A month in Japan – Kiroro Snow World
In the first post of his month-long blog series, Ski Club Member James Forder arrives on the Japanese island of Hokkaido to find some of the world’s best powder in the tiny resort of Kiroro Snow World:
This time last year I had no idea about the skiing on offer in Japan. However, whilst spending some time skiing in Canada, it became apparent from the stories I heard that it was somewhere that had to be visited. One year on, I found myself and two friends getting off a plane, outside the city of Sapporo, ready to start our 4 week journey around Hokkaido, Japan’s north island.
Our first stop was Kiroro Snow World, which is located just south of the city of Otaru and is easily accessible from Sapporo. We headed there with high expectations, mainly due to the fact that Kiroro can get up to as much as twenty one metres of snow a season. It‘s safe to say we were not disappointed. Snow fell everyday whilst we were there and this was coupled with the fact that there were no crowds or lift lines, which made for a great six days.
The resort itself is not very big with two hotels and a mountain centre being the only buildings there. We stayed at The Kiroro which is the bigger of the two hotels. The hotel was very nice, the rooms were spacious and if you book early like we did it won’t break the bank. However it did have a slightly westernised feel to it, but to combat this they do offer a selection of restaurants which offer some good Japanese cuisine. The Japanese Barbeque restaurant was a personal highlight, offering a selection of locally sourced meat, fish and vegetables which you can cook over your own grill in the center of your table.
The ski area has twenty one runs in total, offering a range of areas for beginners to experts. However the expert runs do not compare with standards that are set in Europe and North America. This is because the mountains in Hokkaido simply do not have the elevation that is found in those places. With Kiroro’s highest peak standing at just under 1200m, you are not going to find the steep pitches that you may be accustomed to elsewhere. Though the snow quantity and consistency sure goes a long way to compensate for this.
The piste conditions there were excellent, with plenty of well-maintained groomers with some pistes left ungroomed specifically for powder days. As a result there was something to suit everyone’s taste. Kiroro’s policy of ‘no ducking’ roped off areas meant we had some concerns about the amount of terrain in bounds that would be accessible for the off piste skier. These concerns appeared to be unfounded when we arrived, with there being plenty of areas not roped off and a new powder zone allowing for some brilliant lift accessed, tree skiing lines.
But the true beauty of Kiroro lies in its backcountry access, with Mount Yoichi-dake towering over the resort, so if you are prepared to earn your turns there is some truly amazing terrain on offer. The resort itself offers one day cat and hike tours, or you can easily get yourself a backcountry guide. Several companies operate in the area if you wanted to familiarise yourself with the terrain before heading out on your own.
Kiroro, for us, was an amazing experience. The conditions were some of the best we’ve ever skied in and all the resort staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. However, if you do decide to visit, I would suggest that 2 -3 days is sufficient, especially if you’re not a backcountry skier.
Our next stop is a town called Jozankei Onsen which gives us access to a small ski area called Sapporo Kokusai, with Kiroro being a more modern and westernised resort Jozankei seems like it will offer a more traditional Japanese experience.