Furano is the full Japowder package plus. Since they changed the access policy to open up the off-piste back and side country powder chasers can fill their boots on some sensational terrain. Even better for families, kids under 13 ski free all season at Furano.
In theory this piece of central Hokkaido has a drier, sunnier winter climate than the west coast areas like Niseko, averaging around 8m snow fall a season. But no one told ‘in theory’ at Xmas 2015, when Furano had sensational powder conditions already while other areas were barely open.
“Waking up on Christmas day to find it had not stopped snowing all night was the best gift ever” reports our contributor Greg Cansdale, “a gift that just kept on giving all day long.”
“And on Boxing day. And on the 27th, 28th and 29th. It snowed nomn-stop for 5 days straight. The sun finally burst out again for two days on 30 and 31 December. Skiing untouched super dry powder in the sun when the air is filled with diamond dust is truly an unforgettable unique experience. Christmas crowds were non-existent. The Siberian storm systems seem to appear from out of nowhere, dumping some of the greatest snow in the world on Furano. Merry Xmas!”
Furano skiing and snowboarding
You can ski almost the whole vertical at a decent pitch, with some classic long, plunging fall-line trails. They can make it feel more like at a typical big North American area than most Japanese ones. Off the lifts you get over 3,160 vertical feet, big for Japan, with a lot of consistent fall-line in that. Short traverses and mini hike get you into seriously tasty terrain.
The mountain is split into sides with excellent lift access to both. On the Furano Zone side, which starts right out front of the New Furano Prince Hotel there, one of Japan’s fastest ropeway/cable car/trams zooms you up to just a short double chair ride more from the top. Over on the slightly lower Kitanomine Zone the gondola goes full stretch top-to-bottom in one hit. They leave some of the steeper courses ungroomed, so when it snows and you get out early you can nab those too.
Getting an early lap down the Furano Zone ropeway, claimed as Japan’s fastest, is a good start to the day. If there’s no fresh snow the grooming is top class and the runs include World Cup Downhill courses. Skiing in the taller pine-lined runs mid-mountain here it sometimes feels more like skiing Canada or America than Japan.
The main lifts are excellent, a fast ropeway plus a short double chair or long gondola to the top on either side.
The night skiing is long enough for a leg stretcher or several on the Furano Zone side outside the New Furano Prince Hotel. At Kitanomine at night it’s on easy lower slopes only, fun for families.
The recent switch to an ‘access point’ system has changed the whole mountain, allowing the area to reach it’s full potential for visiting powder fiends.
“Hiking between the two peaks was awesome, with some great pitches and unbelievable fresh snow. Let me tell you Furano’s former reputation as a heavily policed mountain for off-piste is not warranted. Obey the access point rules and respect the rope drops (after getting there first of course!) and you will get your fill” Greg reports.
For families Prince Resorts’ Kid’s Ski FREE to 12 years all season policy is a winner. Then there’s the Waku Waku Family Snowland in front of New Furano Prince Hotel – fun area with snow based activites – snow rafting, snow banana boat, snow mobile, snow shoeing, sledding.
FISS Kids (daycare and nursery) located in the Kitanomine Zone, has a free pick up and drop off service for New Furano Prince Hotel guests. The day care has indoor and outdoor areas for children to play.
Furano back and sidecountry
After keeping the back and side country closed for years Furano’s evolving policy on that saw designated access points, as marked A – F on the 2017 map, open in 2015-16 season.
They are not gates, as that would imply a level of control/responsibility onus on the resort for opening/closing them. Instead that onus is essentially over to you. So knowing what you are doing, where you are going, and being prepared and equipped, is essential.
The official requirement for exiting the access points is to lodge a mountain climbing report with the closest Ski Patrol station first. This is for the police if you need to get rescued – all search/rescue expenses are recoverable from you in that case. The percentage of people actually filling out the forms or knowing they were meant to is pretty small.
While some of the areas accessed are obvious, especially in between the main resort areas, many aren’t, and even those that are can easily lead you into strife. Hooking up with a reputable local guiding outfit will help you enjoy those unless you have some mates who know it.
Some of the terrain you can access is amazing. Tim Macartney-Snape, who took this photo from the Tokachi Mountains looking back at Furano, had this to say.
“The high peak on left is Nishe Furano Dake. The big face is a hoot, but subject to avalanche in certain conditions. The valley to the right between it and the resort has some of the best tree skiing on the planet!”
Furano where to stay
To stay the fully self-contained ski-in ski out New Furano Prince Hotel complex in forest at the Furano Zone base is the area’s most convenient and luxury option, with suite rooms that sleep up to 4 pax for families. Facilities include 2 cafes, 2 bars, bakery, an izakaya, 3 dinner restaurants, onsen, a video arcade game centre for kids, and a massage/beauty salon.
Their Top of Furano lounge bar on the top floor has an interesting aprés option, a 2 hours ‘drink as much as you like’ plan.
Just outside is Ningle Terrace arts and crafts village, featuring locally made arts and crafts, and secluded Soh’s Bar, with a wide selection of world whiskies, a short walk into the forest. Snow School & Ski Rental are on site.
At Kitanomine there is a village atmosphere, with a couple of bars and several restaurants scattered around.
The Alpine Backcountry Rental ski shop includes a quality selection of back country rentals & all the requisite gear, and there’s a variety of accommodation to suit most budgets.
The original Furano Prince Hotel is on snow there for very affordable ski in/ski out, offering smaller, simpler style rooms than the New Prince, with Prince service & buffet meals available – dinner is big!
Having a real rural country town not far down the road makes a difference, and over recent years the Furano locals have done a lot to promote inter-action and get people down from the ski village bases for restaurants, shopping and pubs in town. This allows you to keep the ski in/ski out convenience of the Prince Hotels, or close to snow staying in Kitanomine village, while enjoying the town. There’s a public bus, plus a free bus in the day and an evening shuttle service from the hotels. They also organise some cultural activities in Furano town like Japanese drumming which are fun to participate in.
When you want a change from skiing Furano itself there’s plenty more in easy daytrip distance like Kamui, Tomamu, Asahidake and the Tokachi for back country. Several reputable companies operate day trips to these, like furanosnowtours.com and backcountryskijapan.com, or hire a car and explore, it’s as easy an introduction to driving in Japan as you’ll get anywhere around here.
Getting to Furano
Furano is 2 hours 15 minutes by direct bus from New Chitose Airport, or only 62 minutes from Asahikawa airport. Furano is 2.5 hours from Sapporo with Chuo bus. Furano Prince Hotel guests have a free shuttle available to Sapporo from mid-December to late March.
Resort/Prince Hotels www.princehotels.com/en/ski
Furano Mountain Stats
• Summit 1074m, base 235m, max vertical 839m
• 8m plus snowfall
• 23 courses longest 4km; terrain 40% beginner, 40% intermediate, 20% advanced/expert
• Nice park with some big booters
• 11 lifts including Ropeway/tram, gondola & 2 express quads
• Lift pass rates 2017 Day ad ¥5500, snr/stud ¥4900, kids FREE (to 12 years)