As the host of the first Winter Olympic games in Asia, Hokkaido is no stranger to competitive sports.
Hokkaido is home to numerous mountains, open waters and landscape with events all year round. The summers aren’t too hot and top-class snow in the winter months.
Whether you’re an athlete looking to push your body while taking in Hokkaido scenery or enjoy a bit of exercise while travelling, there’s an event out there for everyone.
Of course, if you prefer to watch and cheer on participants as a spectator, these events are plenty fun no matter how you participate.
Today I’d like to introduce some famous and unique events here in Hokkaido where professionals from overseas as well as children and family join in on the fun.
1. Sapporo International Ski Marathon
Held in during the coldest months of the year, The Sapporo International Ski Marathon is a cross country competition held annually at the Sapporo Dome lasting a full 50km.
Parts of the race shared with the course used during the Olympic Winter Games in 1972. As part of the FIS Worldloppet Cup, the Sapporo International Ski Marathon is on of the more difficult course with it’s constant elevation changes.
In 2017, over 120 athletes from 16 different countries came to compete in Japan’s only Worldloppet race, with over 1,500 participants.
I understand that not all of us are professional cross country skiers, and for those who just want to give a go, there are course ranging from 25 to 3km for casual cross country skiing and every year plenty of families join as well. Ages range from 2 to 89 years old, so really any can join in on dashing though the snow.
If you plan on joining, there are free rentals for people who don’t have their own pair, so don’t worry if you’re a beginner.
2. Hokkaido Marathon and Chitose JAL International Marathon
One of the few places in Japan that doesn’t get ridiculously hot in the summer, Hokkaido is also home to marathons and footraces that take advantage or the beautiful weather.
While the high humidity can be unbearable in the Kanto and particularly Kansai areas, humidity remains relatively low in Hokkaido, though it by no means makes the marathon an easy feat.
The biggest marathon held is the Hokkaido Marathon, which starts at Odori Park in Sapporo with the Sapporo TV Tower used as a giant countdown.
The course takes runners though downtown Sapporo, up to Teine Station, and all the way back to Odori park, with spectators lining the streets.
This year, Team Japan’s trials for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be held at the marathon as well!
A fun run consisting of 12.1 km is also available for those looking for a noncompetitive run.
For a more nature filled run, the Chitose HAL International Marathon held in June is a great way to see some sights while exercising. The course follows the Chitose River and loops Lake Shikoktsu with trees surrounding the path.
The time limit for the full marathon is 6 hours, which is great for those who want to go at a more comfortable pace to soak in the scenery.
Aside from the full marathon, there is a half marathon, 10km run, 3km run, and a 3km family run.
For those who get restless sitting on buses, trains, or planes, this is a great to stretch a leg with very affordable entry fees, starting at 3,100 yen for the 3km run to 6,000 yen for the full marathon.
Also, if you happen to be a competitive runner, top winners of the full and half marathons win round trip plane tickets!
3. Ban’ei Tokachi
For something more traditional to Hokkaido, there’s ban’ei, or a form of horse racing. While regular horse racing is popular all over Japan, ban’ei is a form of horse racing that involves draft horses pulling extremely heavy sleds up sand ramps making a competition of power over speed.
Originating from Tokachi region in Eastern Hokkaido, draft horses that specialize in agriculture work were put to the test for speed and mainly strength.
While ban’ei isn’t open to the general public, crowds still gather at the track to see horses drag sleds weighing from 450kg to an impressive 1 ton over 200 meters and 2 hills.
Conditions of the track are maintained manually with water to prevent excess dust and even heating for races in winter.
A one-of-a-kind race in the world, the track usually becomes filled with a festival-like atmosphere with food stands and people betting on their favorite horse to win.
4. Niseko Classic and Hokkaido Mamachari Endurance Race.
With wide roads and low rainfall in the warmer months, the conditions in Hokkaido are great for cycling as well.
For those looking to travel Hokkaido by bike, you won’t be disappointed by the smooth roads and incredible mountains.
While there are plenty of cycling tours all over the island, Hokkaido is no stranger top-tier races, like the UCI level Niseko Classic.
Watch as riders whizz though hill climbs and long stretches of asphalt lined with mountains as far as the eye can see.
The Niseko Classic is 140km International class race with a support cars and teams competing, so for those curious to see what professional cycling is all about, this event is definitely worth checking out.
You can also get a taste of what is like with fun rides that go around Mt. Yotei, also known as Ezo Fuji, or Hokkaido’s Mt. Fuji.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for something silly and a bit more fun, there’s the annual Hokkaido Mamachari Endurance Race held at Moerenuma Park in Sapporo.
What is a mamachari? Well a mamachari is the go to for the cycling public of Japan, the go to for students, salarymen, and housewives, consisting of a basket, squeaky brakes, and a laid-back position.
The Mamachari Endurance race takes the idea of the everyday bike and turns it to 11. You’ll see hard-core riders in spats with heavily modified grocery-getters to people dressing in costumes and colorful, fun bikes.
The objective is simple: form a team with your mates and see how many laps of the 4km course you can finish in 4 hours.
If you often finding yourself rushing to work or school on your bike, this may be the chance to test out your skills!
5. Rally Hokkaido
As a bonus, if you’re a petrolhead in need of a motorsports fix, there’s no need to feel left out while in Hokkaido.
The Rally Hokkaido is an international rally race that is part of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship as a world class race approved by the FiA.
Held annually in September in Tokachi region, highly tuned professional race cars blast through twisty and narrow forest roads at speeds well above any speed limit.
Rally driving usually consists of a driver and a co-driver, who gives directions on the upcoming turns in the course as drivers are gong to fast there’s no time to react and must know ahead of time what’s coming.
Teams from all over the world fly in with their race prepped cars to test the limits of man (or woman!) and machine. The combination of engineers, drivers and co-drivers are what it takes to achieve the best times.
Maybe you might see some cars you recognize, as most race cars are based off of every day cars people drive, like Mitsubishis or Subarus.
While most motorsports events usually require an admission fee, since 2008 a section relocated to Kita Aikoku is admission-free, so feel free to drop by and check out the action.
For more info, check out the links below and start training!
Sapporo International Ski Marathon: http://www.shsf.jp/ski/english/
Hokkaido Marathon: https://hokkaido-marathon.com/
Chitose JAL International Marathon: https://jtbsports.jp/en/events/events-detail.php?id=6197
Ban’ei Tokachi: http://banei-keiba.or.jp/language/index_en.php
Niseko Classic: http://nisekoclassic.com/?lang=en
Hokkaido Mamachari Endurance Race: http://www.mmcyari.com/
Rally Hokkaido: http://www.rally-hokkaido.com/en/
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