A bustling city of around 350,000 people, Asahikawa is the second biggest city in Hokkaido and extremely well located for backcountry touring.

It’s packed with places to eat, hotels, bars and all that stuff, but the vast majority of them cater to Japanese speakers and dining out as a foreigner can be confusing. That said, there’s great food if you look around and can navigate a Japanese menu.

Kamui Ski Links, Asahidake and even Furano are within about an hour’s drive, so there’s good resort skiing. The touring within 90 minute’s drive in just about every direction is awesome. Even better, that drive can take you to areas that get really different weather patterns and have skiing over a wide range or elevations, so it’s pretty likely that you’ll be able to find good skiing in just about any conditions.

The big disadvantage at Asahikawa is that you need to drive out of town to go skiing/boarding. There’s a bit of public transport, but really you’ll need your own transport to get anywhere efficiently. And the traffic is pretty slow, so even a short commute (e.g. Kamui Ski Links) can take a while.

Asahikawa isn’t really a convenient ski holiday destination in the traditional sense. There’s heaps to ski, see and do, but it’s not a resort that’s purpose built to make things easy and comfortable for foreign guests. If you’re willing to embrace a bit of inconvenience (mostly around driving to ski/board) it’s a great base for a trip.

It’s good for:

  • Backcountry touring, with good resort options if you want them

  • A great travel experience - it’s a funky little city filled with regular Japanese people doing regular stuff

  • Eating delicious food

  • Snow conditions - it’s close to areas that get a range of different snow and weather so somewhere is likely to be good

It’s not good for:

  • Convenience. You’ll have to drive every day.

  • People who don’t have a car.

  • Groups with a range of abilities or goals - it makes the logistics much more difficult if everyone wants something different

The bottom line:

A great place to stay and ski for committed backcountry tourers. More of a hassle than a ski town, but more authentic from a cultural perspective and way better located for both terrain and snow than the other major options.

What we offer at Asahikawa:

  • We offer day guiding from Asahikawa and often stay there on multi-day trips.

  • It’s close to our home town so it’s no hassle for us to pick you up and drop you off each day.


Just so we’re clear: We’re based about five hours drive from Niseko and we don’t guide there.

Niseko is the main resort area in Hokkaido. Although there is a town called “Niseko”, people generally use the word to refer to the larger area including towns like Hirafu, Annupuri, and Kutchan. The area is well endowed with lifts, hotels, restaurants, rental shops, public transport, bars, guiding companies, etc. It’s a major international ski resort. It has all that stuff. It gets plenty of snow but the terrain is mostly mellow and it’s quick to track out. There’s some backcountry around which is supposed to be OK, but at the same time the guides from there all come to Central Hokkaido on their days off, so… Yeah.

The area is very touristy. Everything is in English, plenty of shops are staffed by foreigners, and most of the people you’ll interact with will be international visitors. If you’re looking for an easy and convenient ski trip with lots of things to do off the snow then it’s a good option. If your priority is the best skiing/boarding, or seeing a more authentic side of Japan, it’s not ideal.

It’s good for:

  • People who want an easy, convenient ski resort experience

  • Intermediates and people who like groomers

  • Families

  • The party scene

  • People who want everything to be in English

It’s not good for:

  • People who don’t like crowds

  • Expert skiers/boarders

  • Backcountry skiing/snowboarding

The bottom line:

Niseko is great for some people and not good others. Just because it’s not our scene doesn’t mean it’s bad. Plenty of people go there and have a great holiday.

What we offer at Niseko:

  • We don’t guide at Niseko. It’s too far away. Lots of people do, though. Try Rising Sun Guides.


When most people talk about Central Hokkaido, they mean Furano. It’s a major destination resort that was originally popular with Japanese tourists but is now well known among international visitors. The ski resort at Furano is pretty good. It has some of the better lift accessed terrain in Hokkaido. Unfortunately, it’s a little less snow-sure than elsewhere so it gets the occasional dry spell. It’s an easy place to travel as an English speaker, but it still has a bit of authentic Japanese charm.

All that is changing quickly. The last few years have brought new English speaking rental shops, hotels, and restaurants, and the skiers there are increasingly international visitors looking to ski off piste. It’s possible to pick up fresh tracks from the lifts a day or so after new snow, but you have to be increasingly sneaky and things are tracking out pretty fast.

Furano is towards the south of Central Hokkaido and is really well located for resort skiing. Asahidake, Kamui Ski Links, Tomamu and Sahoro are all good lift accessed ski areas within about 90 minutes’ drive.

However, it’s not very well placed for backcountry skiing. I realise this is probably a bit contentious, but it’s true. There’s some good backcountry skiing around, but it doesn’t have the range of elevation bands, weather systems, and terrain options that you get further north. If you’re based around Asahikawa (see below) you can still ski all the good backcountry near Furano as a day trip, plus you have access to a huge range of areas in literally every other direction.

In the end, the biggest challenge at Furano is the weather. It’s further from the west coast than most of the major ski areas. As a result, Furano (and the area around it) tends to get less snow than elsewhere. Also, the areas around it all get snow from fairly similar weather patterns, so it’s not always possible to find new snow by driving somewhere nearby.

Speaking of driving, you don’t need a car at Furano (you can walk from most accommodation to the ski area) but it’s good to have one. You’ll need it for transport to the other ski areas and the backcountry nearby. If you’re stuck in Furano during a dry spell with no transport you’ll have to get your faceshots from Instagram.

Furano is good for:

  • Resort skiing, both at Furano and at the ski areas nearby

  • An easy, convenient ski holiday without joining the Niseko circus

  • Families with a mix of abilities

  • People who don’t have a car - you can walk from most of the accommodation to the ski lifts

It’s not good for:

  • People who prioritise backcountry touring

  • People who don’t have a car - without your own transport you’ll be stuck in Furano skiing crud and groomers if there’s a dry spell

  • Guaranteed good snow - it’s more prone to dry conditions than elsewhere

The bottom line:

Furano has and is close to a bunch of good lift accessed skiing. It’s getting increasingly crowded but you can still get fresh tracks for a little while after a storm. If there’s a proper dry spell you won’t be able to ski pow. There’s some backcountry touring but it’s better elsewhere.

What we offer at Furano:

  • We offer day guiding from Furano and we sometimes stay there on multi-day trips.

  • It’s over an hour’s commute each way from our home town, so if you want consecutive days of guiding with transport to and from Furano we may charge you for accommodation for a guide so they don’t drive tired on icy roads.


Asahidake is Hokkaido’s highest mountain. There’s a ropeway below the peak, and at the bottom of the ropeway are a few onsen hotels. There’s nothing else - no shops, no restaurants (except at the ropeway station), no bars. Most of the hotels have good food, but after a few days you’ll be pretty tired of eating the same stuff.

The skiing is pretty good (see our write up on the resort), within walking distance of the hotels, and it can be a very quiet and relaxing place to stay. The downside is that the area is pretty high (around 1000m) so it’s prone to bad weather, If the weather is bad the ropeway stops and skinning up in the wind and blowing snow is miserable and generally not worth it.

Don’t stay for more than a night or two at Asahidake if you don’t have your own transport. If a storm comes in you’ll be stuck there with very limited skiing options and nothing else to do.

It takes roughly 40 minutes to drive from the hotels back down to the main road, so commuting to anywhere from Asahidake is not very convenient. It’s a bit over 90 minutes to Furano. So while it’s an OK base for resort skiing (assuming you have a car), Asahikawa or Furano are better options. And although it’s very close as the crow flies to good touring, it takes close to two hours to drive to most of the good spots.

Asahidake is good for:

  • Convenient powder skiing in a beautiful area

  • Short stays

  • Relaxing onsens and nice hotels

It’s not good for:

  • Stays or more than a night or two without transport

  • Backcountry touring

  • Staying for a long time

The bottom line:

A beautiful area that’s worth a short visit.

What we offer at Asahidake:

  • We offer day guiding from Asahidake and often stay there on multi-day trips.

  • It’s close to our home town so it’s no hassle for us to pick you up and drop you off each day.

  • We do guide at Asahidake, but it’s not that hard to find your own way around (see our resorts page). It’s usually better for us to show you somewhere else that you wouldn’t find or feel confident going on your own.


An onsen resort town at the bottom of a gorge, Sounkyo is famous for wildlife, wildflowers, and beautiful fall colours. But none of those things happen in winter. In winter it’s cold and dark (the gorge keeps the place shady for much of the day) and the wind often funnels up the valley in unpleasant ways.

So why would you stay in Sounkyo in winter? Well, plenty of locals and tourists on package trips stay there for the onsen hotels. But for skiers and boarders Sounkyo offers other delights. It’s the base of Kurodake, which offers the best lift accessed riding in Hokkaido. It’s also really well located for a heap of great backcountry touring, both out of Kurodake and further afield.

There’s not a whole lot to do in the evenings. The onsen resorts have restaurants in them (for guests only) and there’s a ramen place and a Italian place (don’t scoff - it’s been Japanified in all the right ways and it’s pretty good). There are onsens. There’s an ice festival which is well worth a visit at night (fireworks, buildings made of ice, a tube park, etc.). But you’ll get tired of all that pretty quickly.

The reason to go to Sounkyo is to ski hard stuff and do big touring days. Go out, get exhausted, come back, eat, onsen and sleep. Otherwise you’re better off in Asahikawa. It doesn’t have access to the wide range of weather systems that Asahikawa has so it’s not quite as reliable. If a decent storm comes in you’ll have to head elsewhere to find sheltered areas to ride.

It takes about 90 minutes to drive back to Asahikawa, and a little more to Asahidake. If you want to ride lifts and Kurodake is closed the nearest thing is Pippu which is small and cute and mellow but has a few good turns hidden in the trees. If you’re staying at Sounkyo you can walk from most hotels to the base of the Kurodake ropeway in a few minutes, but you’d want a car to get the most out of staying here.

Remember that Kurodake usually closes for most of January and only fully reopens in mid Feb. There’s enough touring around to make Sounkyo worth your while if the lift isn’t running, but it’s probably better just to stay in Asahikawa where you’ve got more flexibility around resorts, backcountry areas, weather, and food.

You’ll need a guide or a lot of experience and planning to make the most out of staying here. Don’t just rock up and expect to figure it out. The skiing around Sounkyo is pretty serious and getting lost or hurt will be a really bad time.

Sounkyo is good for:

  • People who are serious about backcountry skiing and splitboarding

  • Big days at Kurodake or in the nearby backcountry

  • Relaxing onsens and a cool ice festival

It’s not good for:

  • Resort skiing (Kurodake is not a resort, it’s a backcountry area with a lift)

  • Cool nightlife or food

  • Families, intermediate skiers/boarders, groups with mixed goals or abilities.

The bottom line:

The area are Sounkyo is amazing and offers a lot for strong groups. But it’s only worth staying here if you’re really committed to touring in this area, otherwise you can do this stuff as day-trips from Asahikawa.

What we offer at Sounkyo:

  • We offer day guiding from Asahikawa and often stay there on multi-day trips.

  • We generally won’t take you here from Furano or anywhere further afield (Tokachidake, Tomamu, etc.). It’s too much driving for a day trip.


Otaru is a port town jammed between the mountains and the Japan Sea on the northwestern edge of Sapporo. It faces into the prevailing northwesterly winds and the area gets absolutely pounded with snow. The town itself is pretty cute, with a range of buildings from the Japanese colonial expansion into Hokkaido (then Ezo) around the turn of the 20th century. There are plenty of good places to eat and stay, although the town gets a lot of tourism (mostly sightseeing in the warmer months) so the most obvious places can be quite touristy.

There’s good skiing and boarding nearby, particularly for those what want to ride lifts. Otaru is well placed to ski at Teine, Sapporo Kokusai, and Kiroro. Even the local hill, Tenguyama, is pretty good. For backcountry enthusiasts there’s options around the resorts and some other options tucked into the hills behind the town. The backcountry is OK, but it’s not a major drawcard. There’s an awful lot of poor visibility (these mountains are some of the first to get hit by incoming weather) and there can be areas of super-tight trees and convoluted terrain that don’t make for amazing skiing.

A few years ago the resorts around Otaru were pretty quiet, with plenty of locals skiing groomers but not much happening off piste. Now they’re very popular with foreigners coming from Niseko (it’s about 2 hours each way, so just day-trippable from there) and more and more locals riding pow. Teine tracks out pretty quickly - especially on weekends, Kokusai tends to hold good turns for a little longer, and Kiroro is now owned by Australians and well frequented by off piste riders and guided groups.

One of my favourite things about staying in Otaru is that it’s a good base to ski and to explore Sapporo. Staying in Sapporo itself is a hassle - there’s a heap of traffic and it takes a long time to get from you hotel to any kind of skiing/boarding. From Otaru it’s pretty quick to get into the hills and it doesn’t take too long to head into Sapporo (especially by train) to check out the nightlife.

What Otaru does really well is balance. It has good resort skiing, it has reasonable backcountry. It’s a great place to see the urban side of Japan and check out the big city. To be fair, it probably would have the best resort skiing around if it wasn’t getting a little crowded from the Niseko overflow.

You do need to be fairly independent to stay here. The only reliable public transport for skiing is to Tenguyama (fun but small) and Kiroro (too flat). The better terrain is at Teine and Kokusai but you’ll need a car. There’s no skiing within walking distance of anywhere. Similarly there are good places to stay and eat but you’ll have to find them (and other ways to amuse yourself) on your own. It doesn’t have package deals and the whole resort experience waiting for you.

Otaru is good for:

  • Independent groups who want to see urban Japan

  • Resort skiing

  • Groups with mixed goals and abilities - there are lots of different options in the area

It’s not good for:

  • People who want a convenient resort ski holiday experience

  • People who want to avoid crowds or who prefer the quiet life

  • Dedicated backcountry skiers

The bottom line:

A cool town with good resort skiing and a good base to visit Sapporo.

What we offer at Otaru:

  • Otaru is a long way from our home base. We sometimes visit on multi-day trips, but we don’t day guide here.

  • If you want day guiding here, Rising Sun Guides are probably the best people to talk to.


The biggest city on Hokkaido and the fifth biggest city in Japan, Sapporo isn’t somewhere you’d normally think of for a ski trip. But it’s actually right next to some cool mountains, and pretty well located for day trips. The main drawcard for skiers and boarders is Teine, which is on the western edge of the city and has some really good terrain. There’s some interesting touring to the south and west (although conditions aren’t always that great and the weather can be tricky), and more resorts within day-trip range around Otaru (Kokusai and Kiroro).

The city itself is busy and interesting although a lot of the normal streetlife you’d see in a big city moves underground during winter. Susukino, the main entertainment district, has an overwhelming array of places to eat, drink and make merry. It’s not really set up for tourists and it can be super hard to know where to go or what’s good. As a result, it takes a bit of effort not to be funneled into one of the touristy places purely because they’re the only options where you can tell what kind of business they are from the outside. But for those who are willing to explore and experiment there are some great places. I’ve had sushi so good here I had to stop after each piece and have a really good think about the whole experience.

If you’re around in early Feb the snow festival is well worth a look. There are huge sculpture made of snow and ice, street food, they have a mini big air comp (small air?).

The downside to staying in Sapporo is that it takes a while to get anywhere. Most people who stay here will want a car (there are buses to Teine but Teine closes their main lift if it’s too windy and you’ll want a plan B) and driving in the city is slow. If you mostly want to ski but want to see some of the city on the side consider staying in Otaru and commuting in for an urban adventure.

Sapporo isn’t great for backcountry skiing. There are some options but you’re much better off in central Hokkaido where there are more areas with varied weather and terrain options.

Sapporo is good for:

  • A visit to a cool Japanese city

  • Amazing food and nightlife it you’re willing to explore

  • Access to Teine is reasonable

It’s not good for:

  • People who prioritise skiing/boarding. Driving around each day just takes too much time

  • Backcountry touring

  • Peace and quiet

The bottom line:

Definitely worth a visit if you haven’t been to a Japanese city. You can certainly work some skiing into your visit, but not really ideal for a ski/snowboard trip.

What we offer in Sapporo:

  • We occasionally visit Sapporo as part of a multi-day trip, but to be honest you’re probably better off trying to link up with locals who know the city well if you’re going to explore there.

  • If we do visit Sapporo it’s more likely that we’d stay in Otaru and commute in for a visit.