02.18 2019

To the Ski Slopes by Subway! No Car No Problem!

Just the past couple days Hokkaido was hit with yet another wave of powder snow and once again the streets of Sapporo were covered in a blanket of white. Such is the normal occurrence of life in the snowy country. While it may be a pain to deal with on the day to the day, and even treacherous to walk on sometimes, the trade off is of course great skiing and snowboarding! Of course areas like Niseko, Rusutsu, and Furano have become world-class resorts and seen hundreds of guests every year, but they require extensive driving or long bus rides and to be honest, not much to do other than snow sports.

But what happens if you’re on a tight budget? Don’t have much time? Not even a full day? Well worry not, in Sapporo there are plenty of easy to reach and affordable ski resorts, welcome to all sorts of plans. Being one of the snowiest metropolitans in the world, Sapporo has a specialty in that there are plenty of buses and subway to bring you to your destination without having to worry about renting a car or driving on snow roads.

Within Sapporo, there are plenty of well known ski resorts, Kokusai, Teine, BanKei, etc. Today I will be introducing a lesser known resort called Onze. Compared to Kokusai, Teine, and BanKei, Onze is a little further away, edging closer to Otaru, but with the subway and free shuttle bus, you can reach the slopes within an hour!

Living in Sapporo I had the luxury of borrowing equipment from friends, which helped cut my costs significantly, but you can also find places to rent in town or just rent at the ski resort, though it may be a bit more expensive. With a challenge of half a day, I decided to see if it would be possible to enjoy some great powder snow on a budget and time limit, and I’d say it was a success! I was able to head out around 8:30 am, snowboard for about 2 hours, eat lunch, and return back into town all by 2:15 pm. If you plan to mainly stay in Sapporo, this is a great choice as you don’t have to change lodging, and of course feel free to stay longer at the ski resort!

Waking up nice and early, I headed to the subway station Kita 18 on the Nanboku line around 8:30 to catch the subway and head north to Asabu station. Onze offers two free shuttle buses, one from Asabu station of the Nanboku line and one from the Miyanosawa station of the Tozai line, and follow a set timetable that can be found online. It was my first time riding the subway while carrying a giant bag with my snowboard and boots, while wearing my ski wear, but it turned out I wasn’t the only one, and you can expect scenery when you ride the subway in Sapporo during the snow season, often times with university students hitting the slopes right after class and skiing into the night.

The long snowboard on my back was somewhat unwieldy and I had to hold it on its side when boarding the subway, but walking through the station was no trouble at all. Once I arrived at Asabu, I headed out exit 3 and headed towards a local shrine, the pickup spot for the shuttle bus. On the way you’ll spot the home branch for Nitori, the Hokkaido’s furniture store and the most famous in Japan. I arrived at the temple with around 5 minutes to spare, and the little mini bus was jammed packed! Most people who head to Onze are locals, so like me, pretty much every had brought their own equipment. I was lucky to get a seat towards the front, though some last minute skiers made it so everyone had their boards jammed between their legs until I couldn’t see ahead and was surrounded by a wall of snowboards. If you plan to take the shuttle bus I recommend getting to the stop a little earlier, 10-15 minutes before. Standing out in the cold to wait for the bus may not be ideal first thing in the morning though, and to my discovery, Onze offers a way to check the location of their buses so you don’t have to worry about waiting outside for too long. Talk about convenience, not even the local buses have that service!

The ride to the slopes was around 40 minutes, and being jam packed with my fellow skiers made for a warm and cozy ride. Onze is located just off the highway towards Otaru near Zenibako, and it was interesting to see the same scenery from summer completely covered in snow.

Once at the lodge, it’s business as usual. Change into your gear, put on your boots, and head to the slopes! Onze is quite compact so the lodge is only about 20 meters or so from the lift, and if you already have your wear on and board, you could even skip the lodge, buy a lift pass around the corner and head straight for the lifts.

Or you could go the different route and rent everything at Onze as well. No need to worry about having any proper gear, just ride the free bus the lodge, and you can borrow everything from skis and boots to jackets, gloves, and beanie. Granted, even boarding the shuttle, the line for rentals was quite long, which could eat into your time on the slopes, so plan accordingly.

As for me, aside from my wear, snowboard, and boots, I brought an extra bag with extra socks, and a set of dry clothes to change into for the ride back, a pair of sweatpants and a long sleeve shirt. Some bread from the convenience store and water is always good for quick breaks before heading back out as well.

Inside the lodge amenities were spartan but adequate: some lockers for holding your belongings, a small changing room, and an area to tune your skiis and board before heading out. While the lockers here are affordable at 200 yen all day and can be locked and unlocked as many times as you want, I unfortunately ran into a faulty locker, which spat out my refund 100 yen coin after I only locked and unlocked it once. Turns out, as the staff kindly explained to me, the button to refund the extra 100 yen most likely got pressed by someone leaning their equipment or brushing past. Top tip: choose a locker that’s not on the edge and not where a lot of people pass through.

Now that I had my things put away, and my gear ready, a quick trip to the restroom and I was ready to start snowboarding. That is after I buy my lift pass… Onze is very local and most people grow up skiing here, since it isn’t too difficult and very friendly for beginners. Maybe not the best place for seasoned skiers, but great for people who want to try out some snow sports. Perhaps the best thing about Onze is that there are plenty of discounts and sales. During the weekday, there are sales like men’s day and women’s day, or SNS day on Mondays, which drops a one day pass from 3,500 yen to just 1,800 yen! The best deal however, is the 19 year old deal: those who are to be 19 in the school year go free. No strings attached. If you have your own equipment, you can basically skii without spending a single yen! There are plenty of other discounts as well, with family packs that come with food tickets as well. Anyhow, if you have someone in your party who is 19 or to be 19, make sure to point it out!

I settled for a 2 hour pass which was plenty for beginner like me, just enough the have my fun without totally exhausting myself for the rest of the day. Onze doesn’t use any electronic gates for getting on the lift, so it’s important to have some clear pocket on your jacket to display your lift pass, or you can get a pass holder for just 500 yen, and mine has held up well for more than two seasons.

There is generally just one main lift at Onze and around half of the courses are beginner or intermediate. The specialty about Onze is that because there aren’t too many advance courses, most people on the slopes are of a similar level, and it’s nice to know there aren’t any people blazing past while you’re trying to get a hang of things. There is also a new 6 degree first timer course for kids as well as adults who aren’t terrified of falling (me), which is a great way to build confidence before taking on other courses.

Take the lift to the top of this little mountain and you are greeted with something that can only be found at Onze and perhaps Hokkaido. Well maybe two things. It was unfortunately closed on the day I went, but there is a mini lodge at the top of the mountain, just a couple meters from the lift. Normally when open, the mini lodge serves as a great place to rest, grab some refreshments, or emergency bathroom breaks right after the lift. The second thing you’ll notice is the view. Onze is right off the highway that runs along the coast side, so you’re greeted with an awesome panoramic view of the ocean and the local town as you ski down the mountain. Great for snowboarders who need to fasten their bindings after coming of the lift! It was a cloudy with grey skies when I went, but the view is still breathtaking, and if you get the chance to go on a sunny day, the view is simply unlike any other.

I was a little rusty having not snowboarded this season, and once I got in the groove, it was great to experience the powder snow all over again. No icy hard surfaces underneath, just soft snow to carve through, though be careful not to get stuck! There are different paths to take at Onze that don’t require a sudden skill jump, so even for beginners there’s plenty of combination of paths to try out, and for the more seasoned skier, some areas also feature moguls to test your agility. Some small forest runs with a bit of bamboo sticking out, and downhill blasts, for a beginner like me, it was plenty of variation and a good challenge.

With a 2 hour pass I was able to get around 5-6 runs in and to be honest, it may not have been enough! For people on a tight time constraint 2 hours may be the max, but I’d recommend the 4 hour pass, if first timers and all day pass for those who want to ski until 11pm, since Onze is completely lit during the evening as well.

Nevertheless, my time had come to an end and I was looking for some food. I went with my regular, which may not seem so regular at a ski resort, but I just couldn’t pass upon Onze’s gapao rice. There aren’t a lot of places to eat Thai food in Sapporo and even less ski resorts, plus having some tropical cuisine was a great way to warm up.
For those looking for a quick recharge before heading back to the slopes, Onze has a variety of options as well. At the cafeteria you’ll find your standard ramen and curry available, but I noticed a little sign next to the ticket machine that read “fast and super fast foods”. If time is the essence, then a beef curry or katsu curry will be your best bet, next to udon and omurice. There are also meat buns and hot dogs ready to eat as well, if you’re looking for some finger food. Even better, if taking off your ski wear and heading inside is a pain, there is a yakitori (grilled chicken skewer) stand just outside the lodge, so bring some cash when you head out so you can get some yummy grilled chicken for a speedy snack.

After lunch, I packed up my board and changed into my comfy sweatpants and it was time to had back. Taking my time, I was able to board the 13:15 bus heading back to Asabu with time to spare. Luckily, the bus ride back was much more pleasant with only two other people on the bus, and with little traffic, I made it back to Asabu in just under 40 minutes. Boarding the subway home, it was from mountain to my warm living room in just about an hour.

SInce I had my own equipment and wear, it was a quite a bit cheaper than most peoples’ experience, but all in all I was able to spend my day snowboarding for just 3,100 yen including subway and still have plenty of time and energy to explore Sapporo and go around town. For those who want to do more than just ski or snowboard, this would be a perfect way to experience all aspects of Hokkaido without breaking the bank, especially on a short trip. Family friendly and beginner friendly, if you’re thinking about giving snow sports a try, make sure to consider skiing in Sapporo and at Onze!


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