Hokkaido, Japan

Rusutsu Ski Resort in Hokkaido is a powder skiing and boarding paradise close to Niseko and Sapporo airports, with some hilarious Disneyland-style attractions on the side.

Scout Loves

  • This is a resort with powder, powder and more powder – but without the Niseko crowds. Plus, tree-skiing is allowed.
  • Rusutsu would be a fantastic option for a day trip or several nights tacked on to a week in Niseko.
  • Here you’ll find an interesting blend of Japanese kitsch with Western comforts.
  • There are some hilarious Disneyworld-style attractions inside the hotel – including a singing tree!
  • This resort would be fantastic for families and beginners, yet there are also enough challenges for even the most eager powder-hound.

Scout Tips

  • There is no village at the resort, just two different hotel base areas and a nearby small town.
  • There are a good variety of restaurants as well as a few bars in both hotels, though we struggled to find a place that was open for an après ski beer (although there’s always some in the vending machines).
  • The slopes are a little separated, with a gondola connecting the east and west mountains.
  • There are a ton of great side activities for kids, right in the base areas.
  • Child care staff don’t speak English.

Scout Review

As fun as it is funny, Rusutsu Resort is a true pleasure to visit. When you first arrive at the main hotel entrance (and resort ticket office) you will be greeted by exactly what you would expect to see in any ski resort… a singing tree, a merry-go-round and a lot of loud arcade machines. No, you haven’t accidently landed in Disneyland – you’re in the right place.

The cacophony of kitsch doesn’t stop at the hotel. On the slopes there are kid’s playgrounds with all sorts of fun activities and Japanese pop music blaring from ski lift towers.

Rusutsu is located about 90 minutes from Sapporo and New Chitose International Airport, and 30-40 minutes from Niseko Ski Resort. There are daily transfers between Niseko and Rusutsu resorts, which makes it easy to visit Rusutsu as a day trip during a visit to Niseko. Even better would be to spend a couple of days here before or after a longer stay in Niseko.

Athough the Tower Hotel is now a Westin, Rusutsu is an authentic Japanese experience. They’ve catered well to tourists, with English signs on the slopes and staff who (for the most part) speak decent English. There’s even an on-mountain cafeteria called ‘Steamboat’ complete with signs showing the same branding as the famous Colorado ski resort.

The resort base is dominated by the ski-in ski-out hotel and convention center that is connected to the Eastern slopes by a gondola and to a second hotel option, the Rusutsu Tower, via a monorail (in 2016 a modern monorail replaced the outdated 80's rattler).

It all makes for a unique and memorable Japanese skiing experience.

Rusutsu Skiing

Rusutsu has great skiing for all standards and some of the best powder in the whole of Japan. It’s less crowded than Niseko and lift lines are practically non-existent. Two distinct areas make up the 524 hectares of slopes with a flat gondola connecting the two. The larger area contains two mountains: East Mountain and Mt Isola. This is the best area for intermediate and advanced skiers, and it features some fantastic tree runs. Even better is that you will rarely have to traverse, given that most runs and tree runs end up back at the lifts! Better still most of the lifts are long, meaning you rarely need to connect two lifts to get in a decent run.

On a powder day, especially on Mt Isola, you’ll be able to find plenty of stashes of powder in the trees – some of which are nicely gladed. Intermediates will have a great time here on-piste, as the runs are nicely groomed. Anyone that has visited other Japanese resorts will find some of the runs surprisingly steep (by Japanese standards at least).

The beginner areas are mostly located around the Resort Base and on West Mountain, though there are a few beginner runs on East Mountain. West Mountain has a couple of lifts and does have a limited number of intermediate and advanced runs.

The resort can be numbingly cold, especially in January and February, so be sure to bring adequate clothing. Rusutsu has a small terrain park on West Mountain and also some fun off-piste features if you can find them.

There are several dining facilities throughout the resort.

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Rusutsu For Families

Given that Rusutsu is like Disneyland in the snow, then it’s pretty obvious to say that it’s fantastic for families! The kids will love all the distractions in the hotel such as the big wave pool. There’s even a rollercoaster at Rusutsu, though don’t let the kids get too excited, since it doesn’t operate in winter.

On the slopes it’s a similar story, with lots of nice gentle terrain for beginners that goes straight to the back door of the hotel. It has some magic carpets and an easy quad lift. There’s also a great snow play area and an indoor slope (on carpet) where beginner kids can stay warm while getting confident on skis. There’s a childcare facility in the hotel, however it’s not open at lunch and the teachers only speak Japanese.

There is a ski school, but in order to have kids’ lessons in English you’ll have to go private.

Rusutsu Accommodation

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There are three main choices for accommodation: the Rusutsu Resort Hotel & Convention Center, the Westin Rusutsu Resort (previously called the Rusutsu Tower) or the newest addition - The Vale Rusutsu. The Hotel provides standard hotel rooms, while the Westin Tower contains larger, recently renovated rooms that are called apartments, but which don’t have kitchens. The Vale is the only to offer self-catered apartments in Rusutsu.

In addition to these two options, there are a few family-run pensions that are scattered not far from the resort base and the lovely Villa Rusutsu.

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Resort Activities

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Aside from skiing, Rusutsu Ski Resort has a ton of extra activities – both outdoor and indoor. Everything is in the one place, which certainly makes it easy to check out all that this resort has to offer.

The pools are great, with waterslides and a wave pool – and there are spa facilities as well as onsens. And if you’re travelling with the kids, there are enough arcade games to keep everyone happy for hours – if you can stand the clanging, chiming and jingling tunes for that long.

Out on the snow there are other fun activities such as snow park activities, snow tubing, snow rafting (a raft towed by a snowmobile), cross-country skiing and snowmobile tours.

There isn't much to the town of Rusutsu, about 5 minutes drive down the road, just a couple of restaurants and convenience stores.

Getting There and Around

Rusutsu is located in the South Western corner of Hokkaido, Japan's North Island. It’s easy to get to Rusutsu via the reliable bus services from Niseko Ski Resort (30-40 minutes), Sapporo or New Chitose Airport (both 90 minutes). There are direct international flights to Sapporo from several major Asian cities and Sydney and plenty of flights to domestic destinations around Japan.

Transfers from the airport can be booked as part of a Rusutsu Ski Package

Getting around Rusutsu is easy – you can either ski, use the gondola, or catch the crazy monorail that joins the hotel with the tower.

When To Go

A visit during January and February gives you the best chance of getting some of Rusutsu’s amazingly light and dry powder snow. Temperatures are freezing during this time so you’ll want to bring plenty of warm gear. Meanwhile, March still has great quality snow, but with smaller crowds and warmer days (but the frequency of the snowfalls are less).

Facts & Figures

Mountain Information   Lifts   Terrain    
Base Elevation 1443ft / 440m Gondolas 4 Beginner 30%  
Summit Elevation 3261ft / 994m Express Quads 6 Intermediates 40%  
Vertical Drop 1948ft / 594m Quad Chair 1 Advanced 30%  
Skiable Area 1294ac / 524ha Double Chairs 7 Number of runs 37  
Annual Snowfall 511in / 13m Surface Lifts 3      
Longest Run 2.1 miles / 3.5km          
Night Skiing on West Mt Every night Pk season          
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