Probably Niseko is the most popular place for skiers and snowboarders coming to Japan, but Rusutsu is in the immediate neighborhood (about half an hour’s drive) and compares favorably with Niseko. Also, Rusutsu Snow Resort is one of the most famous and biggest ski resorts in Japan, even for the Japanese. Of course, you can enjoy JAPOW as it is located in the same place as Niseko in Hokkaido prefecture in northern Japan.
- 1 Get to Rusutsu
- 2 Skiing
- 3 Staying
- 4 Ramen at New Chitose Airport
Get to Rusutsu
Going to Hokkaido is a little special and exciting because it is not so easy for Tokyo's people to go there. It is a bit early but we booked for this Rusutsu ski trip at the end of October. Since it is a weekend trip, hotels and flights will be fully booked unless it is early.
On the day, the departure of flight was at 7 AM so I was at Tokyo Haneda Airport around 6 in the morning. It takes about 90 minutes to reach Sapporo New Chitose Airport that is the main entrance to Hokkaido. On a clear day, you can see the city of Tokyo from the cabin. I could see that. Maybe it was the first time for me. It was lucky day! From New Chitose Airport to Rusutsu Resort, they have shuttle bus services which is an easy way to get to Rusutsu directly. That is about two hours' drive including break. At the stop-off point, I bought bread for lunch and Sapporo Classic Beer limited to Sapporo for night-drinking at the hotel. The bus arrived at Rusutsu at around 12:00 and checked in, and were able to do skiing in the afternoon. Although, we were not able to enter the room yet ...
The Rusutsu Resort is composed of three mountains which are West Mountain, East Mountain, and Mt. Isora. That is a vast snow resort. As West was first developed in three mountains, it is the most aged of them, and I felt that the restaurant facilities are relatively old. Besides, the 4 gondolas also made me feel that way because of the many scratches inside. After West area developed, East and Isola areas were additionally developed and the resort expanded, but comings-and-goings of both area is inconvenient a little because the Route 230 runs between the two sides, and skiers and snowboarders have to take a gondola only for that. Anyway, a wide variety of 37 trails and tree run areas should be able to entertain many skiers and snowboarders. Especially, after a snowfall.
3 points fully enjoy Rusutsu
1. Don't miss the great view from top of Isora
If it is a bright cloudless day, you should go Mt. Isora. It is an amazing view from the top of Isola which is 994 meters above sea level. Once getting off the Isora quad ski-lift and a bit climbed up, there is a great scenery in front of you. On your right, it offers a splendid view of the three mountains which are West Mountain of Rusutsu resort, Mount Yōtei, and Niseko Annupuri. Mt. Yōtei is also called Ezo Fuji. Ezo is the Japanese word for Hokkaido's old name, and because Mt Yōtei is almost identical to Mt Fuji in appearance, they call it Hokkaido’s Fuji.
On the left side, you can clearly see Lake Toya, Mount Usu, and Shōwa-Shinzan in the National Park. There is also The Windsor Hotel TOYA was used 34th G8 summit on the top of Mount Poromoi beside the lake.
Unfortunately the day I came here was cloudy.
2. Tree run & Off-Piste
Tree run and POW, those may be the purpose of a lot of people, though. If we separate Rusutsu's piste into big sections, there are three. They are "Groomed courses", "Non-Controlled Area", and "Completely Restricted Area". It can be run with the first two. The last one is out of boundary area and nobody can enter there. Regarding Non-Controlled Area : The sign of Rusutsu Local Rules says "Area is not safety controlled or patrolled and suitable for advanced users only. You have to enter this area at your own risk. Any costs incurred with search and rescue operations will be charged to the individual."
My recommended tree run area is Mt. Isola. Even if you're skiing at trails normally, there are tree-runs everywhere right next to you. You can easily come in and come out. The Isora has a lot of trails. The long run trails are extending from the peak area following the ridge all the way to the base area. There are pathways to the gullies. For riding tree-runs, you can head through the trees from the ridge roads and from the pathways, and can also enjoy it along the ski-lifts. After that, following the gully bottom back to the base area and take the Isola gondola or ski-lifts for repeat runs.
Back to hotel: Take care of the line of ski-lift when you return. Across No.2 Pair, the ski-lift, you have to take to get back to your hotel from Izora. It might have a long queue surprisingly. There is also Across No.1 ski lift next to it, but it should not run at the same time.
3. The 37 trails & Powder
Japow (Rupow) is not only things for experts. Hokkaido prefecture is known as so cold place and is also known for having very dry snow. The altitude of the snow resort is not much high, but the latitude is high, so the temperature is low. A warm ocean current flows in the Sea of Japan side of Hokkaido, and the air above the sea is full of water vapor. Then, it becomes snow clouds because of the cold Siberian air intensified in winter. Those snow clouds are blown by the cold wind and hit the high mountains, and bring heavy snowfall over the mountains. The snow becomes dry snow due to the Siberian cold air filled there. That's why Hokkaido is the best quality snow paradise. Everyone can enjoy powder snow wherever you go every trails of Rusutsu.
After snowfall, each course which was previously groomed turns into a wonderful powder ski area. Of course the tree run is also the best, but each trail with many intermediate slope allows anyone to feel and enjoy the best powder snow without worrying about trees. Even in West Mountain, trails are shorter than the East Mt. and Mt. Isola, but it can be enjoyed powder run there. Since it is directly connected to the hotel, you could do that rather early. It should be repeatable on the steep slopes of the West.
When to go to Rusutsu
The best snow season I think is from January to early February. Probably, the end of December is okay, but a snowfall might be not so much relative to the heaviest. Normally, this snow resort usually operates from the end of November to early April. The operating period is about 4 months during the winter, but in early February, I feel the turn of the season. It is not that it changes quickly, but I feel like switching. According to the 24 solar terms, the coldest day called "Daikan 大寒" is in late January, and beginning of spring called "risshun 立春" is in early February. The season might be following them. Anyway, as Hokkaido prefecture is located in the northernmost of Japan, you may encounter fresh snow even in March. I have heard of it many times. It depends on the weather condition, though.
Unfortunately our this trip was not so good about snow condition. A week ago, a friend of mine told me that "Today's snow is the best!". He came to Hokkaido the week before we did. Then, the Sapporo's temperature was fifteen degrees C below zero. On subsequent Thursday, it rose to seven degrees C. Our powder was gone. When we got there, the pistes which once the melted snow and frozen again were spreading. We couldn't enjoy powder snow on this trip unluckily. Definitely to meet the perfect powder snow, you should go by early February after all. We did on 15th February.
The Westin Rusutsu Resort
We stayed for two nights at The Westin Hotel and was able to spend time comfortably. The guest rooms of Westin Rusutsu are all duplex rooms and spacious. The room has small kitchenette and Bar Counter with Sink. Also, you can drink tap water there because of clean (almost everywhere in Japan). The hotel is directly adjacent to East Mountain area but it has to take ski-lift to go to piste to cross over the golf course there.
Rusutsu Resort has several rental shops for Ski and Snowboard.
The breakfast buffet was good but crowded in the morning as the guests were concentrated. In the meantime, another breakfast place will open, so you can eat there. You do not have to rush because the ski lift does not start early.
Westin Rusutsu Hot Spring
That is located on the 2nd floor of the hotel. It was one of the best hot springs in the hotel I have ever been to. My satisfaction is at the highest level!! This hot spring has big common tub, jacuzzi bath, sauna bath, and open-air bath. You can enjoy a leisurely soak in the big common tub and feel a sense of relaxation.
The hot spring quality is low alkaline and hydrogen carbonate spring. You should be able to feel the effects for recovery from fatigue and muscle pain additionally.
The open-air bath is also quite good. That is a rare bath type in Japan, and you can soak as if you were sitting on a chair.
Attention, please : You have to take off your shoes at the entrance of bath facility and have to be barefoot in the dressing room. I saw the guys wearing the shoes there. Please take care. Also, you can’t wear swimsuits in the hot springs in Japan. Please be in your birthday suit. Those are common sense and the rules here.
Dining and Drinking at Rusutsu
We went to eat out at night for the two days we stayed because hotel's dinners are a bit expensive. Of course, you will definitely enjoy a wonderful dinner at the hotels. There are a variety of restaurants at the Rusutsu hotels such as buffet, French, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese. The Westin Hotel is connected by monorail to the main resort base at West Mountain and all the facilities of the North & South Wings.
The town of Rusutsu is so small, so there are not many options. First night, we chose Izakaya TANPOPO. It is about a 10-minute walk from the hotel. TANPOPO is a popular restaurant that offers local food and probably needs to book. The izakaya in Hokkaido that Japanese people imagine is fresh seafood, but they had relatively lots of meat dishes because of inland a little. If you want to enjoy fresh seafood izakaya more, it might be better to stay in Sapporo city.
The second day, our dinner was at Rodeo Drive. It was a bar rather than a restaurant. It is located in almost the same place as yesterday's TANPOPO. You should also make a reservation in advance here. This is a tiny place but there are very friendly service and cozy atmosphere. Homemade sausage and bacon, meat dishes, spaghetti, pizza, salad etc. are recommended but everything is very good!!
Both shops are available only winter season.
Tips : There are two convenience stores along the Route 230 in front of the hotels. Those are major convenience store Seven-Eleven and Hokkaido-born convenience store Seicomart. As there is nothing like grocery store near here, I think it is a good idea that you stock up some food at those shops to save expenses. Convenience stores have a wide variety of snacks, such as delicatessen food, Bento (boxed meals), filled & stuffed bread and pastries, noodle cups, sweets, beer, wine, and Japanese-sake. They also have Japan's represented homemade snack called onigiri.
This Seven-Eleven has ATM (Seven Bank), so you can withdraw Japanese Yen with your credit card.
Ramen at New Chitose Airport
Ramen is the representative gourmet at New Chitose Airport. The Hokkaido Ramen Dojo ( Hokkaido noodle hall ) where 10 popular ramen shops in Hokkaido prefecture are gathered is a very popular spot at this airport. It is not an exaggeration to say that you will have had all the Hokkaido ramen if you have ramens from most shops here. Each of the 10 shops has its own taste and you can enjoy different tastes.
The entrance of there is Hokkaido-shaped with several ramen bowls.
The Ramen Dojo is located at the Domestic Terminal Building 3F of the airport. International passengers need to head for domestic flights side. There are not only ramen shops but also various restaurants that can be enjoyed, such as Sushi shop, and Beef meal ( Gyudon ) and Tempura ( Tendon ) Bowl snacks Japanese people like.