Ok, I'm into the 3rd month of my second season in Furano so thought it was about time I wrote a review. Not so much an in-depth review of the slopes but more of my general feelings about the place. By way of background, I'm a boarder who's been to various resorts in Europe, the US, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan over the last 11 years or so.
So, let's cut to the chase, I like Furano - alot! But, as with everything in life, nothing's perfect, which explains the 4 out of 5 star rating. I guess the starting point to bear in mind is that Furano is a farming town with a ski hill. I don't mean for that to sound disparaging but to most Japanese living outside of Hokkaido, Furano is known more for it's potatoes, onions, summer lavender fields and tv drama set location than it's skiing! So if you remember that, everything else makes more sense.
Ok, in no particular order, here are the good things:-
1. The snow.
Although Furano doesn't get as much snow as other Hokkaido resorts, it still gets enough to have plenty of fun unless you're a complete powder junkie. Talking of powder, Furano's central location as the "belly button" of Hokkaido means that the snow is very dry, the moisture having been sucked out of it by the time it falls. On a January/February powder day it's oh-so-light-and-fluffy!! & on a cold, sunny day the "diamond dust" is beautiful.
2. The slopes.
There's something for everyone, both on and off-piste, but see below regarding the latter! In the past Furano was used for some World Cup events and the quality of the groomed runs (including the actual grooming) is high. The top to bottom run on the Furano side is a real leg-burner and a good morning workout, assuming there's no fresh powder to play in! There are also a few ungroomed slopes which come into their own on powder days. On balance, I'd probably say that Furano is more of a skiers' resort than for snowboarders, depending on level, though it's very beginner-friendly for both. Advanced skiers/riders might get bored.
3. The lack of crowds.
Ignoring the ever-present school trips and Self-Defence Force training groups snaking their way down the lower slopes, it doesn't really seem to get that busy, certainly not by European/North American resort standards. Ok, at weekends and on national holidays you might have to wait for a few more gondolas (Kitanomine Zone) or another ropeway ride (Furano Zone) and the restaurants will be busy at lunchtime, but otherwise that's about it.
4. The atmosphere.
It's a great place to relax, with lots of good cafes and onsen in and around town.
5. The city.
Furano is divided into 2: the main downtown area and the Kitanomine ski area. Kitanomine has a 7-11, a fair share of restaurants, and a couple of drinking holes. However, it's only a short bus ride or 20 walk into town where there are more shops, supermarkets, bars and restaurants, etc, though Furano is more of a town than a city so don't expect too much.
6. The people.
As with most Japanese, the locals are generally friendly and helpful but also quite laid-back - lots of people move to Hokkaido for the slower pace of life and Furano is no exception.
7. The Location.
It's not far from Asahidake, Kamui and Tomamu, all of which are worth a visit. Likewise non-skiing places such as Asahikawa and Sounkyou.
& so to the not-so-good things:-
1. The out-of-bounds policy.
Furano was one of those resorts with an infamously strict no-off-piste policy. Apparently that policy has become less strict over recent years but old habits die hard! I'm not adverse to a bit of rope-ducking and off-piste hiking for some fresh pow and as result, have been shouted out by lifties and/or ski patrol, and on one occasion this year, nearly had my season pass confiscated. Apart from the normal arguments about safety, avalanche-risk, etc, apparently part of the problem here is that the mountain is owned by different people. I think that the Prince Hotel Group only owns some of it, so I guess that injuring yourself in a non-Prince Hotel-owned, out-of-bounds area could present lots of potential, not to mention expensive problems. That might help to explain the policy but the problem is that it's applied inconsistently! On some days Ski Patrol are out in force, stopping everyone who "strays" beyond the ropes and threatening to take passes but then on other days, you'll see hordes of people going off-piste all day long without a care in the world.
2. There's not a lot of nightlife.
This may be a good or bad thing depending on what you're looking for but Furano is definitely not a party town.
3. It's cold!
It can get bitterly cold both on and off the hill. I'm talking into the -20s which you could bump up (or down?) to -30 with a strong, on-the-hill, wind-chill factor!! Good for the snow but not for any exposed skin!
So those are my personal thoughts on what has become my home for the last 2 winters. I might see you there next year!
From January, 2011 To March, 2011
Snow condition on visit:
Variable but generally good
Things I liked:
Lack of crowds, quality of snow
Things I didn't like:
Inconsistent and strict off-piste policy
Families & children
Authentic Japan experience