Hokkaido has gained recognition in the last decade as the place to be for powder skiing and snowboarding and my last trip to Niseko did indeed show the possibilities. I would be visiting Niseko once again with my ski buddies and by chance I would arrive in Japan a few days earlier. Coupled with the new SPG properties opening up in Hokkaido, I stayed 2 nights at Kiroro to experience another new ski resort to be reviewed here. Kiroro is located closer to Sapporo than Niseko or Rusutsu and that would also mean a shorter transfer time to get to the resort.
To get to Kiroro, there are direct buses from Sapporo’s Chitose airport, or if visitors have a rail pass, they could take the train to Otaru Chikko station (one stop before Otaru main station) and wait for scheduled buses that shuttles hotel guest and skiers between the station and Kiroro resort. Just be sure to get off at the Sheraton Kiroro or the Mountain Center stop and not at The Kiroro Tribute Portfolio Hotel.
CHAIRLIFTS & GONDOLAS
As far as lift infrastructure goes, Kiroro is quite decent for a mid-sized ski resort since they have a base to peak gondola to Asari Peak, a total of 4 quad express chairlifts, one of which operates for the night skiing.
There are also 3 dual chairlifts on the Asari and Yoichi mountain side. Like the other Hokkaido resorts I have been to, the chairlifts have a hood to shield skiers from the snow and winds. Another feature that is beneficial to beginners is the enclosed station for the major ski lifts with gentle slopes to alight from. That certainly reduces the number of people falling.
However during night skiing, the Center Express chairlift got stuck and I was left on the chairlift for a whole 15 minutes without moving. It can get pretty cold especially at night. On that basis, I figured they need some maintenance training for the ski lifts.
COST & VALUE
Ski gear rental starts from ¥10,000 (~$90) for performance gear per day but additional days decrease substantially like most ski resorts. Gear rental here was of a good value since the resort does have some new gear. Though it might be best to reserve with the rental store in advance for powder skis and boards since they do not seem to have much of them when I was there. Hokkaido is after all famous for its powder skiing and boarding!
Lift tickets here are quite affordable as like many Japanese ski resorts, they sell 5 hour and 7 hour tickets on top of daily ones. A 5-hour ticket on peak season was ¥4,300 (~$39) while an evening ticket is cheaper at ¥3,500 (~$32). Even a full-day ticket should skiers have the energy to brave the night skiing, the ticket price was ¥5,500 (~$50). One of the best value in my opinion considering there was never any queue even on this New Year’s weekend that I visited.
For a mid-sized resort, this ski resort does have plenty of runs for beginners. As usual most of the learner areas are located at the base around the Center Express chairlift station. Parents not skiing could certainly observe the lessons from the cafeteria.
Kiroro is otherwise very nice for beginners since it does have a green run from the summit to the base, called the Asari Panorama run. The mid-mountain around Yoichi peak are several short green marked runs that are served by 2 dual chairlifts.
Even the other side of the mountain at Nagamine, beginners also have an easy wide terrain to improve on their techniques from the top of Nagamine. So far, this resort is definitely a place beginners would want to visit for its gentle slopes and extensive terrain where beginners can explore the mountain on.
For the intermediate skiers, this place is also amazing since there are nearly no bounds in this resort. Granted there are some black-marked runs but they seems to be suitable even for intermediates under the right conditions as the resort is not that steep overall.
Some of the best lines in the resort would be skiing down to the base from the top of Asari or Nagamine peak. The ride from Asari has less crowds when I was there and features some nice slopes. Halfway there was also the powder zone for those who wants deeper terrain. The one from Nagamine peak was quite flat in the middle and has more crowds in the bottom half as it caters to beginners as well.
Intermediate skiers would also be able to enjoy the night skiing around the Center Course, thus I would encourage skiers to explore the Nagamine section and stay around the Asari peak area in the day, leaving the Center Course ski area for night time if they want to explore the whole mountain.
The expert runs in Kiroro are usually moguls course, with a major one around the Nagamine No. 2 Express chairlift. Otherwise there is the backcountry terrain and tree run in between the piste that adventurous skiers could try out.
Even if you are not adventurous, the skiing in Kiroro is good enough as there are lots of powder in January as it was skiing in all 3 days that I stayed there.
I did not try the main terrain park in Kiroro, but the resort has one located along Yoichi Course 1A, coming down the red run from Yoichi peak. What I did enjoy was the ‘wave’ course that the resort setup at the base of the green-marked Nagamine course just past the bridge and tunnel feature that marks the middle of the Nagamine Peak to Base run.
The terrain in Kiroro is again very enjoyable and the little features like the ‘Wave’ course does enhance the resort versus other similar sized ski resorts.
For a mid-sized Japanese ski resort, there are several on-mountain lodges here. At the base of the Yoichi ski area where there are no return to the village, the resort have added a mountain hut rest are with toilets. Then there is the Mountaintop Asari View restaurant and lodge at the top of the Kiroro Gondola, along with the Nagamine Hut ‘Crest’ that is located between the 2 express quad chairlifts that service the Nagamine ski area. Both of these lodges have a restaurant and cafe catering to skiers for lunch.
FOOD & BEVERAGES
Like the other Japanese ski resorts, the cafeterias serve mainly Japanese cuisine like Pork Katsu (cutlet) curry and Ramens being the staple. While I did not visit the Cafe Crest at Nagamine or the Asari View Restaurant at the peak, I had lunch at the Cafeteria located in the Mountain Center that was connected to the Sheraton hotel.
The cafeteria can get quite crowded during lunch time and the time when most of the chairlifts close. In fact, one could even say the Cafeteria Lumiere is probably the aprés-ski venue in Kiroro! The food in the resort is fantastic and one of the reasons I like about skiing in Japan. My prawn curry rice costs me only ¥1,240 (~$11) and while the prawn quantity is not generous, the quality was amazing as it was 2 huge prawns. I thought it was a good value since $11 does not even get you a burger in most ski resorts.
As I have mentioned before, there are only 2 full service hotels in Kiroro, with one being The Kiroro, a Tribute Portfolio hotel and a Sheraton and both are members of the SPG program. Thus they are easily accessible on points. However it is also possible for skiers to rent a car and stay in the nearby town of Otaru. I have also had friends who stayed in Niseko and drive over here to ski for the day.
Staying in the resort is a fantastic option for families since there are a wide range of amenities like convenience stores, gaming arcades, restaurants and hot spring baths. There are also a ski and snowboard store along with a tuning and wax shop beside it. Both of them are located by the Mountain Center and relatively easy to find. Otherwise lockers and storage are also plentiful in the Mountain Center for day trippers.
Because the resort does not have much accommodation options, there tend to be a lot of day skiers. This means the Mountain Center and the night skiing tends to be quiet with less people as the other lift operations winds down. The night time skiing is also not particularly geared for beginners as they are both red runs with the beginners restricted to the Family course area.
Thus for those who likes to party after a day on the slopes, they might as well find an izakaya bar in Otaru and stay overnight there.
Since it was snowing all day I visited, there was no nice summit views from the resort. Though I am quite sure the view from the Asari Peak is beautiful. Both the peaks can be shrouded in fog when it snows so the visibility can be poor on the slopes in these area as well. If I am not wrong, skiers should be able to see the sea from the top of Nagamine on clear days. Thus come here for spring skiing (March to April) to enjoy the views, but visit in winter (Late December to February) for the powder.
With the night skiing and relatively lower cost, Kiroro Snow World is highly recommended for beginners so they can progress and take advantage of the vast amount of terrain that caters to their skill level. That is not to say intermediate and advanced skiers cannot enjoy this resort as there are plenty of nice ski runs that they could enjoy as well, like the Powder zone and the Wave course if things starts to get boring at the end.
Kiroro’s proximity to Sapporo and easy access including the free shuttle bus from Otaru Chikko makes it one of the most convenient ski resorts in Hokkaido to visit. With the famed Hokkaido powder snow, this resort is just wonderful to cap off any Hokkaido winter vacation!