GATEWAY TO THE HIGHEST POWDER SNOW HEAVEN ON EARTH

GATEWAY TO THE HIGHEST POWDER SNOW HEAVEN ON EARTH

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GATEWAY TO THE HIGHEST POWDER SNOW HEAVEN ON EARTH

Set Up Base in Asahikawa For Fun in the Snow

Words and photography: Kazuya Baba

The belly of central Hokkaido, also known as the “powder belt”, is thus named because of the exceptionally light powder snow which falls in the region. Asahikawa, the second largest city in Hokkaido, is a mere stone’s throw away from Asahikawa Airport – the gateway to this region.

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Central Hokkaido is home to a number of large-scale ski resorts including Furano and Tomamu, however, the aim of this article is introduce the joys of staying in the major city of Asahikawa whilst hopping around the local ski slopes. Major resorts such as Niseko, Rusutsu, Furano and Tomamu tend to spring to mind when the topic of Hokkaido is brought up. Their high exposure has unfortunate, but inevitable consequences – crowded ski slopes. Just imagine the sheer chaos that ensues for a taste of powder snow the morning following a good night of snowfall. Ski areas that haven’t quite caught the attention of international visitors require far less elbowing and shoving to catch a good run. In fact, sometimes lucky visitors can have a ski slope all to themselves.

Setting up base in Asahikawa to discover the surrounds of Central Hokkaido allows for an exciting snow experience that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, let alone the rest of Hokkaido. This is because of its location in northern Japan, right in the heart of Hokkaido, away from coastlines. All of these conditions combine to create the perfect environment for dry powder snow to fall.

Let’s start with the city of Asahikawa itself. Asahikawa is proud to call itself a “food-lover’s town” for the plethora of gourmet offerings to be had. The entertainment district of Sanrokumachi is an epicurean’s dream with over 1,000 different bars and restaurants lining the streets. Izakayas (Japanese pubs), ramen, BBQ lamb and sushi restaurants are just a few of the countless local Hokkaido fare to be feasted upon for, above all, a price that won’t break the bank. Ski resorts which see international visitors flock to their slopes tend to bump up their prices, as many tourist destinations do. Asahikawa is different in that restaurants are priced reasonably due to the number of locals who live and work there.

The worldwide ramen boom in recent times will no doubt bring attention to Asahikawa due to its status as a city of delicious ramen. The global ramen chain restaurant – Hokkaido Ramen Santouka – had its humble beginnings in Asahikawa. Visitors with a particular interest in ramen should head over to the Ramen Village, 20 minutes away from the city centre, to see and try all the different types of delicious ramen to be had. The popularity of this area has increased so much that 3 hotels have opened up their doors in the last 3 years, with another scheduled to start trading later this year.

Another place of interest is Asahiyama Zoo, which is located approximately 30 minutes from the city boundaries by bus. The zoo has been the backdrop and subject of various Japanese movies and TV shows due to its sheer popularity. Fans of the zoo find themselves visiting again and again to see the animals comfortable to actively roam around in the unique environments created to suit each different species.

The arrival of winter signals the start of the Penguin Walks at Asahiyama Zoo, which take place every year from December through to March. This is one of very few places to witness penguins happily strolling through the snow.

A QUICK 30 MINUTES AWAY – KAMUI SKI LINKS

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Kamui Ski Links is the most prominent of all ski resorts in the local vicinity of Asahikawa. While it certainly feels like a local ski resort, it is a fairly large-scale establishment with 7 ski lifts in operation. The ski slopes at Kamui are spacious and wide-spreading. There are few ski resorts nowadays which offer runs wide enough for skiers and snowboarders to carve up huge arcs in the freshly groomed snow.

The resort also actively opens up its sidecountry trails for thrill-seekers to shred through the wild tree runs. While the publicly open 5 sidecountry trails are hours of fun in themselves, the Bumps (Moguls) Course and Treerun Course are where the extreme fun is to be had. These courses can be accessed through the main area and are not recommended for inexperienced skiers or snowboarders. If word gets out about the sidecountry offerings at Kamui, then it may fall victim to swarming crowds in the future, like other major resorts.

Visitors to Kamui should also check out NOBu, a ramen restaurant at the base of the mountain.
The recipe for Asahikawa ramen has been passed down through many a generation at NOBu and it is well-known for its superb flavours.

BACKCOUNTRY BONANZA AT ASAHIDAKE AND KURODAKE

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Asahidake is a small scale ski slope with only 2 ropeways in operation. This little ski slope makes up for its size through its sidecountry and off-piste trails. Unlike Kamui Ski Links, which has a cult international skier and snowboarder following, Asahidake still remains comparatively untouched by international visitors. To get the most out of the backcountry trails may, however, require the assistance of an experienced guide.

The ropeway has a maximum capacity of 101 people. Upon reaching the peak of the mountain, a sea of white snow beyond the trees fills the area as far as the eye can see. The sight of almost smoke-like snow filling the air is quite a rare sight to behold. While many skiers will hike up to the peak to shred the backcountry trails, there are plenty of sidecountry trails full of powder snow around that do not require any hiking at all.

Along with Asahidake, is Kurodake, which is also known for its backcountry trails. Much like Asahidake, a ropeway trip is required to get to the top, however, there is also a lift in operation from the end of the ropeway to make skiing all the runs an easier affair. Backcountry fanatics will need to head further towards the peak to satisfy their urges. The course down from the ropeway is restricted to advanced skiers and snowboarders only as it is an intense run.

Both Asahidake and Kurodake are prime locations for backcountry fans and an added advantage of these locations is that they are both renowned for their hot springs. A good, long soak in the thermal waters to warm up a chilled body after a day of carving up ski runs is sure to hit the spot. The convenience of being able to enjoy backcountry skiing and hot springs whilst staying in the major city of Asahikawa is winter travelling in style at its best.

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Recommended Ski Resorts Near Asahikawa

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KAMUI SKI RESORT

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An excellent ski resort located a short 30 minute drive from the heart of Asahikawa. Kamui Ski Resort has 30 courses on offer including 5 glade-runs; 30 degree steep, 150 metre wide packed-snow runs; and wide, gentle slopes for beginners and families. The courses span across 100 hectares of mountain to keep skiers and snowboarders of all levels happy. The sight of frost-kissed trees lining the mountain peak on a clear, early morning is also a treat that cannot be missed!


PIPPI SKI RESORT

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Located 50 minutes away from the heart of Asahikawa is this ski resort with a magnificent view of the Daisetsuzan Volcanic Group. A jam-packed day of fun is guaranteed with 9 courses at a maximum length of 2,200 metres to shred. The large spa area in Pippu Ski Resort makes it the perfect place to wind down after full day of skiing.

The Envy of the World: SKI AREAS WITHIN METROPOLITAN SUBURBS IN ABUNDANCE

The Envy of the World: SKI AREAS WITHIN METROPOLITAN SUBURBS IN ABUNDANCE

THE ENVY OF THE WORLD:

SKI AREAS WITHIN METROPOLITAN SUBURBS IN ABUNDANCE

Ski slopes in the Surrounds of Sapporo and Otaru

Words and Photography: Kazuya Baba

The majority of overseas ski tourists visiting Niseko and other ski resorts in Hokkaido tend to travel straight to their destination from the gateway to Hokkaido, New Chitose Airport. The same visitors then make a beeline straight back to the airport without any side trips or diversions. This type of visit is such an unfortunate waste of potential opportunities for exciting experiences. At just a short 40 minute train ride away from the airport is a large city of approximately 2 million people and one of the most fascinating cities in all of Japan – Sapporo. This city of charm and wonder also happens to have a variety of different local ski resorts around it at just a stone’s throw away. This special feature will focus on travels centred on the metropolis of Sapporo and the charming fishing-port town of Otaru. Keep reading to gain some inspiration on a new way to enjoy a ski trip around Hokkaido by visiting ski slopes around its major cities.

SAPPORO

FROM FOOD TO ENTERTAINMENT

Sapporo

Putting Japan’s Best Foot Forward with a City of 2 Million People

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Sapporo, Hokkaido is the northern-most ordinance-designated and fifth mostpopulated city in Japan (including the special wards of Tokyo). It was the first Asian city to host the Winter Olympics in 1972 (the Sapporo Olympics) and later went on to host a range of other international sporting events, including the FIFA World Cup. Sapporo is also currently considering a bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics.

As can probably be gauged from its history, the greatest advantage of Sapporo is that it is surrounded by a number of easily accessible ski areas nearby, despite being a large, urban city. The renowned ski resorts in the area will be covered in more detail later as this section will focus mainly on the city of Sapporo itself. Before diving into the wonders of Sapporo, it is worth mentioning that the ski-jump ramps used in the Winter Olympics can be visited in a flash from the city. It is a highly popular tourist destination and is definitely worth a gander.

The first cab off the rank in this introduction of all things Sapporo is none other than Sapporo Beer. Many of our readers will have, no doubt, seen and perhaps even tasted this beer at various Japanese restaurants in Australia. Sapporo Beer is a widely known Japanese brand and is consumed all around the world, however, what is little known is that its history dates back long ago to 1876. The prefecture of Hokkaido has a comparatively short history compared to the rest of Japan, having only been officially developed in the late 19th century. This means that the history of Sapporo Beer and the development of Hokkaido walked hand in hand.

There is a place in Sapporo where all things Sapporo Beer can be experienced such as: a museum displaying the history of Sapporo beer, tours explaining the beer brewing process, tastings, and even a restaurant to taste the delicious local fare of the northern country. This wondrous place is a 15 – 20 minute walk from Sapporo Station – The Sapporo Beer Garden. The local Hokkaido dish of “Genghis Khan” (lamb barbeque) can also be feasted upon here, making this a must on your stays in Sapporo. Hokkaido is also known as the biggest food-lover’s paradise in all of Japan. Sapporo is the heart of this prefecture and is home to a huge variety of local Hokkaido cuisine. While scallops and other seafood is in deliciously rich abundance in Hokkaido, there is one highly accessible local dish that absolutely everyone knows about – Sapporo Ramen.

Sapporo Ramen Yokocho is a well-known little alley in the city. This popular little spot is filled with famous ramen restaurants, left and right, up and down. Ramen lovers should definitely check out this street and even make return trips to taste all of the different types of ramen on offer.

Hokkaido has a deep food culture history and is known for various food booms such as soup curries, and chocolates like Shiroi Koibito and Royce. Doing some research into the different delectable foods to fill your belly prior to jetting off to Hokkaido will make for a particularly satisfying trip.

Next on the list of all things Sapporo is the biggest winter event in all of Japan, the Sapporo Snow Festival. This snow and ice festival is held annually in early February around Odori Park and other various locations around Sapporo. Odori Park is located in the heart of Sapporo and hosts seasonal festivals all year round to provide relaxation and entertainment to locals, such as the Sapporo Lilac Festival in spring and the YOSAKOI Soran Festival in summer. The grounds stretch 1.5 kilometres across from east to west and are filled with snow statues, big and small, during the Snow Festival. Come nighttime, projection mapping exhibits are switched on to create beautifully dazzling sights that see tourists from all around the world flock to the city. Over at the Susukino site, a snow playground will keep the kids happy while the adults admire the beautiful ice sculptures on display. Planning a trip to Hokkaido to coincide with this event is highly recommended. Hotels are in high demand during this period, so make sure you book well in advance to lock down a spot!

TEINE

PLENTIFUL SIDECOUNTRY AREAS FILLED WITH TOP QUALITY POWDER SNOW

The Main Event Location for the Sapporo Winter Olympics

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Sapporo Teine Ski Resort is a short 30 – 40 minute drive away from the Sapporo business district and captured the attention of ski fans worldwide during the 1972 Winter Olympics as the main event location for events such as alpine skiing. Despite its convenient location near Sapporo proper, it boasts the longest ski slope in Hokkaido at a massive 6 kilometres in length and accessible sidecountry areas for exciting powder snow mountain runs. It also features a snow park, as well as tubing and sledding courses for safe family fun, making this resort a truly versatile location.

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Sapporo Teine Ski Resort is actually two ski areas rolled into one – Teine Highland and Teine Olympia. Highland is situated at the top of the mountain and is aimed at experienced skiers, whilst Olympia takes up the bottom half of the slope for family fun snow sports. The combination of the two areas gives birth to the 6 kilometre long course, welcoming skiers of all levels from different walks of life. There are also different attractions, such as the snow park for freestyle skiers and snowboarders to keep everyone happy.

The Highland area features courses that were used in the Winter Olympics and requires an adequate level of skill to conquer. The KITAKABE (North Face) course is particularly challenging with areas as steep as 36 degrees; it will take a lot of deft weaving and ducking to get through the sidecountry-like trees unscathed. Although this course might seem like a goliath to even the most-advanced skiers, the forest run is too difficult to groom, which turns it into a powder snow heaven the morning after a night of heavy snowfall. Definitely give this run a shot, if you dare.

The 4 Nature Zones are sidecountry trails accessible from the main courses and are sure to bring smiles to the faces of avid skiers. Exciting tree runs and powder snow runs (after heavy snowfall) can be found in these spots.

More happy news for hardcore skiers – the backcountry areas at Teine are not prohibited from access. Skiers can access the backcountry areas through the Teine Gate at the peak of the Highland area provided that they take full responsibility for their own actions. Access to these areas is purely for those who want the opportunity to shred some backcountry and it is important to note that it may not be possible to return to the main ski area after passing through the Teine Gate. Make sure you come fully equipped and research the layout of the land carefully before taking the leap.

The Highland area is also known for its magnificent views. There are not very many courses around that give you a view of the big sprawling city below as your ski down the slopes in the great outdoors. I have heard stories of skiers hesitant to move from their position and ski down the slope because they have been captivated by the stunning view. This ski resort is a must visit – where else can you find a similarly impressive ski slope so close to a major city? There is nothing quite like the luxury of enjoying the sights of the big city after a satisfying off-piste run.

Sapporo Teine Ski Resort offers 2 handy packages for visitors. The Big Runs Bus Pack includes return bus fare from 7 major hotels in Sapporo and lift access, whilst the Taxi Pack includes return taxi fare and lift access. These packages must be purchased in advance so hop onto their website for more information.

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BANK.K

DROP BY THIS SKI RESORT ON A WHIM

20 Minutes Away from the City Lights

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Just 20 minutes away from the city, you say? That’s right, Bankei’s biggest draw point is its short distance from the heart of Sapporo. The resort is easily accessible by car, subway and bus, and keeps its nighttime courses lit up until 10pm at night, so you can drop by the resort in the evening after a day of enjoying the Sapporo Snow Festival if you plan your trip to coincide with it.

Bankei Ski Resort also stocks a variety of skis, snowboards and snow gear, making a quick ski trip without any gear a cinch.

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There is also the Snow Kids Park on site for kids to try their hand at snow tubing, and a snow escalator for novice snow enthusiasts to find their winter feet. The child-minding services at the resort also helps parents to take a breather on the ski slopes while their kids are looked after. Most of the 17 courses available at Bankei have fairly gentle slopes and are targeted towards families. Whilst the resort may have a reputation as a family ski area, there are definitely offerings for advanced skiers.

Snow sport enthusiasts looking for more of a challenge can try out the Half Pipe and Moguls Course, both of which meet International Ski Federation standards. The Half Pipe is the largest of its kind in Japan at 180 metres long, 20 metres wide and 5 – 6 metres high. It was also selected as
a course in the 2016 FIS Snowboard World Cup. The Moguls Course sees frequent visits from top athletes to practice their skills on the high quality run. The Half Pipe and Moguls Course were both used for events in the 2017 Asian Winter Games held in Sapporo and Obihiro. Freestyler skiers and snowboarders alike should definitely drop by Bankei and try out the world class courses on offer.

Before you leave, stop by BANKEIEN on the western-side of the slope to feast on the local Hokkaido dish of Genghis Khan, lamb grilled on hot charcoals, for a tasty way to end your day.

KOKUSAI

THE BEST POWDER SNOW PARADISE NEAR SAPPORO

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An hour’s drive away from both Sapporo and Otaru on a snow-covered mountain pass is a ski resort located at the base of Mount Asaridake – Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort. Sapporo Kokusai and the nearby Kiroro Snow World are the coldest and receive the most snowfall in the area. The conditions are so harsh in this region that driving around at certain hours of the night is prohibited and extreme care must be taken when driving at other times during the day.

Fortunately, the bitter cold and heavy snowfall provide the perfect conditions for a great ski resort. Professional skiers and snowboarders from Sapporo, Otaru, and the surrounds flock to this ski resort for its consistently high quality powder snow. The 2.2 kilometre long Downhill Trail, which spans from the peak of the mountain to the base, is particularly thrilling with its non-compacted fluffy powder snow, making for a satisfying shred.

With only 5 total lifts and gondolas, the ski area may not appear to be particularly large, however, the Fairy Tale Trail through the forest, aimed at novice skiers, is a satisfying run at 3.6 kilometres long. The plentiful snow combined with low temperatures also creates excellent powder snow to be carved up in the sidecountry areas.

While this ski resort may be a little further from Sapporo compared to other resorts in the area, there a number ofbus packages that offer return fares at affordable prices for those who have concerns about driving to and from Sapporo Kokusai. Some packages include lunch courses and even access to nearby hot springs, so make sure to have a quick browse to find the package which best suits you.

An itinerary plan I would like to suggest when visiting Sapporo Kokusai is a stay at the nearby Jozankei Onsen. This hot spring town is only 20 minutes away from the ski resort and is the perfect place for tired snow fanatics to seek refuge.

JOZANKEI ONSEN

TAKE A DIP IN NATURAL HOT SPRING WATERS IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS OF HOKKAIDO

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To enjoy the beautiful Hokkaido scenery on offer throughout every season of the year in the relaxing thermal waters of a natural hot spring, take a trip an hour out of Sapporo to Jozankei Onsen. The long history of Jozankei Onsen began in 1866. The Buddhist monk, Miizumi Jozan, was said to have founded the town through many hardships after first discovering a hot spring source during his missionary work. The area was given the name “Jozankei” in recognition of Jozan’s endeavours.

There are 56 different hot spring sources in Jozankei Onsen. The thermal waters bubble up from the banks and river bed of Toyohira River, which runs through the town, in approximately 8,600 litre bursts. The sodium chloride-rich hot spring waters (neutral hypotonic thermal waters) are clear and have a characteristically smooth saltiness – a quality popular amongst hot spring fans in Japan. Salt sticks to your skin as you soak in the waters and prevents sweat from evaporating so as to warm you to the core.

Of the numerous longestablished Japanese inns to line the streets of this hot spring town, HANAMOMIJI is particularly proactive in attracting tourists from around the world. Onsen lovers will be delighted by the facilities on offer at HANAMOMIJI, including: an open-air hot spring bath with a view of the Jozankei valley; 3 private baths; and even the opportunity to soak in the springs of surrounding inns. The dishes filled with local Hokkaido seafood is also a big crowd-pleaser. Check out the HANA-MOMIJI website (offered in English) for more information.

Iwato Kannondo Temple is one site that absolutely cannot be missed on a visit to Jozankei. On the right-hand side of the altar inside the temple is a cave filled with 33 statues of the deity, Kannon. Iwato Kannondo Temple is a a quick peek into the cave to feel the power emanating from the area. Jozankei is also known for its “Kappa Folklore”, which tells of a kappa (a Japanese water spirit) that once lurked in the town. As such, the kappa has become the town mascot and statues of it can be found scattered around town. Anyone fancy a kappa search on their next visit to Onsen.

WORKINGHOLIDAY CONNECTION

WORKINGHOLIDAY CONNECTION

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WORKINGHOLIDAY CONNECTION

All eyes on this café in Harajuku – the birthplace of “kawaii culture”

Photography: Kazuya Baba

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Omotesando in Shibuya is one of the most well-renowned shopping streets in all of Japan, famous for being the home of Omotesando Hills – a large shopping complex filled with a plethora of brands from all over the world, including the Australian brands “Ugg” and “Helen Kaminski”. While it is also known for its up-and-coming boutique stores, notable salons as well as its appeal from people of high society to trend-conscious youth of today, it also crosses through Harajuku – the birthplace of kawaii (cute) culture. Harajuku is where the trendy café, “Workingholiday Connection”, who borrows its name from a popular way holidaymakers make their way to the shores of Australia, has set up base.

COFFEE BEANS ROASTED BY THE “BEST BARISTA” IN AUSTRALIA

The first thing which must be ordered at this café is the coffee. The coffee beans procured to brew this coffee are roasted by Japanese barista, Shoji Sasa, who was awarded as the Best Barista in the 2012 Sydney Morning Herald Good Café Guide Awards and later went on to become a Barista Association judge. The coffee beans are hand-picked from different countries depending on the season and the strict brewing methods adhered to at the café to maximise both the flavour and characteristic notes of the coffee, making for a truly Australian cup of coffee. Drop by this café if you’re hankering for a little taste of home in Japan.

DELIGHTFUL PANCAKES MADE BY A BILLS OLDBOY

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The signature menu item at Workingholiday Connection is the pancakes. The “ORIGINAL MANLY PANCAKE” is a fluffy, creamy creation made using ricotta cheese imported from Australia. The Japanese chef who came up with this tasty treat upon returning home was trained in Japanese-style cuisine in Japan before jetting off to Australia on a working holiday and becoming the head chef at the famous pancake café – Bills, in
Sydney. Free-range eggs are generously mixed into these pancakes to add a hint of egginess akin to French toast. The berry bombastic “VERY VERY BERRY PANCAKES” are also a popular choice amongst restaurant-goers.

A PLACE TO CONNECT WITH THE WORLD

As the name of the café suggests, it is run by the Japanese Association for Working Holiday Makers and all members of staff have working holiday experience. Staff members are either Japanese people who have returned from overseas experiences in Australia and other various countries, or foreigners who have come to Japan on a working holiday. There are virtually no language barriers at the café thanks to this diverse makeup of staff. The café itself aims to help people realise how going overseas to study abroad or go a working holiday can help to broaden one’s horizons, which is the main purpose for employing youthful staff members with experience from all over the globe. It’s a great place for people to gather firsthand insights about working holidays. For people out there looking for one of the best trendy café experiences in the country, drop by Workingholiday Connection the next time you’re in Tokyo.

INFORMATION
Workingholiday Connection
Harajuku/Omotesando, Level 2 YM Square
4-31-10 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo
Tel: 03-6434-0359
Sun – Thurs: 11am – 8pm (last orders at 7pm)
Fri –Sat: 11am – 9pm (last orders at 8pm)