Rusutsu is among the best Japanese resorts at which to work a season. Located right next to Niseko, Hokkaido’s most famous resort, Rusutsu is far less crowded which means more in the way of untracked and incredibly deep powder.
With snowfall in the area reaching up to 14 meters annually, Rusutsu is a resort at which you will want to spend more than just a holiday.
The closest major airport to Rusutsu is New Chitose Airport, near Sapporo, from which Rusutsu is a 90-minute drive. Rusutsu is 40 minutes’ drive from Niseko.
Getting to Rusutsu from Sapporo is easiest via the Hokkaido Resort Liner bus service which operates daily throughout the winter season. The bus service runs from New Chitose Airport and central Sapporo, stops at the base area of Rusutsu, and then continues onwards to Niseko. A one-way ticket costs around 3,300 yen.
While Rusutsu is by no means a secret, it receives many less visitors than its neighbour Niseko and is generally much less crowded on the slopes. It also has a less commercialised feel than Niseko and a little more in the way of traditional Japanese dining and architecture. Nonetheless, Rusutsu is very much a modern resort with outstanding infrastructure and chairlifts.
The town is very quiet once the sun goes down. Rusutsu is very family friendly and aims to attract holiday-making families so there is less focus on a busy nightlife. There are just a few nightlife options and the bar scene is nowhere near as crazy as at Niseko.
Seasonal workers tend to have quite a few house parties during the season at Rusutsu. This does, however, provide a better opportunity to experience local Japanese culture.
At Rusutsu, you will find some of the most incredible, fluffy powder on the planet. Powder is the principal reason to come to Rusutsu, as the white-knuckle steeps are mostly absent here (as with most Japanese resorts).
However, the tree-skiing at Rusutsu is absolutely first rate - as good as anywhere in Japan - and is accessible straight off the lifts and within the resort boundaries. Other off-piste riding is also awesome because of the deep powder.
Rusutsu is quite big by Japanese standards. It is made of three mountains: West Mountain, East Mountain, and Mount Isola. 37 groomed runs totalling 42 km are offered on-piste across the three mountains, and access is provided by 18 lifts and gondolas to around 4,200 acres (1,700) hectares of skiable terrain within the resort boundary.
The lift infrastructure is very good – of the 18 lifts four are gondolas and six are high-speed quads chairs. The longest run is 3.7km and the steepest incline on offer is a 37 degree pitch.
West Mountain and East Mountain are suitable for beginner and intermediate riders, while Mount Isola is geared more towards experienced riders and is where you will find the exceptional tree skiing. Mount Isola is the largest of the three mountains.
Intermediates are right at home at Rusutsu with plenty of groomed terrain to carve. There are usually plenty of powder stashes right next to the runs which offer a great chance to work on your powder technique. The tree runs also aren’t usually particularly steep which provides an easy introduction to powder and tree-riding.
Backcountry and off-piste skiing and boarding are where Rusutsu also shines. Just by diving into the tree lines between runs you can find yourself in waist-deep powder snow, and then ski right back onto the lifts. However, while you can find small drop-offs among the trees, the double black runs at Rusutsu aren’t particularly steep. Advanced riders should come here to test themselves in powder conditions rather than searching for the steeps and chutes of North America.
For back country enthusiasts, a quick 20-minute hike will grant you access to enough untouched powder to last you most of the day, setting Rusutsu apart from other resorts in Hokkaido. Shiribetsu-dake is a good place to explore for back country. Remember to check local avalanche conditions and pack avalanche gear.
Rusutsu has both a terrain park and a side country park, as well as night skiing until 9pm daily which means extra riding even if you've worked a day shift.
Rusutsu receives up to an incredible 14 metres of snowfall each season. The snow is so light and dry that riding Rusutsu powder can feel just like riding clouds. Dumps of 20cm – 30cm overnight will likely occur several times throughout the season.
However, it gets exceptionally cold at Rusutsu as the Siberian winds blow in. Days of -20c (-4f) are not uncommon at all. The hoods on the lifts and rides in the enclosed gondolas become very welcome on these days.
Rusutsu is not that crowded compared to the nearby Niseko. Niseko has a much more commercialised feel to it these days and so many visitors that it can get frustrating seeing tracked out lines everywhere. In contrast, Rusutsu rarely has a lift line, meaning much more powder for you to fly through.
Photo: Rusutsu Ski Resort - photo supplied by SkiJapan.com
The ski season lasts from early December to early April.
Ski and Snowboard Instructors
Rusutsu Resort manages most of the employment in Rusutsu, so jobseekers will need to apply through them. Recruitment begins in June each year for the following winter, with ski and snowboard instructors the main positions available for foreigners. Selection criteria and application information are available on the Rusutsu website at: rusutsu.co.jp/winter-season/school/instructors.
Instructor positions for English-speakers at Rusutsu are quite limited and, as such, can be very competitive. Out of the Hokkaido resorts, Furano and Niseko generally hire more English-speakers each year as instructors.
Most of the other mountain operations jobs such as lift operators and mountain groomers go to locals.
Both short- and long-term contracts are available. Keep in mind that you must be eligible for either a Japanese working holiday visa or a Japanese working visa to work at Rusutsu. See Find a Ski Resort Job - Japan for information on working visas.
A number of tour operators work in Rusutsu which provide package holidays for tourists. These tourist operators look for applicants who speak English to work the various jobs such as drivers, guides, instructors and rental technicians. Tour operators in Rusutsu include:
Staff accommodation is arranged for almost every job as a foreigner. There is very limited private accommodation in Rusutsu available for seasonal workers and, in any case, dealing with Japanese landlords and the Japanese rental system can be difficult.
If you need a short-term place to stay, the Highland Lodge and the Travel Lodge offer basic dormitory facilities at a lower price. Additionally, there are a number of log cabins and cottages, although these are mainly available for guest rental throughout the season.
Also, there are two main places for tourists to stay; the Westin Rusutsu Resort, located 300m from the base of the mountain, and the Rusutsu Resort Hotel, located on the base of West Mountain. The Westin has larger rooms, while the Resort Hotel has both Japanese and Western style rooms.
Compared with nearby resorts such as Niseko, and even Furano, Rusutsu is fairly quiet and restrained. The nightlife is restricted to a few bars and restaurants scattered around the resort, including the Cricket Bar, a sports bar that serves local beer and pizza, and a number of decent traditional Japanese, French and Italian restaurants.
There is also a small arcade and movie theatre in the Rusutsu North Wing Hotel.
Aside from bars and restaurants, Rusutsu also has two natural hot springs, or onsen, a swimming pool, and an amusement park that you can ski or board through during winter. Plus, you can go tubing, dogsledding or snowmobiling on your day off which offers a nice change throughout the season.
Nonetheless, Rusutsu is definitely more suited to powder skiing than partying.