A month in Japan Part 2 – Jozankei Onsen & Sapporo Kokusai
In the second post of his month-long blog series, Ski Club Member James Forder moved on to the tiny resort of Sapporo Kokusai and its powder-filled tree runs:
After leaving Kiroro Snow World behind we found ourselves at Otaru station once again. From here we took a short train ride back to Sapporo and headed back out to the mountains on a coach bound for Jozankei Onsen. It was snowing heavily when we arrived. Much to our delight the bus stopped right outside our hotel, saving us the burden of walking with our heavy gear through the rapidly deepening powder. We opted for a traditional Japanese style room after we had stayed in a western one at Kiroro. I would definitely recommend it to everyone visiting Hokkaido. It was a brilliant, albeit a strange experience, especially when the hotel staff come to your room in the evening to clear away the table and make up your beds for the night on the floor.
Jozankei is set in a picturesque valley with a river that runs through the centre of the town. It is primarily a resort town based around a hot spring, which means that nearly all of the hotels here will have their own onsen (Japanese for hot spring). These springs are perfect after a day out on the slopes. However, they are gender separated and no clothes are allowed, but once you get past this, it is a hugely relaxing experience.
It is worth noting that Jozankei is not the only option for accommodation to access the Sapporo Kokusai ski area. There is a direct bus from Sapporo too, if the hustle and bustle of city life is more your thing. However, this will increase travelling time to a little over an hour, compared to just 25 minutes from Jozankei.
When you pick up the piste map for Sapporo Kokusai, at first glance it looks incredibly underwhelming with a grand total of six pistes. This however is deceiving, as the off piste opens up a whole heap of varied terrain. The majority of lines provided a lot of fun, with the terrain being both steeper and more playful than that of Kiroro. In amongst the trees you will find an array of natural features to keep the more freeriding-minded skier or snowboarder entertained. There are a couple of bigger cliffs, so a bit of care is needed when choosing your line. This is where the gondola ride comes in handy, as it gives you a good chance to assess the terrain whilst you pass over it. Some of the run outs led into a valley which has a stream at the bottom, so again, choosing your line wisely to avoid a somewhat unpleasant hike out was worth the effort!
There is backcountry access at Kokusai and a lot of the guided tours of Hokkaido will bring you here for a day. However, most of the terrain outside of the resort doesn’t follow the fall line and it is easy to end up in a separate valley. So if you’re heading out without a guide go prepared and be ready to hike.
On the first day we skied, it was a perfect bluebird. Temperatures had risen considerably however, and off piste conditions were not the typical light and fluffy snow we had seen the previous week, but enjoyable nonetheless. Overnight it dumped 20-30cm and this continued into the next day. This meant conditions were back to their best for our final two days, despite the visibility at the top of the mountain not being brilliant at times. Fresh tracks through waist deep powder were on offer almost every run and by the end of both days there were big smiles all round.
All in all, Sapporo Kokusai is a brilliant little ski area, providing you with a chance to ride plenty of fun lines of untracked powder all day long. Be warned, weekends here tend to get crowded. Weekdays are quieter. If the conditions are good, one or two days here will almost certainly be enough depending on the length of your trip.