Sapporo Kokusai ski resort guide and travel tips

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Sapporo Kokusai ski resort is a little gem powder paradise that gets ridiculous amounts of snow. It’s in the same snow band as nearby Kiroro, which gets the most snow in Hokkaido. So Kokusai can’t be far behind! Every time Snow Action drops in we strike japow gold.

Sapporo Kokusai ski resort is only an hour from downtown Sapporo, or just 40 minutes from Otaru. Along with Sapporo Teine it makes Sapporo skiing stack up with anywhere in Hokkaido.

Powder skiing at Sapporo Kokusai ski resort
Fresh line at Kokusai © Owain Price

We woke to 15cm or so outside our base at the Sapporo Prince Hotel, and with a day trip to Kokusai the main item on the schedule froth levels were rising.
Several daily bus services pick up from major hotels and subway stations, with a combo return bus and Kokusai lift pass deal for just ¥5,300 that you can buy on the bus.
That is sensational value for what you get – cruisy long groomers perfect for intermediates and superb side country, not to mention some shorter sweet shots under lifts, especially the new top quad.
Being a dutiful husband, I restrained myself for one cruisy lap with Mrs SA off the top quad. There was already 15cm or more of fresh snow on top of the run since the grooming machines had been over it, a typical Japan scenario. For the next lap I couldn’t resist and just dived in under Kokusai’s newest lift, the Echo quad installed in 2016-17.

There were plenty of knee to thigh deep shots over the rollers in here. I got my fill being first into several sections off the quad, which has made a huge difference by allowing you to lap the better upper part at Kokusai without the long run out to the bottom you used to have to do every time.

waist deep skiing at Sapporo Kokusai ski resort
Swedes have discovered Hokkaido too – Jonas Sandell on the charge at Kokusai © Owain Price

The morning wore on, competition was arriving, and the boss was warmed up too. She usually beat me back to the lift, making easy work of the two blue run options while I kept finding new ways to get stuck in hollows where it was waist deep in places.
After a few laps it was getting tracked, and we were both getting leg weary, so we hauled in for a coffee break at the little restaurant at the top of the Kokusai gondola.
A couple of tables along a group of three typically well equipped Swedes were also taking a breather. They looked capable, being fully geared up with airbags, so I went model hunting for a side country session.
Turned out they were cruising around Hokkaido in a motorhome, and were more than happy to get some shots for Snow Action lapping the ridge line runs at Kokusai, which are accessed via a very short hike above the top of the gondola.

Close in here you get nicely spaced pines, with plenty of glade openings and a decent pitch for 350m vertical or so before you have to start working left back to the runout to the gondola.

Hokkaido by motorhome, why not?
Hokkaido by motorhome, why not? © Anna-Karin Landin

If you don’t know the area well it’s best to hang a left early until you get your bearings. It’s not a huge area, but a small difference in aspect adds up to a much longer run out along the luge track beside and over the creek below – which if you have to stop on a snowboard will leave you with a walk/kick along.

Going further out along the ridge when it’s safe opens up plenty more untracked, but also more terrain traps so hooking up with a guide or local who knows it well is the go there.

It all funnels back to the same runout zone. This day I just lapped it with my new Swedish friends, with very few others getting in there, especially from the top via the hike – more people see tracks leading off the main run a couple of hundred metres down from the gondola and head in there.

Local school group skiing at Kokusai
Memo western pow junkies, the local kids just cruise the groomers so you don’t have to stomp all over them getting on the gondola .. © Owain Price

If you keep working it further right each lap from the top you should get your share too. We sure did!
Back at the bottom for a late lunch Europeans were outnumbering Aussies in the restaurant, with a big group of Dutch there as well as the Swedes, a sign of the changing times in Hokkaido – even relatively unknown areas like Kokusai are on a lot of people’s radars.

Of course being so close to Sapporo means it gets busy with locals on weekends, but midweeks we have never had a problem getting our fair share of fresh lines.

Sapporo Kokusai beginner and intermediate skiing

Local school groups are common here, it’s part of their curriculum to go skiing, and it’s a pretty sad indictment to see them getting barged out of the way by rude westerners on the gondola apron. Chill crew – the kids won’t be heading to the powder zones anyway.

There are some nice long cruising runs and good beginner terrain at the bottom, so it works fine for families, couples or groups of different abilities. Everything pretty much funnels back to the base so it’s easy enough to catch up with each other.

Snow quality is excellent, though corduroy cruisers be warned, expect fresh snow over the groomers most days.

Jozankai Onsen is beautiful illuminated at night in winter
Jozankai is the closest accommodation to Sapporo Kokusai ski resort

Where is Sapporo Kokusai ski resort?

Kokusai is a day only area, with easy access and great value – lift passes are only ¥4500 adults, ¥2200 high school, ¥1000 primary school, and the bus + pass deals make it simple from Sapporo. It’s an hour or so drive or 90 minutes from downtown on the bus which will pick up from major hotels.

What’s the closest accommodation to Kokusai?

Closest accommodation to Sapporo Kokusai ski resort is in the Jozankei Onsen resort area in the Toyohira Valley, between Sapporo and Kokusai, and only 30 minutes or so below the ski area.

Jozankei is a valley full of hotels and day onsen retreats, where locals come for a couple of hours or an overnight to escape the city and chill out.

So there is plenty of choice from large onsen resort hotels to boutique ryokan style ones. If you want quicker access to the powder it makes sense to stay here, although you do miss out on the nightlife and shopping in Sapporo.

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more at www.sapporo-kokusai.jp

The Sapporo Travel site is a great start
The Hokkaido Travel site is also good
Hokkaido Ski Promotional Council have info on the local areas
The Tourist offices around town are very helpful too. If you are planning to visit and stay in Ice Festival time book well ahead, otherwise there are usually no problems.