Amazing Adventures in Hokkaido

The abundance of the natural environment, the lifestyles and culture of the people who live there – Hokkaido has many incredible stories that are as yet unknown.
In this column, we learn about the appeal of Hokkaido’s four seasons from the people who guide adventure tours there. We hope such stories enrich the time spent in Hokkaido, the next time you visit.

Special feature

Column: Discover a local take on winter adventures in Dohoku

Richard finding a path through the trees near Mt. Tokachidake in February.

The region of Hokkaido stretching over 340 km north from Shimukappu to Wakkanai is known locally as Dohoku (northern Hokkaido). Dohoku encompasses the popular ski destinations of Tomamu, Furano and Mt. Asahidake. While it is not as internationally renowned as Niseko, skiing and snowboarding in the region is becoming popular with powder skiers and snowboarders looking for a more authentic travel experience.

With a warm local vibe and endless possibilities for adventures across the winter landscape, it is an easy place to get hooked on. We (Richard Smith and Ayaka Yoshikawa) are evidence of this, finding our nests here after many vagabond years travelling the world.

Let us introduce to you Dohoku, a treasure trove full of winter adventure opportunities and local travel experiences.

Ayaka Yoshikawa Founder, owner & travel consultant of Adventure Hokkaido, she is your go-to Hokkaido Guide. Raised in Sapporo, trained in New Zealand, roved around in El Salvador. She is now a proud resident of Higashikawa, Hokkaido.

Ayaka: Richard, you grew up in the Isles of Scilly in the UK, and have also lived and worked in Canada, New Zealand, Okinawa, Niigata and Hokkaido. What was the reason for choosing this area to settle?

Richard: I remember the first time a friend and I went ski touring near Mt. Tokachidake, the clouds cleared and we could see all the sleepy farming towns in the valley below, as well as hundreds of snow-covered peaks big and small. The towns here are surrounded by hills and mountains, but they are not mountain resort towns. That feels more genuine to me.

Even Asahikawa, Hokkaido’s second largest city, has this balance. I can pretend I’m a young professional and work on my laptop in a nice cafe. But the mountains are “just there” and I can escape at any time.

Ayaka: For me, the closeness to the Daisetsuzan Mountains is also what attracted me to this area. But Dohoku is also in a convenient position to explore the frontiers of Hokkaido in every direction.

Do you have any favourite locations for backcountry skiing?

Richard: One of my favourite parts of backcountry skiing is exploring new places, so I’m always looking for a new favourite place. But for easy-access backcountry days, it’s hard to beat Furano resort and the Tokachidake area. On the other end of the scale, Rishiri – up in the far north – is somewhere I want to get back to, despite getting flattened by the wind for a whole week the last time I visited!

There are also other good spots between Furano and Rishiri that are more under the radar, seeing mostly local skiers and snowboarders. Part of the fun of backcountry skiing for me is the hours spent poring over maps, checking car parking, and scoping areas. But it’s a lot quicker if you hire a guide who knows all the good spots!

Richard Smith While he was born and raised on a small island in the Atlantic Ocean, it was two years in the Canadian Rockies that got him hooked on the mountains. He arrived in Sapporo in search of snow for one winter season. Despite continuing travelling, he found himself constantly drawn back to Hokkaido. He now lives year-round in Asahikawa, Hokkaido.

Ayaka: What do you think makes Dohoku special? How is it different from the rest of Hokkaido and the other countries you’ve been to?

Richard: Outside Japan, I’ve mostly snowboarded and skied in Canada and New Zealand. While the mountains are bigger in both those countries, Hokkaido gets consistently more snow, and the stable cold temperatures let the powder build up over days. There are lots of good steep runs on the smaller peaks here, but you also have the option to get up into the alpine in the Daisetsuzan Mountains.

Soaking in an onsen (hot-spring) after skiing, Fukiage Onsen for example, is almost a required part of any backcountry day for me, and there are many good options in Dohoku. Stopping off at a small local restaurant one the way home caps a perfect day.

Ayaka: I agree totally. Often the small restaurants run by local people have a cozy atmosphere. You see the faces of the people preparing your food, which makes me feel more attached to the place. Dohoku may not have many high-end ski resort destinations but it is a great area to get a glimpse into the local life.

What advice would you give overseas skiers and snowboarders to get the most out of their Dohoku winter adventure?

Richard: Be adventurous off the mountain as well as on it. Even if you feel embarrassed at first, strip off and get in an onsen and you will quickly relax and unwind. Stop at that interesting yakitori (grilled chicken) restaurant and you might find the friendly owner knows all the best ski spots. Eat food that you find weird; those raw shrimps taste better than you might think! If the snow’s bad (Hokkaido has those days too, even if they are rare), check out the local town, and you might stumble across an ice festival or the best bowl of ramen you have ever had.

A backcountry skier above Fukiage Onsen in February

Photos and words by Adventure Hokkaido

Adventure Hokkaido (https://www.adventure-hokkaido.com) is an adventure tour operator specialising in small-group hiking, cycling and nature tours all across Hokkaido. Ayaka leads a team of experienced outdoor guides, all proud Hokkaido locals, including Richard.

Location

Adventure Hokkaido

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