Stepping off the train at the JR Tomamu station (a 90-minute train ride from Shin-Chitose Airport, near Sapporo) feels like walking into a winter landscape painting. Bare birches growing icicles instead of leaves, naked next to green-cloaked pines, forest thick as shadows on the mountains, layers of peaks that rise and fall in almost every direction, dusted all with snow. This view lured me back up the ski lift, even when my legs (and bruised bottom) begged me to stop. Ski, snowboard, snowshoe, or even take a wild ride on a banana boat pulled behind a snowmobile, then enjoy a drink at the ice bar in the Snow Village before relaxing in the open-air bath that overlooks the snow-covered forest. There's plenty to do if you don't want to hit the slopes, from snowshoeing to curling to ice fishing.
If you miss the snow, don't worry, the outdoor fun lasts year-round. We're tempted to return to see the verdant mountains from a hot air balloon. Ok, and also for the unforgettably creamy Hokkaido ice cream, too tasty to pass up even when you can see your breath. (Address: Aza Nakatomamu Shimukappu Yufutsu Hokkaido 079-2204)