SAPPORO: Ski with sakura

The end of April sees all but the nation's northernmost cherry blossoms fall to the ground. But on the island of Hokkaido, the annual wave of pink and white is only about to begin.

Hokkaido Jingu

Cherry trees line the approach to Hokkaido-jingu Shrine

In Sapporo, the nation's fifth-largest city, the cherry blossom season usually peaking around May - and with a number of area ski resorts continuing operation as late as early May, spring visitors could have the unique opportunity to hit the best of Japan's spring and winter seasons all at once.

Hanami is an annual Japanese tradition that literally translates as "cherry blossom viewing." In reality, it represents a two- to three-week period during which Japanese people find every excuse to congregate with friends and eat and drink under the nation's beautiful natural arbors of pink and white blossoms.

Maruyama Park

Join the hanami tradition in Maruyama Park

The prime hanami spot in Sapporo is Maruyama Park and the adjacent Hokkaido-jingu Shrine. Located within five minutes' walk of Maruyama Koen Station on the Tozai subway line, the 44-acre park incorporates Maruyama Wild Forest (a designated natural treasure) and offers plenty of open space for people lay out mats under the flowering trees.

The shrine grounds hold a total of 1,200 cherry trees, as well as 250 plum trees that - unusually for Japan - all bloom in the same season. The shrine further offers cherry blossom tea and plum wine, or umeshu, the latter sold in bulbous glass jars that make great presents for friends and family back home.

Olympics & the City: Sapporo Teine

Sapporo Teine

Ski within sight of the city at Teine

Starting from Sapporo Station, a short train and bus ride can place you at the site of the 1972 Winter Olympic Games in less than 40 minutes. Sapporo Teine is separated into the Olympia and Highland Zones, with the latter area offering steep, satisfying runs - like the 36-degree Northern Wall.

Sapporo Teine
Address: 593 Teine-honcho, Teine Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Web: www.sapporo-teine.com/snow/lang/
Season starts: Late November until early May

Hot Springs & Ocean Views: Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort

Sapproro Kokusai

Kokusai draws in the city crowd

Accessible in 90 minutes by bus from downtown Sapporo, with two eight-person gondolas and a quad lift at its base, Sapporo Kokusai knows how to move people up the mountain - and considering its popularity, it has to! Take in panoramic views of Otaru City, Ishikari Bay and Mount Teine during the day, then stop off at Jozankei Hot Springs on the return bus route for a great way to soothe your joints on the way back home.

Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort
Address: Jozankei 937, Minami-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Web: www.sapporo-kokusai.jp/en/
Season starts: Late November until early May

Wedded to Winter: Kiroro Resort

Kiroro Resort

Carve your way down Kiroro (© Shuichi Otani)

A relatively new resort opened in 1992, Kiroro offers a good selection of runs less than 20 miles west of Sapporo. With wide, uncrowded trails and an excellent base lodge - including wedding facilities nearby - the resort's lengthy beginner and intermediate trails are broken by speedy spurts of advanced action.

Kiroro Resort
Address: 128-1 Aza-Tokiwa, Akaigawa-mura, Yoichi-gun, Hokkaido
Web: www.kiroro.co.jp/en/winter/
Season starts: Late November until early May

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