The morning started unlike any other for us. Snorting, scratching, clapping, and weezing kept on popping into my sleep and I could not understand why? “Oh, that’s right, I’m sleeping in a barn! – someone please hit the snooze button on the goats!” That’s how our skiing days in Kiroro started.
We had been skiing around Hokkaido- a longtime dream of ours. While not our first time in Japan it was our first taste of Hokkaido and we were all-in. The culture, food, nightlife – or total lack thereof – and the skiing are all unique and really good. So after an epic January looking for the far-away places and less travelled areas, we decided that it would behoove us to visit Kiroro.
The Way to Kiroro
Earlier on our trip, we drove north of Kiroro as we headed towards Central Hokkaido from Shimamaki. Our beta had Kiroro as similar in feel to Niseko, Rusutsu, and Shimi and decided to push east. We visited the usual suspects of central Hokkaido: Furano, Kamui, Asahidake and went north looking for deeper snow in Nayoro Piyashiri. But in the back of our minds we regretted not going to Kiroro. So with only four days left on our tour, we turned around our trusted japan-mobile and doubled back on the same snow-covered roads and settled in a quaint farm stay not far from Kiroro.
Kiroro is one of the special places in a special place. It is a backcountry focused area with lift access, tons of snow, a consistent fall line, and endless features to ride. There isn’t much of a “town”, or anything else really. There are a couple of hotels at the base of the hill but not much else. It’s relative proximity to Otaru and Niseko can provide an outlet if you’d like, but the truth is the skiing is so good you will not leave the area in search of much else.
Sleep & Eat
We settled in at Hopi Hills and looked around: Kiroro a couple of kilometers down the road, the communal restaurant/cafe/bar 50 meters from our barn accommodations and snow all around.
Hopi Hills is a working hay farm with the random assortment of animals: ten goats – soon to be more – some dogs, an angry ostrich, and some horses, etc. As we were staying directly over the barn, our days started with the sounds of the farm coming alive. It was kind of cool. The place has a frontier vibe. It is a charming lodge where the skiing intelligentsia stop for a coffee or a bite to eat and chat.
A good crowd sat in the cafe. Aussies, Germans, Austrians, a Czech, an American or two, and us. Everyone was a skier or boarder filled with a passion for snow and that knowing look that you get when you ski this part of the world. It’s difficult to explain what it is to ski Hokkaido; but it marks you.
We drank a couple of local Heartland beers. After making friends with those around us, our Aussie host hooked us up with a 22 year old volunteer from the Northeastern US that would show us around the mountain.
As we started up a conversation he mentioned that the mountains are oddly similar to those from his side of the world- short, steep, and with TIGHT trees – yet very different because they have snow. Tomahawk Tom had been riding Kiroro everyday for the past two months and seemed to know what-was-what that day and we were ready.
Ski & Repeat
There is a running joke in Hokkaido snowfall totals are absolutely subjective. Anyone you ask will tell you that they are expecting 5cm-10cm anytime of any day. The days here were no different but for the 30 cm that had fallen the night before.
We made our way to the mountain and checked in with ski patrol for the required backcountry “passes”. The mountain has a couple of high speed chairs and a nice gondola that takes 15 minutes to the top. Tom was leading the way and made the call to take some of the lower chairs, this netted us first tracks on most of the aspects we hit. The morning went by in a flash of powder. Deep and steep pitches, tight trees, and endless possibilities everywhere. There is so much side-country that earning our turns was unnecessary. Lap after lap we found either first or second tracks on most everything. It was great.
The afternoon took us to the top of the mountain. It had been snowing all day and even though the top was tracked, the tighter drops were still in great shape. Cornices, short spines, and bottomless turns. This went on for the three days we skied. Refresh after refresh, Kiroro was better than we hoped and certainly needs to be on anyone’s Hokkaido circuit.