Early autumn snow dusted the tops of Mt. Yotei and Mt. Asahidake, two of Hokkaido’s mightiest peaks, so it is shaping up to be another great season of powdery fun. Using the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival) as a hub, winter tourists to the “Do” have a host of options.
57th Annual Sapporo Yuki Matsuri
There is a reason why this is the biggest winter event in Japan. The massive snow sculptures which loom in the shadow of the TV tower in Odori Park, are several stories high and spectacular. Factor in live shows, interactive events and enough food and drink stalls to feed the masses, and you have an attraction everyone can enjoy.
As you brave the cold for a few hundred meters on your way to a warm izakaya in Susukino, you will pass the elegant ice statues, considerably smaller but no less impressive than the ones in Odori Koen. A third snow creation site in Makomanai is a brief subway ride away and geared toward the kids.
The city will be packed during the festival (Feb. 6-12) so make reservations ASAP—accommodations fill up fast. Sapporo is the place to be in Japan that week.
For a quiet diversion, the Candle Festival along the ocean-front canal in Otaru runs from Feb. 10 to 19 and is a great place to recover from the Yuki Matsuri. The seaside town of Otaru is about 40 minutes from Sapporo by public transportation. The area surrounding the canal is filled with shops and great restaurants, all within walking distance.
And then there’s the powder…
It is no secret that Niseko is booming. The whole world will be watching as a record-breaking number of tourists from around the globe arrive and put the areas around Hirafu on the map for good. But, if you are looking for slightly less crowded slopes, Hokkaido offers a wide variety.
Furano lies a little more than two hours northeast of Sapporo. With nearly 25 trails and 17 lifts, its wide surface area provides latitude for the creative skier and boarder. The powder is deep and the community is quiet.
At a bit more than 2,000 meters, Asahidake is the tallest mountain in Hokkaido. The ski field near the summit is located about 45 minutes outside of Asahikawa at the top of a winding road containing a few onsen hotels.
One ropeway leads to two seldom-used trails. The broad mountain is full of nooks and crannies featuring fresh runs throughout the day. There are often locals with snowshoes who know the secrets of the hill. If you are prepared (and nice), they might let you tag along on their explorations.
Flat and Hard
Finally, on Sunday, Feb. 12, the 26th Sapporo International Ski Marathon will be held. Courses range from five to 50 kilometers and start and finish at the Sapporo Dome. Strap on a pair of cross-country skis and come out to sweat off a few pounds gained during the Yuki Matsuri festivities. Website: www.sspc.or.jp/ski/eng_top.html
Hokkaido Winter Events Calendar 2006
Toyota Big Air, Sapporo Makomanai Open Stadium: Jan. 28
57th Sapporo Snow Festival, Odori Koen: Feb. 6-12
Asahikawa Winter Festival, Asahikawa: Feb. 6-12
Otaru Candle Festival, Otaru: Feb. 10-19
Sapporo International Ski Marathon, Sapporo Dome: Feb. 12