Furano ski resort
One of the most highly regarded of Japan’s 500 or so ski areas, Furano, on the northern island of Hokkaido, lacks the international recognition its exciting slopes – and wonderful powder – deserve.
Along with huge amounts of desirable, light powder, Furano boasts one of the biggest lift-served verticals and some of the longest and steepest runs in the country. From the slopes, the resort boasts virtually unrivalled views looking across the valley towards the smouldering volcanic peeks of Mount Tokachi and Mount Asahi, the highest peak on Hokkaido Island.
Furano itself is a large pleasant city with good rail, road and air connections to the rest of the country. Aside from skiing, the area is famous for its colourful lavender fields, which paint the landscape in shades of purple, pink, yellow and green. It’s a 10-minute drive from the town to ski slopes – although there are additional accommodation options at the base of the slopes.
Furano’s size means there’s lots to do besides skiing, including onsen (hot spring baths) to dip into, over 100 bars and restaurants, an annual winter festival and weekly traditional Japanese theatre, music and other cultural performances.
The city of Furano is located in the geographical centre of Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.
On the slopes
Furano has a worldwide reputation for its huge powder snowfalls, averaging 9m (27ft) each winter, which enable the resort to offer a near six-month-long ski season from late-November to early-May on average.
To make the most of the great terrain, Furano offers a free ski host service that’s unique to Japan. This service employs enthusiastic locals who guide visitors to the best terrain while detailing information about the culture and history of Furano, as well as recommendations on the best bars, restaurants and activities.
Furano’s local ski area is divided into two linked ski areas: the Furano Zone and the Kitanomine Zone (which is open during the busier period from mid-December to late March). Each offers a similar mix of beginner and intermediate terrain, totalling 25km (16 miles) of pistes. On both sides of the ski area, cabin lifts carry skiers over the full vertical from the bottom up to the runs, which are up to 4km (2.5 miles) in length.
The steepest runs include the Furikozawa and Kumaotoshi routes on the Kitanomine side, both recommended for powder hounds. The challenging International Ladies’ Downhill run is also on this side of the mountain, while The Furano Zone has the resort’s longest black, the Challenge run.
Night skiing is popular, with about a third of the terrain floodlit for most of the season. A combined lift pass allows skiers to access the neighbouring resorts of Kamui Ski Links and Tomamu, each about an hour’s shuttle bus ride away, at no extra cost.