There are plenty more great places to ski in Hokkaido. With over a hundred ski fields, there's always going to be somewhere new to go (especially if the weather is being funky). And if you're willing to work for your turns, the ski touring is extensive and excellent.
We've just started a series of blog posts on some awesome touring areas you might not have heard of. Check out the where to go tag on our blog for the full story.
Hokkaido has epic hiking. The terrain ranges from mellow to extreme and the snow is incredible. Even on the rare occasion that the ski resorts don't have powder, those who are willing to hike their turns will still find amazing snow and great terrain. There are mountains and snow over the whole island, so trying to make a complete list of touring here would be crazy. If you've got an objective in mind, we're happy to help with logistics, guiding, or any beta we can provide. If you want some objectives, shoot us an email and we'd be happy to give you some suggestions.
Backcountry skiing is a huge passion for us, and we spend as many days as possible out hiking for turns and exploring new areas. Here are some of the best places we've skied.
In the Daisetsuzan mountains, and south of Asahidake, Tokachidake is an old volcano with a range of great ski touring nearby. Tokachidake itself has some great lines, while nearby Furanodake has some steep, sustained and technical chutes that would be a worthwhile trophy in any backcountry rider's collection. There are a huge range of aspects and elevations here, with alpine terrain and great trees, so there's always likely to be something in condition, even if the weather isn't great.
The road goes up to about 1200m (Hokkaido's highest drivable point), so access for touring is awesome. There are no lifts, and no crowds, so you can get into the mountains and find your way down au naturel. There's terrain for backcountry beginners all the way through to the super rad. This would be a great place to start your hiking career.
Up high, the navigation is pretty straightforward (assuming the visibility is good), but some of the routefinding lower down can be a bit tricky, especially to access the big lines on Furanodake. Everything even remotely close to Furanodake is avalance terrain. There are numerous terrain traps and experienced riders have been caught and killed here by sluffs. Be careful.
Tokachidake has some awesome onsens, including great accommodation. There are also some natural outdoor onsens in the region which are gloriously hot and even more gloriously free.
The Deep North
As you head north from Asahikawa the scenery and towns slowly change. The mountains become more sparse and spread out, and the towns more rusty and dilapidated. This is the Deep North. There aren't many people up here, but there is an awful lot of skiing. Most of the peaks are low (sub 1000m), but the bases of those mountains are below 200m, so there's still great vertical. This area has the Sea of Japan to the west, the Pacific Ocean to the east, and the Sea of Okhotsk to the north, so later in the season it gets hammered by wind. But early in the season the winds are mild and the skiing is excellent. It's not a convenient drive, but once you're out there you're just about guaranteed to have the place to yourself.
It's a long way to go, and we don't go out here often. We'd only tour here if we had discussed it with the locals. These are their mountains, and we respect their generosity in sharing their home and their knowledge with us.
And yes, there are onsens.
Just about every town in Hokkaido has some kind of ski field, so the options for lift accessed skiing are just about endless. That said, most of those ski fields are a single groomer, and not really worth the effort. These are a few of the other options worth a look.
Close to Otaru and Niseko, Kiroro is a popular choice for many of the Niseko package holiday groups when the weather there shuts the lifts down. The terrain is super flat, but the place does get a lot of snow. It would be great for people getting used to riding powder, and the ski school does lessons in English, so beginners would have a great time here as well. For experienced riders, Kiroro doesn't have a whole lot to offer but a day spent bouncing up and down in pow wouldn't be the end of the world.
Pippu is a small local ski field to the north of Asahikawa. It's a fair drive, but if the snow is good here and nowhere else there's some fun tree skiing to check out. The terrain is pretty limited, but you could happily while away a few hours here waiting for a storm to come in elsewhere.
Perhaps a good option for the truly desperate, Nukabira Onsen is on the eastern side of Daisetsuzan National Park. The skiing here is really nothing special, but it's actually a cool little town with some really nice guesthouse accommodation. It's also the gateway town to access the eastern side of the park, so if you're eyeing off some major objectives (like Mt. Niposetsu), this is the place to set up your base. As an extra bonus, you won't see any westerners here in winter. The locals will definitely be surprised to see you.
Niseko night skiing
Niseko is a very successful resort with great snow, but it's really not our cup of tea. There's much better terrain and equally good (or better) snow elsewhere, and you won't have to compete with so many people to get to it. Plus, the rest of Hokkaido has a more authentic and Japanese feel than the Hirafu circus. However, Niseko's night skiing is awesome. With such a big lit area, night skiing during a storm here is riotously good fun. If we're in the area and conditions are good, we're more than amenable to some cheeky laps under lights.