Sunshine is not something you typically wish for when you plan a ski vacation and after spending a week in Hokkaido Japan, I’m not entirely sure that the sun actually reaches that part of the world. Of the five days in February that I skied at Rusutsu Resort and Mount Racey, there was no luminary presence in the sky until the very last day. The heavens never really opened up and unleashed their fury in one massive dump of snow but they did consistently blanket the mountains with non-stop white. We’ve all heard the lore of Hokkaido and its massive snowfalls each winter but I thought this was the stuff of fairy tales and couldn’t possibly be completely true. Boy was I wrong… It really is just as you’ve head, non-stop knee deep pow.
Japow delivers the goods day after day.
My week long Japow adventure was with a group of journalist/writers and guided by the boys from Snowlocals, a small but dedicated US-based tour operator/guiding company. Brothers Charlie and Jake Cohn started SnowLocals after visiting Japan for the first time in 2011 and they now use their extensive local knowledge and relationships with local resorts to create “custom trips to the deepest snow on earth”. While Japan is not the only destination SnowLocals will take skiers to, it certainly is one that they specialize in. The Cohn brothers take all the guess work out of organizing a ski adventure to Japan and can show you the well known resorts if that’s your thang but what they really specialize in is finding those out-of-the-way, hidden gems that no one has discovered yet. If uncrowded, powder-laden resort skiing is your quest then Snowlocals has the beta. With over 500 ski resorts in Japan (there reportedly used to be 1,000) it pays to know when and where to go. The SnowLocal team ensures that everything goes smoothly, their local knowledge is invaluable and the fact that they can show you secret stashes as well, that alone is worth its weight in gold.
The reason Japan get so much snow each winter comes down to simple geography. The cold arctic winds from Siberia blow across the Sea of Japan and pick up moisture, then when they hit the mountains of Hokkaido this moisture falls in the form of snow—and lots of it. While it never dumped snow at a crazy rapid rate while I was there, large storms are not uncommon. It did snow continually for the 5 days I skied which meant fresh turns every morning. What more could you want really? The Hokkaido region of Japan sees between 750 and 1,300cm of snowfall per season with an average winter temperature at Resutsu resort ranging from -5.2 to -6.6 over the months of December, January and February. Combine these tow stats and you can see why you are pretty much guaranteed coldsmoke pow most days.
Over the course of the week we spent our days shredding pow at two hidden Japan gems, Rusutsu Resort which in 2017 named the “Best Ski Resort in Japan” beating out more popular and well known resorts such as Niseko. The second was Mount Racey which is a much smaller resort but didn’t lack for snow nor personality. Lets look at each of these resorts in a little more detail
A 90min drive from the city of Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido you’ll find the ski resort of Rusutsu which boasts the largest network of trails and most lift capacity of any resort in Hokkaido. With 18 lifts (including 4 gondolas) and 1,949’ of vertical, this is one big resort by Japanese standards. The massive terrain and network of high-speed chairs and gondolas mean that Rusutsu isn’t nearly as busy as the better known resorts in the area. Even though it snows pretty much non-stop, there are no lift lines and fresh tracks are super easy to find.
The backcountry touring is easily accessible just off the resort but there was literally no one taking advantage of the terrain. I spent a full day ski touring off East Mountain and didn’t see another person all day, our tracks were the only ones on the entire back side of the mountain.
After an incredible three days skiing at Rusutsu we headed for the more reserved ski hill of Mt. Racey in the quaint town of Yubari. Mount Racey just happens to be the closest ski resort to the new Chitose Airport which means you can be on the hill within an hour of departing the airport. There’s plenty of ski in/ski out accommodation at Hotel Mount Racey located at the foot of the Gondola station. With a total of six lifts, night skiing and plenty of trees protecting the mountain’s powder stashes, Mt. Racey is not a resort to be missed. While short on stature compared to other resorts in Hokkaido Mount Racey is big on character.
The nearby town of Yubari once boasted a population of 120,000 thanks to its coal-mining industry but since Japan now relies on nuclear energy the population barely cracks 11,000 residence. This simply means more pow per person!
Longest run: 3,500m
Lift: 6, including 1 gondola
Tickets: 5,000 Yen
Season: Dec - April
Location: 60km from Sapporo
See above in review.
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