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Skiing, Winter Activities & More! 5-Day Hokkaido Winter Itinerary (Niseko/Rusutsu)

Skiing, Winter Activities & More! 5-Day Hokkaido Winter Itinerary (Niseko/Rusutsu)

Date published: 29 September 2020
Last updated: 15 February 2021

Here's a 5-day Hokkaido winter itinerary, centering on Niseko and Rusutsu, internationally famous winter resorts.

In winter, snow covers Hokkaido and creates a beautiful, silvery masterpiece as far as the eye can see. There are plenty of fun activities you can't enjoy in other seasons. The opportunities to surround yourself with the snowy magic include skiing and much more.

Table of Contents
  1. Preparing for a winter trip to Hokkaido
  2. Day 1: Experience the longed-for Niseko powder
  3. Niseko Ski Resorts
  4. Recommended Hotels/Accommodations in Niseko
  5. Day 2: Skiing and other fun winter activities in Niseko
  6. Recommended Hotels/Accommodations in Rusutsu
  7. Day 3: Enjoy Rusutsu, recognized by skiers around the world
  8. Day 4: From Rusutsu to Sapporo
  9. Recommended Hotels/Accommodations in Sapporo
  10. Day 5: Last day for our Hokkaido winter itinerary, back to New Chitose Airport
  11. Book an unforgettable experience in Hokkaido!

Preparing for a winter trip to Hokkaido

Preparing for a winter trip to Hokkaido

Before planning an itinerary, you'll need to know more about visiting central Hokkaido in winter.

In December, the average temperature is below freezing, with highs only reaching single digits. In January and February, it's freezing with continuous subzero highs; in fact, it's not uncommon for the temperature to stay below -10°C (source: Japan Meteorological Agency data).

Cold weather measures are essential, and keeping the neck, wrists, and ankles warm is said to be particularly important. Be sure to wear a thick coat or down jacket, as well as a hat, scarf, gloves, and thick socks. Suitable protection against the cold will help prevent injuries and illness.

Proper footwear is also essential to safely navigate Hokkaido's frozen roads. Pick a pair with a well-grooved sole so you can walk through the snow with ease. In less snowy areas, it can be challenging to find shoes or boots suitable for winter roads.

If that's the case, you can buy external cleats to fasten to your shoes. They're available in Hokkaido airports, train stations, and convenience stores.

Keep in mind that transportation is easily disrupted in winter. Trains and buses are often delayed due to poor visibility, strong winds, and frozen roads or tracks, so planning your schedule the same as a summer trip could have a major impact. During a winter trip, it's essential to give yourself as much time as possible for transit.

If you're thinking of renting a car, be aware that driving on winter roads can be dangerous. "Black ice" makes the road slippery even if it looks dry at first glance. Due to strong winds and heavy snow, poor visibility is a common occurrence -- even locals need to drive carefully under such conditions.

Fast travel isn't possible, and a drive that would take an hour in summer might take an extra 40 minutes, for example. Overall road conditions and even the width of your vehicle are factors, so, again, it's best to plan for longer travel times.

Now that you're ready for the cold weather, here's our 5-day Hokkaido winter itinerary!

Day 1: Experience the longed-for Niseko powder

Day 1: Experience the longed-for Niseko powder

Your Hokkaido winter itinerary begins with the drive from New Chitose Airport to Niseko. By car, it takes about 2 hours to go west on Route 276, but in the suddenly changing winter weather and ensuing road conditions, it's both convenient and safe to travel by public transportation.

Every year, bus companies operate ski buses that go directly to Niseko. For the 2020-2021 season, there's a strong possibility that the bus schedules will change considerably from last year due to the coronavirus, so please check the company websites for details.

By bus, you'll leave New Chitose in the morning and arrive at Niseko in the afternoon. When you get there, you'll be able to ski and snowboard on some of the best powder in the world.

Niseko boasts five resorts at the foot of Mt. Niseko-Annupuri: Niseko Hanazono Ski Resort, Niseko Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village, Niseko Annupuri Kokusai Ski Area, and Niseko Moiwa Ski Resort. Each has its own personality that will satisfy beginners and advanced skiers alike.

Niseko Ski Resorts

  • Niseko Moiwa Ski Resort
    • Address 448 Niseko, Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido 048-1511
    • Phone Number 050-3171-5688

    Vacancy search, reservation

    • Please enquire directly about rates.

    Check with our partner site as the latest rates, rate details, and guest room requirements may vary.

When the winter cold gets to you, natural hot springs are perfect for warming your body and Niseko is a treasure trove of hot springs! There are many luxurious facilities around Mt. Niseko-Annupuri.

The Niseko Resort Tourism Association sells the "Niseko Yu Meguri Pass," which allows you to visit several springs at a great price and take in Niseko's unique view of Mt. Yotei, known as "Ezo Fuji." The pass can be purchased at Niseko View Plaza Rest Area and other stores.

Usage: The 19 affiliated hot springs are grouped into "red" and "blue" facilities. Red group springs can be used at the cost of 1 red or 1 blue coupon. The Blue group requires 2 red stickers or 1 blue sticker.

Purchase points: Niseko, nearby roadside rest areas, and some affiliated hot spring facilities.
Types: Basic Card (2 blue & 2 red coupons) 2,200 yen; Blue Card (3 blue coupons) 1,970 yen; Red Card (3 red coupons) 1,470 yen
Inquiries: 0136-44-2468 (Niseko Resort Tourism Association)

Recommended Hotels/Accommodations in Niseko

  • Ki Niseko
    • Address Kutchan Yamada 183-43, Niseko, Hokkaido, 044-0081
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Hirafu Station (Hakodate Main Line)
      55 minutes on foot

    Vacancy search, reservation

    • Please enquire directly about rates.

    Check with our partner site as the latest rates, rate details, and guest room requirements may vary.

Day 2: Skiing and other fun winter activities in Niseko

Day 2: Skiing and other fun winter activities in Niseko
(photo courtesy of Niseko Hanazono Resort)

On Day 2 of our Hokkaido winter itinerary, you can further master your favorite slope from Day 1, or head to a new one. Niseko's unique resorts are sure to satisfy the expectations of winter sports enthusiasts.

For those who want to try something other than skiing and boarding, other winter activities like snowmobile tours run through the vast snowfields and snow tubing that both children and adults can enjoy. Staff members can speak English and information is also available in multiple languages, so you can participate with ease.

Niseko Hanazono Resort activity information
Phone: 0136-23-0103
Hours: 8:30 - 17:00
Fees: Snowmobile tour from 8,500 yen (age restrictions apply), Snow tubing 2,500 yen/person
Website: https://hanazononiseko.com/en/winter

After fully enjoying Niseko, head to Rusutsu, another famous resort area. If you go by car, it takes about 30 minutes in winter, and the taxi fare is about 9,000 yen.

There's a ski bus service every year, but, again, please check the website for this season's details (information available in multiple languages). There are restrictions on the number of items you can bring on the bus, so be sure to confirm those policies as well.

Recommended Hotels/Accommodations in Rusutsu

  • Villa Rusutsu
    • Address Rusutsu-mura Izumikawa 55, Rusutsu, Hokkaido, 048-1711
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Hirafu Station (Hakodate Main Line)

    Vacancy search, reservation

    Check with our partner site as the latest rates, rate details, and guest room requirements may vary.

Day 3: Enjoy Rusutsu, recognized by skiers around the world

Day 3: Enjoy Rusutsu, recognized by skiers around the world

Rusutsu is just as popular as Niseko, and the high-quality powder is loved by skiers. In fact, Rusutsu Resort was selected as Japan's best ski resort in the "World Ski Awards" for the third consecutive year in 2019. You can enjoy skiing and snowboarding to your heart's content on 37 courses.

But don't miss out on the resort's other activities! Taking advantage of Rusutsu's natural charms, you can experience the exhilaration of dog sledding, take a winter horse ride around Lake Toya, or go ice fishing for rainbow trout on the frozen lake.

Activities can be booked in advance online (multiple languages supported) or by phone. Rusutsu has taken all possible measures against the coronavirus. In addition to monitoring staff body temperatures and their wearing masks, the facilities are thoroughly disinfected. Hence, you stay with peace of mind.

Rusutsu Resort activity information
Phone: 0136-46-3331 (representative), 0136-46-3111 (general reservation center)
Fees: Dog sledding 3,850 yen; Horseback riding, from 6,600 yen; Ice fishing 13,750 yen
Website: <@https://rusutsu.com/en/rusutsu-in-winter/|a=https://rusutsu.com/en/rusutsu-in-winter/>

Day 4: From Rusutsu to Sapporo

Day 4: From Rusutsu to Sapporo

On Day 4 of our Hokkaido winter itinerary, you're headed to Sapporo. It takes about an hour and a half by car, and buses run between Sapporo and Rusutsu every year. At Nakayama Pass, a resting point on the way, you'll have an outstanding view of Mt. Yotei if it's sunny, and you can sample the local specialty, "Ganso Toge no Age-Imo" (deep-fried potato balls) for more fun memories of your trip.

Outdoor fun at Hitsujigaoka Snow Park

Upon arrival in Sapporo, your winter experience continues and if you want to play in the snow a little more, go to "Hitsujigaoka Snow Park" at the Sapporo Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill! A wide range of activities are available, from exciting tube sledding to building a snowman and playing in a kamakura (snow hut). The famous statue of Dr. Clark is there too, and taking a commemorative photo is a common custom for visitors.

Hitsujigaoka has taken proper measures against the coronavirus, such as making rubbing alcohol available in various places, regular ventilation of enclosed areas, and taking efforts to maintain social distancing.

Sapporo Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill activity information (Snow Park open from January to early March)
Phone: 011-851-3080
Fees: Free
Website: https://www.hitsujigaoka.jp

See northern animals at Maruyama Zoo

For more fun in the city, stop by Maruyama Zoo where you can get an up close view of northern wildlife who are energized by the winter weather. Maruyama Park and Hokkaido Shrine, close to the zoo, are worth checking out too.

Enjoy the glittering illuminations

"Sapporo White Illumination" adorns the city center every year starting in late November. The city is decorated with fantastic lights from Odori Park to the Sapporo Station area and is perfect for creating beautiful photographic memories.

The Sapporo Snow Festival is held from the beginning of February. In 2021, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the scale of the festival will be reduced and won't include food and drink booths or photo spots, but it's a winter tradition in Sapporo and a must-see for any winter trip to Hokkaido. For more information about each event, please check their respective websites.

Sapporo White Illumination
Venues: Odori, Ekimae-dori, Minami 1-jo, Sapporo Kita 3-jo Plaza (Akapla), Sapporo Station South Ekimae Square
Phone: 011-281-6400 (Sapporo White Illumination Executive Committee)
Schedule: Varies depending on the venue (Odori, November 20, 2020 (Friday) - December 25, 2020 (Friday), etc. For details, please visit the website)
Website: <@https://white-illumination.jp/|a=https://white-illumination.jp/>
* Munich Christmas Market will be canceled in 2020

Sapporo Snow Festival
Phone: 011-281-6400 (Sapporo Snow Festival Executive Committee)
Website: <@https://www.snowfes.com/|a=https://www.snowfes.com/>
* Adjusted venues and schedules this season

Satisfy your hunger with Sapporo ramen

You can't forget to try some of Hokkaido's local cuisine, and in Sapporo that means ramen! You can eat and compare a wide variety of noodles at Ramen Yokocho (Ramen Alley) and the Food Park where popular ramen shops from all over Hokkaido gather near Sapporo Station. You can also buy a wide variety of ramen at souvenir shops and take home the taste of Hokkaido.

Winter is also crab season. Not only can you eat a delicious meal at restaurants specializing in crab, but also from shops in the Nijo Market.

Recommended Hotels/Accommodations in Sapporo

Day 5: Last day for our Hokkaido winter itinerary, back to New Chitose Airport

On the 5th day, it's time to head home. Both JR trains and buses frequently run from Sapporo Station to New Chitose Airport, but in winter, the schedule is easily affected by the weather with delays and cancelations. Trains and buses can experience delays of 30 minutes to an hour, so be sure to leave with plenty of time.

A winter trip to Niseko and Rusutsu is more than just a trip – it's an experience, and you'll definitely want to come back again!

Text by: Minna no Kotobasha
* Information accurate as of September 2020

Book an unforgettable experience in Hokkaido!

Make your trip extra memorable by booking one of these recommended experiences on our partner site, Voyagin!

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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