The Definitive Guide To Japan: Central Hokkaido
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Any good getaway needs a great distraction to reap the rewards without getting caught. This theory applies perfectly to a winter heist in Hokkaido. While the masses are enthralled with Niseko, you’ll be able to score the goods in Central Hokkaido – a place where resorts are often under-populated and loaded-up with snow that’s comparable to the depth and quality as Niseko.
Introducing the Experts
Having experienced Japan’s Powder Boom in the late 90s and witnessing first-hand the development of resorts particularly those in the Niseko area, former professional snowboarder Marcus Stocker learned the advantage of looking elsewhere in search of scoring mind-melting turns on his snowboard, and he soon sought refuge in Central Hokkaido.
According to the Experts
What attracted you to ride this part of Japan?
I have been to Niseko a number of times since the 90s and had seen a lot of changes, most of which made me cringe a little. I had the opportunity to take a group of riders from an ESS store trip to Furano around 2007 and had considered the resort, but thought it was just a small, boring, no ‘out of bounds’ riding resort. Boy, was I wrong. I had a good guide – Paul Ellis, who had extensive knowledge of the area. Everything changed from there. I loved how authentic the towns and people were, and sure as hell got to know the area as far as terrain goes. For my money, Furano, when on, was the best lift-accessed mountain in the area. – Marcus Stocker
Top places to ride in the region when the snow is on?
The best lift accessed mountain is Furano, with nearly 1000 metres of vertical on hand. They have changed the ‘out of bounds’ rules now, and have added gates, so the good stuff gets tracked quicker now but for 10 years, you just ducked ropes. There’s very little avy danger, as most areas are lined with trees which makes for good pillow lines and drops. There’s a ton of awesome gully lines to ride as well, the trick is knowing where to get in and where to get out, but it’s all lift accessed.
Asahidake is much higher than Furano, so it’s great insurance if you’re there later in the season and it’s getting a little warm. There’s been a lot of video parts filmed here over the years since there’s no ‘out of bounds’ restrictions. You can dig and shape to your heart’s content, but it’s a little flat although there’s plenty of good terrain to hike.
Kamui is a fun mountain, again with no out of bounds areas, but its terrain is limited meaning it’s only good for a day or two.
Tomamu is virtually a big open bowl, which is sun affected easily, but there’s plenty of little hits off the top Gondola. You mostly want to ride the top half of the resort, as getting to the very bottom is like pulling teeth. It’s just too flat. It also has one of the only decent parks in the area, including a half pipe, if that’s your thing.
Kurodake is mostly just a spring place to ride as the Ropeway doesn’t run in bad weather (which is almost all of winter) Rumoured to have some mental terrain under the main Gondola but you’ll need a guide at first, as you can run into a band of cliffs really easily.
The entire Daisetsuzan mountain range is a backcountry mecca and is generally much higher and colder than the surrounds, so it can hold some amazing snow and terrain way into April, and even into May. If you’re after another alternative, check out NAC’s Otoe powder cat operation if you’re after that motorised pow, but most of the time, you’re not going to need it. – Marcus Stocker
Top things to do when it’s not?
While Furano doesn’t have any natural onsens, it’s a short trip to the Diasetsuzans, where there’s a really cool natural set of piping hot pools deep in the snow-covered forest. There’s also some awesome authentic Japanese eating to be had in Furano. A must is Doksen (there’s one in the main city and one on the Kitanomine side) which has the best baked curry doria eve. They brew their own beer too. Furano isn’t a place know for its night life but when your legs are noodles, and you’ve had a few beers and a feed, that’s all you need. If you’re looking for a place to head, check out Karaoke alley or Ajitos, which is a small Japanese sports bar with cool owners and free pool. – Marcus Stocker
What type of conditions do you need for an epic day on the mountain here?
Fresh snow would be an obvious one, but until a few years ago, it could not snow for a week, and you could still find sick lines. Things have changed a little and the secrets out. As long as it’s snowing consistently the place still rocks. Often the snow gets better after a storm, as a clear super cold night will suck whatever moisture was in the snow (bugger all) and make it even drier (insert Champagne description). If Furano is tracked it might be time to head for a day at Tomamu or Kamui. This can be booked from the Furano Tourism office in the main Kitanomine building. – Marcus Stocker
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone heading to ride here?
Have a look around. Most of what you see can be ridden. Don’t be afraid of a few steps, it’s always going to be well worth the effort. Please be polite and respectful to the locals. – Marcus Stocker
What’s your travel hack tip to getting here?
You can get the train, but I’d recommend the bus. The Hokkaido Lines from Chitose will take you around 2.5 hours to get to the multiple stops around town. – Marcus Stocker
Best place to stay for a weary snowboarder?
Pension Lavendar is a small and cosy hotel with a great view of town and the best fire place ever. It’s only a five-minute walk to the lifts too. – Marcus Stocker
Any last local secrets you care to share?
Take on the massive buffet lunch at the New Prince Hotel. Just don’t plan on riding afterward. – Marcus Stocker
If I earned my turns I’d go here …
Daisetsuzans – Marcus
If I had a brief case full of cash I’d make sure I’d …
Heli the Daisetsuzans – Marcus
I couldn’t leave my kids at home so I took them riding at …
Tomamu – Marcus
Sometimes I feel like cutting a few park laps so I head to …
Tomamu – Marcus
I’ve got the need for speed, where’s those long groomers at …
Furano Ropeway @ 8.30 am – Marcus
According to the stats
Annual Average Snowfall: 15m
Number of Resorts: 12
Terrain Parks: 4
Longest Run: 4.5km
Ability Terrain Mix:
Season Start: Late November
Season End: Early May