other stamps?

Two decades later we are back and breathing the aura of success! From our hotel, which is located directly at the slopes, we swing the skis through the freshly fallen (Silk!) powder to the lift. The Black Diamonds had said that the piste control here was particularly rigid, so we decided to avoid off-piste adventures (interestingly, the ropes were less daunting than in Niseko, so more and more tracks were found in the dense wood). Meanwhile we searched for the world cupists and found the only hint of them not in the Furano part of the area but in Kitanomine. To be honest: We had to rely on the information on the piste plan to find out, because in our eyes none of the slopes was really worthy of a World Cup.
The area consists of 2 mountains (Furano and Kitanomine, which is closer to the city of Furano), which are connected by a ski run and a chair lift. Both mountains have the same characteristics: A chair lift chain and a cable car and a gondola each run parallel to the peaks. At the top there are some steeper slopes, at the bottom they are flat. For both mountains the leftmost slope seen from above is the best (in Kitanomi-ne the WC slope). Maximum (from Furano-Top to Kitanomine-Base) 950m verticals are possible. With 1209m the highest point is 1 meter lower than yesterday in Tomamu. So we cruise around in this area, that we don't get that warm despite all the nostalgia (maybe because one of them is too young for that and the Swiss aren't either). Therefore we keep it like the World Cup itself: Furano - nice to have seen it, but it's not really a comeback destination.



Lifts 6/4



What sounds like the same is by no means the same: between the two identical areas there are a good 40 kilometers of driving. In terms of the rating, on the other hand, they are becoming similar again. But one after the other.

Kamui Ski Link praises itself as one of the best ski resorts in Hokkaido, it is also praised by the Black Diamond Guides (you notice, they are my reference here). Excitedly, we drive there, in the middle of the beginning of spring in Hokkaido (when we get in, the thermo shows only -2°). After about an hour we are there in the Zweisimmen of Japan and we wonder where to find the charm of Kamui. We take (of course) all the lifts (again a parallel story with 1 gondola, 3 chairlifts and 1 chairlift that complements the area to the north, plus a practice chair below), the slopes, hang on to guides and ride the Bowles And Also The Trees, but nothing convinces. In the end we agree that it must be because of this:

We finish the visit rapidly and drive like that to Mt. Kamoi, the penultimate area on our loop. Kamoi is a small area that stretches a few meters up the hill on two sides, but it is also an area dedicated to racing (next week there will be a FIS slalom here). We are happy to be the only non-Japanese people and we are happy about the facilities here: One restaurant has no pictures, the other no restaurant, but a Noodle-Soup machine. There we get a soup for 170 Yen, which we then take in the Resting Room together with the racing kids and their parents - something more that our tourism experts could look at here.



Lifts 4


YUBARI? "You won't go there..."

.... the chief guide of the Black Diamonds said on my statement that I wanted to take Yubari with me on the way to the airport. And it almost came true, because the GPS led us first of all past Mt Racey (as the area is called after the so named Resorthotel). But attentive as we are, we thought that a mountain with a gondola and several chair lifts does not occur so often here, so we turned around. Mount Racey from below: Actually not to overlook. We wanted a 2-hour ticket but that is not available here. Only a 4-hour ticket for 3850 Yen. A bargain for the 5 lifts, 19 (!) downhill runs and the 404 meter verticals. Maybe you pay for the new lifts, the well-prepared slopes or the proximity to Chitose Airport (the price elasticity of demand is completely inelastic for area collectors) ... we don't know. 40 minutes and 5 lifts and departures later we get into the car which takes us to the airport and from there from Hokkaido to Hong Kong. Despite the short stay we don't want to miss the visit and are happy to have shown that it is possible to go there after all.

HOw we got there

based on my experiences 2013

Milano - Hong Kong - Sapporo with Cathay Pacific.

Trip there: Skis were carried as checked-in luggage by the participating airlines at no extra charge.

Return: Because we carried the skis from our friends who went to Tokyo, we payed an extra 1'500.- U$ (no kidding).


The airport Chitose is located one hour south of Sapporo. The first journey from Chitose to Niseko was by bus (via Rusutsu). At the airport you have to catch the lady who represents the bus company. The bus ride takes 2 hours leisurely through the country - Tip: After 1 hour ride there is a stop where you get your first delicious snack. With the return journey to Chitose the place in the bus had to be reserved over the booking hotel. In general: seats in the bus must be reserved.

The public transport should be well developed, we did not test it. There are regular bus connections from Sapporos hotels to Teine and the regions around Sapporo and train connections to Tomamu and Sahoro.


based on my experiences 2013

For Japan, a translation of the drivers license certified by the respective embassy in Tokyo is required. This is easily available (it took less than 1 week), but must be presented at the rental station, otherwise there is no car. Since the roads are permanently snow-covered, it is worthwhile to have an AWD. Taking over the car (I had reserved it from Switzerland) in Chitose (after all an International Airport!) was an adventure, because the lady didn't know a word of English and the communication was done by English texts, which she presented to me on printouts. On the last slide it was written that the transfer to the rental station would be by bus (skis etc. everything included). There I was welcomed by a lady in best English. That was also necessary for the explanation of the ...


The lady explained us the navigation system, without which a westerner is pretty much lost. Cleverly, the location information works via the telephone numbers. So: In preparation, find the telephone numbers of all hotels and ski resorts, that makes things easier.

About the driving

based on my experiences 2013

In Japan: Keep left! Driving is relaxed, as large areas of Hokkaido are very sparsely populated. The speed limit is theoretically 40km/h outside of town - as soon as the roads are curvy. On straight roads it's 60km/h, on roads and railroads it's 80km/h or 100km/h. Practically it is 80-100km/h, which are driven everywhere. When I asked our Canadian guide, who has lived in Niseko for 15 years, about the height of the bus during such a trip, he could not give me any information, because he has never experienced any controls. Nevertheless, the roads are permanently snow-covered (except on the coasts), in the cities they are often very icy. This fact has to be taken into account when planning the speed and speaks for the rent of a four-wheel drive car.

The traffic is relaxed and friendly, priority is given and in return the typical Japanese thank you is also given from car to car. There are enough gas stations, payment by credit card was never a problem.


Snow Chains
The roads are flat and usually rise only slightly. AWD should be sufficient if you are not off road. The road conditions are worst in cities with roads wrapped under thick ice anyway.



About the ski resorts

based on my experiences 2013

Two types of mountains can be found on Hokkaido: West of Sapporo, volcanoes dominate the wide expanses; east of Sapporo is the Hidaka Mountains, which cover all of central Hokkaido and consist of somewhat higher and denser mountain and valley landscapes. Here too, however, the valleys are more open than in the Alps or Pyrenees.

The areas start at 100-200 meters above sea level, all descents lead back to the valley. The difference in altitude is up to 950 meters in Furano and 940 meters in Niseko (from the summit, which can only be reached on foot, it is 1100 meters).

The slopes are all clearly marked. Usually with barrier tape, in extreme cases with a red plastic barrier grid to make it clear that off-piste is not tolerated at all in this area. The slopes are of European standard in their width and are all located in forested areas. Excluded here are the uppermost lifts in Niseko.

Night skiing
All ski areas offer night skiing, although in the larger regions not all slopes are illuminated.


Lift tickets
Prices range from 6700 Yen (CHF 58) in Niseko to 4700 Yen (CHF 41) in Furano to 3000 Yen (CHF 26) in Kokusai. There are also hourly tickets and tickets especially for the evening hours available. Niseko has a chip card, in the other areas there are visual cards which are tied to the arm with a transparent bandage.   

Ski rental
The ski resorts offer a full range of services at the valley stations, either in the hotels (Niseko Village, Rusutsu, Furano etc.) or in the villages. If you brought the wrong ski to Hokkaido, you can exchange it with some restrictions.


Access roads
The accesses to the areas are all easy even at  snowfall. Parking spaces are usually easy to find and are often in the area of hotels (Ni-seko, Rusutsu, Furano, Tomamu), as the hotels often also run the resorts. Access and parking are free of charge, the highways are toll roads. Public transportation in Japan is well developed, but not always easy to use because of the writing.

Since we did not book the overnight stays in Niseko ourselves I cannot judge whether it is difficult to find anything there. We stayed in Niseko in a small Japanese pen-sion and in the Black Diamond Lodge, both with shared showers and moderate prices. Breakfast at the Japanese guesthouse was delicious, but communication was not so easy. However, there are a lot of hotels that can be booked normally via the usual hotel portals (what we did in Furano).

Off Piste

based on my experiences 2013

With the masses of snow, Hokkaido is the paradise of the freeriders of the world. The Canadians and Australians already know it, the Italians are already there (our guide was also Ita-liener), and surely it is only a matter of time until more circles also from the German speaking regions plough through the snow masses. Freeriding is regulated differently from region to region. 

In Niseko the freeride areas are divided into 3 categories: The Strictly Off category, the Strictly Off-Unless-You-Educate-Yourself category and the Only-Pass-If-Gate-Is-Open category. The first category is available in 2 locations: Harunotaki and Yunosawa include more or less rocky cliff terrain and can hardly be overlooked. The second category, Mizuno no Sawa, is located under the Niseko Village gondola and can be skied if you participate in the avalanche education program. And the other freeride areas are regulated by gates. These open and close after a program. Each gate leads to a new deep snow area, usually a valley or a mountain slope, with more or less trees. Since not all gates open at the same time and the new snow is falling all the time, you have fresh powder all day long at new locations. Once you have seen the system, it wins a lot, even if you get annoyed at first, because: Crossing the rope is strictly prohibited! If you get caught, it can cost you the ticket (if you still want to try, buy day tickets).

In Rusutsu, Kiroro, Kokusai, Kamui and Teine, the regime seems to be somewhat looser, with no strictly prohibited areas. However, off-piste is completely forbidden in Furano. The tracks behind the ropes make us doubt the prohibition of off-piste skiing, but because of the terrain (very dense forest) and the not so massive snow we could easily follow the rules and the slopes.


based on my experiences 2013

The use of credit cards is actually no problem. It becomes more difficult in the procurement of money, since most ATMs do not recognize the cards. The only ATMs were in the 7Eleven Stores. Maybe we did something wrong.

The thing with the shoes
In the guesthouses and partly also restaurants the shoes are taken off at the entrance and exchanged for finches - or one stays right in the socks. The reason is simple: If the shoes stay outside, the snow stays outside and the floor on which you often sit stays dry. The fact that the finches are then changed while going to the toilet is again a result of hygienic considerations. Actually not a wild thing.

Apres ski à la japonaise: Onsen
Actually, I was not a fan of swimming in winter, but on Hokkaido I've learned to appreciate it in the onsen. The hot natural springs are one of the many highlights of skiing in Japan. Spend the whole day in the snow in the freezing cold and then dive down for an hour at 40° C, let the snow trickle down on your head, you can bring your beer can. It forces itself on to go directly after skiing into the bath: Bathing utensils are not necessary (gender-separated nude bath), towels can be rented, ski clothes are stored in small boxes, there are small safes for valuables. And since the shower is at least 15 minutes before the bath anyway (totally relaxed shower ritual on small stools with hectoliters of warm water, shower gel and shampoo are also available in large quantities) there are no inhibitions because of hygiene. The directly following dinner makes the skiing day perfect, no further action is necessary.


Catering and Facilities
In the skiing areas there is a sufficient number of huts, mostly with a fully equipped valley station with sports store, ski valley, restaurant, convenience store, self-catering area and changing rooms - a service we are not yet familiar with in Europe. Catering is Japanese and continental and usually correspondingly refined. The prices are moderate. The Japanese are vending machines-addictet. Often you have to buy a ticket, which has to be shown at the cash desk and then the food is prepared.


bottom of page