If talk of powder like clouds has piqued your interest then Furano should be your central Hokkaido base.
If you are unconvinced by spending all your time in Westerners’ mecca Niseko, then Furano is the alternative or, at the very least, an addition to the itinerary. Simply stated, Furano is a fantastic ski resort with abundant terrain for all ability levels, outstanding off-piste opportunities (only recently realised), and it also maintains the character of an authentic, thriving Japanese town.
And because it lies in a region as far from the coast as it gets the climate is more gentle, blessing the mountains and volcanoes with crisp, clear days ideal for making the most of Hokkaido’s delectable snow.
Skiing in Furano
With fluffy powder, sunny days, fast no-nonsense lifts and uncrowded runs, many of which are open until 8.30pm, how could you not love Furano? The resort is renowned for well-groomed sweepers, so cruisers of all abilities will be laughing; but that’s not to take away from the staggering advanced skiing with fantastic on-piste runs, several of which are left au naturel and with pitch of up to 34 degrees. Then there is the now-within-limits backcountry – restrictions have been relaxed in recent years and you can access awesome tree runs and untracked powder through the new gate system.
For those with the inclination and know-how the main attractions lie beyond Furano: the powder havens of Mount Asahidake, Kamui and Tomamu are all within striking range.
Furano used to be really annoying. There was all this amazing terrain you could see from the pistes, tantalizingly just beyond the ropes - deep powder, perfectly-spaced tress, steeps and chutes. But the policy on skiing off-piste was unenlightened and policed vigorously. However two years ago it all changed and now Furano has joined the revolution. We think they realised what an opportunity they had on their doorstep and now off-piste skiing is permitted in most parts of Furano (understandably, there are still a couple of areas that are marked by the patrollers as no go zones due to avalanche risk.)
With this new-found freedom, we like to head to the un-pisted zone which sits in the middle of the ski map or, even better still, off to the far skiers right in Kitanomine: freshies galore, great pitches, widely spaced trees and snorkel deep powder in places.
But - as stated above - this should never be only about Furano. Qualified guides can take you to alternative mountains in the region where various challenges await; from softer slopes to tight tree runs and long, steep vertical.
Furano isn’t a place where you’ll find hours of fun on super-steeps, chutes and drop-offs; we’d make for Kumaotoshi from the top of Kitanomine gondola and The Challenge course in the Furano zone for un-groomed terrain and moguls if staying in-resort.
Powder can be knee, waist or neck high in Furano – and that’s the greatest test, especially if you head out of Furano into the backcountry in Tokachidake, Asahidake or Kamui with a guide.
There’s plenty of choice across the two resorts and the snow quality is up there with the best, allowing ample time for honing your carving technique. Furano’s pleasurable long, wide courses vary from gentle to precipitous, meaning lots of options and something new around every corner. The World Cup Downhill course provides the ultimate challenge.
Both Furano and Kitanomine offer something for beginners, with wide gentle runs at their bases and two excellent ski schools with English-speaking instructors. There’s also the chance to get up higher and ski mellow courses from the top of the Furano Cable Car.
Broad runs groomed to perfection make boarding a breeze (particularly in Furano’s Speise C and Sailor C) and on the courses that run from Swift Lift 1 in Kitanomine. You’ll no doubt be inclined to glide off piste where there are some awesome side-country runs on both sides of the resort, and between the two parts of the resort in the link area. These areas are accessed fairly easily with no hiking, but the exits can be frustrating for snowboarders.
One of the things we enjoy most about Furano is the world that awaits after the slopes have closed. Between the Kitanomine village area and the city itself, you’ll get a real flavour of Japan: there are traditional izakayas serving local wine and informal tapas-style food; restaurants offering kaiseki (course after course of light-as-a-feather fayre); and lots in between, including sushi, noodles, Mongolian barbecue and the odd Western favourite. You can usually get by with a few basic Japanese words and phrases; failing that, pick somewhere with a picture menu!
Great news! Children under the age of 12 ski for free in Furano, and both bases have ski schools with English-speaking staff. Childcare is available at Kojima Academy opposite the Kitanomine Gondola for children under five (pre-booking is advisable). The academy picks up from several hotels, and can include a private ski lesson as part of the childcare on request – ideal if your young ones aren’t quite ready for a full day just yet.