Snowboarding in Hokkaido is a unique experience. It offers the perfect combination of incredible powder, amazing terrain and authentic Japanese culture.
But where do you even start when planning a trip like this?
Well, you’ve come to the right place!
This is the complete guide to snowboarding in Hokkaido. I’ve included everything you need to know for your bucket-list pilgrimage to Japan. Keep reading…
Japan is home to some of the best powder riding in the world.
This is mostly due to the incredible snowfall between December and March. Most Japanese ski resorts get up to 10m (32 feet) of snow every winter, with some resorts reporting double that… which is mind-boggling!
But it’s not just the amount of snow that makes Japan special.
The snow itself is super light and fluffy, thanks to its extreme dryness. This makes for effortless turns and floaty powder landings. If this doesn’t appeal to you, you might want to find a new pastime!
Whilst other areas of Japan do offer incredible terrain, snowboarding in Hokkaido is next-level. The powder in Hokkaido is probably the best in the world. The terrain is varied and challenging. The food is incredible. The views are breathtaking. What more do you need?!
The Best Time To Go Snowboarding In Hokkaido.
The best time of year for snowboarding in Hokkaido is between January and February. These months offer the largest amounts of snowfall and the best chances of riding fresh powder.
However, the weather can be both a blessing and a curse. With heavy snowfall, comes heavy clouds. It’s not uncommon for it to snow constantly for a week.
Fortunately, Japan has a simple solution for this… trees. Much of the rideable terrain in Hokkaido is below the tree-line. This offers some incredible backcountry runs and improved visibility on those darker days.
Those of you who prefer some sun could instead head out in December or March. But your chances of bottomless powder will diminish the further you stray from the mid-winter.
How To Get To Hokkaido
Most people traveling to Japan land at Tokyo’s Narita (NRT) or Haneda (HND) airports. So you then need to get from Tokyo to Hokkaido.
This means taking a connecting flight to Sapporo New Chitose Airport. This happens to be the closest airport to Niseko, the most popular resort in Hokkaido!
An alternative way to get to Hokkaido from Tokyo is by train. It will take you 7 to 8 hours, but it may be worth the experience, and you get to see more of the country as you whizz through on the Bullet Train.
Hokkaido Ski Resorts
There are several ski resorts in Hokkaido, all offering a slightly different experience. I have highlighted the best ski resorts in Hokkaido in a separate blog, check it out to get the lowdown on each one.
But here’s a short overview:
The most popular Japanese ski resort is Niseko. People flock there to experience the incredible powder, which seems to fall continuously. Other Japanese ski resorts that you should consider are, Rusutsu, Furano, Tomamu, Sahoro, and Kiroro.
Snowboarding in Hokkaido can be pretty varied. You may want to stay in one resort for the entirety of your trip or travel around. There are high-profile ski resorts, such as Niseko, but there are a few smaller resorts, such as Asahidake, and Kurodake, which are great for short stays.
You can also choose to take several day trips by visiting more rustic Japanese ski resorts such as Kamui, Teine, and Pippu.
Why You Should Hire A Guide!
Whichever of the Hokkaido ski resorts you visit, we recommend you book a guide. A local guide will take you to the best places for the conditions. It would be a shame to travel all that way to find out you’ve missed out on the best terrain!
Another benefit of hiring a guide is that they will keep you safe from avalanches and other hazards.
Lift Passes in Hokkaido
If you’re flying in from America, you can take advantage of the Epic Pass. This gives you 5 days of riding in Hakuba and another 5 days in Rusustu. Alternatively, the IKON pass gives you 7 days of riding in Niseko.
You can also buy multi-resort passes in Japan, which are ideal if you plan on touring the area. For example, you can buy a Niseko United pass, which gives you access to Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu, and Hanazono. This makes shredding the most iconic Hokkaido resorts more manageable.
It’s also worth looking into the Kamoro “K Winter” Pass. This includes Rusustu, Sahoro, and Sapporo, which are all popular destinations for snowboarders.
Eating in Hokkaido
You can eat well in all of the Hokkaido ski resorts. If you’re a westerner with some experience in Japanese cuisine, you’ll be familiar with the food in Hokkaido. However, it has a lot more seafood-based dishes.
One of the most renowned dishes served in Hokkaido is crab; these delicious sea monsters are enormous and incredibly tasty.
Those looking to continue their Western diet would be best suited at larger resorts like Niseko. Here you will find Italian restaurants, steak restaurants and even a hamburger joint.
Hokkaido's Ski And Snowboard Culture.
With all that snow, it’s hardly surprising that skiing and snowboarding are deeply embedded into Hokkaido’s culture.
Winter sports are as important to the people of Hokkaido as football is to the Brits or basketball to Americans. Most kids ski and snowboard as part of their school curriculum; no wonder Japan is producing some world-class riders these days!
For snowboard-lovers such as ourselves, this makes for an immersive experience. Even whilst sitting in a Sushi restaurant, it’s not uncommon for some vintage Japanese powder slaying to be featured on the TV in the background.
Is Hokkaido Expensive?
I discussed the price of snowboarding in Japan in detail here. The short answer is… yes, it’s expensive. This is mainly due to the cost of travel and accommodation.
In terms of the cost of ski passes and food – they are about on par with North America and European resorts. As always, the higher-profile resorts are universally more expensive. For a cheaper trip, choose a lesser-known resort. You’ll find the food is about 50% cheaper, as is the lodging and ski passes!
Your accommodation options in Hokkaido are wonderfully varied. But it all depends on which resort you’re visiting – they are vastly different!
You can expect luxury hotels and chalets right next to the slopes. But you can also stay in remote lodges deep within the area’s national parks… and everything in between. Some resorts are close to towns which may suit you better, especially if you want an authentic Japanese experience.
Before you book your accommodation, it’s best to do some research on what each area offers. This is essential to ensure that your lodgings meet your requirements, budget, itinerary, and how you plan to travel. You have more flexibility if you have a hire car, but using buses and trains will give you a different experience.
Examples Of Niseko Accommodation.
Here are some great examples of accommodation in Niseko to give you a starting point:
Chalet Ivy is located in Hirafu’s Upper Village. This boutique hotel is close to the slopes and has 266 stylish and comfortable rooms with fantastic views over the mountains. The hotel has its own hot springs, ideal for soaking tired leg muscles after a day of smashing nipple-deep powder.
If you stay in Niseko, you may want to check out Hotel Niseko Alpen. This is a contemporary hotel with huge picture windows overlooking the slopes. Staying here gives you easy access to the mountain, while the hotel restaurant keeps you fuelled up with local delicacies.
Alternatively, you could stay at Ki Niseko. This is another boutique hotel featuring luxurious rooms and bathrooms. It also has a fantastic restaurant serving authentic Japanese food.
If an apartment suits your needs better, Niseko’s Snow Crystal Apartments are close to the ski lifts and are accessible on foot. These apartments are serviced by a concierge team, making your stay feel sophisticated.
The Green Leaf Hotel is in an unbeatable location, right at the foot of Mount Niseko Annupuri. This means you get ski-in-ski-out access to Hokkaido’s best terrain. Once you’ve enjoyed all the powder, you can sip drinks in the chic hotel bar or relax in the superb spa before heading to your cozy room.
Each Hokkaido ski resort has its own snowboard rental options. Unless you have a powder snowboard, it may be best to rent rather than take your own equipment. The rental shops in Hokkaido are geared up for the fabulous snow conditions. Also, you’ll probably get to try a board that you wouldn’t usually get to ride.
Some of the most notable snowboard hire shops include:
Rhythm: This Niseko-based shop rents out premium and standard snowboard equipment. But it also provides clothing and avalanche gear. On top of all this, they can organize lessons and guides. Their website is an excellent source of information.
Larry Adler Rent-a-Ski: Larry Adler Rent-A-Ski offers a range of snowboard equipment and is renowned for its attentive and knowledgeable team. The shop is located in the center of town with easy access to Niseko’s lifts; therefore, you can pick up and drop your stuff off with minimal effort.
Niseko Sports: Niseko Sports is a prominent ski and snowboard shop with high standards of service. They rent out high-end equipment from well-known brands, and the staff is trained to recommend the best equipment for your needs and ability. You can also rent avalanche gear, so you can stay safe in the backcountry.
Village Sports: Village Sports is also in Niseko. The shop sells and rents premium gear suitable for all snow conditions and abilities. You can change your equipment for free, so if there’s an overnight dump, you can trade in your all-mountain board for a big powder weapon. It’s much cheaper to book your rental equipment online before your stay.
Note: Some of the more remote resorts do not have nearby rentals. You’ll need to bring your own gear. Although I assume riders booking these resorts will be experienced gear hoarders such as myself!
The Pros and Cons Of Snowboarding In Hokkaido!
- Incredible powder - arguably the best in the world.
- Beautiful scenery and culture
- Easily accessible backcountry
- Amazing tree-runs
- Incredible food
- Some resorts are still relatively undiscovered
- Feels completely different to North American and European resorts
- Generally welcoming and warm customer service
- Smaller resorts are much cheaper than USA resorts
- A "once in a lifetime" experience for many.
- With lots of snow... comes lots of clouds
- Visibility can be poor, bring low-light lenses!
- Terrain can be quite mellow compared to the huge mountains in Europe/America
- Travel can be tiring and expensive (if travelling internationally). Includes an extra flight/train from Tokyo.
- Not ideal for beginners - thick snow/powder can be obstructive when starting out.
- Smaller resorts have less infrastructure, with less to do in the evening.
This guide to snowboarding in Hokkaido is a good starting point for your trip. The Hokkaido ski resorts are pretty varied, but the one thing they have in common is… bottomless powder!
No matter which resort you go to, there’s a good chance that you’ll score the powder lines of your dreams. You’ll also get to experience a culture like no other.
If you have any more questions about snowboarding in Hokkaido, check out the FAQ section below or drop me an email here.
The most frequently asked questions about snowboarding in Hokkaido.
Hokkaido has plenty of beginner-friendly slopes and resorts. Make sure yo go to one of the higher-profile resorts with established ski schools.
My personal opinion? Get the snowboarding basics under your belt before heading over to Japan. That way you can get in some powder turns – which is what snowboarding in Hokkaido is all about!
The best powder in the world comes at a cost… your fingers and toes. Okay, it’s not that bad! Snowboarding in Japan is much like North American and European resorts in that you can expect sub-zero temperatures. This keeps the powder ultra-dry and fluffy. Just bring warm base and mid-layers and you’ll be fine
The best month to snowboard in Hokkaido is probably early February. This offers the best chance of insane bottomless powder conditions. Late January is also usually a safe bet.
The cheapest months to ski or snowboard in Hokkaido are December and April, at the beginning and end of the season respectively. Be aware however that the snow cover is not always guaranteed during these months.