An urban winter paradise you’ll love to explore

©Aaron Rolph

Enni is a Finnish snowboarder who won two consecutive medals in slopestyle at the Sochi and PyeongChang Olympics. She came to the winter wonderland of Sapporo with her partner, photographer Rami, to enjoy some snowboarding and Japanese culture.

  • FIN

Professional snowboarder Enni Rukajärvi

With the slopes so close to the city, there’s so much to do!

I started snowboarding when I was 10, and in the blink of an eye, I was already on the national team competing around the world. I’ve been to almost every country where it snows since I’m usually traveling to go snowboarding. This time, however, I came to Sapporo to experience the culture and cuisine of Japan, which are loves I share with my partner Rami.

Of course, we both love snowboarding, too, so we were also looking forward to some winter fun. That’s why we were drawn to Sapporo—it’s basically heaven for people with our interests. We stayed in a place downtown for our first night and went to an izakaya for dinner. Izakayas are basically Japanese bars with diner-style menus, so we got to try a little bit of everything, washing it down with selections from a massive drinks list that included everything from wine and beer to sake and cocktails. Sapporo is the heart of the island of Hokkaido, which is surrounded by the sea, so we knew we simply had to try some fresh sashimi.

The next morning, we headed to Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort. Gliding through the fluffy powder surrounded by forest was a blast—I’m so jealous of the people who live here that get to have a place like this so close to home.

From the slopes to the hot springs in only 30 minutes

The hot springs were a highlight of the trip. Saunas are really popular back home in Finland, but honestly, I’m more of a hot springs person. I love the way the warm water melts away the fatigue of a day of snowboarding, leaving your skin feeling smooth and your spirit refreshed.

There were tons of places you could stay in the Jozankei hot springs village, which is only about a half hour drive from Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort, but of course we went with a traditional Japanese-style inn. We were greeted with a Japanese tea ceremony upon arrival, and the flavor of the tea they made for us was more special than anything I’d tasted before, not to mention the exquisite, elegant movements made to prepare it.

A lot of traditional inns provide loungewear, so Rami and I relaxed in our room in yukatas. The environment was so serene, and I loved our private outdoor hot spring.

The food culture of Sapporo is one of a kind!

After doing some night skiing at Sapporo Teine Ski Resort, we quickly made the return trip back to the city and headed out on the town by foot in search of a place for dinner. We ended up going to a sushi spot, which is something we’d been looking forward to. Sapporo has some of the best sushi in the country, but it won’t break the bank. We went to a fast-food style conveyor belt sushi restaurant, called kaiten-zushi in Japanese, and had a lot of fun selecting things we wanted to try from the à la carte menu.

Rami and I both love sushi, and while you can get it around the world, it’s really the best in Japan, so I only have it when I come here. Rami enjoys it even back home in Finland, where he often makes it himself. We sat at the counter ordering a ton of different things, like salmon, fatty tuna, sea urchin, eel and shrimp, and if we liked it, we simply ordered more. Before we knew it, the empty plates were stacked in towers next to us. Everything was so fresh and delicious! I guess you could say that the height of those stacks was an indicator of how pleased we were with the food—Sapporo really delivered the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life!

Then it was time for dessert. Apparently, the “shime-parfait” is really big right now in Sapporo. Basically, to finish off an evening, you get a parfait beautifully decorated with ice cream, cake, cookies, chocolate, fruit, nuts or whatever other decadent treats you can think of.

Rami and I selected two based on the pictures in the menu so we could share. Parfaits are the perfect way to enjoy the incredible dairy produced in Hokkaido. Plus, they were adorable, which made me want to eat even more! These sweet treats were a great way to relax after a day on the mountain.

Sapporo is filled with the kind of elegant restaurants and cafes one expects from a city, but it’s very walkable and so close to the slopes. With so much fun to have and so many friendly local faces, everywhere I went and everything I did brought a smile to my face, leaving me with countless unforgettable experiences.

Internationally renowned Finnish snowboarders Eero Ettala and HP Parviainen travel to Sapporo for the JAPOW experience of a lifetime.

Over 30 years of friendship, Canadian skiers Mark and Rory have competed against each other all over the world. They come to Sapporo for a trip of limitless snow and nightlife adventures.

Hailing from Italy and the UK, Mauri and Aaron are a pair of photographers and writers, as well as international skiers always looking for their next adventure. In Sapporo, they go deep into in the ski slopes and enjoy Japanese culture in the city.

Mike is a fashion entrepreneur and pro snowboarder who often comes to Japan for business. But this time he came to Sapporo solo to play in the expansive backcountry areas and enjoy the city life.