Rishiri Island is a backcountry skiing haven with a huge variety of ski and snowboard terrain for those willing to earn their turns. Mount Rishiri is a dormant cone-shaped volcano at the centre of the remote Rishiri Island. In the native Ainu language, “Rishiri” means “island with a high peak”, which pretty much sums it up! Others call Rishiri the “floating island”, possibly because you’ll gain a lot of pleasure from floating in the deep powder!
Skiing Rishiri Island is on the bucket list for many Japan backcountry skiing aficionados. Powder skiing in Hokkaido
is world renowned because of the abundant light fluffy amazing powder that results from the weather systems that blow down from Siberia. Compared to most Hokkaido ski areas, Rishiri Island is much further north and closer to Siberia and the weather source so the powder can be even better than amazing!
If you head to Rishiri Island Japan for an epic ski touring adventure, you can also soak in onsens and soak up the traditional Japanese culture by staying in a ryokan (Japanese inn) or pension. And if devouring all that Japanese powder isn’t enough for you, there’s also an abundance of local seafood to satisfy your appetite. A Rishiri ski trip provides a delightfully unadulterated Japanese experience.
Rising Sun Guides
offer customised and private tours for splitboarding and skiing on Rishiri Island.
Where is Rishiri Island?
Rishiri Island (Rishiritō) is a small island in the Sea of Japan, about 20 kilometers off the northwest coast of Hokkaido. The Oshidomari Port on Rishiri Island can be accessed via ferry from Otaru or Wakkanai (Hokkaido’s northernmost town). Wakkanai is a 5.5 hour train trip from Sapporo
There is also a small airport in Rishiri, which is a 5 minute drive from the main town centre, and there are daily 1 hour flights
Once in Rishiri, your tour guide
can organise transport. Otherwise to DIY there are taxis or infrequent buses around the coastal areas of the island, or you can rent a car, although the rental is pretty expensive and you’d be better off renting a car on the “mainland” of Hokkaido and taking it with you on the ferry.
Rishiri Ski and Snowboard Terrain
Mount Rishiri has an elevation of 1,721 metres. Depending on weather conditions, the backcountry terrain you can access can include a combination of alpine and tree skiing. Mt Rishiri isn’t a perfectly shaped conical volcano and it has lots of ridges and gullies, some of which are super steep, and there are several peaks. There is also a lot of reasonably mellow terrain below the treeline.
You’ll probably want to utilise a snowmobile to cover the long and flat distances at the base of the mountain before utilising human-power.
The mountain is incredibly exposed so it comes as no great surprise that the weather is notoriously foul! Beautiful clear days where you can reach the summit and enjoy the breathtaking views across the Sea of Japan are somewhat hard to come by. More common are low visibility days where you’ll need to stay sheltered below the tree line (and thankfully this is where the powder is typically much deeper).
The snowpack is somewhat unpredictable relative to the rest of Hokkaido, in part due to the huge snowfalls and the mega proximity to the ocean.
Rishiri Ski Resorts
You’re highly unlikely to visit Rishiri Island to visit the three Rishiri ski resorts!
Rishiri Tenbouzan near Rishiri town is massive compared to the other two! It has a whopping 120 metres of mellow vertical and 3 surface tows, and equally tiny prices for lift tickets.
Even smaller is Oshiridomori which is also located in the north of the island. It has 1 surface lift, 1 course and 70 metres of vertical. Equally petite is Oniwaki Ishiyama in the southeast of the Rishiri Island, with 1 course, 1 surface lift, and 65 metres of vertical.
The largest town on Rishiri Island is Rishirifuji near the port of Oshidomari, which is located in the northwest corner of the island. Here there is a moderate range of Japanese style accommodation options, mostly ryokans (Japanese inns) and more simple pensions.
The second largest town is Kutsugata aka Rishiri, in the west of the island. Here you’ll find a smaller range of lodging options.
Some of the Rishiri accommodations have onsite onsens for a well deserved soak in the therapeutic waters after a big day climbing Mt Rishiri. Otherwise there is a public onsen with indoor and outdoor baths in Oshidomari/Rishirifuji.
Your tour operator
will organise accommodation and incorporate meals in the package.
Ski and Snowboard Facilities
There are no ski rental shops on Rishiri Island so BYO skis/snowboard, avalanche safety gear and touring equipment. If you don’t have your own equipment, the tour operator should be able to assist with gear rentals.
Rishiri Ski Season
The best time to go backcountry skiing in Rishiri is probably late February to early March, before the powder sours. In late winter and early spring there’s a slightly higher chance of clear days, although the main weather inhibitor to summiting Mt Rishiri is the wind, and the time of year doesn’t impact on that too much. Rishiri is renowned for the oft-windy conditions!