Japan’s largest and most northern prefecture boasts the greatest skiing in the world. My four day “ski break” weekend in February was the perfect opportunity to hop on a plane with a few friends and fly an hour and a half north of Tokyo, to Hokkaido Island’s capital, for a short vacation in the snow.
Sapporo, best known for its brewery, is actually one of Japan’s most populated cities with close to two million residents. That population doubles during the Sapporo Snow Festival every February, when tourists pour in to see the hundreds of carved snow statues and ice sculptures around the city. We were too late to see the festival, but our break coincided with Chinese New Year; we joined a flood of vacationing tourists nonetheless.
Our first stop was Sapporo’s brewery, where we got a tour of the production and bottling plant. Our tour culminated in a free tasting of “Sapporo Classic,” which is available only in Hokkaido.
For lunch, we indulged in another Hokkaido staple: ジンギスカン or “Genghis Khan,” a mutton dish grilled on a skillet at the table. The lamb is marinated or dipped in sauce, and complemented by grilled Japanese vegetables. The dish’s relation to the Mongol emperor of the same name is unclear.
The next day we navigated the local train and bus system to the nearest mountains at Sapporo Teine, the site of the 1972 Winter Olympics. At an elevation of over a kilometre, we had a stunning view of the entire city from the top of the slopes. To the north, the Sea of Japan stretched into the distance (see the featured image of this post).
After a day packed with skiing, we relaxed in the chalet with cups of hot chocolate and returned to the city at sundown, exhausted but excited to repeat the process.
On Saturday morning, we took a rental car for a two hour road trip out to Niseko, a huge mountain range with sprawling resorts that boomed after an influx of Australian skiers discovered the beautiful hills and unbeatable snow quality.
Despite the hype, I questioned whether the view from this mountain could top yesterday’s. But my doubts evaporated as we climbed to the summit in a gondola and gazed upon the volcanic Mount Yōtei.
Carving fluffy snow down the seemingly limitless slopes before this breathtaking backdrop was an altogether surreal experience.
We spent the afternoon high on adrenaline, zipping down courses blanketed in deep powder and shooting back up in the efficient lift system. The sun was bright on the expansive and ultimately humbling terrain, evoking a sense of awe and a sensation of weightless bliss.
The afternoon passed all too quickly, and I found myself reluctant to leave. But I was satisfied by our decision to head straight to a nearby onsen for a rejuvenating hot bath. After our break, we found a nearby restaurant to feast on another acclaimed Hokkaido dish: soup curry. It was warm and full of flavour – the perfect post-ski meal.
The return flight to Tokyo was certainly not as exciting, and I had plenty of sore muscles and bruises from wiping out on the slopes. But the trip to Hokkaido was absolutely worthwhile, and I would without a doubt recommend it to any and all skiers.