Furano is one of Hokkaido’s main resorts and is situated in the central part of the island. Along with Niseko, Rusutso and Kiroro, it is one of the main Hokkaido resorts for foreigners to work a winter season. While it receives less snow than its coastal neighbours (Rusutsu and Niseko), it has more fine weather days throughout the season to allow you to enjoy the famous Hokkaido powder.
Furano maintains a relatively authentic Japanese feel, despite the many English-speaking tourists that arrive in Furano each year. Seasonal workers will enjoy the fact that Furano is relatively big by Japanese standards (but still small by world standards), and that there is some good steeper terrain here, unlike most Japanese resorts, to keep advanced riders satisfied for longer.
Furano also makes a good base for other backcountry adventures close by with Asahidake, Sahoro, Kamui and Tomamu all accessible by a day trip. If you work a season at Furano, you will surely visit these places at least once for additional nice terrain. However, the nightlife is very small at Furano and seasonal workers usually have to make their own fun more than rely on the bar scene. The long ski season runs December through May, which is longer than other Hokkaido resorts.
Town and Resort Vibe
Furano is a very family-friendly resort and caters well to the many English-speaking tourists who visit each year. Most places around town will have English menus even if they don’t speak English. Despite the tourists, Furano is not yet overly commercial and still has a very Japanese feel to it.
Furano resort has two parts – the Kitanomine zone and the Furano zone. The town of Furano is a 3 minute shuttle from Kitanomine and 6 minutes away from the Furano Zone and is a great town to immerse yourself in Japanese culture and food. However, there is very little nightlife and activity at Furano once the lifts close down each day.
Getting to Furano
Furano is located two and a half hours north east of New Chitose Airport at Sapporo, the main city on Hokkaido island. Hokkaido Resort Liner Buses run from Chitose Airport & Niseko to Furano every day. Buses depart every few hours and costs around 4,000 yen.
The Terrain at Furano
Furano Resort is divided into two zones – the Kitanomine Zone & Furano Zone – all accessible on the same lift ticket.
Furano is famous for its immaculately groomed runs and its great fall line. 80% of the mountain is accessible to beginners and intermediates. For seasonal workers looking to progress on-piste, Furano offers great runs to gather speed and develop technique.
With a vertical of 974 meters, Furano is also one of the longest resorts in Japan and has even hosted the FIS World Cup on a number of occasions; something which many Japanese resort would be unable to do due to a lack of steep terrain. For the powder hungry, Furano offers easy to access back and side country which is now permitted at the resort unlike in the recent past. In contrast, many resorts in Japan still ban off-piste riding.
The top half of the resort has the steepest and deepest lines. However, despite being relatively steep by Japanese standards, there are no real chutes, drop-offs or cliffs to speak of. The toughest riding is the steep pitches through the trees at the top and at the link area between the two sides. Watch out during other tree-skiing as the fall line is not necessarily great, resulting in a lot of side-traversing. Rusutsu probably has slightly better tree-skiing options.
Night skiing is available every day until 9pm on small areas at both sides of the resort. This is great for seasonal workers allowing you to get onto the slopes every day even if you work during the day.
The terrain park is very small with only a few small features. There is a small half-pipe near the Furano Prince Hotel. Park is not the strong point of Furano. However, there is a cool little side country park for some natural features.
- Longest Run – 3.4km
- Vertical Drop – 974 Metres
- Lifts – 10 Lifts (1 Cable Car, 1 Gondola, 8 Chair Lifts)
- Runs – 25km of groomed runs
- Terrain – 40% Beginner, 40% Intermediate, and 20% Advanced
- Snowfall – 8 Meters
Snow, Weather and Crowds
Furano receives around 8 meters of snow per year. This is less than what the coastal resorts of Niseko and Rusutsu receive, but Furano is still in the zone for the Siberian storm systems that make Japanese powder so famous as well as storms from the north. The snow is as fluffy as anywhere in Japan after a good dump, there’s just a little less of it.
It is generally colder in Central Hokkaido where Furano is and it can get extremely cold in the middle of winter. Days of -20c (-4f) or even below are certain throughout January and February. Despite this, Furano benefits from more bluebird days than Niseko and Rusutsu and is generally less windy which means the riding conditions are more often clear. There are hooded chairs at Furano for extra protection if the weather turns nasty.
The best pow is from early January to the end of February. Since the lifting of the prohibition on going off-piste at Furano, many more people hit the tree-skiing and fresh powder can get quickly tracked out in the obvious spots (such as the side country at the top of the resort).
The lift infrastructure is very quick and efficient. The cable car at Furano is the fastest lift in Japan, in fact. This helps to move the crowds up the hill and means lines aren’t usually too bad. On the other hand, seeing as the resort is still quite small, this contributes to the tracked out lines in the obvious parts of the mountain.
Finding a Job
The two most likely ways to get a job at Furano are as a ski/snowboard instructor or working for a tour operator that provides package holidays for tourists. You are not very likely to get a job in a local business as these jobs tend to go to Japanese locals. Also, most mountain operations jobs such as lift operators also go to locals.
Furano, unlike Rusutsu and Kiroro, offer many English speaking ski and snowboard instructor positions each year. The jobs on offer include ski/snowboard instructors as well as guest services. The focus for instructors tends to be on more qualified instructors with a high level of skill so junior instructors may have more difficulty. You can apply at www.furanosnowsportschool.com
A valid working holiday visa is a must. See Find a Ski Resort Job in Japan for information on working visas to Japan.
Finding Accommodation for the Season
Almost all jobs on offer in Furano for foreigners come with staff accommodation included as part of the package. Staff accommodation around town is a mix of self-contained apartments, hotels & pensions. Finding accommodation by yourself is extremely difficult as you would need to deal with Japanese landlords and an often complex rental system. It is recommended to stay in staff accommodation unless something else better and obvious has popped up.
Furano has a more traditional feel than the likes of Niseko which has a much bigger nightlife and bar scene. In contrast, nightlife in Furano is limited, although there are a few bars and Japanese restaurants at which to relax after a day of work or on the slopes. Furano is a bigger town than Rusutsu with a little, but not a lot more, going on.
Drinks after work are usually confined to a few places such as the Ajito log cabin at Kitanomine (a sports bar which serves beer and has pool), the Furano brewery or a few of the small izakayas (informal Japanese taverns where you can also get a bite to eat). Many seasonal workers will also grab a few drinks to have in their apartment after work.
There is a Karaoke bar at the Dream House Kingyo too for a later night while Soh’s bar is a quiet cigar bar for a smoky atmosphere after a day on the slopes. Furano has a great range of Japanese restaurants offering sushi, noodles and curries as well as more western-style places with pizzas and pasta. You can really immerse yourself in great Japanese food over a season in Furano.