If you are a kid, have kids, want to feel like a child again, or have “Let It Go” seared onto your brain compliments of your two nieces under the age of nine, then the Sapporo Snow Festival needs to be on your travel to-do list. After all, who could possibly not love massive snow carvings, tobogganing, light shows, or at the very least, SNOW SCULPTURE DEMOLITION?!
The best part is that if you’re in Niseko, Sapporo is home of the airport you (probably) flew into. You don’t have to book another set of flights to be there! Instead, you can use the time before your flight to board a snow-sculpted version of an X-Wing starfighter a la Star Wars (not kidding, this is actually being built).
Feeling excited about being on ice? Here’s what you need to know about the 70th annual Sapporo Snow Festival:
It runs from 31 January to 11 February, but you probably don’t want to show up until 4 February.
The festival officially begins on 31 January, yes, but the sculpture exhibitions won’t actually get underway until 4 February.
In fact, work on the Snow Sculpture Contest won’t even begin until 3 February with the expectation that they will be completed by 6 February. As well, the teams competing in the Ice Sculpture Contest only start chiselling away on the 4th, finishing the next morning.
So, what’s actually happening from the 31st to the 4th? I’m getting to that.
There are three locations from which to celebrate
Tsudome: This is the only festival site that will be open from the 31 January. If you feel shame, we recommend bringing a child (or borrowing one to take) with you to this site. If you have no shame (good on you), let your inner child soar!
The Tsudome Community Dome houses large snow slides, snow golf, a snow maze, a snowball throwing range, ice glass-making, a snow rafting area and a whole lot of other activities.
The snow rafting, I should warn, might not be exactly what it sounds like to you. Instead of gliding down a lazy river of snow, like at a water park, you hop into a rubber raft – similar to the ones used for white water rafting – and are dragged around a snowfield by some guy on a snowmobile.
Susukino: Susukino is home of “Susukino Ice World,’ featuring ice sculpture shows and contests. While there, you can visit the plaza, ‘Fureai Hiroba’ to touch and ride(!) the sculptures.
Odori: This is the big one with approximately 125 snow sculptures taking over a 1.5km stretch of Odori Park in downtown Sapporo. Odori will be transformed into an absolute winter wonderland, complete with an outdoor ice rink and a snowboard jump park.
In addition to all the exhibit sculptures, teams from countries with snow like China, Korea, Finland, and Poland will be battling it out with teams from more tropical places who will not have seen snowfall in many a century – places like Hawai’i, Indonesia, Macao, Singapore and Thailand. I hope the same principles apply to building sand castles as they do to building snowmen.
If you’re a Star Wars Nerd, you’re definitely going to want to go this year.
One of the more significant sculptures taking flight this year is an ode to Star Wars. The sculpture, which is expected to be massive, will feature the Millennium Falcon, C-3PO, R2-D2, BB-8, and the Porgs. The highlight will be the ability to board a Resistance X-Wing Fighter.
You’ll love it, even if you’re not into Star Wars
There are plenty of other sights for those of us who don’t really understand what that last paragraph was about. Non-Star-Wars-Nerds can instead revel in snowy versions of galloping horses, Finland’s Helsinki Cathedral, Taiwan’s YuShan and the Kaohsiung Railway Station, virtual singer Hatsune Miku, the Night Parade of One Hundred Demons, as well as a sculpture that claims to represent life, amongst others.
Watch someone else’s labour of love be destroyed
For those with kids who like all things that go ‘boom,’ or if you’re the type who likes to watch things implode (we’re not judging), stay until 12 February. On the 12th any sculpture that has not already melted will be demolished.
If you’re considering it, just know that 11 February should not be a late night. The demolition is typically over by mid-morning, so you’ll want to be up early!
There is more to the festival than snow
Photo by Hokkaido Labo
Food, glorious food!
Within Odori Park there exist two designated food plazas. The first consists of Hokkaido delicacies, featuring goodies such as “Seaside Mother’s Sea Urchin Rice” and “Charcoal-Fired Snow Crab.” The second plaza lives near the Snow Sculpture Contest and is appropriately referred to as the “International Exchange with Food Corner.”
If you’re curious or can’t make it, the Sapporo government has a live stream of Odori Park running.
What about the Sapporo Snow Festival are you most looking forward to?