Hokkaido, Japan

GO HERE NOW: HOKKAIDO, JAPAN

It has some of the world’s best powder.

The ski and snowboard scene in Japan is gaining popularity and more winter sports enthusiasts are heading to Hokkaido for the season, which runs from December to early April. The northern island is home to several ski resorts spanning the Annupuri mountain range. Here, what makes the Asian destination so unique.

Stay in a Luxurious Private Villa.

Zaborin, a secluded retreat in a private forest near the Hanazono ski resort, offers 15 villas that blend contemporary interior design with traditional Japanese features such as wood-beamed ceilings. Each contains an indoor and outdoor hot tub. For ski-in ski-out access, book a spacious apartment-style residence at Aya Niseko. Guests can enjoy snow yoga classes and a ski valet will keep your boots warm. Or, a good compromise of seclusion, nice amenities, and mountain accessibility is the Green Leaf Hotel in Niseko Village, which has its own connecting gondola to get you to the mountain. 

Ski Interconnected Slopes.

Four adjacent resorts—Hanazono, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village, and Annupuri—form a collective called Niseko United. An all-encompassing ski pass gives you access to 32 lifts that cover over 2,100 acres. Many of the 61 runs come with a view that’s worth the trip alone: the snow-capped Mount Yōtei, an Instagram-worthy extinct volcano that has been dubbed the Mount Fuji of Hokkaido.

The area is known for its terrific snowfall and consistently gets up as much as 45 feet per year. For backcountry enthusiasts, the eleven access gates across Niseko United, as well as a cat skiing service, provide entry points for fresh tracks in untouched powder studded with Japanese white birch trees. 

And if you don’t want to end your day early, night skiing is available via eight lifts that stay open until 8:30 p.m.

Bathe in Hot Springs.

Soak tired muscles in an onsen, or open-air hot spring fueled by the geothermal energy from the region’s volcanoes. Onsen facilities are found in most hotels and are often separated by gender. While relaxing amidst the rising steam, you can take in stunning views of Mount Yōtei and possibly even catch a glimpse of a Japanese snow monkey. Check out Hakuginso, located in the Diasetsuzan National Park or Mimizuko No Yu, which offers both indoor and outdoor baths and a relaxation area with massage chairs.

Enjoy Japanese Après-Ski Culture.

Don't miss exploring Hirafu, the area’s main village of restaurants and bars. Here, you can try locally-brewed Sapporo beer (the kind that isn’t exported overseas) or sample Japanese sake and whisky.  

Soup curry is a popular choice: The hearty spiced stew of roasted chicken and vegetables is perfect after a frigid day on the slopes. It’s the specialty of the house at Tsubara Tsubara in lower Hirafu. Or try the famous lamb dish that's served with vegetables on a sizzling grill at places like Puku Puku Tei in upper Hirafu. Hokkaido is also known for exceptional dairy products. Order a yogurt-based drink from Milk Kobo, which has a delicate balance of sweet and savory flavors.