Pow­der Dreams in Ja­panese


SKI - - CLINIC - By Jon Jay

Ev­ery win­ter, Arc­tic winds sweep cold air across Siberia to the east. As the frigid air reaches the east­ern Asi­atic coast, it picks up plen­ti­ful mois­ture from the warm Sea of Ja­pan on its way to the greater Pa­cific. But be­fore this cold, sat­u­rated air ar­rives at the ocean, the moun­tains of Ja­pan stand in wait­ing, form­ing ob­sta­cles that cre­ate lift and pro­duce some of the heav­i­est snow­fall in the world.

If you’re drool­ing at this point, you must be a pow­der hound. Luck­ily, the past decade and a half has seen the ad­vent of skis wide enough to han­dle the deep snow of Hokkaido, Ja­pan’s north­ern is­land, where ski re­sorts big and small fea­ture smartly de­signed chair­lift sys­tems, re­lax­ing

on­sens, and mas­sive amounts of au­then­tic sushi, ra­men, and sake. From the friendly moun­tain op­er­a­tions teams that greet you on ev­ery chair­lift ride to the help­ful cashiers at the ever-present 7-Elevens, the is­land’s hos­pi­tal­ity is world class.

At the cen­ter of it all stands Sap­poro. No stranger to win­ter vis­i­tors, the city of al­most two mil­lion peo­ple hosted the 1972 Win­ter Olympics and has end­less taps of what is per­haps Ja­pan’s most-fa­mous beer of the same name. Dur­ing the day, the city main­tains the stan­dard ur­ban hus­tle and bus­tle of city dwellers mak­ing a liv­ing, but at night, the city comes alive with karaoke bars and nightlife that shines ex­tra bright thanks to the snow-cov­ered streets and in­fi­nite num­ber of snowflakes that fall from the sky prac­ti­cally 24 hours a day.

Short bus rides from the city through the forested coun­try­side de­liver skiers to the moun­tains. Rusutsu, one of the largest ski re­sorts on Hokkaido, is one-part amuse­ment park, one-part con­fer­ence cen­ter, and one-part sprawl­ing ski area. It of­fers three unique lift-served peaks and heli ac­cess to the Mt. Shiri­betsu vol­cano. On a clear day, you can see the mono­lithic Mt. Yōtei—but you can go for weeks at a time with­out a clear day.

Smaller ski ar­eas dot the is­land, such as Mt. Racey, near the town of Yūbari. The re­gion of Yūbari’s melon-headed bear mas­cot and pow­der-filled glades are both do­ing their part to in­ject tourist money into the dwin­dling econ­omy—orig­i­nally built on coal min­ing—by lur­ing more skiers and vis­i­tors to the hid­den ski­ing gems be­yond the big re­sorts.

Ja­pan can be over­whelm­ing for any tourist, which is why we worked with SnowLo­cals, a com­pany that has spent years ex­plor­ing ev­ery nook and cranny of Hokkaido for the sole pur­pose of craft­ing the per­fect trip. The only thing we had to fo­cus on was get­ting the deep­est turns of our lives. For our sec­ond an­nual Editor’s Choice trip, we dis­cov­ered the se­crets to mak­ing your fan­tasy ski va­ca­tion to Ja­pan bet­ter than you could ever imag­ine.

Gordy Me­groz chok­ing on pow­der at Rusutsu Re­sort. Right: Ar­chi­tec­tural de­tails in Sap­poro.

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