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.
Column: Snow base JZK/Jozankei; The best snow base in Hokkaido, so I moved here!
Jozankei Onsen is one of Japan’s most famous natural hot-spring resort With over a 150-year history, and more than 75 different naturally occurring hot springs from the bottom of the Toyohira river which runs through the valley, Jozankei is well known to the Japanese public. Often being featured on TV programs extolling the benefits of the healing waters and introducing the many hotels and activities which can be enjoyed in the area.
Built on the sides of the river which has carved out a deep valley over the ages, Jozankei’s hot springs were used by the native Ainu, and they introduced the location to Jozanbo a Buddhist monk. He was so enraptured with the location that he spent the rest of his life establishing the village and it was even named after him! The name Jozankei translates to “Jozan’s gorge.”
I have called Jozankei Onsen home for the last 17 years! Originally moving from San Diego, California to Sapporo after I graduated high school, my main interest was snowboarding the many great resorts and mountains around Sapporo and the Niseko area.
When it came time to look for a house of my own, Jozankei appeared on the radar right away! The resort is within the Sapporo city limits, but sits right at the base of the Yoichi three moutains(Asaridake, Yoichidake, Shiraidake)and only 20 minutes from Sapporo’s largest ski area, Sapporo Kokusai.
For someone who has organized their life around skiing/snowboarding and the winter lifestyle, access to the mountains is the most important thing. No one wants to be stuck in traffic on the way home from the mountains and, of course, everyone wants to be the first one in line for the lifts! Jozankei is exactly that type of location.
Sapporo city has six ski areas within the city limits, and all are within an hour’s drive from Jozankei Onsen. Rusutsu Resort is a one-hour-and-10-min. drive, and the Niseko area is about one hour and 30 minutes away. If you are just visiting Hokkaido, you most likely will want to use public transportation. Jozankei has direct buses to and from New Chitose Airport and Sapporo Station, and regular buses to and from Sapporo Kokusai.
The choice of lodging also makes Jozankei a great place which to base your activities. Simple apartments with kitchens for those looking to stay for an extended vacation, or very high-end hotels, plus many choices in between! Take your pick and find the right style accommodation to fit your budget and needs. Plus, you will be treated to very authentic Japanese-style hospitality.
Jozankei is a very traditional Japanese hot-spring resort and many of the hotels are in the ryokan style of lodging. The food menus will feature mostly Japanese- and Hokkaido-flavored cuisine and the majority of staff will be Japanese. I think this will add to the authenticity of your experience while skiing and snowboarding! You might have to work a little harder to communicate with the local staff, but in the end that will add character to your trip!
If you choose to use a local guide, your experience will be even better! Sapporo has a great community of mountain guides who always know the best location for sidecountry and backcountry skiing and boarding. They have the knowledge and experience to understand the winter weather patterns, which is very important when finding the right location. There are so many resorts and mountains to choose from, each one has its own microclimate, so I think it best to ask for professional help! If you are honest with your guide about your ability and goals for your skiing experience, they will show you the best part of these mountains.
Besides the benefits of having great access to ski resorts and hotels, there are many other winter activities and adventures waiting for you in this area. Jozankei is part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park and there are many ways to explore the area.
Guided snowshoeing tours, ice climbing experiences, winter canoeing and kayaking, tent saunas and ice lake bathing, plus much, much more! Has your appetite been whet for a trip to Snow Base JZK? I hope so!
Written by Neil Hartmann;
During his 30-year Japan career, he has been a director, photographer, editor, cafe owner, Airbnb host, Youtuber, Instagrammer and, always, a snowboarder. This father of three girls is the creator of the snowboard movie series “Car Danchi.” He was the MC at the Nagano Olympic snowboard halfpipe competition in 1998, and a DJ on Hokkaido’s FM radio station Air-G from the early to late ’90s. Now Neil jumps from one project to the next, directing TV commercials for Hokkaido resorts and promoting tourism across Japan, and has a long history working with brands like The North Face, Burton Snowboards, Niseko Grand Hirafu and more. You can follow Neil through his YouTube channel and Instagram!