The backcountry terrain near Rusutsu is especially inviting when a helicopter is involved.

Looking up from the Rusutsu Hotel and Conference Center towards the West Mountain on a clear day, it’s easy for a skier’s vision to be pulled towards the wide, clean chutes spilling from the summit of Mt. Shiribetsu. Lacking visible ski tracks, the untouched avalanche paths are exactly what skiers imagine skiing in Japan is like, and it’s hard to believe they are right there in front of you.

Accessing the terrain from the ski area is off-limits, but the lines visible from the hotel—as well as a number of runs that wrap around all of Mt. Shiribetsu—are accessible via a heli-skiing operation. Thanks to an agreement with the Hokkaido Backcountry Club, Rusutsu offers daylong heli trips that include six runs on Shiribetsu’s perfect aprons and glades, which are caked in powder for most of the winter. The day also includes rental avy gear, lunch, and transportation from Niseko if you’re staying there, all for 160,000 Japanese yen, which is roughly equal to $1,400 USD.

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Considering the 2,000- to 2,500-vertical-feet runs consist of perfectly spaced trees and wide-open paths of virgin powder, it’s hard to believe that Rusutsu’s heli operation isn’t the most sought-after experience for skiers on Hokkaido. If you have the means, it’s an absolute must. 

Rusutsu Lodging and Dining

While the accommodations at the Rusutsu Hotel and Convention Center will suit most visitors, those looking for a premium option can find it at the Westin Rusutsu Resort. The hotel tower is easy to spot from the gondola that connects the West and East mountains of the ski area, and it offers luxury accommodations and a top-notch sento worth soaking in, even if you’re not staying at the hotel. While there, book a seat at the teppanyaki in the Kazahana restaurant to watch master Japanese chefs expertly prep your dinner.

Onsen Tips

Onsen in Hokkaido

This photo sounds relaxing.

Plentiful hot (and sometimes cold) springs, called onsens, are scattered throughout the volcanic mountains of Hokkaido. Almost all require that men and women stay in separate areas and for visitors to take dips strictly in their birthday suits. Hotel sentos in Sapporo and Rusutsu are a great taste of Japanese bathing culture, but the real-deal, mineral-rich onsens in small villages and mountain corners are worth seeking out after a day of skiing. Got ink? Be sure to ask each onsen about its tattoo policy before paying, or seek out kashikiri-buro, private baths that are suitable for tattoos and those uncomfortable with nude bathing around strangers.

Originally published in the November 2018 issue of SKI Magazine. Video added to digital version of the article.

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