Snowboarding in Hokkaido, Japan had been on our bucket list for a long, long time, but I'm glad to report that we finally plucked up the energy and finances to make it happen in 2018. The delay was mostly about money and logistics, as opposed to any concerns about boarding in Japan's northernmost bleak winter island. It was not a cheap trip and we probably spent more than £5,000 for the two of us on this two week holiday. Wowsers! The Japanese powder (JaPOW!) needed to be world class to warrant expense like that and have us come away feeling like it was totally worth it.
We flew from London to Tokyo on Japan Airlines, which took 12 hours, and spent the first day and night exploring the Shinjuku area of Tokyo. It certainly lived up to all of the stereotype images that you see of downtown Tokyo... busy, bright neon lights, shops, eateries, efficient transport, etc. Two points that stood out were the politeness of Japanese people, and the reassuring foreign-ness of visiting this country. They acknowledge that western civilisations exist, but seem to have no real interest in emulating them, very comfortable in their own identity and interests. We liked that. Difficult to find truly foreign countries these days when you travel around the globe.
Wanting to make the most of the snowboarding, we jumped on a plane the next morning, destination Asahikawa, slap bang in the middle of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. We hired a 4x4 car and based ourselves in a quiet hotel halfway between Asahikawa and the Asahidake Ropeway. The weather was a bit wild when we arrived so it caused complications in the ski resort selection each day, but we managed the situation and visited a number of different resorts throughout the fortnight. Most of the resorts were what we class as local resorts. Not many, if any, western faces to be seen, not much English spoken, but we like it that way and everybody was very welcoming.
We snowboarded a range of different resorts including Asahidake, Furano, Sahoro, Nayoro Piyashiri, Kamui Ski Links and Nukabira Gensenkyo. We also did a day of cat boarding at Tengu Cat Ski (Kitataisetsu Ski Area). Similar to hell-boarding, which we have done previously in Whistler, but our transport for the day was a converted snow plough. We had a good time in a group of 8 of us, but like last time, we always find these trips a bit restrictive in terms of the powder we prefer to explore, and the constant stops / starts waiting for others. Overall, we had much better powder experiences on our own at most of the previous resorts listed.
In terms of the all-important question about the quality and depth of Hokkaido powder - it definitely lives up to its reputation. Waist deep and cold. Almost too deep in places, to the extent you have to be careful about the line you pick in case you come to a stop and spend ages digging yourself out. We had two sizeable recoveries needed at both Furano and Sahoro which took us about an hour each to wade out back to the piste, or highway in the case of Sahoro!
So all in all, a very enjoyable trip. Really enjoyed experiencing Japan and checking that one off. We probably won't go back, mostly for cost and travel logistics reasons. I suspect future trips will take us back to the U.S. or Canada where we seem to be most at home in terms of powder hunting, apres-ski, transport, etc. But Japan, you did us proud. Wonderful wild location, and we have any fond memories of the trip.