Winter may be waning in Tokyo, but snow still abounds in Hokkaido, with plenty of great stuff to do, see, and eat. Here are a few recommendations to get off the beaten ski run and into the deepest drifts of fun and food in Japan’s northernmost island.
Hokkaido Ramen Dōjō
Before even leaving Sapporo’s airport, it’s worth dragging suitcases and gear along to this haven of ramen. Employees from each shop tout their noodles, but a thorough walk through is worth it just to survey the scene. A total of 10 shops represent a variety of Hokkaido ramen styles, so there’s plenty to tempt and tantalize the senses. Whether it’s Asahikawa’s famous miso ramen at Teshikaga Ramen, or a bowl of Sora’s roasted corn ramen, there’s something for every taste bud. English menus are available, and many of the staff speak enough to get a steaming bowl of goodness ordered.
Renowned as a camping and onsen (hot springs) spot during the summer, winter turns the shoreline of this volcanic lake a brilliant white, and the never-frozen waters an unbelievably brilliant blue. You can cross-country ski out on the bike trail or grab a bus from Sapporo with snowshoes in tow to tromp the shore, birdwatch, and admire the steaming Mount Tarumae from a safe distance. Roads and trails to Tarumae are closed during winter, but there are plenty of other options for roaming the winter woods.
Several kilometers from Asahikawa, this popular autumn spot in Daisetsuzan Koen turns into a winter wonderland. Set at the foot of Mount Kurodake, rocky columns rise nearly 200 meters above a narrow river valley. Summer hiking trails fill with snow and become a winter paradise for snowshoers to maneuver and see frozen waterfalls, deer, and a small handful of birds that linger in the area. A chairlift carries skiers and determined snowshoers up to even greater heights, ending at Kurodake’s peak. Finish with a hot bowl of ramen in Daisetsuzan Shokudo, and take a dip in one of the many nearby onsen.
Hap Cafe & Bar
Making its debut just five years ago, Hap Cafe & Bar is one of a handful of new burger joints that has Asahikawa residents tweeting with pleasure. A small shop that seats no more than 12 guests at once, the joint turns out some of the loveliest burgers this side of the Pacific. The Baked Apple Burger was our go-to for the evening with its thick slice of Canadian bacon, special sauce, and generous slices of baked apple and lettuce. Heaven and the perfect recharger after a day of snow and fun.
A rather other-worldly kind of ski resort, Hoshino Resorts Tomamu’s new management has turned this boom-era monolith into a hotspot for skiing, onsen, and even snowshoeing. Restaurants and shops soothe the wind-burned cheek and fill the hungry stomach before setting out on another run. A trip to the onsite onsen is included in the cost of the lift ticket, making it easy to soak sore muscles after a busy day. Four high-rise hotels offer visitors great views and accommodation mere moments from the nearest slope, and a resort bus links it all together.
Trains and buses run regularly between Sapporo, Shikotsuko, Asahikawa, and Tomamu.
Hokkaido Ramen Dōjō
3F New Chitose Airport Terminal
Hap Cafe & Bar
Toyo-oka, 4-jō, Asahikawa-shi, Hokkaido. Tel: 0166-73-8327. Nearest station: Minami-Nagayama.
Hoshino Resorts Tomamu
Buses bound for the resort can be taken from Tomamu Station. www.snowtomamu.jp/winter/en