Insider guide to Otaru Japan and its ski fields

One of the hidden powder spots on Goneski Tours

Few have heard of Otaru, the small harbour city in Japan, north west of Sapporo. A city filled with sake distilleries and picturesque canals. It’s also a central destination for a handful of low key ski resorts filled with powder, no lift lines and few westerners.

Tom ‘Tomo’ Green settled here three years ago and founded Goneski Tours offering 10 day guided trips based in Otaru with day trips to ride in Asari, Tenguyama, Teine, Niseko, Rusutsu, Hirafu, Hanazono, Kiroro, Annupuri and Kokusai.

They choose the best conditions on the day and you get to stay in a real Japanese working city, not a ski town. Win win.

This is Tomo’s Insider Guide.

Why Otaru

Super central to some of the best unknown powdery resorts in Hokkaido, in a city rich in Japanese culture and yummy food.

Favourite ski/board run

Probably at the moment (it changes all the time!) going through the back country gates at Teine, steeps and pillows, just love it.

Where do you head on a powder day?

It depends. We watch the weather and try and work out what’s best for the day, could be one of any of the 11 resorts around our base. Spoilt for choice.

Favourite après

“Yama no Salu” in Otaru. Booths, lots of choice, friendly and crazy Nomihodai plans (all you can drink madness).

Favourite on mountain dining

The Miso Ramen at the Ramen Station in the base restaurant at Kiroro Resort.

Favourite village dining

Any Jingisukan (grilled mutton) restaurant in Asahikawa, you can’t go wrong.

Must do activity 

A day out in Sapporo city is a must. Shrines, temples, Japanese nightlife, and just to watch how a city of 2 million people just operates day to day life with so much snow. Also, maybe the Nikka Whiskey distillery, just 20 mins from our house…

Best coffee

Dcup coffee, a small coffee cart in Hirafu, Niseko… hands down.

DCup Coffee Niseko

Best hot chocolate

1000 metre hut, Hirafu, Niseko.

Best breakfast

If I’m not working, I like to sneak off to Mr Donut in Otaru. Amazing cheese toasties and bottomless coffee.

Best day trip

A roadie to Daisetsuzan national park in central Hokkaido. A bit more than a day trip, but super stunning active volcanoes and well worth a visit.

Best shopping

Any Don Quijote store, Japanese weirdness at its best

Where do you take visitors to impress them?

Believe it or not, the war against snow in Otaru City is an ongoing battle! All this snow gets trucked to the shore and dumped into the ocean. We know where this happens and the process and the amount of snow is mental to see.

Date night

Upstairs in Bagus cafe in Kutchan but I can’t tell you why! 

Best activity in resort for kids

The petting area at Rusutsu Resort you can feed Reindeer.

What should visitors not leave your resort without doing

Seafood and Miso Ramen are both local specialities. Trying one or both is a must!

What item should visitors take back with them and why?

Local produce. Otaru has so many lovely local things, from sweets and dried foods, to locally brewed beer, sake and whiskey that you would never find anywhere else.

Rachael Oakes-Ash is the name behind @misssnowitall and the founder of SnowsBest.com. A long time travel and lifestyle journalist and ski writer, she's been published in ESPN, TIME, Wallpaper*, Action Asia, Inside Sport, Australian Financial Review, Emirates Open Skies, Conde Nast Traveler and more. She was the Fairfax snow blogger from 2007 to 2017 and the Southern Hemisphere editor for OnTheSnow. Rachael is also a documentary producer, author, radio announcer and humorist.

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