A snow trip to Japan is a bucket-list trip for many travellers. With incredible powder, beautiful scenery and quintessential Japanese charm, it’s not difficult to see why. That said, the popular, well-known spots aren’t exactly notorious for being budget-friendly and their popularity means they’re often quite crowded. On a recent trip to Hokkaido, Matt and I were desperate to get in some snow time. With a limited budget and not much time to waste in queues, we found ourselves researching a trip to Asahikawa and, when we arrived, were blown away by how amazing it was. Turns out, Asahikawa is Hokkaido‘s BEST hidden snow destination. Here’s all the information you need to figure out if it’s a great fit for your next Japan snow trip and everything you need to plan your very own adventure too.
But first, watch this…
Where is Asahikawa?
You’ll find Asahikawa in central Hokkaido, the north island of Japan. It’s the second largest city in Hokkaido, after Sapporo, a name you may recognise from the beer of the same name. What’s great about Asahikawa is it’s not known as a tourist destination, with places like Sapporo, Niseko and Hakuba stealing the spotlight. This is great news for savvy travellers as it means you can enjoy all the beauty, wonder and great food of Hokkaido with fewer tourists, smaller crowds and fewer costs too!
More than that, we fell in love with Asahikawa because we met so many wonderful, kind locals everywhere we went. Everyone as so lovely, the whole city had a friendly, small-town/country vibe to it that was just so welcoming. We felt very safe the entire time, loved the scenery of the snow-covered mountains and treetops, the vintage feel of the shopfronts and the relaxed atmosphere everywhere we went. We got to eat delicious food, see wonderful scenery and have an amazing Japan snow experience all without breaking the bank.
How to get there
You can fly to Asahikawa easily as JAL and Air-DO operate multiple flights daily between Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Asahikawa Airport. We flew with Air-DO and while the online booking was a little nerve-racking as we don’t read or speak Japanese, we still managed to do it just fine! Our flight was seamless and Asahikawa Airport was great too, it was all very easy and straight forward. The flight time from Tokyo to Asahikawa is around 1 hour 35 minutes and should cost around ¥28,000 one way p.p.
You can also catch the train to Asahikawa, which most likely suit you if you’re thinking of getting a Japan Rail Pass as your entire journey is covered by it. The train journey will take around 10 hours and cost around ¥30,000, without a Rail Pass, requiring you to transfer trains at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto and Sapporo. If you haven’t looked into it already, a 7-day Rail Pass should cost you around ¥39,000 for first-class cabin access or around ¥30,000 for the regular class cabins.
Kamui Ski Links
I can’t recommend Kamui Ski Links highly enough. When we were researching our trip to Asahikawa we checked out Kamui Ski Links but thought we’d probably be bored after one day and need to drive further away. From the moment we arrived, we fell in love with the place and didn’t want to go anywhere else.
Kamui Ski Links offers affordable, uncrowded runs with plenty of amazing powder. Lift passes for a full day should cost around ¥3,100 per adult, though you can buy them for 5 or 3 hours too. Ski/snowboard rental for a full day should cost around ¥5,000 per adult and, again, you can rent for a half-day. There are 1 Gondola and 5 fixed double chairlifts offering access to a great range of runs that are 40% beginner, 30% intermediate and 30% advanced. Check out the full course map for Kamui Ski Links here.
Most importantly, there were no queues! NONE! we didn’t have to queue for our tickets, our gear hire, the chair lift, gondola or even our lunch. We were one of the very few tourists there and the locals are just so lovely, with no push and shove or angry queues of people waiting to get back up the mountain. It was the most peaceful, relaxing, fun and enjoyable ski experience I’ve ever had. Hands down.
There’s also some great food at Kamui Ski Links, with a fantastic Ramen spot, NOBU, serving up their famous bowls of steaming hot noodles for hungry snow lovers. You can also grab a bite to eat from one of the spots at the centre lodge or dine at Cafe Mt. 751 at the top of the Gondola with stunning views of the area.
Honestly, there is so much to like about Kamui Ski Links. It’s easily accessed, incredibly affordable, offers a great range of runs and fun terrain with no queues and delicious food on-site too. While other, more popular spots can offer on-mountain accommodation and potentially a larger range of runs, I have to say, I just really enjoyed a no-fuss, relaxed and fun experience without any crowds whatsoever. It felt like the mountain was ours!
Where to stay
When we started researching where to stay in Asahikawa we quickly figured out a self-contained unit or Airbnb was going to be best suited to our budget and needs. Budget-friendly options that weren’t super depressing were hard to find at first but we finally struck gold when we found Sora E Hotel. This place is fantastic and I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can find Sora E Hotel here.
If you haven’t visited Japan before, one thing you’ll quickly learn is that hotel rooms are notoriously small. Our room at Sora E Hotel was incredibly spacious, even by western hotel standards. The room was modern and comfortable with plenty of space to spread out. Fully self-contained it included a kitchen with all the cooking implements you need, a washing machine, ensuite with bathtub, living area and two comfortable beds. There’s also a supermarket 2-minutes walk from the hotel, so you can easily stock up on everything you need for budget-friendly meals in your room or to grab essentials like laundry liquid, toothpaste and so on.
The only down-side to staying at Sora E Hotel is that you will need to hire a car as it’s some way out of the main areas of Asahikawa and about a 20-minute walk from the nearest train station. That said, we felt it was worth it and we needed a car to access to Kamui Ski Links anyway. Our room at Sora E was far nicer than any other we saw within our budget and we had an amazing stay. If you aren’t going to stay at Sora E Hotel or hire a car, you’ll want to stay close to Asahikawa Station. The train is an easy, affordable way to get around and there’s a fantastic tourist information centre in the station. The staff are incredibly kind and helpful so if you need any help, ask them!
How to get around
As I mentioned, we hired a car in Asahikawa and loved it! At first, we were very nervous because, while we’ve driven in snow/ice before, neither of us had driven in conditions exactly like those in Asahikawa. It was very cold with icy roads and we didn’t want to get into an accident, of course. But, we drove very carefully, observing the locals and making sure we did everything possible to be safe and within a few hours, Matt felt confident driving. He needed an international license in order to book the hire car, which we sorted out before we left home, and made our booking through Times Car Rental.
We found it very easy to navigate around Asahikawa and having a car meant we could stay at a better spot. It also gave us more freedom, which was really important to us in terms of accessing Kamui Ski Links and sightseeing. I would just recommend, if you aren’t used to the road conditions, you take it very slow and drive very carefully and safely. If you aren’t confident in your abilities, don’t risk it as you could hurt yourself or others in the event of an accident.