If you’ve been skiing in Japan a few times, you may be looking for a new area to explore away from the crowds, and possibly away from the westerners. If that’s the case, let me tell you about the skiing in Central Hokkaido. Hint – think minimal crowds and maximum powder.
Truthfully, the Central Hokkaido area doesn’t receive quite as much annual snowfall as areas like Niseko. However, the colder weather, drier snow and lack of crowds, ensures the snow quality stays amazing. And you can even lay fresh tracks many days after the latest snowfall.
Alright, let’s get to it.. what’s the big secret about skiing in Central Hokkaido? I’m going to tell you ☺️.
These stats are based on Furano Ski Resort, as it’s probably the most well known ski resort in the Central Hokkaido area. Furano is also a really great base for you to spend your holiday. I’ll talk more on accommodation in Furano along the way, but for now, let’s get to the important stuff 😉.
Season Duration: Late November to early May
Average Cumulative Snowfall: 9 metres – still an absolute butt load 😱
Mountain Top: 1,209m
Skiable Terrain: Around 32km’s worth of trails 👌🏼
Number of Lifts: 9 including a 100 person cable car (hello warmth!)
Night Skiing: Every night!
An Overview of Furano
The town of Furano sits towards the centre of the North Island named Hokkaido (hence why it comes up when talking about skiing in central Hokkaido 😂). Furano sets itself apart from resorts like Niseko and Hakuba by (so far) maintaining a more traditional Japanese cultural vibe. It’s not a ‘typical’ ski town.
This means you will find far less westerners up here than the other areas of Japan. You won’t find tons of restaurants, bars, coffee shops and board stores. English speaking locals are harder to come by, and you won’t find a bunch of tourist offices. What you will find is amazing hospitality, delicious Japanese restaurants, and what you’re really here for, freaking amazing snow!
Furano Ski Resort
Furano is not a big resort by international standards, and is a fair bit smaller than Niseko. Don’t let the size deter you though, the incredible snow will leave you completely satisfied 👌🏼.
While, I personally wouldn’t spend an entire week here, you can certainly fill 4 to 5 days of riding in Furano before getting somewhat bored. If the snow is falling heavily, and you’re getting fresh tracks basically to yourself everyday, I would be very surprised if you were to get bored at all 😍.
There are two sides to Furano Ski Resort, and the one ski pass covers both areas. The areas are known as Furano Zone and Kitanome Zone, and you can easily ski between them. Check out the Furano trail map by clicking here.
Side Note: Interestingly, the Furano Zone is the only side to operate for the entire season (November to May). While Kitanome Zone only operates during the peak months of December to early March. I would anticipate that the area is much too quiet after early March to have both zones operating anyway.
Out of Bounds Skiing in Furano
The last time I visited Furano, off-piste or backcountry skiing was not allowed 😱😫. I have spoken previously about how the Japanese are changing their thoughts surrounding backcountry skiing, and in some areas it’s slow going. Luckily for me, I was there with a guiding company called Whiteroom Tours, and they had arrangements with Ski Patrol to allow us to explore the amazing side and back-country of Furano without prosecution.
Luckily for you, nowadays Furano does allow off-piste skiing 🎉, however I believe you must enter these areas through certain gates. Even though you’re going into the same area, ducking ropes is a big no-no 🙅🏼♀️.
Notable Surrounding Ski Resorts in Central Hokkaido
If you’re planning a two-week ski trip and are wondering what else to do with your time, don’t head back to Niseko! There are plenty of other resorts to go skiing in Central Hokkaido that you will love.
You will need to hire a car to get to these resorts, and I would still recommend to use Furano as a base. It’s important to remember that the ski resorts up here are much smaller and less equipped to deal with visitors who want to stay on a while.
The resorts that I have been to, and would particularly recommend are Kamui, Tomamu and my absolute favourite, Asahidake.
Kamui Ski Links
Kamui Ski Links is a cute little resort located about 1 hours drive from Furano. I say little because it is a very small ski resort, however in terms of value, Kamui packs a punch!
The lift tickets are insanely cheap at only 3,800 Yen for the day. The approach towards off-piste skiing is very relaxed, meaning you can dive into the trees to your hearts desire. And because it’s such a small and relatively unknown resort, you will get all the freshies to yourself! 🙌🏼
Kamui is a very basic resort, with minimal facilities and virtually no English speakers. But that is one of the things I love most about these smaller resorts. They feel like the real Japan, and leave you feeling like you’ve uncovered a secret hidden gem ☺️.
Tomamu Ski Resort
Tomamu Ski Resort is a medium sized resort, also located 1 hours drive from Furano (in the opposite direction to Kamui). There is actually a massive hotel at the base of the ski resort, which is geared heavily towards families. So you can stay there if you’d like, but I would still recommend using Furano as your base.
The drawcard of Tomamu, similar to Kamui is the easily accessed off-piste and tree skiing, as well as side country and back country terrain. There are no super steep areas around Tomamu (or Kamui for that matter), but the quality and quantity of snow certainly makes up for the lack of challenge.
Hot Tip: Aim to visit Tomamu immediately after a good snowfall. The reason for this is that the main resort area (including some off-piste and tree sections) are south-facing. This means that when the sun hits, the fresh snow can get a bit crusty, and the opportunity for fresh ‘un-crusted’ tracks may not last as long as other resorts. Bummer 👎🏼.
I must admit that I am tempted to leave this one out because I love it that much, that I’d prefer to keep it all to myself. But the reality is, any keen powder hunter will discover it eventually and I’m a nice person 😇.
Basically the cream of the crop when it comes to powder skiing in Central Hokkaido, Asahidake was simply made for adventurous riders. An off-piste playground, if you will, Asahidake sees an average annual snowfall of 14 metres. And because of it’s central location, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s going to be light, dry and fluffy AF 🙌🏼 😍. Did I mention that Asahidake is literally an active volcano? 😱 so friggen cool!
This mountain is definitely not for beginners or even intermediates. There are only 4 mellow cat tracks that basically act as a highway in and out of the off-piste playground. The only downside of Asahidake is that the copious amounts of snow it receives, means that the weather can often be atrocious. This makes adventuring too far away from the main area on low visibility days dangerous, as there are plenty of cliffs to fall off 😬. So, if you can, schedule your visit for a relatively clear weather day 🤞🏼.
Asahidake is located about 1.5 hours drive from Furano. There are a few small accommodations located in Asahidake Onsen, so if you wanted to ride there over multiple days, you could stay in the area, but just be aware there is not much else happening around there. I think you will be occupied with other things though ❄️❄️☃️☃️.
When to Go?
If you’ve read any of my other posts on skiing in Japan, you will know that my usual recommendation is mid-January to mid-February for the best chance at consistent snow fall. You could even push a trip to Central Hokkaido out to late February, as it generally stays a bit colder for longer up there.
With that being said, I had one of the best days riding of my whole life on January 1 at Asahidake (blue skies and all! 😱😍).
How to Get to Central Hokkaido?
As you’re heading to Central Hokkaido, you will need to fly into Sapporo New Chitose Airport (CTS). Depending on what time your flight arrives, you may need to overnight at the airport or in Sapporo before making your way to Furano.
Unless you plan to hire a car for a multi-resort bonanza, the easiest way to get to Furano is using the Hokkaido Resort Liner. They have multiple departures per day, and stop at a few main hotels in Furano for your convenience. The journey should take around 3 hours.
Where to Stay & Getting Around
I have stayed at North Country Inn both times that I visited Furano, and would gladly stay there again. They have a mixture of Japanese and Western style accommodation, a delicious buffet breakfast and offer amazing service. They also offer a daily shuttle to the Furano Ropeway, which is only 2 minutes away!
The only ‘downside’ of North Country Inn is that it is about 2km’s from the town centre. The only time this becomes an actual negative is when you want to head out of dinner. Even then, if you have a few of you, a taxi is cheap is chips!
If you want to explore outside of Furano, and visit the other resorts I’ve mentioned above, you will definitely need to hire a car. If you only want to hire a car for a few days, you can start the car hire in Furano. However, if you want to move around a lot and really get out and explore Central Hokkaido, I would recommend picking up the rental car from the airport in Sapporo.
Final Tips & Advice on Skiing in Central Hokkaido
Alright guys, to wrap up this guide on the amazing area of Central Hokkaido, I want to leave you with a few thoughts…
If you’re keen to party, Central Hokkaido is not the place…
Of course, you’ll still find the odd karaoke opportunity in Furano, but out of the two times I’ve been to Furano, I’ve only ever found one ‘bar’. And that bar is ‘The Bridge Bar’. It’s run by an American guy who now calls Furano home. It’s a super chilled place to have a drink and play some darts or pool.
If you want real party, you’d be better suited to visit Niseko or Hakuba. Plus, who wants to be super hangover from partying when there is epic snow to be had!? 🤷🏼♀️
If you are looking to rip through amazing powder and to experience a ‘true’ Japanese ski town, Furano is for you…
When I say true Japanese ski town, I’m not saying that Niseko and Hakuba aren’t really Japanese. It’s just that when you are in those places, you don’t feel like you’re in Japan. There are westerners everywhere – even working in all the establishments.
Whereas in Furano and around Central Hokkaido, you will be lucky if your waiter speaks English. The towns are quiet, the Japanese locals go about their lives as normal. The only westerners around are keen to respect local traditions, ride some incredible snow and head to bed early for another huge day of powder hunting.
Visit an Open-Air Natural Onsen – Fukiage Roten no Yu Onsen
Fukiage Roten no Yu Onsen is a free open-air, gender mixed, natural Onsen located on Mt. Tokachi. From the carpark, the Onsen is about a 5 minute walk through the snow. The water in this Onsen is straight from the source, so there is little temperature control and it can be a little sulphur smelly 😂. It is seriously an amazing experience!
There is no dressing room and no heaters in sight, so get ready to be absolutely freezing when it comes time to undress and re-dress 🥶. Because it is a mixed gender Onsen, you are allowed to wear a swimsuit or wrap a towel around you for privacy.
The Onsen is located around 45 minutes drive from Furano, and you might need to ask some locals for the directions as I haven’t been able to pinpoint it on Google Maps.
Alright guys, I think that’s it! Hopefully, I’ve proven to you why visiting and skiing in Central Hokkaido is well worth your time. If you’re not fussed, that’s fine too… I am happy to enjoy all the extra powder to myself 😉😝.
If you have any questions about your trip to Furano, feel free to leave a comment below or reach out on social media. Happy Powder Hunting! ☺️☃️❄️
If you’d prefer to visit a bustling area like Niseko, I can understand that too. Check out my post ‘Niseko, Japan – A Travel Guide to Winter in Niseko’ for the lowdown there.