Slide past the large, startling, robotic talking tree and the fun-park vibe at the base to discover Niseko-like powder and a mountain on the move.
Rusutsu is a theme park and golf-course resort in summer, which converts to a three-mountain ski resort in winter. Just 40min from Niseko on the east side of Mount Yotei, it’s actually Hokkaido’s largest single ski resort (given that Niseko is four resorts).
First impressions may be of the talking tree, indoor carousel and robotic animal-character dixie band at the base hotel (this is Japan kitsch unleashed), but beyond this are the discoveries of world-class tree-glade skiing, fewer crowds than at Niseko, epic views of Mount Yotei and Lake Toya, and access to Shiribetsu-Dake for those wishing to bag a major peak in the area.
So who comes here? It’s a combination of Japanese school groups, families and people looking for a destination resort with everything in one place. The newer arrivals are from Niseko looking for the next fresh line.
Once off the international radar, Rusutsu now has a slightly more expensive lift pass than Niseko. Accommodation may be cheaper but the opening of the luxe Vale Rusutsu is an indicator that prices are on the move.
Most people stay within Rusutsu Resort Hotel & Convention, which has its own bars and restaurants, meaning other nightlife and dining options are limited. However, there is a small village several minutes’ walk away with an ‘izakaya strip’ (small bars) where eateries are small, inexpensive and popular, with friendly owners keen to communicate with foreigners – even when limited to just kampai (cheers). You’ll find more exposure to local culture here than in Niseko.
- Elevation top: 994m (3261ft)
- Elevation bottom: 400m (1312ft)
- Vertical drop: 594m (1949ft)
- Skiable terrain: 2.12 sq km (524 acres)
- Longest run: 3.5km (2.2mi)
- Beginner terrain: 30 per cent
- Intermediate terrain: 40 per cent
- Advanced terrain: 30 per cent
- Lifts: 18
The 1850m (1.2mi) Heavenly Canyon, a wide-open gulley with a fun half-pipe shape and excellent tree skiing off the edges. Situated along a stream, this trail is a natural wind-blown power pocket.
Skiing through the snow-covered summertime amusement park on West mountain is a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else. On Sundays in Jan and Feb, 60 people are shuttled over to Mount Isola for first tracks; purchase tickets in the Rusutsu Resort Hotel & Convention.
Schuss to Mount Isola as fast as you can on powder mornings. And if you’re driving over from Niseko, purchase passes online as the ticket-office queues can be lengthy.
THE MOUNTAIN DEBRIEF
Most of the lodging is on West Mountain which, while shorter and smaller, has some of the steeper runs and great tree skiing on the (slightly slow) West Tiger Pair. The beginner terrain on this side is also fantastic and the Shin Chan kids area is perfect to get little ones started.
A gondola links West Mountain and East Mountain, which has some dreamy fall line groomers, a small-but-fun terrain park, as well as steep tree-runs heading over towards Mount Isola. From East Mountain, you can connect to Mount Isola, the largest mountain of the three and famed for its tree skiing.
For backcountry, West Mountain extends outside the resort up the ridgeline to Shiribetsu-Dake, which encompasses excellent steeps and backcountry terrain on all aspects.
This resort has a rare feature where the lifts run up the gullies, and pistes run down the ridgelines – with stellar views. You can ski off most piste areas, into the gullies and funnel out back to the lifts.
A RIDING ITINERARY
Catch a coffee at Daniel Street Cafe and Pastry (rusutsu.com) – the choux (cream puffs) are delicious! Warm up on the West Mountain with Eva and Bambi reds before taking on the steep groomed black of Dynamic, which runs from the summit to the amusement park at the foot, giving the unique experience of skiing down the mountain straight toward a Ferris wheel.
Rip through the trees around the black runs Tiger and Natural. Then take the gondola over to East Mountain; the red runs of East Tignes along the ridge line and open East Vivaldi have spectacular views, and Super East double-black bumps are an energy blast to finish the morning.
Pit stop at Cafeteria Steamboat (rusutsu.com) which has an independent cafe with great espresso and snacks (avoid the machine coffee at the cafeteria).
In the afternoon, explore the furthest reaches of Mount Isola on the cruisey groomers of Heavenly View; perhaps challenge yourself with some powder skiing just off the runs. Or try either of the Steamboat parallel pistes and dive in between for deep pow skiing into the Steamboat gull.
Heli-skiing (hokkaidobackcountryclub.com) on the adjacent Shiribetsu-Dake is one of the ultimate Hokkaido experiences, where slopes are 20 to 40 degrees (a typical Japan black is 32 degrees).
- Look for local operators to go snow rafting, towed in an inflatable boat behind a snowmobile; be your own musher on a dog sled around a 250m track.
- Take a dip in the Westin’s Kotobuki onsen with its 20m (66ft) outdoor bath, plus an indoor bath with floor-to‑ceiling windows.
EAT UP & DRINK DOWN
- The main hotel has eateries including a buffet, cafe, izakaya (small bar), French, Italian, and Japanese – for sushi, Sekkatei (rusutsu.com) is the pick.
- Atrium in the Westin is the best spot for lunch (but requires taking the chairlift) and Rodeo Drive (rusutsu.gr.jp) is a delicious independent izakaya close by.
- The Cricketers Bar in the main hotel makes its own Rusutsu Love craft beer.
- Pirateman Izakaya (stayrusutsu.com) is just along the road from the resort and is the drinking spot of choice for international employees (with an Italian coffee machine).
- Yotei is an izakaya that also has karaoke.
- The Rusutsu Resort Hotel & Convention (rusutsu.com) by West Mountain, is perfect for families and offers good value and incorporates a swimming pool, waterslide, bars, restaurants, shopping and indoor theme‑park attractions.
- The luxurious Westin Rusutsu Resort (marriott.com) is a short chairlift ride to the more challenging East Mountain and Mount Isola (also connected by monorail to Rusutsu Resort Hotel & Convention).
- The new Vale Rusutsu (nisade.com) by West Mountain, is spectacular – but with no supermarket nearby, you’ll need to stock up in Rusutsu town.
Hoshino Resort’s Tomamu will easily entertain families and dedicated power hounds. Located in eastern Hokkaido, there’s the Ice Village, Mina Mina Beach, with the largest indoor beach and wave pool in Japan, and cat ski tours over to Mount Karifuri.
This is an edited extract from Ultimate Skiing & Snowboarding by Flip Byrnes, published by Hardie Grant Explore. Available in stores nationally. Photography: Rusutsu Resort.