2. Kiroro Ski Resort, Hokkaido

Kiroro gets some of the most spectacular snow on Hokkaido. When Niseko is getting 20 centimeters of snow, Kiroro can be getting considerably more. If you wonder whether Japan powder skiing lives up to the hype, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” at Kiroro. The Freeride World Qualifier competition was held there in 2019 and 2020, and while working on the mountain safety team, all the riders told me that they absolutely love this place. For those looking for perfect over-the-head powder, do not miss Kiroro.

kiroro-backcountry-skiing
At 1488 m (4881 ft), Mount Yoichi is the highest peak in Sapporo’s city limits. Photo: Tracy Lenard Collection

Kiroro has a lot of sidecountry access, but if you really want to earn your turns, an hour’s worth of skinning can open up some sweet lines outside the resort boundaries. For longer days, a couple of hours of skinning puts you on top of Mount Yoichi or the AK Face where the FWQ comps are held.

Make Otaru your basecamp for Kiroro skiing

My reasoning for staying in Otaru but skiing in Kiroro, is that if you are coming to Japan, you owe it to yourself to experience real Japanese night-life, not just stick to the resort hotels. Kiroro Ski Resort is about 40 minutes away from Otaru, a port city about 30 minutes away from Sapporo. While here, try the ski hill with the steepest slope in Hokkaido located in the middle of Otaru, Tenguyama Ski Resort.

A great aprés ski scene

Plan your rest day while staying in Otaru and visit the Yoichi Whisky Distillery, a 50 minute train or bus ride to the neighboring town of Yoichi (bonus points if you find the local fishermen’s cafeteria for lunch, main street, second floor) then head down to the Canal District for sightseeing.You can also take a short bus ride to Nishin Goten Herring House and find out why Otaru was regarded as the Wall Street of the North.

Did someone say sushi? As a port city, Otaru has more than a few sushi restaurants, behind the Canal District there is a whole lane lined with them! For a scrupulously made after dinner cocktail, hit the Captain’s Bar on the second floor of the Authent Hotel. If you have brought a sports coat this is your chance to look sharp in a classy cocktail lounge. If you are more of a whisky aficionado, drop in to Taki’s Bar for a well-stocked selection of whisky. Aprés ski at this location will never be boring. It does require traveling (bus, taxi, or rental car) back and forth between the resort and Otaru, however, in my opinion, it is well worth it.

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