If you’re looking for recommendations on where to ski or snowboard in Japan, and want to know where to find the best powder snow, you’re in the right place. Yes, Hokkaido is where it’s at—but where exactly should you go? Niseko is cool and all, but there is a lot to explore if you go further north, in any season.

piyashiri ski resort trees

Around two hours by car or two and a half hours by bus from Asahikawa Airport (which is accessible by direct flight from Tokyo), you’ll find slopes where people dream of practicing. The powder snow in Nayoro and surrounds is (unofficially) said to be the highest quality not just in Hokkaido, but in all of Japan. In the warmer months, the area also has a lot to offer—read on and see for yourself. Here’s where to go and what to do in northern Hokkaido.

Nayoro: Powder snow and fields of sunflowers

Whether you want to ski, snowboard or ride a snowmobile, Nayoro is worth a visit if you are looking for that fresh, fresh powder snow (or tons of sunflowers—see below).

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Getting to Nayoro: Take the airport bus from Asahikawa Airport to JR Asahikawa Station (35 minutes), then the limited express train to JR Nayoro Station (54 minutes). Alternatively, it’s a 1 hour and 50 minute drive, or 136-minute bus ride, between the stations.

Keen to drive? Read about renting a car in Japan.

Go on a Powder Snow Safari

This is a winter activity that anyone can enjoy, whether you’re a seasoned snowboarder or have never set foot in the cold white stuff. With a local guide, you can explore Mt Piyashiri on a zippy snowmobile, and take in some awesome sights—including a view of the Sea of Okhotsk.

powder snow safari by snowmobile hokkaido

With a spot of luck, you might also get to see a phenomenon called “sun pillars”, where the light reflecting off diamond dust creates an image of actual pillars in the snow.

sun pillar phenomenon at piyashiri ski resort, hokkaido

Time: 2 hours
Cost: 12,000 yen
More info & reservations: Contact the NPO Nayoro Association for Tourism and Town Development.
Tel: 016 549 6711
Email: otoiawase@nayoro-kankou.com

Note: The guide will pick you up from the lobby of Nayoro Onsen Sun Pillar (see below).
Address: Nisshin, Nayoro, Hokkaido 096-0066

Ski and snowboard

Imagine powder snow so soft it feels like you’re floating—that’s what you’ll find at Piyashiri Ski Resort. According to some of Japan’s Winter Olympic athletes and other pros, the ski and snowboard experience on these slopes can’t be beat. They come here to practice, and so should you—even if you’re an absolute beginner. It’s not all that well known among the regular winter sports crowd, which means it’s typically less busy and rowdy than some of the more popular international spots.

skiers at piyashiri ski resort

Piyashiri is a medium-sized ski resort that offers parks and a range of wide runs. Lift tickets cost 2,400 yen for four hours. From Nayoro Station, you can take a shuttle bus to the ski resort. It takes about 30 minutes.

Address: Nisshin, Nayoro, Hokkaido 096-0066

Soak in Nayoro Hot Spring “Sun Pillar”

Adding 200 yen to your lift ticket will give you access to this lovely onsen, which is just 80m from the ski resort.

nayoro onsen sun pillar

A long soak in these hot springs is the perfect way to relax after a day on the slopes. Without a lift pass, entry for adults is 400 yen. More info.

Address: Nisshin, Nayoro, Hokkaido 096-0066

Fill up on these foods

Ramen

At Piyashiri Ski Resort, the cafeteria serves up a variety of ramen and other simple dishes, priced between 620 and 1,000 yen. But if you feel like taking a 10-minute drive, you can slurp a bowl of ramen at a local store called Kamekin Ramen instead. On the menu, you’ll find everything from miso ramen to nattou ramen. Getting there by taxi costs about 1,900 yen.

Genghis Khan

The local specialty in Nayoro is a dish called “stewed genghis khan”.

stewed genghis khan dish hokkaido

Combining grilled lamb and hotpot, this hearty fare is best sampled at Mitsuboshi Shokudo, a restaurant two minutes’ walk from Nayoro Station.

Daifuku mochi

Another Nayoro treat that comes highly recommended is the daifuku mochi from a roadside stop called Mochigome no Sato, which is five minutes’ walk from Furen Station on the Soya Line (you can take this train from Nayoro Station).

soft daifuku mochi

Daifuku mochi is a sticky rice cake that contains a sweet filling. What makes this daifuku special is how soft it is, thanks to the local rice. The Furen area boasts the highest production of glutinous rice in Hokkaido. Try it if you can.

In summer, see the sunflowers

Ever wanted to take one of those photos where you’re surrounded by sunflowers? Nayoro is the place to ‘gram it. The location you’re looking for? That would be Sun Pillar Park—a massive field of about six million sunflowers in full bloom from late July to mid-August. It’s about a 10-minute taxi ride from Nayoro Station.

sunflowers in nayoro, hokkaido

Once you’ve had your fill of sunflower scenes, you might want to try the pork cutlets—they’re said to be especially tasty because the local pigs are raised on a diet rich in sunflower seeds.

Address: 147 Nisshin, Nayoro, Hokkaido

Shibetsu: A taste of farm life

Along the way from JR Asahikawa Station to JR Nayoro Station is a spot you’ll want to stop off at for lunch. Hop out at JR Shibetsu Station and head to the nearby Shizuo Farm for a plate of that tasty Genghis Khan stew or other meat dishes, made using local ingredients.

sheep in pasture, shibetsu hokkaido

The sheep ranch, which is a 10-minute taxi ride from the station, is well known for its high-quality lamb products. It features a restaurant, as well as campsites where you can have a bonfire.

Shizuo Farm address: 2853-1 Kawanishicho, Shibetsu-shi, Hokkaido

At Hitsuji to Kumo no Oka, another sheep ranch about 10 minutes away from JR Shibetsu Station, you can see sheep grazing and get a more hands-on experience in the form of felt crafting, using wool, or a snowmobile ride through the fields.

Hitsuji to Kumo no Oka address: 5351 Nishishibetsu-cho, Shibetsu-shi, Hokkaido 095-0056

Things to do around Asahikawa Airport

Before you set off for Nayoro (or Shibetsu), or on your way back, consider spending some time exploring Asahikawa.

Hit the slopes at Kamui Ski Links

This little ski resort is just an hour by bus (a direct shuttle) from Asahikawa Airport, making for easy access. However, the buses only depart twice a day—at 9 am and 10 am, so you need to be ready to roll in the morning. Otherwise, you can take a bus from the airport to JR Asahikawa Station (35 minutes), and then change to another bus to get to the ski resort (40 minutes).

kamui ski links

Another tip—reserve your lift pass in advance, online, as they can sell out fast. You can get a four-hour pass (3,300 yen for adults) or full-day pass (3,800 yen for adults).

There are 25 runs at Kamui Ski Links, with a roughly equal split of beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. And yes, you can expect some of that famous powder snow (the resort gets over 8m each winter).

Address: 112 Kamuicho, Asahikawa, Hokkaido 074-1181

Sample the soul food of Asahikawa

While you’re in the area, you’ll want to try shinkoyaki—a regional take on Japanese yakitori—grilled chicken.

shinkoyaki chicken in asahikawa, hokkaido

The place to go is a specialty restaurant called Ginneko. Trust us—you won’t regret this.

Address: 5-7 Koji Furarito, 5 Jodori 7 Chome, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
Map: https://goo.gl/maps/3tfjeLFHNUgexjA9A

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