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Beginners Allowed: A JAPOW Paradise for Skiers of all Levels

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In the center of Hokkaido we find the possibility for bottomless powder and nostalgic chairlifts that deliver beginner & expert skiers and snowboarders to a landscape of fluffy powder and beautiful views.

Here is an overview:

The quintessential JAPOW experience in one image.

Before you board the chairlift at one of Asahikawa’s ski resorts, you will be surprised. Surprised by the for European and North American ridiculously cheap prices:

For example, at Pippu Ski Area a Day Ticket costs less than 20€ – and that includes a visit to the Onsen next to it!

A Family pass for one adult and one child incl. the Onsen visit costs exactly the same, and a Season Pass at Pippu costs a mere 275€ – for comparison, if you go ski in Vail or Aspen a one Day Ticket at the Weekend will cost nearly that much. Needless to say, going skiing in Japan is very affordable, if you go for a few days or even the whole season, you will not need to take out a loan the same way you might have to if you go skiing in Switzerland, Austria or the USA. 

Which way?! Sign at the Asahikawa’s ski resorts.
Which way?! Sign at the Asahikawa’s ski resorts.

Arriving in Asahikawa

On a rainy day last autumn I received an Email which invited me to go skiing in the Asahikawa area. I love skiing, I love Japan and being invited to go skiing in the home of deep powder in the prime season is indeed a dream come true. I didn’t lose a second to reply, and on a sunny day in late January I boarded my plane in Vaasa which would take me first to Helsinki, then onwards to Tokyo and Asahikawa.

In Asahikawa I caught the last Bus to the center, from which it was five minute walk to my Hotel.

When I arrive in Japan my evening routine is simple: Go eat Ramen, head to the Onsen and then off to bed. 

Luckily Ramen Santōka, the best Ramen Restaurant in Asahikawa, was still open and was not out of soup (which happens, as I had to experience later that week!) and so I sat down with a delicious bowl of Ramen and was in culinary heaven. After that I made use of the Onsen at the Hotel, which was so relaxing that I slept fantastic.

The next morning I was ready to explore Asahikawa on foot. I have spent a few days in this vibrant city last fall, which you can read about here, so it was nice to see the city in white with lots of snow.

In the afternoon I then met my companions for this trip: Bernard, Jordan, Chihiro, Yuki and Yohei. Together we went through the program of the next few days and then went to have dinner together at the local Craft Beer Brewery Taisetsu Ji Beer.

This is a Jingisukan Restaurant, where you grill your own food. It’s quite popular in Japan and definitely something every traveler to Japan should try!

As we have a sweet tooth, Jordan took us to her favorite Café: Switch Flavor. This is a must visit when you’re in Asahikawa as not only is it completely unique with a gorgeous décor, they also make delicious cakes and desserts.

Asahikawa on a snowy day.
Asahikawa on a snowy day.

Pippu Ski Area: Easy Side Country with a traditional Onsen finish

You know it’s gonna be a good day when big, fluffy snowflakes are pouring down from heaven.

We went to explore Pippu Ski Area today and after a few warm up laps on the blue and red slopes our small group went into the side country just off the big chair lift. Even in the afternoon we still found some sweet pockets of Japow (Japan Powder) and coming back onto the Strawberry slope everyone had big smiles – time to go for another sidecountry run!

Like any good ski resort you have a few Lunch options at Pippu, and I went for the local trout and rice bowl and a Miso soup. The trout for this dish was caught nearby, and the rice was from Hokkaido – a delicious and healthy dish which had me ready for a long afternoon of more skiing!

Chairlift with a view at the Pippu Ski Area.
Chairlift with a view at the Pippu Ski Area.
Fun and easy slopes are this way!
Fun and easy slopes are this way!

I visited Pippu later this week on my own and put on my skins to head off into the easy powder tree runs which start just a 10 minute hike up the mountain.

The landscape here was magical, like out of a Studio Ghibli movie: Beautiful trees covered in lots of snow, and a serene landscape covered in this wonderful dry, fluffy snow which skiers and snowboarders travel to Japan for from across the globe.

These powder runs are easy, fun, safe and you end up back on the slope after your forest run, from where you can take a chair lift back up to head into the forest again.

Funnily enough I met two Instagram friends from Finland that day at Pippu – image our common surprise when we realized that we meet 8.000 km from home instead of a Finnish ski slope!

Happiness is a skin track in a snowy forest.
Happiness is a skin track in a snowy forest.

The Bottomline is that Pippu Ski Area is fantastic for both absolute beginners and more advanced skiers who want easy access to the side country.

Pippu has a Ski School and during my visits the local students were skiing with their schools here, and I absolutely loved their laughter of joy when they were skiing down the slopes.

The weather can change quickly throughout the day, from snowing heavily to sunshine and far views in minutes.

The Bus ride to Pippu costs 650 Yen and takes about an hour from Asahikawa, and of course the best thing about Pippu Ski Area – apart from the skiing – is that you can go soaking in the Onsen next to the ski resort, literally a 2-minute walk from the main chair lift! I would go here with the family in a heart beat, or with friends who want to ski easy powder runs without skinning up the mountain.

Pippu Ski Area is a small gem that's always worth a visit.
Pippu Ski Area is a small gem that’s always worth a visit.

Kamui Ski Links is the biggest ski resort around Asahikawa – but the day pass costs a mere 23€ and some cents! This gets you access to the Gondola and five double chair lifts, as well as their 25 groomed, super-wide slopes.

There’s several things which Kamui is renown for – their fluffy, dry powder snow is one, of which they get on average 8 meters per year. So much powder means there’s amazing side country runs at Kamui, and if you head to the Northern Slopes you can experience it even within bounds of the ski resort. This ski resort has a handful of ungroomed powder runs inbound, which means you can access them from the slopes and come out back at the Gondola.

I tried some of their more advanced black runs through the trees, and they were super fun and not too hard – ideal for people who want to learn powder skiing in safe conditions.

Speaking of learning: We had Ryoji Mizutani with us in the morning, one of the official Kamui ski guides. He showed us the best runs of this little gem, and answered all our questions. I met Ryoji later in the week when I was skitouring on Sanpou-San in the Tokachi Mountain Range of the Daisetsuzan National Park – more on that in a bit – and he’s a wonderful guide, who in the summer is working on his own Lavender Farm!

Kamui is the largest Ski Resort in the area and the "Home of Fluffy Powder"!
Kamui is the largest Ski Resort in the area and the “Home of Fluffy Powder”!

There’s several busses going from Asahikawa to Kamui every morning, the bus ride takes around an hour and it’s 700 Yen one-way. Be sure to be on time – though in case the bus is full, there will arrive a replacement bus some 10 minutes later.

The bus leaves from Kamui in the afternoon starting at 14 o’clock and takes again an hour and costs the same. If you go by bus you should have 700 Yen in coins with you, or a 1.000 Yen bill – that’s the biggest bill which is accepted, and you don’t wanna be the foreigner with a 10.000 Yen bill who can’t pay his bus ride. 😁

Kamui should be on your must-visit list when you head to Japan to ski.

It’s has a mere 92.000 visitors per year, which means even on a busy Sunday you won’t stay in line to the Gondola longer than five minutes. Or if you’re there by yourself, even shorter – as they have a line for singles who are happy to join a not fully occupied Gondola. This is something I wish European ski resorts also would offer, because nothing is more annoying than standing in a long line and seeing Gondolas not riding at capacity!

Did I mention the amazing snow and the super-wide slopes, which mean that even on a busy Sunday it feels like you’re there on a Monday morning? The great side country and tasty Pizzas on the Top? A Fischer Rental Base which lets you rent the latest equipment?

Good – now you will visit Kamui Ski Links on your next trip to Japan!

Super-wide slopes and even on a busy day you have all the space you need!
Super-wide slopes and even on a busy day you have all the space you need!
The Northern Slopes are for experts and have a lot of powder runs.
The Northern Slopes are for experts and have a lot of powder runs.

With the Gondola up Asahidake

Mount Asahi (旭岳, Asahi-dake) is a mountain located near the town of Higashikawa and the tallest mountain on Hokkaido with an elevation of 2.291 m.

There’s a Gondola which operates every 20 minutes in winter, and it can get VERY busy on powder days – so you want to be there early to avoid the lines. I visited the mountain with Jordan and our Guide Suzuki Yoshihiro.

Suzuki-San took us to the fumaroles, then we had a tea break at the Asahidake Refuge (旭岳石室) and then skied back to the Sugatami top station. I had all my skitouring gear with me, so Suzuki-San and me went down the Intermediate course to the bottom station of the ropeway. Obviously along the way we headed into the safe side country, and JAPOW was enjoyed with big smiles!

A JApanese POWder Dream.
A JApanese POWder Dream.

Asahidake has groomed runs from the Sugatami top station back down to the Ropeway, and the easily accessible side country is what attracts heaps of skiers from across the globe and Japan here.

However, you should only head here into the powder side country when you have a beacon, shovel, probe and preferably even an Avalanche Airbag with you, and know how to use them.

The top of Asahidake can get up to 13 m of snow per year, and it’s a serious mountain – the day I visited it was -15°C, and with windchill it felt like -26°C – and this was at the bottom, so at the top station it was substantially colder – and a lot windier, too! Additionally because of the easy access and the heaps of snow there’s often a high avalanche danger, so don’t go alone and never without the right gear!

JAPOW - Beginners Allowed: A JAPOW Paradise for Skiers of all Levels
A Big Mountain Day on Asahidake

As we had both the gear and time we went up once more, and again it is amazing how conditions can change in a short amount of time and elevation: While it were white-out conditions with high winds at the top, a few hundred meters down the mountain there was sunshine and great views.

I absolutely loved this little excursion to Asahidake, also as we stayed in the Bear Monte Hotel right next to the Ropeway Station, which had massive rooms and a super-tasty Buffet.

Between the Hotel and the Ropeway Station is the Asahidake Visitor Centre which is a beautiful Museum – and free, too! I learned a lot in it, and got inspired about future trips to the region – plan in a visit when you head to Asahidake.

Sees a lot of snow and few visitors: The Asahidake Visitor Centre in winter.
Sees a lot of snow and few visitors: The Asahidake Visitor Centre in winter.

On my rest day I went to visit the lovely town of Biei, which is well known for the Shirogane Blue Pond, the Shirahige waterfall, Seven Stars Tree and of course the Zerubu-no-Oka flower fields – which now in the winter were simply very beautiful rolling hills covered in snow.

I explored together with Hattie, from Dohoku Local, the river side in Biei on snowshoes, which was a very easy and relaxing adventure. The snowshoeing along the shore of the river was super enjoyable, and Hattie was very knowledgeable about the flora, fauna and history of the area.

As I had to catch my ride back to Asahikawa we walked with our snowshoes in hand back to town, with a short stop at the Shiki-no-tou Tower from which you have an amazing view over this little town of barely 10.000 inhabitants. To round things out, I also had a delicious soft serve ice cream before heading back to Asahikawa!

Seeing the best of Biei with Hattie.
Seeing the best of Biei with Hattie.

A skitouring visit to Daisetsuzan National Park

On my last day in Japan I was in for a treat: A long skitouring day on Sanpou-San in the Tokachi Mountain Range of the Daisetsuzan National Park, together with Yukinori Otsuka and Yosuke Noto – both are ski and mountain guides, and Yukinori is also a very talented photographer.

Our day started very early in Asahikawa, from where we drove for around an hour to the start of our skitour at the Tokachidake Onsen

It does not get better than this: Skitouring in Japan
It does not get better than this: Skitouring in Japan

Skitouring here requires the proper equipment and you shouldn’t head out on this mountain without a beacon, probe and shovel. The Approach is around 30 m down a nearly 75° slope, after which we put the skins on and hiked for an hour.

The sky was blue, the sun was shining, it was a freezing -26°C but all three of us had big grins as it was absolutely perfect, the kind of day you dream about when you plan and imagine a trip. We had many first powder lines this day, put our skins on and off half a dozen times, and saying that it was a great day would be an understatement.

Few things are better than first turns in deep powder.
Few things are better than first turns in deep powder.

We saw a few other groups throughout the day, but the fact that we made first powder turns on every descent gives you an idea that this is a big mountain with plenty of space for everyone.

Bring your avalanche kit, food and drinks for a long day out – and enjoy, this was about the best skitouring you can have in Japan!

Happiness is first tracks!
Happiness is first tracks!
Yukinori-San just as happy as me and Noto-San!
Yukinori-San just as happy as me and Noto-San!

Practicalities: Where to Sleep, Eat and Ski

If you want to be online with your phone while in Japan, get an eSim from Airalo. It works a treat and allows you to use Google Maps, Translate and everything else for as little as 3$/ GB. I recommend their 5 GB Package if you stay less than two weeks, and then simply top-up your account as needed. Use the Code HENDRI0415 to receive 3$ to get you started!

Flying to Japan is super-easy and you can also fly directly to Asahikawa, which has one of the most-reliable Airports in Japan. You can find the best connections from your home airport via

Pro-Tip: Add in a couple of days in Tokyo on the way home – see our Tokyo Tips here!

Flying into Tokyo at night is always an exciting moment.
Flying into Tokyo at night is always an exciting moment.

Use to find the perfect Hotel for your stay in Asahikawa and book it right away.

I can highly recommend the Hotel WBF Grande Asahikawa which has spacious rooms for all your ski gear, a fantastic Onsen and a very tasty breakfast buffet.

The AMANEK Asahikawa is the newest Hotel in Asahikawa and is right off the Main Street and a 2 Minutes walk to the railway station.

The OMO7 Asahikawa ( is a proper ski hotel in town and has it’s own shuttle service, and is also very child-friendly – the ideal choice if you go with the family to ski in Japan!

If you’re going to Asahidake and want to stay close, then you can’t get closer than the Bear Monte ( It’s a three minute walk to the Ropeway Station and I absolutely adored the large library which was very inviting, with many interesting books and comfy chairs and sofas. 

The library at the Bear Monte Hotel is worth a visit.
The library at the Bear Monte Hotel is worth a visit.

If you don’t have a beacon, shovel and probe then buy all three in a set ( and safe money!

To learn how to use them visit a course locally or go out into the mountains with one of the amazing guides I was skiing with: 

Yukinori Otsuka

Yosuke Noto

Ryoji Mizutani

Suzuki Yoshihiro

Tracy Lenard from Niseko Mountain Guides, offers week long excursions and will ensure that you have a fantastic powder holiday.

Happy guides and happy me!
Happy guides and happy me!

If you want to explore Biei then do so with Hattie from Dohoku Local:

There are so many super-tasty Restaurants in Asahikawa that I only list my three favourites:

Ramen Santōka is the Best Ramen Shop in town. I absolutely LOVE their Ramen – they are so tasty that my mouth is watering right now, just thinking about them!

If you want to splurge on Dinner and want a traditional Japanese experience then you have to visit HATAGO. Have a Japanese friend help you make a reservation as it’s very popular, and then make sure to try the Sashimi which were godly.

Finally, Switch Flavor is a Café which offers the most tastiest treats, from Parfaits to cheese cake and more. This place is absolutely gorgeous and ideal for couples who want a romantic Café!

Mouth-watering food!
Mouth-watering food!

  • Hendrik Morkel

    Presenter and Videographer – Born in Germany Hendrik moved to Finland over 20 years ago, where he hikes, skis and climbs. He likes sustainable travel and loves to go on by-fair-means adventures around the world, which he documents with his camera and pen.

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