Skiing in Japan has always been one of my biggest dreams, so when earlier this year I received an invitation from my friends Shah & Fay to join them on a ski + snowboard adventure at Rusutsu Ski Resort in Hokkaido, Japan, I couldn't resist.
This wasn't the first time I joined them on a whim; read about when we met in Chamonix, where I broke 3 ribs.
My sporty friends announced that since experiencing powdery Japanese snow ('Japow' as people call it) and its famed tree skiing for the first time in 2017, they were addicted.
This was after having made multiple loyal trips to the French Alps over the last few years. Rusutsu Resort was "amazing" and "much better than Niseko", they said.
Niseko is the name you're probably more familiar with, being the most popular ski destination in Hokkaido.
Which also means.. Niseko can get pretty CROWDED. I like to avoid crowds. If you're like me, you're gonna LOVE Rusutsu Resort! Only an hour away from Niseko, Rusutsu Resort is much smaller, less frequented by international visitors, and has more of a 'Japanese' feel.
Rusutsu supposedly also has better snow and is famed for having the best tree skiing ;)
Below you'll find an informative guide I've put together with the things you'll want to know if you're considering a ski trip to Rusutsu Resort:
RUSUTSU RESORT - ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW TO PLAN YOUR PERFECT SKI HOLIDAY
HOW TO GET TO RUSUTSU SKI RESORT
Flying into Hokkaido
Hokkaido is one of Japan's four primary/main islands. It is the northernmost island and where Rusutsu Resort is located. The capital city is Sapporo, and the major airport is New Chitose Airport (CTS). Flying is the most efficient way (cheapest + fastest) to enter Hokkaido.
Since we were in Malaysia visiting family prior to the trip, we booked direct return flights from Kuala Lumpur to Sapporo via Airasia X for RM2862. That's £542 / $693 / €629 for 2 return flights + 2 x 20kg checked bags, which was a really good deal. In case you're wondering, the flight time to Sapporo from KL is about 7 hours 30 min.
You may also want to check flight prices to Tokyo (or another major city in Japan) and then connecting to Sapporo via one of the many available options which include low-cost airlines such as Skymark, Peach and Jetstar. Prices between Tokyo and Sapporo can go as low as £40 one-way if you book early!
Chitose Airport is pretty nice. We were battered after our red-eye flight but managed to purchase a data-only SIM for our mobile phones for JPY4980 (about £35) - this was for unlimited data for 7 days. This seemed to be standard pricing. You'll see one main counter in the arrival hall advertising data SIMs for sale.
Transfer: Chitose Airport to Rusutsu Resort
We booked a shuttle (bus) transfer via BIGRUNS bus company, which is the official partner of Rusutsu Resort.
Tickets are JPY3600 (£26) per adult each way.
It's JPY3100 if you're a guest at one of the resort's 2 official hotels.
There are a couple of alternative bus/shuttle companies around but the price seems to be fixed at JPY3600, so you might as well use the official recommended provider.
The bus stops in two places at Rusutsu Resort:
- Rusutsu Resort Hotel & Convention (this is where you will stop unless you're staying at the Westin)
- Westin Hotel Rusutsu
The ride should take between 1 - 1.5 hours.
FREE Transfer: Sapporo City to Rusutsu Resort
Good news! Rusutsu Resort offers a daily FREE bus shuttle service that connects Sapporo City (near the JR train station) to Rusutsu Resort.
You should still make a booking online to ensure a seat on the bus (Click here to book).
This is most convenient for day-trippers from Sapporo City, or anyone planning a stop in Sapporo before or after ski trip in Rusutsu.
This free shuttle only runs ONCE a day on each leg, as follows:
Sapporo --> Rusutsu: 8am
Rusutsu --> Sapporo : 5pm
Should these times not suit your schedule, you can also take the local bus which operates that route. It's JPY2140 each way.
RUSUTSU SKI RESORT ESSENTIAL INFORMATION
- Total number of trails: 37
- Total length: 42km / 26 miles
- Three mountains: East Mountain, West Mountain, Mount Isola
- Longest run: 3.5km / 2.2 miles
- 18 lifts
- One of the largest ski areas in Hokkaido
- Off-piste, tree skiing available
- Night skiing every night on West Mountain during peak season
- Great for beginners
Lift Passes & Tickets
The pricing system at Rusutsu Resort is really flexible, offering 4-hour, 6-hour, and 1-day tickets, as well as the usual multi-day passes up to 7 days.
One of the best things about Rusutsu Resort is that it's just the one resort there, which makes things simple - one pass covers the whole area and that's it. No separate areas with different pricing combinations etc ie no need for those mental Venn diagrams trying to figure things out.
Here is a rough guide to the pricing for 1 adult based on the 2019/2020 winter season and their conversions to USD and GBP based on the exchange rate at the time of writing (Nov 2019):
You can also purchase a night-skiing-only ticket that's valid from 4pm - 8pm. This is the cheapest available ticket you can get at JYP2800!
Lift tickets and passes can be bought at the ticket counters at the main resort building (Rusutsu Resort Hotel & Convention). It was not too busy when we were therein February / lines weren't an issue. If this isn't your starting point, you can also purchase lift tickets at East Mountain or West Mountain,
Once you have obtained an 'IC card' (on which your lift ticket/pass will be programmed), you will be able to recharge it online for your next visit - and trust me you will want to go back!
NO DEPOSITS are required for lift passes.
We LOVED being able to ski at during the night - it was a totally different atmosphere and knowing that we could stay on the slopes until 8pm every day let us be more relaxed during the day.
Night skiing is usually open until the end of March but the start date will depend on snow conditions.
NOTE: Night skiing is only available on the West Mountain, which is the area closest to/directly connected to the resort building. It's less adventurous/more aimed at beginners than the East Mountain or Mount Isola.
So the area that you can ski at night is slightly limited but still good for practising those turns!
^Rusutsu Resort has a few fun and quirky features, such as a singing tree and.. this double-story German carousel near the entrance. Rides are free!
Ski & Snowboard Equipment Rental / Hire
We haven't reached the stage where we would have our own skis/snowboards yet (a day I'm looking forward to!), so we rented these. Plus poles, boots, helmets, and goggles.
We were travelling light and spending a lot of time in hot climates in Asia during that period, so we also rented a jacket + pants set each.
We found the entire rental process to be really organised (well, we were in Japan after all) and all clothing and equipment to be very well kept and maintained. The items were of good quality and most importantly (to me), everything felt clean! They stock two brands: Salomon and Atomic.
Renting equipment directly from Rusutsu Ski Resort is really convenient since access to the slopes is close by. But admittedly, it is also kind of pricey.
To give you an idea, to rent a standard 3-piece ski set (skis, poles, boots) or 2-piece snowboard set (snowboard, boots) from Rusutsu Resort for 3 days will set you back JPY15,700.
That's USD144 / £113.
SWAPPING BETWEEN GEAR
Since we both snowboard AND ski, we swapped our gear halfway through the week. We started with skis and then moved over to snowboards.
It costs JPY1000 per swap.
There are a number of lockers adjacent to the rental centre. These are reserved for Rusutsu Resort hotel guests, who can use them for free.
If you're not a hotel guest, there are also coin-operated lockers that you can use for about JPY300-400.
We used a locker store our equipment all week, so we wouldn't have to drag those heavy things to and from our accommodation every time.
If you don't have your own gear and must rent, there is a shop across the road from the main resort building called Amuse Sports. They stock Rossignol and Burton.
Their price for 3-day rental for the same example (above): JPY11,500.
Even better, if you book online early enough (this means until the end of November), you get even lower prices. This is valid only for rentals of 5 days or more.
Rusutsu Resort Ski School & Lessons
I highly recommend this!
Rusutsu Resort is very beginner-friendly; it is a great place to learn if you're just starting out.
It was only Ricardo's second time in his life doing either skiing or snowboarding, and he managed super well! But I must say he is a fast learner - we were on the black trails together by day 3!
I'm a firm believer in 1:1 teaching (or in this case 2:1), so I arranged for us to have a private ski lesson on our first day. Our instructor was a lady called Belle who was from New Zealand. She gave us so many great tips!
Having this lesson really helped us improve rapidly and build our confidence on the slopes! I always make sure to book lessons at the start of the trip so we can start applying new knowledge straightaway.
When we swapped to snowboards, we had another private lesson. This time with an English girl called Georgina who was enthusiastic and encouraging.
We received a lot of useful, personal feedback which helped us fix little errors in our positioning and stance. It's amazing how a small change can produce such a huge difference in performance.
So again, I highly recommend booking at least one lesson if you really want to level-up your skills!
RUSUTSU RESORT LESSON INFO
Each lesson we did was 2 hours long.
Price for a private instructor for 2 hours:
1 person: JPY22,000 / USD202 / £158
2-4 people: JPY33000 / USD302 / £236
These figures may seem a bit steep but I assure you the improvement you'll experience is so worth it!
Prices vary depending on if you're 1 person or 2-4 people, and lessons can be booked for 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 hours.
Prices are the same whether you ski or snowboard.
Lessons can be booked online using the link below!
At the moment, group lessons at Rusutsu Ski Resort are only available for kids (aged up to 14).
^Left: Mt Yotei in the background / Right: The Westin Rusutsu can be seen at sunset
Projection Mapping Lights Show
During our trip, the friendly staff at Rusutsu Resort insisted we try to catch the lights show that was happening every night at the main building. This was a bit tricky as the show started at 9pm and we'd usually be having dinner at that time.
But one evening we had dinner a little early and came back to see it and I'm glad we did! It was a spectacular projection of vivid, colourful celestial images against the enormous glass wall of the resort hotel.
We had a lot of fun! Definitely try to make the effort if you're in Rusutsu.
The lights show will run every evening from 8.30pm, three times in a row. Each show lasts 12 minutes.
For the 2019/2020 season, the show will tell the story of 'Ainu' and showcase the Hokkaido's wildlife and natural beauty.
FOOD / RESTAURANTS / EATING OUT
Rusutsu is a small village, so you're not going to find too many options when it comes to eating out.
Rusutsu Resort Restaurants
Rusutsu Resort itself has about 10 restaurants on-site, spread across their hotels and grounds. These restaurants are generally on the expensive side and it is advisable to book a table in advance if you plan on dining at these restaurants as they are often full.
Unfortunately, we didn't try any of them as we had sumptuous breakfasts and dinners provided by our accommodation (which I will come to shortly).
Eating on the Slopes
During lunch we would often be on the slopes, so we ate at any one of the resort's four 'mountain cafeterias', which are all pretty similar to each other, offering a variety of Japanese dishes.
The prices at the cafes were affordable, and it was really soul-satisfying to be able to have a hot bowl of ramen on a cold day. As an example, we paid JPY980 for a bowl of miso ramen. That's USD9 or £7!
Restaurants Outside the Resort
There are a handful of restaurants and izakayas (informal Japanese pubs) along the main road outside the resort - if you look on Google Maps or Tripadvisor you'll be able to see some. I recommend booking a table in advance where possible!
We managed to have a meal at Izakaya Tanpopo (after reading a few excellent reviews online) on our last evening in Rusutsu which proved to be a treat - delicious food in a cosy yet lively atmosphere. HIGHLY RECOMMEND! Our meal including cocktails came to about £50 for 2 people.
A good way to save on your expenses is to stock up on snacks and other food items at one of the two convenience stores available across the road from the resort.
You have two options: 7-11 or Seicomart.
We preferred 7-11 and found it to have more variety and generally better quality snacks.
If you've ever been to a Japanese convenience store, you'll know that you'll be able to find the most delicious snack items including hot food and desserts. I loved the soft Japanese cheesecakes and fizzy, alcoholic grape and peach canned drinks the most.
We were in 7-11 almost every night!
If you need cash, there is an ATM inside the 7-11. Strangely enough, we did not see any ATMs in the Rusutsu Resort buildings.
WHERE TO STAY / CHEAP RUSUTSU ACCOMMODATION
Accommodation in Rusutsu is expensive.
When I first started planning our trip, I remember feeling a bit discouraged after looking at prices for Rusutsu accommodation. Prices were generally high and options limited.
The Rusutsu Resort Hotel sounded amazing and offered ski-in/ski-out facilities, but I wasn't prepared to pay upwards of £300/USD400 a night. I thought it was better to spend this money on private lessons :p
The Westin Rusutsu across the road looked fancy and cool.. but came with an even heftier price-tag. Don't get me wrong - if I could afford it, I'd be spending my entire week at the Westin! Anyways..
If you have money:
FOR THE REST OF US... let's carry on.
The affordable accommodation options essentially comprise a handful of small hotels called 'pensions' spread across the Rusutsu area. This means considering staying a little farther away from Rusutsu Resort itself.
Here are some 'cheap and good' alternatives I found:
(prices quoted are based on a February 2020 stay):
This was the cheapest Rusutsu accommodation I could find, mainly because they offer dormitory style rooms and shared bathrooms.
In fact, it's pretty much the only low-budget option in Rusutsu especially if you don't have a car.
You can get a bed/futon for £36/night.
Pros: Lowest prices in town. Great for groups.
Cons: It's 3km from Rusutsu Resort. You'll have to take a bus/taxi.
PENSION LILLA HUSET
This is a slightly nicer place than Chise House, and the best part about it is the location, which is right opposite Rusutsu Resort Hotel & Convention.
A twin room with shared bathroom is £140/night including breakfast.
They also have a couple of 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom apartments (with ensuite bathroom) if you're willing to spend a bit more.
Pros: Great location. Close to gondola & convenience stores.
Cons: Sells out very fast
This appears to be a lovely-looking lodge-style accommodation that's also walking distance from Rusutsu Resort.
A double room with shared bathroom starts from £129/night.
Pros: Location, price
Cons: Probably sold out
A farmhouse-style accommodation a little farther from the resort - about a 15 min walk. The hosts provide a shuttle service in the mornings and evenings. You can also get dinner prepared for an additional fee.
A twin room with shared bathroom is £189 including breakfast.
Pros: Good food options, shuttle service
Cons: Still need a shuttle to resort
^View of the Rusutsu Resort Amusement Park, which operates during summer season
If all fails, there is also a small selection of private rooms and other 'pensions' available on Airbnb.
Make sure to use the map and zoom in closer on the actual Rusutsu Resort, as when you search for the location 'Rusutsu Resort' it will tend to show you results for the larger surrounding area that extends into Niseko.
Sign up for Airbnb with my link to get £25/€30 off your first booking!
Keep reading to see where we stayed in Rusutsu:
OUR TOP PICK FOR RUSUTSU ACCOMMMODATION
I’m excited about reaching this point in the article, as we really lucked out on this one. I’m also feeling proud of my efforts in finding affordable accommdoation.
After searching hard and realising that not all ‘pensions’ are clearly listed on English websites, I found THE BEST PLACE TO STAY (if you’re on a budget/don't have bucketloads of money to spend):
PENSION YAMADA - OUR REVIEW
This was a total steal in Rusutsu at JPY7000 per person per night including breakfast AND dinner!
That’s just over £50 pp/pn. I repeat: including breakfast & dinner.
Ricardo and I had a room to ourselves. Our friend Kym who joined had a single room for herself for the same price.
I’ve forgotten how exactly I came to know about Pension Yamada, but I remember seeing a few vague reviews on TripAdvisor and that their website was completely in Japanese. Most importantly – there was no online booking available anywhere.
I quickly realised that Pension Yamada offered the best value-for-money accommodation that wasn’t too far from the resort. I had to book it.
I asked my friend Tomoko in Kagoshima ring up to make a reservation for me – no deposit needed. If you have a Japanese-speaking friend, now is the time to make use of them!
Related post (where I met Tomoko): How to Have Fun in Kagoshima
Cons: No online booking
TO BOOK: Call +81 136-46-3427
^Our humble but comfortable room
Why We Love Pension Yamada
- FOOD: Mrs Yamada served up the most plentiful and delicious, home-cooked Japanese meals that were different every night!
- Private 'onsen' in the downstairs bathroom - small but enough.
- Really clean and comfortable rooms.
- I'm usually a bit concerned about shared bathrooms, but the facilities here were spotless (and cleaner than some of the bathrooms I've seen in other people's homes).
- Of course, there are heated toilet seats!
- Green tea available 24/7.
- Close enough to Rusutsu Resort to walk (about 10 minutes), although Mr Yamada will offer lifts.
^An example of what we would get for breakfast (top) and dinner (bottom)
Eating well is so so important on a ski holiday.
Those sumptuous breakfasts kept us going for hours every morning. In the evenings, the promise of a hot, nutritious dinner on arrival made sure we still walked with some excitement towards our temporary home in Rusutsu, even though our bodies were often sore and tired.
Again, I would like to say that Pension Yamada is the best place to stay in Rusutsu considering the price, location, and facilities!
RUSUTSU RESORT - OUR VIDEO
We made a fun compilation of videos we took during our trip, which should give you a much better idea of our experience!
We filmed predominantly with a GoPro camera mounted on a helmet.
Watching it now makes me feel nostalgic - I miss everything, including the motivational sound effects that came out of the ATMs that made you feel like you won a prize at a carnival.
Out of the 7-8 countries I've skied/snowboarded in before, Rusutsu Resort in Japan easily tops my (not that big) list. Absolutely loved it. It was everything I expected and more. Except the weather could've been a bit more snowy - we had the misfortune of too-sunny weather towards the end, haha.
It's true - skiing in Japan irreversibly spoils you and leaves you longing for more every year!
We don't know where we'll be hitting the slopes yet this season, but hopefully, we can return to Rusutsu Resort again (so we can make a better video :p).
I hope this post has given you some useful information so you can plan the best ski/snowboard holiday in Rusutsu Resort - feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions!
Disclosure: Our experience was made possible in collaboration with Rusutsu Resort, who provided our transfers, lift passes, equipment rental, and 1 x private lesson.
As always, all thoughts and recommendations are my own unless otherwise stated.