The great northern wilderness
Japan’s northernmost island has become a hugely popular wintertime playground. Niseko has been the pathfinder thanks to immense and reliable dumps of powder throughout the longish winter, meaning skiable conditions from December to April and sometimes longer. Coming up fast are a raft of smaller resorts like Furano, Kiroro and others, vying for a piece of the commercial action, while more adventurous skiers and riders are exploring the backcountry at forgotten smaller fields across the island, and in wild Daisetsuzan National Park at its heart. There are other, contrasting experiences to be had too. Head north to the coast at the right time and you’ll find sea ice that has been blown down across the Sea of Okhotsk from Siberia to bob picturesquely in the bays. In the little towns of Shari and Rausu in the Shiretoko Peninsula, you can rent dry suits to go out and float among it. If you’re lucky you might be joined by some of the impressive local raptors including the majestic Steller’s Sea Eagle. Hiking tours allow access to the forested spine of the peninsula, guides explaining the tricks of survival for man and beast in the bitter conditions. Shiretoko has one of the densest populations of brown bears anywhere but they are deep in hibernation at this time. That great opportunist, the fox though, is often seen.