journey through japan

Yuki No Shima: Skiing Hokkaido by Camper Van

By: Downdays February 28, 2020

Last February, we decided to take time off work to go ski some pow in Japan. As we discussed the logistics over a beer one evening, we agreed that the best way to get around and make the most of our tip without going through the hassle of booking hotels and organizing transportation would be to simply live out of a van.

Japanese camper van rental in Sapporo.

Picking up the van in Sapporo.

We arranged Japanese translations of our drivers licenses, booked two tickets to Sapporo, packed our skis and some filming gear (just in case), and after 36 hours of travel and layovers from central Europe to Hokkaido, we were finally handed over the keys of a “4WD Toyota Camroad Cresson” mini camper-van to spend our first evening in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Icicles on a camper van during a skiing road trip in Hokkaido, Japan.

Our icicle collection.

It was truly a luxury to have the freedom to move our home around at will, chase storms and wake up in the parking lot of an unknown Japanese ski resort that just got  40 centimeters of snow overnight. Of course, camping in winter in the great white north of Hokkaido with average temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius can be challenging at times. The diesel froze in the engine one day while we had gone for a few runs up at Kiroro. We also experienced slight hypothermia on the first night in Sapporo, our uninsulated van being better suited for the long, warm Japanese summers. To survive the remaining nights of the trip, we had to come up with a smart way to divert the hot air from the heater towards our sleeping area. Thank you Home Depot Japan.

Homemade heating duct in a Japanese camper van during a ski trip to Hokkaido.

Heating the bed thanks to a ventilation pipe we found in a Japanese hardware store. This thing saved our lives many times.

A camper van snowed in in Kiroro, Japan during a ski trip.

Frozen diesel in Kiroro. Fortunately the heater still worked, so we used our ventilation pipe to blow hot air into the engine and trapped it under the vehicle with snow. We managed to start the engine after an hour or so.

Inconveniences such as drying ski gear on the road or charging drone batteries overnight while wondering if we’d be able to start the van in the morning were all compensated by those hip-deep to chest-deep days out in the hills, by the awe-inspiring landscapes we admired as we drove along, or by the delicious local foods and by the soothing onsens (hot springs) we enjoyed after a long day out in the cold.

Deep powder skiing in Hokkaido, Japan.

Reaping the rewards.

Out of the 19 days we lived in the motorhome, 15 of them were spent on skis. Entire days were dedicated to following each other through the forests of Niseko, Rusutsu, or Furano, holding a DSLR camera at the end of a gimbal while dodging trees before heading back to the van to check out the footage on a computer, share a fresh Kirin beer and cook up some good ramen for dinner.

Skiing deep powder while on a road trip to Hokkaido, Japan.

Days spent like this…

Drinking Kirin and cooking ramen in a Japanese camper van during a ski trip to Hokkaido.

Nights spent like this.

This wintry adventure led us to ski down a coastal chute overgrown with bamboo and end up making one final turn on the beach by the sea of Japan. It pushed us to skin halfway up majestic Mount Yotei before the weather rolled in and we were forced to backtrack below the tree line to shoot some pillows. We tasted some of the best Sushi in Kutchan, amazing Yakitori in Rusutsu, Shirako in Furano (Google it!) and roadside Seven/Eleven deep-fried ginger chicken treats, more commonly known
to locals as “death on a stick.” We drove slowly through violent blizzards where all we could see ahead were the snowflakes rushing towards our windshield. For three weeks, we roamed this remote and breathtaking island where every feature seemed to be petrified in a heavy white coat of snow.

Ski touring along the beach close to Otaru, Japan.

Touring by the beach near Otaru.

The ski resort of Tengu-yama above Otaru, Japan.

Skiing Mt. Tengu above Otaru, with views of the Sea of Japan.

Pillows of snow form on a shipping container in Hokkaido, Japan.

Lack of snow was not an issue in Niseko.

Ski touring on Mt. Yotei in Hokkaido, Japan.

Skinning up the flanks of Mount Yotei.

When we made it home, our heads filled with memories and our hard drive filled with footage, we decided to put together this film. We ended up naming it “Yuki No Shima” or the “Isle of Snow.” This movie is 100% self-made, no sponsors, no budget, just a holiday movie about our far-eastern camping trip in search for bottomless turns and soft landings in the “snowiest place on earth.”

– Yannick Guillermin & Cédric Baumer 

Winter scene of the Shiribetsu River near Niseko, Japan.

The Shiribetsu River near Niseko.

Eating sushi at a restaurant in Kutchan, Japan.

Sushi train plate counting in Kutchan.

A skier rides on a single-person chairlift in Niseko, Japan.

Riding the pizza box chair in Niseko.