Asahidake

Hokkaido, Japan

Asahidake is an uncrowded powder-lovers paradise smack bang in the center of Hokkaido. But with just one ropeway (tram) and mostly ungroomed, unpatrolled terrain it is strictly for advanced skiers.

Scout Loves

  • Powder, powder and more powder with fresh tracks to be found for days.
  • It’s like a private mountain for hard-core skiers and boarders.
  • The lack of crowds.
  • Relatively decent food at the base area.
  • Great onsen in some of the hotels.

Scout Tips

  • Bring your own safety gear (beacon, shovel, probe).
  • Asahidake can be bitterly cold and windy at the top.
  • It’s possible to do day trips to Asahidake from Furano or Asahikawa.
  • There’s no village; just a few hotels.
  • Bring enough cash –ATMs are absent and the mountain only takes cash.

Scout Review

You know those ski movies shot in Japan with powder burying skiers at every turn and no one else around? If you do then you’ve probably wondered where to go to get powder just like that. Well, for those of you wanting to star in your own Japan powder ski movie, look no further than Asahidake.

Asahidake has accidentally become one of the best places in Japan to find powder stashes. Its one ropeway (tram) was actually installed to serve summer hikers wanting quick access to Hokkaido’s highest mountain (2291m/7516ft) and to see the sulfuric steam escaping from its fumaroles (vents). Yes, Mount Asahi is an active stratovolcano but don’t worry, the last activity was in 1739. Seeing steam coming out from the snow is quite a sight! Asahidake is situated in Daisetsuzan National Park which is the largest National Park in Japan and includes several major mountains including Kurodake on the other side of Asahidake. Daisetsuzan roughly translates as Great Snowy Mountains.

While we’re sure it’s stunning in summer, we’re so glad they installed that ropeway because it accesses some fantastic ski terrain and without lots of groomed runs or other lifts, it feels more like a backcountry ski paradise…with a lift! There are two official ski courses (groomed runs) but it’s the rest of the terrain that will provide some of the best skiing in your life.

While Asahidake is no longer a secret, it rarely gets crowded. But to experience the mountain at its best, aim to come on a weekday after a big snowfall.

There is very little to Asahidake except the ropeway terminal, a National Parks Center (that really only caters to summer hikers) and a few hotels that extend down the hill from the base area. If staying here for a night or two, you’ll be stuck with the hotel buffet and beer from the vending machines. The best (and only) après activity in Asahidake is to have a relaxing onsen, read a book and drift off to sleep dreaming of powder pillows. Staying here more than a few nights would be a stretch.

Asahidake Skiing

Asahidake averages about 14m of snow each season and thanks to its inland position, height above sea level and climate, this snow is some of the driest you’ll find on the planet.

While not technically a ski resort, the ropeway company has seized the opportunity and operates it and a few facilities for skiers and snowshoers in the winter months. That said, there are no rentals, ski school, few signs and ropes and little information regarding conditions and avalanche danger. You are pretty much left to your own, and that also means at your own risk. It’s well worth getting a guide to experience Asahidake. While it is possible and relatively safe to ski without one (although there are some avalanche zones there aren’t many hidden cliff bands or serious danger zones), if you take a wrong turn it could be a long, strenuous hike through deep snow back to the terminal. You will definitely get more out of Asahidake with a guide.

From the top of the ropeway skiers and boarders can either head straight down and get amongst the trees surrounding the lift line, or take a short hike to access terrain off to skier’s left. We found some fantastic powder stashes by taking a traverse off to the left of the left-hand groomed run (course A). Although it was a popular spot, each time we traversed just a little further and got fresh tracks every time. For those ready to work a bit harder for their turns you can skin or snowshoe all the way to the top of Mount Asahi or other areas around the top to access even more terrain and a few short, steep pitches (we would definitely recommend a guide if doing this).

The only drawback with Asahidake is that the bottom part of the mountain is fairly flat, meaning that you spend most of the second half on the groomed exit run. It’s a fairly constant pitch, though snowboarders may occasionally get stuck.

The ropeway leaves every 20 minutes and, depending on how crowded it is, you may occasionally be required to wait for the next car. Expect to do 6-10 runs in a day, depending on crowds and how much exploring and hiking you do.

Although it has four official courses, Asahidake is not advised for beginners and intermediates. Those courses are pretty much wide cat tracks and would get very boring after two or three runs.

You’ll find cafeterias at the bottom and top stations, and the one at the bottom serves excellent curry and a variety of other dishes at decent prices. A small convenience store sells delicious pork buns (perfect to snack on while waiting in the ropeway line), souvenirs and a few essential items.

In 2014/15 a one-day ticket cost ¥4,200, a four-hour ticket was ¥3200 and a single ride was ¥1200. (Bring cash as they don’t accept credit cards).

Asahidake For Families

Unless your kids are gun powder skiers with experience in the back or side country, or you’re bringing your own babysitter to look after the kids while you ski, Asahidake is not for families. 

Asahidake Accommodation

The few hotels at Asahidake stretch down the hill from the ropeway. The closest is the Hotel Bearmonte – about 150m from the base. It’s perfect for those wanting a mid-range hotel. Hotel Bearmonte also has a small rental store with some backcountry and avalanche safety equipment (but they can run out quickly so better to bring your own or hire from Furano Alpine Backcountry/Journey into Japan). Further down the hill is the wonderful Hotel & Spa Resort La Vista Daisetsuzan.  It’s a rather fancy hotel with two great restaurants (and two bars including an outdoor ice bar), lovely bedrooms and probably the most gorgeous indoor and outdoor onsen Scout has seen in Japan! If you’re here for one or two nights and want to splurge, this is the place! (La Vista will also transfer you to and from Hokkaido’s capital, Sapporo, by prior arrangement). At the opposite end of the spectrum and just across the street is the Shirakaba-so Youth Hostel with shared or private rooms.

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Although it remains a tourist destination for Japanese non-skiers during winter months, most come for snow play or snowshoeing. There is almost nothing else to do at Asahidake apart from skiing, boarding and onsen-ing. La Vista hotel has a nice bar if you’re hanging for a bit of après, otherwise it’s the vending machines in the hotel.

Getting There and Around

Asahidake is located in the Daisetsuzan Mountain Range and National Park, right in the center of Hokkaido. It’s about three hours drive from Sapporo, an hour from Asahikawa or 90 minutes from Furano.

Getting there isn’t easy and best with your own 4WD wheels (or your guide’s). There are buses that go from Asahikawa, through the Genkikidou company, however timetables and fares vary from year to year.

It’s possible to do day trips from Furano and the best way if you don’t have a car is to hire a guide as they do the driving and the guiding and can provide the necessary safety equipment. We highly recommend Journey into Japan) and a day trip with them costs around ¥11,000 a person (not including lift ticket or equipment).

When To Go

Asahidake opens when conditions are suitable. This can range from early to late December and it remains open generally until the first week of May each season.

The most reliable time to go is January and February when powder dumps are frequent, however it can also be freezing cold and windy. March can enjoy fantastic powder days and it’s generally not quite as cold as January and February. 

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