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Where can you ski off-piste in Hokkaido?

Updated: Aug 5, 2023

Hokkaido, Japan's largest island, is famous for its snow-capped mountains and picturesque landscapes. It boasts several world-renowned ski resorts. If you're an adventurous skier looking to explore the vast expanses of fresh snow, Hokkaido is the ideal place to go off-piste in Japan.

With its snow-capped mountains and cold, dry climate, it's a true paradise for ski enthusiasts. But for those looking to get off the beaten track and discover the joys of off-piste skiing, Hokkaido also offers plenty of options.

In this article, we present the best off-piste skiing destinations in Hokkaido.

Whether you're an experienced skier or looking to venture off the beaten track for the first time, here you'll find all the information you need to plan your next ski trip to Hokkaido.

Off-piste skiing at Niseko

Off-piste skiing at Niseko is a unique experience for skiers looking to get off the beaten track and discover new horizons. Niseko is one of the most famous ski destinations for its exceptional snow conditions and varied terrain.

Niseko is Hokkaido's best-known resort for off-piste skiing, and for good reason. With an average of 14 metres of snow each season, there's plenty for powder lovers to enjoy. This makes it one of the snowiest ski destinations in the world. This light, powdery snow, known as 'champagne powder', offers an incomparable gliding sensation and makes off-piste skiing at Niseko particularly enjoyable.

The surrounding mountains offer a variety of terrain, from gentle slopes for beginners to more technical descents for experienced skiers. In addition, skiers can explore the many off-piste areas in the region, such as :

  • Annupuri Mountain off-piste skiing area

  • The off-piste skiing area of Niseko Village skiing area

  • The off-piste ski area of Niseko Grand-Hirafu skiing area

  • The off-piste ski area of Niseko Hanazono skiing area

  • The off-piste skiing area of Moiwa resort, not connected to other Niseko skiing areas

Off-piste skiing in Niseko is regulated by the Ski Patrols. Indeed, the slopes ski area is surrounded by a line of ropes, under which it is strictly not recommended to pass.

In some places, the ropes leave a passage to access the off-piste area. These passages are called Gates. It is the Ski Patrols who control the openings and closings, depending on weather and snow conditions, and the general risk level for off-piste and backcountry skiing and snowboarding.

There are 9 Gates across the entire Niseko Mountain ski area.

On days with good conditions the Gates generally open around the opening of the ski areas at 8:30, except for Moiwa whose lifts open 20 to 30 minutes later.

The gates generally close around 1:30 p.m., which leaves five hours of full-on riding, before, for example, passing a last gate and undertaking the ascent of Mount Annupuri, then switching to the northern slope in the direction of Goshiki Onsen. Return by skins at the end of the afternoon.

Many local guides offer off-piste excursions to help you discover the best powder spots.

Agencies such as PowderWeGo organize high-end all-inclusive packages for off-piste skiing in Niseko and its Backcountry sector.

Off-piste skiing in Rusutsu

Rusutsu is another very popular ski resort for off-piste skiing in Hokkaido. It offers a variety of groomed and of ungroomed runs, as well as more challenging routes for advanced skiers.

Off-piste skiing in Rusutsu is an experience to seize for skiers looking for new sensations, big curves in the forest, powder pillows worthy of ski magazines and snowboard magazines, and beautiful Japanese landscapes. Located on the island of Hokkaido, Rusutsu is a popular ski resort for its exceptional snow conditions, its large area (all things considered, we are in Japan and not the Alps), its varied terrain and its breathtaking view of Mount Yotei. Mount Yotei is an iconic volcano of Hokkaido, twin brother of Mount Fuji.

Off-piste skiers can thus take advantage of magnificent natural landscapes while spouting sheaves of powder at each turn in the wooded slopes.

The Rusutsu ski domain is separated into two parts, connected by a gondola.

The smallest, West Mountain, has a few short runs, but gives access to Mount Shiribetsu with a nice approach climb. It is also possible to go and make a few turns in the powder snow between the loops and the banked turns of the rollercoasters of the local amusement park, closed in winter.

The largest, East Mountain, offers a vast playground that will offer to the most demanding skiers and snowboarders plenty of fun doing for several days in a row. Funny detail, a good part of the slopes bear the name of French ski resorts: Isola, Tignes, etc...

In Rusutsu, no Gates as in Niseko to regulate off-piste, but all the same ropes with sectors prohibited for skiing. In Japan, you do not go under the ropes, even if behind there are large fields of virgin powder without apparent danger. You will be notified.

Like most areas of Hokkaido, Rusutsu receives heavy snowfall every winter, which creates light powder that is extremely pleasant to ski. In addition, the area is endowed with many trees that are widely spaced from each other, which makes it an ideal place for skiing forest runs.

The resort also offers experienced guides for skiers who want to explore off-piste areas as well as heliskiing in complete safety. However, the interest in heliskiing is extremely limited there for a rather exorbitant price, with a single drop-off point at the top of Mount Shiribetsu, also accessible in a big hour of skinning or walking on a ridge.

Agencies such as PowderWeGo organize high-end, all-inclusive off-piste skiing holidays in Rusutsu and its Backcountry sector.

Off-piste skiing in Kiroro

Kiroro is a smaller ski resort than Niseko or Rusutsu, but it's no less popular for off-piste skiing.

With an average of 16 meters of snow each season, Kiroro offers varied terrain for all levels of skiers. The region is also famous for its ungroomed slopes and off-piste routes, as well as its snowpark.

Located north of Mount Yotei, it Kiroro takes the precipitation before Niseko and Rusutsu, the snow cover there is often incredible.

From the Gates, some memorable runs between the trees or in sheltered valleys, offer fast rotations on skis or snowboards, sometimes with snow flying above the shoulders.

On ski touring, you can move towards the Mount Yoichi-Dake sector, or towards the high plateaus which separate Kiroro from Sapporo-Teine, another ski resort which is located just to the east, on the other side of the mountain.

In Kiroro, there are Gates as in Niseko to regulate the off-piste, and it is the Ski Patrols who regulate the openings and closings. In Japan, you do not go under the ropes, even if behind there are large fields of virgin powder without apparent danger. We don't mess with the rules in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The resort is an American-style resort, with a very limited resort center (two large buildings, and a few sparse houses) and which offers a range of high-quality accommodation, in all and for all a Club Med (which owns the operation of the ski area), and a Sheraton hotel. There are still a few restaurants offering traditional Japanese cuisine and local specialties.

In general, people go there to ski for the day from Niseko, rather than staying there for the week.

Agencies such as PowderWeGo organize high-end all-inclusive packages for off-piste skiing in Kiroro and its Backcountry sector.

Off-piste skiing at Furano

Furano is a medium-sized ski resort in central Hokkaido. Although best known for its groomed pistes, Furano also offers a variety of off-piste terrain for adventurous skiers.

The surrounding mountains offer superb scenery, and many local guides offer off-piste excursions. These excursions can help you discover the best spots for fresh snow.

Furano has 24 pistes, 11 lifts and two ski areas linked by shuttle buses. The ski area is nestled on the slopes of Furano-Nishidake, between the Tokachi and Yubari mountain ranges.

Off-piste skiing at Asahidake

Asahidake is an off-piste ski resort located at the foot of Mount Asahidake, the highest peak in Hokkaido. It's known for its technical powder runs and varied terrain.

It's also the ideal place for experienced skiers looking for a high-mountain skiing experience.

This is over all one of the must-discover places of Hokkaido for ski tourers.

Off-piste skiing at Sapporo Teine

Sapporo Teine is a ski resort located near the city of Sapporo. Although it is best known for its groomed pistes, it also offers a variety of off-piste terrain for experienced skiers.

The surrounding mountains offer technical powder runs as well as forest routes.

On the side of Mont Teine, at an altitude of 1,023m, on a 76-hectare site, the ski area's 15 pistes are laid out. They are suitable for beginners (35% of pistes) and experts (25%).

Here's an original fact: Sapporo Teine was the venue for the 1972 Winter Olympics, the first to be held in Asia.

Backcountry skiing at Kamui Ski Links

PowderWeGo est une agence spécialisée dans les voyages de ski hors-piste, héliski, ski-voile et ski de rando. Elle peut vous emmener aux quatre coins du monde.

Kamui Ski Links is an off-piste ski resort located in the centre of the island of Hokkaido. It is known for its technical powder runs and ungroomed pistes. The surrounding mountains are dotted with clearings and forests.

The ski area offers 12 ski slopes to suit all levels of skier:

  • beginner (2 runs),

  • intermediate (3 runs),

  • advanced (7 runs).

The resort is less crowded, but offers calmer skiing conditions.

As a general rule, it is strongly recommended that you are accompanied by a mountain professional. This could be a ski instructor specialising in off-piste skiing or a mountain guide. A number of organisations offer the services of such professionals, and organise ski trips to Hokkaido, such as PowderWeGo.

PowderWeGo is an agency specialising in off-piste skiing, heli-skiing, ski-sailing and ski touring. It can take you to the four corners of the world.

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