Ski in Niseko or Furano post-COVID-19?
Updated: Jun 17, 2020
Call us biased if you like, but there are some very valid reasons to consider Furano to be a safer ski travel destination post-COVID-19. In this blog post, we break down the facts we believe are worth considering.
Avoiding COVID-19 requires social distancing and avoiding crowded settings.
As the most widely known destination internationally for powder skiing in Japan, Niseko has become exceptionally busy and crowded during its snow season.
Furano, on the other hand, is considered the hidden gem of Hokkaido, with largely crowd-free slopes, even in peak periods.
The added bonus in Furano is that it has the driest, lightest and most reliable powder snow in Hokkaido…indeed in all of Japan.
First up, Furano is split into two large ski areas on different mountain faces: the 'Furano Zone' and the 'Kitanomine Zone'. This ideal mountain layout is connected via a dedicated ski lift and trail and the two Zones function like huge, separate ski areas. This layout enables skiers and riders to readily spread out over the approximate 430 acres of skiable terrain, resulting in little or no congregating at ski lifts, even on weekends and other peak periods.
Although Niseko ski resort extends over 4 faces of the one mountain, the area experiences far greater numbers of skiers and riders throughout its winter season. This situation, a result of more aggressive marketing both domestically and internationally, makes for far greater congestion. It has also fed into a proliferation of new hotel and other accommodation development in recent years, funnelling more and more people into the same size skiable area, further exacerbating crowds and congestion.
The heightened risk of community transfer [in Niseko] is readily apparent.
Surprisingly, facilities expansion in Niseko has not kept pace with building development. In its main ski, après ski and accommodation area of Hirafu, skiing and riding take place almost shoulder-to-shoulder during the season! The negative implications for social distancing given this situation are pretty clear.
In its busy winter seasons, Niseko relies on imported labour to operate its facilities, restaurants and services. With this brings a heightened risk for COVID-19 ‘community transfer’ within the resort’s mostly-international workforce, who come from far and wide to spend the ski season - all from differing COVID-19-affected reaches of the world. A majority of staff living together in worker-accommodations also heightens the risk of ‘super-spreader' events.
In comparison, Furano draws on its vibrant, year-round township and large permanent population for its staffing requirements. Furano’s labour force, lives and works in much less crowded conditions, and being almost exclusively Japanese, aspects of COVID-19 risk mitigation such as the wearing of face masks, and not shaking hands, or hugging and kissing friends and acquaintances as readily, are longstanding and almost ubiquitous social mores.
Such considerations lead us fairly easily to the conclusion that Furano, rather than Niseko, offers its visitors a more favourable holiday environment when it comes to mitigating the risk of COVID-19 infection.
About Furano Ski Resort:
The lesser-known Furano is actually considered by those that know, to be Hokkaido’s best snow destination. Its 24 trails are accessed via nine ski lifts, including Japan’s fastest ropeway (cable car), and a high capacity gondola. The resort has a vertical of approximately 900m and its longest downhill run extends to 4.5kms.
For those that like to cruise, Furano’s network of well-manicured, long groomers are second to none and makes it the top choice.
The lesser-known Furano is actually considered by those that know, to be Hokkaido’s best snow destination.
For advanced skiers and riders, some of the best off-piste and side-country terrain in Hokkaido is on offer and is now accessible via an extensive, designated gates system (note: avalanche equipment and access reporting required).
Furano is also the perfect basecamp for backcountry enthusiasts, with several prime areas, including Tokachidake and Asahidake – the latter being Hokkaido's tallest mountain, and the ‘holy grail’ destination for backcountry skiing in Japan, within easy driving distance for day trips. Other nearby resorts of Kamui and Tomamu, also within day-trip driving distance provide additional on and off-piste options plus backcountry areas.
Furano enjoys sunnier (bluebird) days than its coastal weather pattern affected counterpart, Niseko.
Furano's further list of superior attributes includes its central Hokkaido location and its relatively higher elevation than Niseko. This situation leads those that know to rate Furano's snow the best, as the consistently lower temperatures that result in Furano, ensure that its snow is the driest and lightest in Hokkaido.
Over 8m of snow falls annually in Furano, largely at night meaning Furano enjoys sunnier (bluebird) days than its coastal weather pattern affected counterpart, Niseko.
Recently, Furano’s range of hotel and boutique accommodation options has grown, but at a significantly slower pace than in Niseko. First amongst the recent upgrades in Furano was Furano Lofts, which opened in 2016 and quickly established itself as the new benchmark for accommodation and service excellence in Furano.
Read our blog on how to choose accommodation post-COVID-19 or make contact with the Furano Lofts’ Guest Services team to make a reservation enquiry.