Skiing is big in Sapporo, site of the 1972 Winter Olympics and easily accessible by plane from many cities in Japan -- there are slopes within city limits and more than a dozen skiing areas less than 2 hours away, most open from early December to late April. On the west edge of town are Okurayama Jump Hill and Miyanomori Jump Hill, both sites of the 1972 Winter Olympics. Here, too, is the Sapporo Bankei Ski Area (tel. 011/641-0071), just 20 minutes from downtown Sapporo and popular for after-work and night skiing (it stays open to 10pm). You can reach them by subway to Maruyama Koen Station, followed by a 15-minute bus ride. Just 2.5km (1 1/2 miles) south of Sapporo Station is Nakajima Park (Station: Nakajima Koen), with free use of cross-country skis in winter.
Farther afield to the west, the Sapporo Teine ski areas (tel. 011/682-6000) were the sites of the alpine, bobsled, and toboggan events for the Olympics. A lift joins the two areas, creating Hokkaido's longest run (6km/3 3/4 miles). A 4-hour, 6-hour, or 1-day lift pass costs ¥3,500, ¥3,900, or ¥4,800 respectively; ski-rental equipment is available from ¥4,950 in the day and ¥3,000 at night. Snowboarding gear costs ¥4,950 per day. Keep in mind that gear sizes are generally smaller than in the West (ski boots up to 30cm, size 12 in the U.S., and snowboard boots up to 28.5cm, size 10 1/2 in the U.S.). Take the JR Ishikari Liner train from Sapporo Station 20 minutes to Teine Station and then take JR bus no. 70 another 19 minutes to Teine Olympia-mae.
Niseko (www.niseko.ne.jp and www.niseko.gr.jp), 90km (56 miles) and a 3 1/2-hour bus ride west of Sapporo, is considered by our skiing and snowboarding friends as the best ski resort in Hokkaido for its fine powder, extensive night skiing, and hot-spring spas (it's also very popular with Aussies wishing to ski in their off season). Three skiing regions (An'nupuri, Niseko Village, and Grand Hirafu/Hanazono), joined by a network of some 60 runs, 38 gondolas and lifts, and shuttle buses that provide easy exploration of the different areas, offer a variety for skiers of all levels. An 8-hour lift ticket costs ¥4,900, with rental prices comparable to those at Teine. To get there, reserve a seat with Chuo (tel. 011/231-0500) or Donan (tel. 011/865-5511 or 0123/46-5701) bus company; both go to Niseko from either Chitose Airport or Sapporo Station and cost ¥3,850. Alternatively, you can also go by JR Niseko Express train (operating daily from mid-Dec through mid-Feb) from Sapporo Station to Niseko in about 2 hours, followed by a shuttle bus. JR offers a great "Tebura Skip" Niseko package, costing ¥5,500 for the Niseko Express train or ¥4,500 for a local train (available mid-Feb to mid-Mar) that includes the round-trip train and shuttle bus from Sapporo, an 8-hour lift ticket, and ski or snowboard rental with boots. For more information on skiing around Sapporo, stop by the Hokkaido-Sapporo Tourist Information Center in Sapporo Station or go to www.snowjapan.com.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.