Sapporo is filled with Japanese culture and incredible local food that will change your concept of what a winter destination is!

©Aaron Rolph

Mauri and Aaron are a pair of photographers and writers hailing from Italy and the United Kingdom, respectively. The friends are also ardent skiers who have chronicled their experiences at winter destinations around the world. They came to Sapporo to both ski and enjoy Japan’s famous cuisine and culture, which was what they were most looking forward to on their trip.

©Aaron Rolph
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Professional skier Maurizio Marassi

  • GBR

Professional skier Aaron Rolph

So many places to ski so close to the heart of the city!

Mauri: Sapporo is the fifth-largest city in the country, with around 2 million people. The downtown area is filled with places the shop and dine, and is really fun to explore on foot. Plus, It’s deceptively close to six different ski areas, two of which we went to during our trip. First, we went to Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort, which is only about an hour away by car. The slopes there were the ones that felt most like a winter resort, and the powder was incredible from top to bottom. It’s also unique among ski areas around the world because you can see the ocean on clear days. Plus, it’s got great lighting, so it’s easy to keep skiing, even after the evening sets in!

©Aaron Rolph

Aaron: I’m lucky enough to have somehow made a career out of adventure, which takes me all over the world to photograph and write about my experiences. This was my first visit to Sapporo and I’m finding the city is full of adventure! The powder at Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort was pretty insane; super light and fluffy snow that was deeper than anything I’d ever skied through before, and left incredible clouds of snow behind us in our wake. On top of that, there was Sapporo Teine, a ski resort right next to the city itself. You can go night skiing, which is unusual in Europe, so it felt pretty special skiing down from the top of the mountain under the night sky.

©Maurizio Marassi

Toasting with sake in the comfort of the outdoor bath!

Mauri: Staying at Jozankei Yuraku Souan, a traditional Japanese-style inn in the Jozankei hot springs village in southern Sapporo, was an unforgettable experience! Plus, it was only about a 30-minute drive from Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort! I took off my shoes to enter and was greeted with some delicious green tea. My father loves Japanese culture, so I used to drink the tea he gave us back in Italy, but I had never been given it with such incredible hospitality.

There was a natural hot spring water bath in our room, but Aaron and I decided to rent an outdoor bath so we could toast with sake as we soaked and take in the beautiful snowy landscape. Experiencing Japanese culture like this was truly a dream.

Aaron: Drinking some really tasty sake in the open-air bath surrounded by snow was fantastic. Something else I experienced for the first time was a kotatsu, a table with a blanket attached to it to keep you warm. In Japan, it is said that in winter, people have traditionally enjoyed meals and conversation with their families under a kotatsu. It was really nice to see more traditional customs from heart-warming Japanese culture.

Sapporo is a great place to experience so many facets of Japanese culinary culture

Mauri: I love to cook, so of course, I love to eat, too, and Japanese food is one of my favorites because the presentation matches the incredible flavor. So, coming to Sapporo, I think it was the food that I was most looking forward to.

I tried shabu-shabu for the first time at a Japanese-style inn in the Jozankei hot springs village in southern Sapporo. It’s a traditional hot pot where thinly sliced meat is flash simmered with vegetables and tofu. This removes the excess fat, and the slices are paper thin, making them extremely tender. Then, you dip it in ponzu or sesame sauce—it was so delicious I simply couldn’t put my chopsticks down. If you like Japanese food, this is something you’ve got to try!

In downtown Sapporo I had yakitori, which is Japanese-style grilled chicken, as well as a barbecue mutton dish famous in Hokkaido that’s known as Genghis Khan. Sapporo has its own unique culinary culture, and you’ll find restaurants that serve cuisine from all around the island, the country and even spots offering a variety of international fare. I never get tired of eating when the food is this good!

I was mesmerized by the neon-lit streets of Sapporo

Aaron: The great thing about Sapporo in the winter is the fun you can have exploring the city on foot after a day on the slopes. Every day after we got back to our hotel, we would get changed and then head out into Susukino, a nightlife district in downtown. The area is one of the liveliest in the country and looks amazing lit up in neon at night, so it’s a must-see! The city has a wide variety of spots to eat or drink beyond just Japanese food, and since Mauri and I are always hungry, we were quick to pop in and sample a bunch of places!

©Aaron Rolph

In the morning, we rented fat bikes from the hotel and rode through the snow. We went to the old-fashioned Nijo Fish Market, which opens early in the morning, and were welcomed by locals as we looked on at the massive crabs displayed in front of the shops. Being there really made me feel like one of the locals! I used to think of winter resorts as just snow-capped mountains, but in Sapporo, walking around the city is just as much fun—it will really change your concept of what a ski resort is!

Aaron: One of the most satisfying things about Sapporo in winter is walking around the city after skiing. Every day after we finished skiing, we changed at the hotel and then set about exploring the city in the evenings. Susukino, in the centre of the city, is one of the busiest shopping streets in Japan. The bright neon lights and signs are well worth seeing, and are such a contrast from a day spent in nature. The town has a wide variety of restaurants and places to drink, not just Japanese food. Mauri and I are always hungry, so we made good use of all the amazing eateries on offer!

In the morning we rented fat bikes from the hotel and rode on the snow, a really fun way of getting around and seeing more sights. At the old-fashioned Nijo Fish Market, which opens early in the morning, I was approached by many friendly locals as I walked around looking at the array of impressive seafood that lined the front of the shops—it felt like an authentic spot for locals. I used to think of winter resorts as snowy mountains, but in Sapporo, walking around the city is just a lot of fun. It’s a city that can really change your concept of ski resorts.

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.

Enni is an Olympic medalist who has been to nearly all the world`s snow destinations. Alongside her photographer partner, she explores Sapporo for the first time, mixing the days of snowboarding with culinary delights and onsen relaxation.

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.