Scarpa North America Blog

The legendary powder of Japan’s north island, Hokkaido

Mar. 15th 2012

Photos by Andrew Burr -

Ross Matlock loves to ski just about anywhere. An expert telemark skier, he has made turns all over the world, but one of his favorite places to ski is Hokkaido, Japan. He recently returned from another amazing trip there with great skiing, world class hot springs and delicious food. Below, Matlock reveals the secrets about Hokkaido’s powder skiing.

Another annual visit to Japan this season produced the same result…great skiing. Japan has received much attention in the recent months with both the tsunami and the amount of snow it has received, compared to that of our dry North American winter. The very north island of Japan, Hokkaido, is where I travel and there are three simple reasons why: powder, culture and food.

Japan is a cold, snowy place and gets meters of snow. Looking at its position geographically, cold low pressure systems sweep down from Siberia crossing the Sea of Japan and unload moisture on Hokkaido. It is one of the snowiest places on Earth. You would think that being an island, its snow would be heavy, but it is light and dry. Angel dust or diamond dust is what the locals call it.

There are two main areas I visit in Japan: Niseko located in the southern region of Hokkaido and the Daisetsuzan National Park, which is located in the central region area of Hokkaido.

The town and resort of Niseko receives 16 meters of snow during the winter months and boasts 4 major ski resorts. With that amount of precipitation it has quickly become one of the powder capitals of the world. The Niseko area has been a well-kept secret for some time, but as a powder ski destination most North Americans over look it. The variety of terrain you can access both inbounds and through the gate system is mind blowing. The options are limitless.

Photo by Andrew Burr -

The Daisetsuzan National Park circles the mountainous region of central Hokkaido.
In places like Asahidake and Kurodake, a sight-seeing lift may be used to access a variety of terrain. These 100 passenger trams take everyone from photographers to die hard skiers deeper into the mountains, allowing you to access more terrain.

I was introduced to Hokkaido several years ago and I have continued to go back year after year searching for the deepest snow I can find. The Daisetsuzan National Park has provided me with just that and my deepest days ever have been recorded in this part of the world.

There are many disadvantages living on the ‘ring of fire’, a term commonly used to describe the volcanic nature of the islands in this region. The advantage is the amount of hot springs it produces. Hokkaido’s Daisetuzan National Park is no exception with many world class hot springs. Every lodge I stay in has its own private hot spring. The Japanese call them Onsen and have strict rules formed from thousands years of use. The Onsen is woven into the rich culture of Japan and along with the food and its presentation make for a unique experience.

If you like skiing quality powder, eating great food, soaking in hot springs and don’t mind working for your turns, check out Hokkaido some time.

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