If you’re in Hokkaido for the winter, you’re sure to be tempted by the thought of playing in a silver wonderland! If it’s powder snow you’d like to experience, skiing or snowboarding down the snowy slopes....of course, that’s a great way to enjoy Hokkaido!
But there are many Hokkaido winter activities other than the typical winter sports you can enjoy. Challenge yourself with experiences others wouldn’t normally try out in the snowy north of Japan!
- Table of Contents
- Not just skis and snowboards! Hokkaido Winter activities you'll love
- 1. Snowshoes: If you’re looking to enjoy the vast silver expanse
- 2. Ice Fishing: Fishing for smelt atop a frozen lake!
- 3. Dog Sledding: Dash through the snow on a four-dog open sled!
- 4. Snowmobiling: Sprint through the snow fields on a snowmobile or a snow raft!
- 5. Iglooing: Winter Sojourns aplenty
- 6. Spectacular Drift Ice (Ryuhyo) Tours: Get intimate with Hokkaido’s signature drift ice
- Preparing for Hokkaido winter activities
Not just skis and snowboards! Hokkaido Winter activities you'll love
In Hokkaido, where the northwestern snow falls, splendid slopes and winter resorts are aplenty, such as the internationally renowned Niseko, making the region a haven for skiing and snowboarding. However, that isn’t all there is to the place. From the winter snowscapes to thrilling rides, there’s many more ways to enjoy the ice and snow than one might expect.
With so many things to try and even more ways to try them, from winter resorts and leisure spots, to tour arrangements and events, it’s best to do your research on these things beforehand. Below, we have some recommendations of the must-try activities in Hokkaido.
1. Snowshoes: If you’re looking to enjoy the vast silver expanse
The premier choice for those who’ve never skied or snowboarded before but would still like to experience snow. For these hopeful souls, trekking with snowshoes is a perfect fit.
For the powdery-fine snow in Hokkaido, normal shoes would make one sink deep into white fluff, making it hard to traverse. That’s where the wide base of snowshoes come into play, allowing the wearer to trek easily across the soft snow.
For popular mountain climbing and trekking spots like Niseko, Shiretoko, and Daisetsuzan National Park, snowshoe rental services are available. However, for those who prefer walking freely, additional equipment might be necessary depending on the course or location. For inexperienced visitors or those accompanied with children, you can hire a guide for assurance.
2. Ice Fishing: Fishing for smelt atop a frozen lake!
In Japan, smelt, tiny fish measuring 10 to 16 cm in length, usually inhabit the lakes and rivers. During Hokkaido’s winters, smelt fishing is a popular pastime, where people would make holes on the surface of frozen lakes and throw their line down.
As one would expect, being on top of ice would make for a cold experience, so those looking to try this should prepare tents for protection against the wind, on top of the expected fishing equipment and cold protection.
While some places have rental shops, it might be best to source some equipment yourself for places without rental services. You can even make tempura right away from the smelt you catch, the epitome of the smelt-fishing experience.
3. Dog Sledding: Dash through the snow on a four-dog open sled!
Riding atop a sled pulled by giant breeds of dogs like huskies is something that can only be experienced in places with a lot of snow. The snow starts piling up from December to March, and areas like Asahikawa and Furano, Tokachi start offering dogsled tours.
From introductory courses atop snowy courses to full-fledged experiences running for about two hours in the forest, there’s a variety of courses to choose from, so pick accordingly. Experience the thrill of running through a snowfield with the aid of these powerful and regal dogs.
The city of Wakkanai and Eniwa City’s theme park “Ekorin-mura” also hold dog sled races. Watch these pro racers in action and be awed by their speed.
4. Snowmobiling: Sprint through the snow fields on a snowmobile or a snow raft!
For those looking for something even more vigorous, how’s zooming across the snowy plains on a snowmobile? Most of the popular tourist locations like Sapporo city, Niseko and Furano offer such experiences during the period of thick snow.
You don't need a license to drive a snowmobile if you are on a leisure facility, not a public road, as long as you take a driving course in the beginner course. After which, you can enjoy driving on special courses such as those with sharp curves and ups and downs, giving a sense of accomplishment for your improvement.
While helmets and gloves are available for borrowing, you should be in easy to move clothes like ski wear to ride this.
Those who aren’t confident about driving can enjoy a similar experience by riding the rafting board attached to the back of the snowmobile. Drift across the snow at snowboard speeds and feel the thrill of the swaying rafting board! Most areas with copious snowfall like snow parks are likely to offer this service.
5. Iglooing: Winter Sojourns aplenty
Events with activities that make full use of the cold such as igloos or ice lodges also take place in Tomamu, Furano, Lake Shikaribetsu (Shikaoi-cho), etc.
You can try unique experiences such as a bar or cafe made of ice, or a hot bath on top the ice. Come visit at year’s end for those looking for early trips, otherwise January to March is the typical cold period for such experiences.
6. Spectacular Drift Ice (Ryuhyo) Tours: Get intimate with Hokkaido’s signature drift ice
The Okhotsk subprefecture in eastern Hokkaido is a popular spot to cruise through drift ice, with January being the earliest period for it. On the best days, the ice comes alongside the quays and piers, and various activities related to drift ice are carried out in the coastal areas of Abashiri, Monbetsu and the Shiretoko Peninsula.
In particular, gazing at the drift ice atop a cruise is highly popular. Cruises like Monbetsu’s “Garinko-go II” (reservations required at least one day in advance), Abashiri’s “Drift Ice Sightseeing Trip on the Aurora Icebreaker” are available. They also have different methods of breaking through the ice, so going on both cruises and comparing them is totally viable too.
If you’re lucky, you might even get to see the wildlife like birds and seals. While the interior of the ship also has a good view of the outside, those intending to go out to the deck should prepare a thick long down coat with plenty of protection against the cold.
Preparing for Hokkaido winter activities
First thing’s first, make sure your clothes are easy to move around in. Since you’re likely to get wet with all the snow, even more so than the down jackets, you should prepare some waterproof clothes like ski wear or snowboard wear for both tops and bottoms.
Of course, snow boots and gloves are essential as well. Ski gloves are more recommended over knit gloves for outdoor activities. While some places loan out helmets, you should prepare your own knit cap or earmuffs to keep your ears warm. On sunny days the snow can be blindingly bright, so sunglasses are unexpectedly useful here.
Another thing you should be careful of is sweat. No matter how cold the outside is, engaging in sports will always result in sweat. Underwear soaked in sweat will cool instantly and is likely to chill your body.
If you decide to go for some trekking, inner wear that uses insulating animal material or fast-drying material is recommended so that you don’t lose heat that easily. Make the proper preparations and check the weather reports. Enjoy all the various activities while prioritizing safety!
Text by: Minano Kotoba Sha
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.