Introducing Sapporo Teine, a 40° slice of Rockies heaven transplanted to Asia’s snowiest landmass
Buckle up, sugar lump! Do that weird stretchy thing with your back and bang those gloves together like a big-mountain slayer, because this is the most exciting Little Hill we’ve featured since Powderhorn, the awesome Colorado tiddler that inspired this section.
Why? The steeps, the steeps! I’ve been coming and falling in love with the mega-snowy Japanese north island of Hokkaido for each of the past five seasons. And while the powder wipes the floor with Europe (as well as North America most years), the culture is nifty and the lift passes cheap (a six-hour Teine pass costs just £30). The only fly in the ointment is the lack of decent fall-lines.
Mostly you’re in the trees, ripping mellow faces, having the time of your life thanks to all the joyous face shots, rather than thinking: this pitch is ferocious, better tighten my boots a notch and pay attention.
In more than 20 weeks’ skiing all of the island’s best known stuff – Niseko, Rusutsu, Furano, Tomamu, Kiroro, Kamui, Sahoro and Asahidake – I’ve found nothing to match Teine’s Kitakabe in this regard, a 40° slice of Rockies heaven transplanted to Asia’s snowiest landmass.
The first time you catch sight of these north-facing slots from the Summit Express chair, or the bottom of the reassuringly vertical Olympic course (that held the women’s GS back in 1972), you get that familiar flutter in the stomach.
Lots of snow in the mountains?❄? 白い世界。 樹氷。 雪をみているだけで、 心が洗われて〜? 2日間充実したスキー時間でした(о´∀`о) #北海道 #札幌 #サッポロテイネ #樹氷 #スキーガール #スキー女子 #冬 #スキー大好き #山頂は別世界 #今日は風が強かった #白い世界 #hokkaido #sapporo #sapporoteine #skigirl #skiseason #friends #atree
By the second lap you dip into the nicely spaced silver birches under the lift once the safety tape evaporates (and the cliff risk ends) and think: why is all of Sapporo not here, we’re just 40 minutes from downtown and this is… fantastic!
Then, by the third rotation, you squirrel round the peak and find the entrance to freeride Narnia that gives access from the maximum height, and decide: this really is… rather mind-blowing.
If that sounds a bit much, like someone’s been at the saké, I quite understand. But the view is incredible as you watch the waves crash in against Japan’s fourth-largest city. Combine this with at last finding proper steeps to team with Hokkaido’s legendary snowfall (Teine averages a Europe-busting 10.6m per annum), and it’s a mightily heady mix.
Travis, my trusty Japanese-dwelling ski pal, and I thought we’d done it all in recent seasons, from skiing volcanoes to touring mythical peaks, to staying in resorts where skyscrapers flash from the hillside like giant light sabres (hello Tomamu).
But checking our beacons, slope devilishly rolling away under our feet, with Sapporo’slate afternoon lights starting to twinkle below, really did feel a match for it all.
Mandatory drops, slots with sneaks, tight trees, pillows – plus a more conservative yet in places still very steep top-to-bottom option – it really does have it all. And then link back up, no poling required, with the cut run called Natural that deposits you alongside the chairlift once more.
I particularly like the way the zone’s so very low-key. I’d read nothing about it on any websites, nor seen it mentioned at Highlands (the mountain’s upper base, with Olympia the lower, more-beginner area), while even the resort map conveniently ignores it.
All this means that unless you’re a local, or stumble upon the entry gate with all your avy gear (definitely necessary) it stays wonderfully clear of traffic.
Yes, we were there on a weekday, in OK rather than amazing January conditions, but two hours’ exploring and just one skier spotted is definitely a pattern I’d like to see repeated in other sidecountry spots this strong and easy to access.
So should I win the Lottery sometime soon, you’ll find me here, having taken over the mothballed gondola station that’s Kitakabe’s main landmark, and a very useful sighter spot. I plan to make the faded tram that appears permanently docked at the top station my bedroom, and enjoy Hokkaido’s finest steeps and lustiest views.
Yes, like so much of this part of the world, it’s not tall (rearing up from near sea level and topping out at just 1023m), nor is it huge (with just ten lifts and a dozen or so marked trails) but boy is it mighty.
So good that if you visit the snow factory that is Hokkaido, you must break from the usual Niseko/Furano pattern and try it. I wish I’d come sooner.