Image credit: Rusutsu
Japan's most northerly island, Hokkaido is famous for its powder snow and is home to Japanís most popular ski region - Niseko - as well as a host of others offering more than just great runs. HWK looks at the best of them.
Ask your skiing friends where they have skied in Japan, and Niseko will be the answer for the majority. It is considered one of the top 10 international ski resorts in the world, with an average of 12-14 metres of dry, powder snow every season for ski bunnies to play in.
There are three ski resorts in Niseko Ė Grand Hirafu Ė which includes Hirafu and Hanazono, Annupuri and Niseko Village, and all are interconnected, offering 49km of runs serviced by 38 lifts. The highlight of skiing here has to be incredible views to Mt Yotei.
The resort is open from 8.30am and if your legs are still up to it, save some energy for the night skiing, which is a wonderful experience for the kids. There are many excellent places for families to stay, and the ski and snowboard school offers lessons with English-speaking instructors.
The range of accommodation is plentiful, and there are plenty of activities to enjoy away from the slopes. In Niseko Village, there is a 30-metre indoor swimming pool, and in the Snow Park next to the Hotel Niseko Alpen youíll find a petting zoo with penguins and other small animals. In the Hanozono Adventure Park, try snowmobile rides and tubing.
Apart from the skiing, the jewel in the crowd at Tomamu is the Viz Spa house which includes an incredible indoor wave pool that is 80 x 30 metres. Its glass walls allow the sunshine to stream in, and for you to stare out at the snowy surrounds.
The Spa House also has a childrenís pool and hot spa pools inside and outside.
There are plenty of excellent runs for skiers of all abilities and kids are really well catered for with Nipo Town where kids can play, learn to ski and do some sledding, and Adventure Mountain. This is a story-based ski trail where kids are challenged to carry out a number of tasks while fighting off the Chokkari Genie. The Ski and Snowboard Academy teaches kids from age four and there is a nursery for younger children.
Off the slopes, there is something for everyone in the Ice Village, and plenty of fun activities.
Rusutsu offers one of Hokkaido's largest ski areas with 42km of runs spread over three mountains - East Mountain, West Mountain and Mount Isola.
There are 37 runs serviced by 19 lifts and plenty of terrain for all levels. For kids learning to ski, the Salomon Debut course is a great place to practise, while the Daniel Kids Snow Park boasts a playground, tube run, sledging, a magic carpet and adventure trails.
Apart from the skiing, kids can take to the snow in all sorts of fun ways, including dog sledding, snow rafting, riding the snow train, snowmobiling, horseriding and more.
After a day on the slopes, treat yourself to a relaxing bath in the Rusutsu Resort Hot Springs, providing relief for aching muscles and fatigued bodies.
Image credit: Niseko
Furano is a world-class ski resort, and has hosted 10 FIS Ski World Cups and two FIS Snowboard World Cups. The town is known for its friendly nature and being ten minutes from the ski area, itís easy to take advantage of the great cuisine on offer.
There is a wide range of accommodation to choose from ranging from ski-in ski-out hotels, to cottages and Japanese guesthouses. Once you're on the snow you can let your hair down on the 24 runs on 25km of magical scenery, accessed by 10 lifts Ė including Japan's fastest cable car.
On a clear day, youíll need to stop for some happy snaps as you look across to Hokkaidoís highest peak, Mt Asahidake, as well as the smoking volcano located across the valley.
Furano offers great child care for kids as well as excellent lessons from two ski schools. It operates Japanís only free ski host program conducted by English-speaking locals who are happy to show you around the resort and also give tips on great places to dine.
Sahoro is smaller than the other resorts, with 17 runs accessed by a gondola and seven chairlifts. The area is very picturesque as you ski through what seems like a white forest and look out over the Tokachi Plains.
Sahoro has one huge plus that the other ski areas donít have: a Club Med resort. The Club Med Village at Sahoro offers all the advantages of a Japanese ski holiday served up with all the advantages of staying at Club Med. Like all Club Med ski villages the package includes lift passes, ski or snowboard lessons, all meals and drinks.
Kids will love the skiing if they havenít done it before, and will also love snowshoeing, swimming in the resortís heated indoor pool or visiting the ice-skating rink in town. And at the end of the day, all the family will want to sink into the Canadian hot tub, to ease out those aches and pains.