Swoop over Mount Yotei from Niseko and you'll find an entirely different powdery world.
Just as snowy but far less crowded, Rusutsu serves as an excellent alternative – or contrast – if you’re in it for the skiing rather than the après-fun, and you can tolerate a little Japanese kitsch in favour of untracked powder.
Rusutsu very much centres around the slopes, with only one resort-hotel cocooned in a sea of white. Powder hounds will be in heaven, and it’s great for families, too: close to the airport, with a good ski school, miles of beginners’ terrain, and family fun in the form of snow activities aplenty.
Even if it’s just for a day or two, why not leave the hordes over the hill (in Niseko), we say, and revel in the endless perfect powder that characterises a better kept secret?
Skiing in Rusutsu
When the worst complaint you’ll hear is "too much snow", you know you’re in for a good time...and in quieter Rusutsu this means fresh tracks galore. The ski zone spans three mountains – a large area with around 40 runs, open expanses ideal for venturing off-piste, and the best tree skiing in Japan, there...we've said it! A satisfyingly efficient lift system includes gondolas and hooded chairs. The runs are almost equally divided for beginners, intermediates and advanced – though the challenging skiing is more in the form of off-piste than innumerable blacks and double blacks. Staying on-piste, we love the wide, undulating pistes bordered by fir trees. There’s also night skiing on West Mountain.
It’s worth mentioning that technically off-piste is prohibited in Rusutsu; but the authorities are pretty relaxed, so as long as you know what you’re doing there’s hours of fun; and heading off piste is made easier by a lift system which minimises the need for traversing and hiking. Mount Isola has large gladed areas and some of the best tree skiing we’ve experienced anywhere. If you want to get further away, head into the backcountry with a guide or try heli-skiing. Remember it’s quiet and unprotected, though, so it’s imperative that you take the right gear and don’t go into the unpatrolled zone over the summit.
If you like your powder, you’ll love Rusutsu – you just can’t keep up with it! For that reason even the less challenging runs can be exhilarating. There are a handful of short blacks and double blacks, as well as world-class tree skiing and great backcountry adventures to keep you occupied for days.
Well groomed, winding trails and consistent fall lines are the order of the day. East Mountain presents lovely views of Mount Yotei, but the better intermediate skiing is on Mount Isola. Don’t be afraid to go for it – we found the run ratings were definitely on the cautious side. In Rusutsu, you’ll acclimatise to powder quickly, and if you feel ready for the deep stuff you need only slide a little way off the runs.
Rusutsu’s docile terrain is ideal if you’re on the greener side, and it’s refreshingly quiet – a big advantage when you’re starting out. West Mountain is generally considered the beginner’s area. The new Ski School Lesson Area was set up especially, with a magic carpet to assist tired legs. Private lessons are also available.
Head to Mount Isola for wide sweepers cutting through the forest, as well as exhilarating tree runs. Across the valley on West Mountain you can challenge yourself at Freedom Park, get your heart pumping on steep runs such as ‘Giant’ and ‘Elite’, or try un-groomed pistes such as ‘Tiger’ and ‘Natural’.
Rusutsu is very much a resort, purpose built for fantastic access to the slopes. It lacks the soul of Niseko and Nozawa Onsen, and isn’t the place to go if you like to make new discoveries each evening. That said, Rusutsu was designed with leisure in mind, so the large central hotel complex has onsens, wave pools, fitness facilities, children’s entertainment, shops, and restaurants serving cuisine from around the world. If you can go with a sense of humour – think random music acts, a singing tree, rollercoasters, and a general healthy dose of kitsch – then you’ll enjoy bundles of fresh powder waiting each morning and no crowds.
Easy to get to, with snowy slopes on the doorstep of comfortable accommodation, and a good ski school, Rusutsu holds lots of appeal for families. When you – or they – are tired of skiing, there’s snowmobiling, tubing and dog sledding to name a few of the outdoor activities on offer, as well as inside entertainment in the form of cartoon characters, a singing tree, a merry-go-round and a wave pool. The varied dining options are sure to please even the most discerning of little palates; and given the quiet nightlife, you’ll probably find yourselves making your own fun in the evenings.