Sunlaiva

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Sunlaiva Ski Resort Hokkaido
Sunlaiva Ski Resort Hokkaido
Aptly named Panorama Course
Aptly named Panorama Course
The main chairlift at Sunlaiva
The main chairlift at Sunlaiva
Skinning up on a fine day
Skinning up on a fine day
The upper lift has been retired
The upper lift has been retired
Main day lodge at Sunlaiva Ski Area
Main day lodge at Sunlaiva Ski Area
A quiet weekend at Sunlaiva
A quiet weekend at Sunlaiva
Sunlaiva Ski Resort is near Noboribetsu
Sunlaiva Ski Resort is near Noboribetsu
Trees off the upper lift
Trees off the upper lift
Sunlaiva has mellow slopes
Sunlaiva has mellow slopes
A peek at the backcountry terrain
A peek at the backcountry terrain
Sunlaiva gets more fine days than many other Hokkaido ski resorts
Sunlaiva gets more fine days than many other Hokkaido ski resorts
The facilities cover the basics
The facilities cover the basics
A "busy" day on the weekend
A "busy" day on the weekend
Sunlaiva Hokkaido
Sunlaiva Hokkaido
The top lift has been "paused"
The top lift has been "paused"
Sunlaiva usually attracts negligible crowds
Sunlaiva usually attracts negligible crowds
Skiing Sunlaiva Hokkaido
Skiing Sunlaiva Hokkaido
Very mellow at the base
Very mellow at the base
Sunlaiva has some nice terrain when there is lots of snow
Sunlaiva has some nice terrain when there is lots of snow

Sunlaiva

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Sunlaiva

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Wagner Custome Skis

Sunlaiva Ski Area Hokkaido

Sunlaiva Ski Resort is located near Noboribetsu Onsen, which is probably the most touristy onsen town in Hokkaido. Karurusu Onsen Sanlaiva Ski Area doesn’t quite fit the stereotype of skiing in Hokkaido in deep Japow amongst the trees. Located in southern Hokkaido and a decent distance away from the Sea of Japan, Sunlaiva is not in “gosetsu chitai” in the firing line of the “lake effect” snowstorms that come from the northwest across the Sea of Japan (the “lake”). Despite having amazing off-piste and backcountry terrain, Sunlaiva doesn’t receive the volumes of snow to consistently set up the off-piste areas, so it’s often just ideal for confident beginners and low-end intermediates.

To further reduce its appeal for high end intermediates and advanced skiers and snowboarders, Sunlaiva Ski Area has retired its top lift. The Sunlaiva website reports that the lift is just “paused” and let’s hope that is the case.

The ski area is sometimes also referred to as Sunlaiba or Sun Lavia. 

Pros and Cons of Sunlaiva Hokkaido

Pros 
  • Sunlaiva has good terrain for beginners and those progressing to intermediate.
  • It is a reasonably quiet ski area, so beginners can learn in peace.
  • Nearby Noboribetsu Onsen has lovely onsen and other activities such as geyser spotting in Hell Valley.
Cons
  • It is a small ski area. - Sunlaiva Ski Resort doesn’t receive the same snow volumes as other Hokkaido ski areas that are located close to the west coast.
Pro or Con Depending On Your Perspective
  • Sunlaiva has some amazing off-piste terrain in the higher reaches, but it doesn’t always have enough snow to ride it and if the top lift continues to sit dormant, you can only access it via hiking.
  • Lift passes are inexpensive, but you don’t get a lot on offer for your money.

Sunlaiva Ski and Snowboard Terrain

Sunlaiva Ski Resort is small and has grown smaller since the closure of the top lift. It has only 5 courses and 190 metres of vertical (350 – 540m), yet the former top elevation was 740 metres. Some sources cite the top elevation as 1,040 metres, but this is the altitude of the mountain not the ski area. Sunlaiva has 2 pair lifts that run almost parallel with each other.

The piste runs are not the best for novices, but OK for other beginners and those progressing to intermediate status. There is little capacity for off-piste skiing from the two lower lifts due to the density of the trees firstly, and also due to likely snow coverage.

Advanced riders may want to hike up the former top lift zone. The Panorama Course is very aptly named due to the views across the water, whilst the Dynamic Course is a bit steeper. If the snow cover is good, the off-piste and sidecountry terrain is moderately pitchy and offers tree skiing and more open zones. Skinning further up provides additional rewards including some steeper backcountry terrain.

Sunlaiva Snow

Like a lot of Japanese ski areas, the average amount of snowfall each season is unknown. It doesn’t get the colossal amounts of snow that the ski resorts to the northwest get and Sunlaiva is more inclined to get snow from storms from more southerly directions rather than the classic Hokkaido snowstorms. The average snow base sits at about 70cm in the middle of winter.

The quality of the snow that falls is usually very good, but low elevation and aspect contribute to snow deterioration when the sun comes out. The lower lifts have a mostly east facing aspect, whilst the former top lift is more southeast facing.

Where is Sunlaiva?

The full name of the ski resort is Karurusu Onsen Sunlaiva, which reflects its location in the very small village of Karurusu Onsen. Sunlaiva Ski Area is in southern Hokkaido near Lake Kuttara and 9km northwest of the tourist village of Noboribetsu Onsen.

Some tour buses do beginner packages to ski at Sunlaiva, with the main focus being on other activities around Noboribetsu. Otherwise, there are no buses to Sunlaiva and self-driving is the best way to get there.

Accommodation

There is no accommodation at the base of the Sunlaiva Ski Resort, yet there are a couple of onsen hotels in Karurusu Onsen within a 10 minute walk of the ski area.

Your best bet would be to stay in one of the many hotels in Noboribetsu Onsen, where there are various other activities nearby.

Facilities

Most of the Sunlaiva ski resort facilities are housed within a couple of buildings at the base. Upstairs in the main lodge is a massive cafeteria that overlooks the ski area. Its size is very much out of keeping with the magnitude of the ski area, like they’re expecting a massive crowd to come for lunch. Lunch prices are ridiculously cheap for a ski resort.

There are no-frills ski and snowboard equipment rentals that would be adequate for beginners, and very inexpensive ski and snowboard lessons if you happen to speak Japanese fluently. Sunlaiva also has a small gift shop that sells a few ski and snowboard accessories.
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