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Hokkaido famous for powder snow and castles of ice

by Yuka Suzuki, People and Places editor


Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost island and is the area of the country with the best snowfall and the best snow conditions. Its “powder snow” attracts skiers from around the world to Japan. The Sapporo Snow Festival, which includes famous ice and snow sculptures, attracts millions of visitors from around the world every year. Heavy snowfall attracts skiers and visitors on a global basis.

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Hokkaido covers an area of 33,381 square miles, which is about 22 percent of the land area of Japan. There are six major ski resorts in Hokkaido: Furano, Tomamu, Sahoro, Niseko, Kiroro, and Rusutsu. Most of them provide ski slopes for beginner, intermediate, and advanced skiers, and facilities for nighttime skiing as well. Snow and weather conditions being equal, various ski resorts attract different kinds of skiers according to the convenience of their location and the difficulty of their slopes.

Furano, Tomamu, and Sahoro are all located in the center of Hokkaido. Furano is the farthest north of all the resorts, and is owned by the Prince Hotel Group, which owns Honolulu’s Hawai‘i Prince Hotel on the Ala Wai Boat Harbor. Furano has 22 ski slopes, including some two-mile runs. The World Cup has been held 10 times at Furano resort.
South of Furano is Sahoro. Fifty to 70 percent of the days in Sahoro have fine weather. The length of the tram line is 7062 feet, which covers 90 percent of the slopes. The resort includes a Club Med, a vacation village that offers ski lessons, and most of the instructors are international. Club Med’s mission at Sahoro is to help people “enjoy skiing.”

Tomamu is just south of Furano and in the Hidaka Mountain range. Its highest slope is 3,993 feet, and it is 20 degrees Celsius below zero at its coldest. Fortunately there are 18 hot springs located near Tomamu.

Niseko, Kiroro, and Rusutsu are all located in the west of Hokkaido. Niseko is the farthest west of all the resorts. Niseko combines three ski resorts: Niseko Hirafu, Niseko Higashiyama, and Niseko Annupuri. Niseko Hirafu provides 33 ski courses, Niseko Higashiyama 14, and Niseko Annupuri 13.

North of Niseko is Kiroro, which is located near Otaru city, a romantic and historical town that is well known for Otaru Canal and its glassworks. Kiroro is a heavy snowfall area, and provides a mogul course as well.

Rusutsu is just south of Niseko. Rusutsu provides 37 ski courses and includes amusement parks, shopping malls, pools, snow mobiles, and dog sleds. The hotel capacity is 4,000.
One of the best-known winter events in Hokkaido is the Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido, which presents hundreds of beautiful snow statues and ice sculptures every year. These line Odori Park at the Self-Defense Force base in Makomanai, as well as the main street in the Susukino district. The snow statues and ice sculptures turn Sapporo into a winter dreamland. The 55th Sapporo Snow Festival will be held Feb.5, to Feb. 11, this year.

The Snow Festival started in 1950 after local high school students built six snow statues. In 1955, the Self-Defense Force joined the festival and built a giant snow sculpture. The Snow Festival is considered to be of international caliber.The 30th International Snow Statue Contest was held as part of the Snow Festival last year. Sixteen teams from around the world participated in the contest and created various snow statues in various international styles. The Hawai‘i team won second place with a statue titled the “Hands of Freedom.”
Visitors to Hokkaido can enjoy a variety of ski resorts and the Snow Festivalas as well as good food including fresh sushi, as fishing is a major industry in Hokkaido, yielding over 2,872 billion yen in 2001.

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