Niseko, Niseko, Niseko. Yes, Niseko gets all the love from the skiing world, but for those who like to go a little bit off the beaten path, find somewhere uncrowded, where off-piste rules and the snow is perfection, but still maintains excellent infrastructure, Kiroro is where you need to be.
Here is everything you need to know about Kiroro – the place to get away from all the [other] foreigners and still get the world-class ski and snow treatment.
Where it is
In the magical land that is Hokkaido, Kiroro is about halfway between Niseko and Sapporo. By car, Kiroro is approximately 90 minutes from New Chitose Airport, 60 minutes from Sapporo, 50 minutes from Niseko and 40 minutes from the historic town of Otaru.
The resort, Kiroro Resort Hokkaido, is best suited to beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders and encompasses 22 runs over two mountains. The mountain is relatively evenly split for skill levels with about 33% of the resort is considered best for beginners and 29% of the mountain for intermediates. 38% is considered good for advanced skiers, but much of this is off-piste.
The entirety of the resort sits below the tree line with much of the mountain being relatively flat, though not unlike most of Hokkaido. The upper half of the mountain does have some steep runs and some runs that can be quite flat.
Regardless of which run you’re on, the views are beautiful.
The Conditions & Weather
Kiroro averages a recorded snowfall of 21 metres each year with an average monthly snowfall of about 450 centimetres! The base depth typically exceeds 500cm. January and February usually see the deepest powder.
As for the weather, December will typically see temperatures averaging -9ºC. January and February will see temperatures of around -13ºC. It starts warming up in March when it averages -8ºC. The end of the season gets to -3ºC.
With all that snow, fine weather days are few and far between. If you’re looking for sunshine, February is not your month – you’ll only have “nice” days about 7% of the time.
Kiroro has nine lifts servicing its 22 trails. There is one fast gondola and four detachable hooded quads (perfect for keeping warmish on chilly days) and one detachable hooded double. The other three are older doubles. There slower three are all in beginner sections of the mountain, so more advanced skier and boarders may be able to avoid them.
The Lift Tickets
Lift tickets are on the steeper end from a Japanese perspective, but very reasonable if you’re coming from pretty much anywhere else in the world. For the 2019/2020 season, a one day ticket for adults is JPY 5,900, for teens and seniors the tickets cost JPY 5,200, and those aged 6-12 cost JPY 3,100. Children five and under ski free when accompanied by a guardian.
The lifts run from 9:00 AM to 7:30 PM during the main season, which runs from 7 December to 5 April for the 2019/2020 season. However, only the Family & Centre Express Lift in the beginner section stays open after 6:00 PM.
Outside of the main season, the lifts are open until 4:00 PM.
The Off-Piste Skiing
On-piste skiing is very limited for advanced skiers, so happily Kiroro allows off-piste skiing within resort boundaries. These areas make up a good proportion of the terrain. Some of these off-piste runs are mapped and have names, making it easier to stay within the resort – so less chance of you ending up with your lift ticket cancelled. A good amount of the off-piste stuff is steep with good lines through trees.
Kiroro is made for families (sorry singles, couples and nightlife lovers!) and has a solid array of activities and facilities for the little ones.
For the 2019/2020 season, from 14 December to 16 April, kids can get all the outdoor play they need in the snow park. Here they can go sledging and tubing, and even learn how to use a snow strider (think bicycle on skis). There is also the opportunity to try out mini snowmobiles.
For another exciting family activity, there is snow rafting where you sit in an inflatable boat and are dragged around by snowmobile. Make it a bit more daring and try out the snow banana boat! Or you can keep it a bit on the slower side and go cross country skiing.
When you need a break from the snow, the kids can have a turn at Game Park Granship. This facility has lots of different activities for the little ones, like a mini-kart race track (no engine), slides, a rock wall, a ball pit and a toy room.
For the creative genius types, the resort offers music box decoration, gel candle making, and glass and ceramic decorating.
And of course, there’s a karaoke lounge for your kid who is all about Disney.
Where to Stay
Yu Kiroro is the place to stay in Kiroro. The first luxury ski-in and ski-out condominium in Kiroro, which is expected to be completed in December 2019, is metres from the resort’s gondola.
With apartments ranging in size from 62 m² studios to the 140 m² three-bedroom units and the 267 m² penthouse, it is perfectly suited for those travelling in small groups or with the whole family.
The condominium is decked out with all the luxuries you could ask for, like indoor and outdoor onsens, all-day dining, a fitness centre, a kid’s space and ski valet. The condos themselves are beautifully designed to blend traditional Japanese charm, Swiss alpine architectural features and state of the art technology.
Kiroro town isn’t so much a town as is it a compound adjacent to the mountain. There are a couple of gift shops and speciality stores that are mainly there to benefit resort guests and stock essential food items, alcohol and souvenirs.
Dining options can, therefore, be found almost exclusively in the various hotels and on-slope lodges. The apres-ski scene is limited to the hotel bars.
That being said, Kiroro Ski Resort has truly embraced its standing as a “resort”. This gives the entire area a much more holiday-friendly type feel, making it a perfect place to relax with the family.
In town, there is also the Yu Yu Kan or the aquatic complex which has a hot spring, 25-metre pool, massage centre and fitness area.
For a larger town and cultural experience, visitors should visit the coastal town of Otaru, which is just half an hour away. The town has lots of hole in the wall restaurants, souvenir shops, and sake distilleries.
Easiest Way to Get There
The easiest way to get to Kiroro from any international destination would be to fly into New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido. From the airport, several companies run shuttle buses that service the area.