The perfect Japan powder itinerary may not exist, but a trip around Hokkaido’s “powder triangle” – Furano, Niseko and Rusutsu – might be as close as it gets. These three resorts showcase the commodities that have made Hokkaido a dream winter destination: deep, dry powder, gorgeous natural onsens, mouth-watering cuisine and breathtaking landscapes.
It’s virtually impossible to recommend one resort over another – each has its unique quirks and attractions – so a trip covering all three will ensure you see the best of what’s on offer. There are fierce advocates for each who will tell you it is the best resort in Japan.
Of course, a road trip is only as good as the planning that goes into it, which is where NISADE really proves its value, offering stunning accommodation, transfers, experienced agents, and access to the best services and rates. Book your trip here or read on for a preview of a powder triangle itinerary – done the right way.
Days 1–3: Furano
Skiing in Furano is simply superb, with an impressive selection of terrain spread over its two main peaks: Kitanomine and Furano. The resort has long been known as a beginner and intermediate paradise due to the abundance and quality of its groomed runs, but in recent years has come into its own as a powder destination thanks to management opening up backcountry areas via a gate system. It’s now regarded as one of the best resorts in Japan for lift-accessed backcountry skiing, and also has some of the lightest, driest snow courtesy of its central Hokkaido location.
Another plus-side to Furano is the town, which – unlike most ski resorts towns in Japan – is a mini city in itself, with shops, malls, onsen, eateries and bars to keep you entertained long after the lifts have stopped spinning for the day. Karaoke, anyone?
Stay: Fenix West
New to Furano in 22/23, Fenix West is a stylish condominium hotel that will an unmatched level of comfort and luxury to visitors of the resort. In addition to hotel rooms, we love the option for a more spacious 1, 2 or 3-bedroom apartment stay, which will suit family holiday-makers to a tee.
Better yet, Fenix West is just footsteps from the Kitomine Gondola, virtually guaranteeing you first tracks for one of Furano’s famous powder days, which – let’s be honest – is likely the reason you’re visiting in the first place!
Dine: Fenix Restaurant & Bar
Furano’s dining scene is as good as any ski resort in the country, which means you’ll never be short of options. But if you’re staying at Fenix West it would be a mistake to overlook Fenix Restaurant & Bar, which serves soul-warming Japanese favourites like the niku soba or tempura rice bowl over the lunch period, before switching to a more sophisticated kaiseki-style menu for dinner.
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For nights two and three guests can venture into Furano town and try Robata, a pint-sized but totally gorgeous izakaya serving picture-perfect Japanese food, or Sushi Dokorotakahashi, a much-loved family sushi restaurant run by a husband/wife team.
Learn: Summit Ski School & Guiding
The beauty of Summit Ski School is that it offers tailored programs to match the needs and desires of its guests, which means you have control over how you spend your day with all the benefits that come with a professional snow school and guiding set-up. Experts can lean on the experience of guides to unlock powder stashes or nearby backcountry, while beginners may prefer a more structured approach with an instructor.
Days 3–6: Rusutsu
“Rusutsu is the place where Niseko locals go for their day off to get deep”, jokes NISADE’s Anthony Trovatello, when we ask for his thoughts on the resort. Jokes aside, it’s not far from the truth: Rusutsu may once have been in the shadows of its ultra-popular neighbour, but it is now regarded by many as Japan’s best ski resort and has four wins at the World Ski Awards in the Japan category to back this claim.
Known for its long runs, endless supplies of perfect Japanese powder and world-class tree skiing, Rusutsu will suit the skier looking for the quintessential “Japow” experience, but also has the terrain and variety to cater to skiers who are less confident (not to mention, a top international ski school).
In a different way from Furano, the resort is purpose-built with many of its facilities under a single roof and no real town to speak of. But it’s also quirky in the way only a Japanese resort can be, with a merry-go-round, a singing tree (yes, really), games centre and 4D cinema – in short: plenty to keep the family entertained off the ski slopes.
Stay: The Vale Rusutsu
Voted the world’s best new ski hotel in 2021, The Vale Rusutsu is a ski-in ski-out property with stunning hotel apartments that have been designed with nature at the forefront. Guests will enjoy floor to ceiling windows and alpine views, with oversized bedrooms and living areas that have been furnished for style and function. Built by Niseko pioneers NISADE, The Vale Rusutsu is part of an effort to transform and elevate Rusutsu … an effort that is clearly working.
The Vale Rusutsu’s 267sqm 4-bedroom penthouse is worth a look – if only to dream. With wrap-around views, private terrace, BBQ and an open-air Jacuzzi, it has celebrity appeal and has to be one of the most impressive ski resort accommodations we’ve laid eyes on.
Fly: Heli skiing with Hokkaido Backcountry Guides
Those with a taste for the extreme can take advantage of Rusutsu’s partnership with Hokkaido Backcountry Club, Hokkaido’s highly regarded (and only) heli skiing operator. You’ll have access to the imposing Shiribetsu-dake, which has some of Hokkaido’s steepest and most appetizing backcountry terrain – the same terrain that was featured in the Warren Miller film “No Turning Back”.
“Our Heli skiing program is unique in that we can ski 360° on the same mountain [Shiribetsu-dake], which allows us to be able to follow the sun and best snow for the day”, says Clayton Kernaghan, owner of HBC.
“It’s also much steeper terrain than many operations that offer low angle powder. The backdrop of the iconic Yotei-zan isn’t bad either.
Soak: Kotobuki no Yu onsen (adjacent to The Vale Rusutsu)
Another relatively new addition to Rusutsu (July 2019), Kotobuki no Yu hot spring will leave guests feeling relaxed and rejuvenated after a day skiing deep Rusutsu powder. Our tip: head straight to the 20-metre long outdoor bath with mineral-rich water and panoramic views of the Shikotsu-Toya national park. If there’s a better way to finish a day, we’re yet to hear about it.
Days 6–9: Niseko
If you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last ten years, then you have still probably heard of Niseko, which has become synonymous with skiing in Japan and is one of the undisputed powder skiing capitals of the world.
The quality and vastness of the in-bounds and backcountry skiing almost goes without saying – there is truly something for everyone, from waist-deep untracked powder that you see featured in Instagram reels, to XL terrain parks, to cruisy intermediate runs, to covered magic carpets servicing dedicated beginner zones.
Much like the mountain, the four resort areas that make up Niseko United are a lesson in variety, where you can stop by a food truck on the way to your Michelin-starred restaurant booking, or try one of a hundred different activities on a day off from skiing (snowmobiling, indoor rock climbing, snow tubing and lots, lots more).
To dismiss Niseko would be a mistake; it has become popular for very good reason, and a trip to Hokkaido is worth at least three days at the resort that put Japanese skiing on the map.
Stay: Intuition Niseko
Developed by the internationally-renowned Zekkei Properties, Intuition Niseko is located in the heart of Hirafu and is set to launch in December ’22. It’s hard to make a splash in Niseko these days, such is the level of expectation within the luxury segment, and yet there’s no doubt these dazzling apartments are about to raise the standard to new heights.
The property will feature top-end dining, a glamourous cocktail bar, indoor and outdoor Kagenagashi onsen and a state-of-the-art ski locker room with boot drying tech.
Dine: Naniwatei Niseko
Naniwatei’s long history of culinary excellence begins with Head Chef Murai Koji’s father, who founded Susukino Naniwatei back in 1962. In recent years the brand has found its home in Niseko, with a vision to bring its trademark blend of robatayaki (fireside cooking) and kaiseki-style dining to an international audience. In December 2022, the newest incarnation of the brand will open on the ground floor of Intuition Niseko.
Guests will be able to enjoy dishes celebrating Hokkaido’s fresh produce, including fresh seafood sashimi and seasoned rice cooked in an earthenware pot, or Murai’s famous 540-day aged potatoes – steamed and sprinkled with salt (“it’s the best way to bring out the flavour”, says Murai). All dishes benefit from the restaurant’s direct access to the spring water flowing from Mt. Annupuri, which “creates a more delicate umami flavour for the meals served using the fresh vegetables and ingredients of Niseko.”
How to book (up to 45% off + additional 5% for Ski Asia readers)
9-night “Hokkaido Triangle” packages start from 194,300 JPY per person (~US$1345), which includes accommodation at each of the resorts, breakfast, premium private transfers from the airport and between the resorts, and unlimited access to the onsen at Intuition and The Vale Rusutsu.
Note: make sure to quote “PTSA22” to get up to 45% off plus an extra 5% off for Ski Asia readers