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In the winter, the city of Sapporo’s streets are permanently snow-packed, a testament to winter’s strength in Hokkaido. Luckily, you don’t need to venture far from the train station on the many heated sidewalks to find lodging and food suitable for all budgets, but the further you get, the more authentic the experience becomes.
During the day, it’s easy to sense the nearby sea, mostly because of the relative humidity and the bone-chilling cold. Arrive prepared with a trusted puffy jacket and a waterproof shell. Slipping into a restaurant or the Sapporo Beer Garden is also a great way to warm up and enjoy the amenities of a modern Japanese city, or nip into one of the numerous well-polished hotels with sentos—or Japanese spas—in the basement.
The city shines brightest at night. The snow-caked sidewalks and streets magnify the glow from the karaoke bars and clubs, while street lanterns and string lights illuminate narrow streets lined with ramen bars and convenience stores. If you plan on heading in to an authentic restaurant, make sure your shoes are easy to slip on and off, as slippered dining is de rigueur at most establishments.
Read more: World Famous Ice
Sapporo experienced a large earthquake during the summer of 2018, which left most of the nearby ski areas unscathed but did some damage to the city and its surrounds. Officials withdrew Sapporo’s bid for hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics to focus on recovery, but they plan to bid again for the games in 2030. Most of the city is still vibrant and unharmed by the quake, and after a dip in tourism this summer, residents will be more welcoming than ever to visitors in the near future. Go see for yourself.
SnowLocals Tip – Sapporo
Sapporo Lodging & Dining
There are hundreds of places to stay in Sapporo, and it’s actually pretty difficult to find one that’s not clean and welcoming at any price range. Our favorite is The Sapporo Park Hotel, a classic spot on the banks of the Toyohira river, but it can be hard to get a last-minute room during the Snow Festival.
Any trip to Sapporo requires a stop at the Sapporo Beer Garden and a bowl of noodles and buttery broth in Ramen Alley. A pint of Sapporo Classic is the perfect way to celebrate your arrival in the city—the suds are brewed with local ingredients and available exclusively in Hokkaido—and the beer garden is within walking distance from the Sapporo train station.
Between the Park Hotel and the Snow Festival grounds is the Original Ramen Alley, which features a visual and olfactory appeal that matches the taste of some of the best miso ramen we’ve ever had.
How to Sip Sake
Made from fermented rice, sake is a Japanese spirit best enjoyed warm during the cold, snowy months of winter anywhere on Hokkaido. Stop into any izakaya, or Japanese pub, and try a junshu or kunshu sake, two different types served kanshu, or warm. The alcohol content is around 20 percent for most sakes, making it a perfectly pleasant aperitif. Fill your drinking partner’s cup—and they do the same for you—and enjoy the color, aroma, and taste. With more than 1,600 sake producers in Japan, ask the bartender about his or her favorite.
Originally published in the November 2018 issue of SKI Magazine.