The most northerly of the coun­try’s main is­lands has be­come a by­word in Asia for a life lived at a re­laxed pace, closer to na­ture, with abun­dant fresh pro­duce, clean air and wa­ter – and heaps of snow.

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It’s in­cred­i­ble to think that just 20 years ago, the most fa­mous of all Asian re­sorts was barely known out­side of Hokkaido, let alone Ja­pan. The in­ter­ven­ing years have seen it al­most sin­gle­hand­edly spark a mori­bund in­dus­try to life – and switch its fo­cus from flag­ging do­mes­tic de­mand to an in­ter­na­tional scene ea­ger for fresh win­ter play­grounds. The Aussie sand Ki­wis were the first for­eign­ers to ar­rive, and in such num­bers that they soon dom­i­nated the hill. Since then, they have been joined by ex­pats from across Asia, Asians them­selves and, in­creas­ingly, Euro­peans put off by un­pre­dictable pow­der back home. They come here for some of the light­est pow­der to be found any­where, waft­ing in from Siberia in prodi­gious quan­ti­ties. Most years they get more than 16 me­tres of the stuff, with half-me­tre overnight dumps not un­com­mon. An­nupuri moun­tain is the fo­cus of the ac­tion, with four linked ar­eas: Hana­zono, Niseko Vil­lage, Grand Hi­rafu and Niseko An­nupuri, hand­ily all ac­cessed by a sin­gle pass. Ac­com­mo­da­tion is ev­ery­thing from the tra­di­tional tower ho­tel favoured by lo­cals and fam­i­lies, to ryokan and no-frills bunkhouses. But it is the condo-style op­tions, sim­i­lar to those found in Amer­i­can ski­fields, that are Niseko’s trade­mark. Per­fect for fam­i­lies and groups that want to ski and so­cialise to­gether, this ap­proach has fu­elled a real es­tate boom and got re­sorts across the coun­try think­ing.


On ini­tial im­pres­sions, this place is quite dif­fer­ent to Niseko, ori­ented around the gi­ant tower-style Rusutsu Re­sort that in­di­cates a more fam­i­ly­cen­tric ap­proach. If you like that style, you have here a one-stop so­lu­tion to all your needs for the ho­tel has mul­ti­ple din­ing op­tions and heaps for the kid­dies to do on and off the slopes. There’s a qui­eter up-mar­ket Westin Ho­tel nearby too. As for the ski­ing, there’s more here for ad­vanced rid­ers and back­coun­try fans that you might sup­pose. Be­sides the moun­tain be­hind the re­sort, a gon­dola also leads across the main road to ac­cess a se­ries of ridges that mix swoop­ing piste with plenty of invit­ing side­coun­try. It prof­its from ba­si­cally the same weather pat­terns as Niseko, mean­ing al­most as much snow. That means many peo­ple do Rusutsu as a day-trip from there – you could of course re­verse the logic, bas­ing your­self in Rusutsu and ac­cess Niseko when you want a change of scenery.


Teine is the pick of the re­sorts that ring Sap­poro, al­low­ing you to com­bine the slopes with city sights and vi­brant Susukino nightlife. Kiroro is mid­way be­tween Niseko and Sap­poro and of­fers good side­coun­try, as well as lots of begin­ner pistes. For un­groomed runs and an old-skool feel, try Ka­mui Ski Links, in the heart of Hokkaido, of­ten com­bined with the greater fa­cil­i­ties of Fu­rano.

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