Beautiful Backcountry in Central Hokkaido’s Powder Belt

Newsroom Resort Features Beautiful Backcountry in Central Hokkaido’s Powder Belt

This article is sponsored on behalf of the Hokkaido Tourism Organisation.

I want to take you on a winter journey through central Hokkaido’s Powder Belt in Japan. Pack your fat skis and a wide nose board as the snow is deep and the temperature well below freezing.

Our adventure starts in downtown Asahikawa at the modern and relaxing Hoshino OMO7 Resort Hotel. Western arrivals into Japan suffer from jet lag, so I always recommend getting quality sleep on arrival. The only catch is you may arrive with snow falling, and like myself, just can’t wait to hit the slopes. Fortunately, there are more than twenty local and world class resorts within two to three hours from Asahikawa.

Kamui ski links in the powder belt of Japan
Kamui Ski Links is a hit with the locals. Photo: Bradley Paul Bennett

Kamui Ski links is less than an hour from the Hoshino Resort and has a dedicated bus that makes the access easy. With 25 runs, expertly groomed pistes and backcountry options, Kamui is a locals’ favourite. The lift tickets are 30% less than some of the bigger resorts and there are plenty of intermediate slopes mixed in with 150 metre wide steep sections. The Gondola whisks you to the peak where double chair #5 provides access to powder zones and more advanced slopes. Perfect for a day or two, Kamui is great for – nearly all the runs return to the main lodge where you can take a break or enjoy a delicious lunch while watching the slopes from panorama windows. Rentals, lessons and large size ski lockers are available.

If you have a rental car, the access to my hometown of Furano is only two left turns and less than an hour from Kamui. The ski in and out Prince Hotel has world class facilities. There’s a 101 person ropeway next to the hotel, natural hot springs with an optional outdoor sauna, a choice of restaurants, snowmobile rides, horseback riding and a lit up night village. There are more than 25km of slopes between two mountains all accessed with one electronic lift pass. If you want to explore the backcountry get a guide to show you round, as it is easy to get lost amid the steeper and more challenging terrain compared to Niseko. Lessons are available in English and various languages and the rental options are top quality.

Snowshoeing next to the Bie River in the Powder Belt of Central Japan
Snowshoe to the unbelievably blue Biei River. Photo: © Alister Buckingham

Less than one hour from Furano is the tranquil farming village of Biei. You might recognise it even if you haven’t visited before – it’s the site of Apple’s iconic “Blue Pond” screensaver. The blue pond is frozen and white during winter although they light up the area at night. On your way to Biei, a stop by The Furano Grill restaurant for some Wagyu beef, located above the Goto Sumio Museum, is a wonderful lunch break. I also recommend a quiet snowshoe tour along the Biei river or a winter rafting float along the Sorachi river where you might see a Hokkaido fox or wild deer grazing. I learned a lot about the area from the English speaking guides and felt refreshed after the tranquil nature experiences. The Shirogane Onsen Hotel next to the Shirahige waterfall has traditional Japanese rooms with amazing meals and commanding views of the Tokachi mountain range.

Snowboarding in Asahikawa
Go out with a local guide in Asahikawa to find all the best spots for deep powder. Photo: © Alister Buckingham

For a more adrenaline fuelled experience away from the resorts, Michiko Aoki (aka “Pow” – the ideal name considering she’s in Hokkaido’s Powder Belt!) is an English speaking ski guide with international certification, who knows the secret locations for deep powder and true alpine experiences throughout central Hokkaido. Her guiding company, “Mountain Flow” is popular and advanced reservations are recommended. On my last tour with Pow we toured through a mystical forest and enjoyed fresh tracks all day while only meeting two other skiers. Needless to say, I can’t tell you where we went… but travelling with Michiko is worth the effort. She can even tell you stories about ice climbing and other extreme winter sports available in Hokkaido.

Returning to the Asahikawa area, you might get lucky with the weather and have an opportunity to visit the mythical “Asahidake” volcano. There is only a ropeway here and advanced skills and a guide are required to truly enjoy the area although many guests just come for the view and to take photos. The fashionable village of Higashikawa, at the base of the mountain only has 8,000 residents but it has a new quality Japanese outdoor brand Montbell shop and the Yamatune socks flagship store and some great cafes and restaurants. Many of them serve the world famous “Otokoyama Sake” which makes an amazing gift for yourself or friends back home. Stop by the factory and museum located in the Asahikawa city for an informative tour and sake tasting.

Sake tasting in asahikawa
You must try the world famous Otokoyama Sake. Photo: © Alister Buckingham

It is not possible to experience all of Japan’s Powder Belt in one or two weeks. Many of my international friends and guests visit every year and each time there’s new and exciting places to introduce. I think all travel and winter enthusiasts are looking forward to visiting Japan when the time is right. Remember to pack warm clothes as the light powder snow comes with very cold temperatures. Down jackets, wool hats and boots are the local fashion so dress warm and we look forward to seeing you soon!

Bradley Paul Bennett – AKA Racer X – is an outdoor enthusiast and guide who has lived in Japan since 1990.

Featured image: © Alister Buckingham

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