If you feel you’ve mastered the Alps, and explored every inch of the Pyrenees, then you may be in need of a new skiing destination. You’re in luck.
Since hosting the Winter Olympics almost twenty years ago Japan has slowly established itself as one of the world’s premier winter sports destinations. Whereas previously America was seen as the next frontier for Europeans, Japan has become a blossoming location in recent years that rivals the grandeur of the likes of Telluride and Snow City.
Here are our top five reasons why you should pack your salopettes and head to the Land of the Rising Sun for your next winter holiday.
1. It’s not as expensive as you think
Now we’re not saying the 20-hour journey from Dublin to Hokkaido, the snowy northern island of Japan, is a budget trip but it’s not as expensive as you might think. If you plan ahead then it’s possible to get return flights to Sapporo, the islands biggest city, for under €700 per person. If you keep an out for sales from airlines such as British Airways you can do it even cheaper. If you have experience of skiing in the Alps then you’ll know that one of the biggest expenses will be your lift pass, a daily pass in the Three Alps region in France clocks in at €67 per day. Lift passes in Japan are remarkably cheap by comparison usually costing in the region of ¥4000 (about €30) a day.
2. It has amazing powder
The ski resorts of Hokkaido are renowned for the quality of their snow. The island receives plentiful snowfall, averaging between 8-10m during a season that runs from December through to April. You can generally look forward to fresh powder each and every day and the region is a haven for off-piste explorers. If you’re heading into the backcountry then consider enlisting a guide, these guys know the area like the back of their hands. A company called NOASC comes highly recommended and covers many of the major resorts, they’ve been in operation for over two decades. You may also need an avalanche beacon with some resorts requiring you to carry one with you at all times.
3. The scenery will blow your mind
Quite often you’ll finish yourself pulling up and looking out at a scene reminiscent of a Hokusai painting. Peaks such as Mt Yotei dominate the landscape. Yotei’s nickname is Ezo Fuji – this translates as ‘Mt Fuji in Hokkaido’ – a favourite subject of the Japanese painter. The beauty of the snowy backcountry is inspiring and serene. You can also look forward to sights such as the emerald ice of Lake Onneto, the Red-crowned cranes of Kushiro, and iconic monkeys that you can find sharing the hot springs.
4. Ease of access
Most of the main resorts are crowded into the south east corner of Hokkaido. As a result, you’ll find that you can move between different resorts during your stay fairly easily. You can also reach the snow from the region’s biggest city, Sapporo, really easily. It’s just two hours away from resorts such as Niseko.
5. The Sapporo Snow Festival
One week a year Sapporo is taken over by the snow and enveloped in snow sculptures. The Sapporo Snow Festival started in 1950 with school children constructing a few statues but has since blossomed into something far bigger. You’ll see sculptures of dinosaurs, movie stars, and entire temples constructed from snow on the streets of the city. It’s one of the biggest festivals in Japan and its worth arranging your trip so that it coincides with the festival.
6. Spa life
Many of Hokkaido’s ski resorts also double as hot spring spas called Onsens. The water reaches 40°C and is the perfect tonic to the winter cold. Be warned that you are expected to be completely naked in the hot springs – no time for modesty.
7. Food glorious food
The cuisine of the northern region of Japan is famous for two things: Hairy Crab, and Miso ramen. The former is the piece de resistance of an area that revels in delicious seafood. The latter is the perfect winter warmer after a day on the slopes. Hokkaido also produces much of Japan’s dairy products leading to interesting twists on usual treats such as squid ink ice cream. Raclette has its place but this is a different level.
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