Travel to Japan and Sapporo
There are three main gateway airports in Japan: Narita airport (Tokyo), Kansai airport (Osaka) and Centrea airport (Nagoya). There are connecting flights from all these airports to Chitose airport in Sapporo.
▪ Sapporo Chitose Airport to Sapporo City
I think that the train is the best means of transport in wintertime. JR (Japan railway company) Hokkaido has many kinds of trains from the airport to Sapporo city. Airport shuttle trains operate from 6:30 AM to 8:45 PM every 15 minutes, it takes 38 minutes. The one way ticket costs 1040 yen (about 10 €). It is safe, rapid (mostly on time even in winter) and convenient.
You can also take a bus, available every 10 – 15 minutes, it costs 1000 yen and takes 60 – 70 minutes. If you stay at any of the famous big hotels in Sapporo, bus service door to door is convenient. But buses are often delayed in wintertime.
Car rental is not a good idea in Sapporo in wintertime: traffic jams, accidents, slippery roads, no English road signs.
▪ Hotels to Sapporo Dome (start)
The subway is the best choice from the city to the start of the race. Taxis are expensive. Car parking at the Sapporo Dome is possible only on Friday and Saturday not available on Sunday it costs 200 Yen per hour (the track is open for training on Friday and Saturday 10AM-3PM).
The schedule of Sapporo Ski Marathon changed one day before the famous Sapporo Snow Festival. There are many hotels in Sapporo city but most of them have small rooms and are expensive and there are no waxing facilities.
My recommended Seishonenkaikan Hotel is closed now, I recommend APA HOTEL & RESORT SAPPORO that is located south of Sapporo city. It is conveniently to go to the Sapporo Dome (start area), Takino Snow World(training area) and the City center(shopping and night life). The room charge is about 4500~6000 Japanese Yen per person per night in a single room. There is enough waxing space inside the building and big Spa.
If you want to book this hotel, please contact Minoru at email@example.com at least before September; earlier is better. If you contact the race office about accommodation in Sapporo, they say that the Sheraton Sapporo has rooms for you, but they are very expensive about 150 US$ per person per night.
You can go to the web site for the Ski Marathon to register. This is very easy if you are not from Japan. You can register on the web and they don’t ask for any advance payment. You will pay when you pick up your bib and computer chip on the Saturday before the race in the dome. They have translators available at the site for several languages.
Skiing in Sapporo
The course used for the Sapporo Ski marathon is not a permanent ski trail. It is prepared explicitly for the race. Because of this the course is not useful for practice if you arrive several days before the race, which is recommended. The organizers prepare the trail the week before the race and it is open for practice on the Friday and Saturday before the race. Even on the Friday you may encounter machinery preparing the course and there may be small gaps that are not ready yet.
An excellent place for skiing in Sapporo is the Takino Snow Park. It has well groomed XC trails with a profile that is similar to the Ski Marathon. It is located 10 km from the Makomanai subway station from where it can be reached in 40 minutes by bus number 102. The entry is free; restaurant, cafe and rest-place are available as well as several well-groomed tracks from 5 to 15 km. Web-site www.takinopark.com. With the bounty of snow that is usually available in Sapporo it is a place not to be missed.
Using the subway in Sapporo is easy since stations and procedures are displayed in English as well. Using the buses takes a little more preparation since the signs are only in Japanese and the driver usually knows little English and the system seems different from many other countries. You enter the bus by the back door and you don’t pay until you exit through the front door. The cost depends on the distance you travel. It currently costs 430 yen from Makomanai subway station to the Takino Snow Park. You will see an electronic board at the front of the bus that shows the cost from the bus stop where you entered the bus to the current location. This number will be updated as the bus progresses. When you exit you must pay the driver cash for the trip. The bus also has a changing machine used for coins and 1000 yen bills that is combined with the machine where you deposit the fee. If you need change, then you first use the changing machine and after that you deposit the correct fare.
The start is near the Sapporo Dome and there is no need to bring any warm clothes to the start line. Just ski out to the start and then wait for about 10 minutes. If you are an international skier you have “priority status” and will start at the left side of the elite wave.
The race course (50km), or at least part of it, was used for the Olympics in Sapporo in 1972. It is really a skiers dream (or nightmare if you have not practiced enough). Don’t be misled by the profile that is published for the course. It is anything but flat and straight. Very little of the course if flat and there are numerous downhill’s, that will get the adrenaline up, and long draining uphill’s that will get the heart pumping at its limit. The first 4 km is fairly wide and is also a deceptive uphill. It never seems steep to the eye but you gain 150 meters. After that the course slims down so that it is wide enough for one or two skiers in different sections. Passing may be difficult at times. The first 25 km are extremely hard. After that the hills become a bit gentler which you may or may not notice. After 42 km they give you the last shock, it is a 90 meter climb in less than a kilometer. If possible, save some of your energy. After that you are home free, most of the remainder is downhill, the exception being about a kilometer on the field before you reach the Dome at the finish where you have a very gentle uphill. They set one classical track at the side but because the course is narrow it will be destroyed by the skaters. Unless you can finish in the first 20, don’t expect a classic track that is useful.
The short course (25km) shares the track with the long course for the first 13 km. After that it returns on a track that is partly shared with the long race. Even this course is demanding. The 25 km racers start 20 minutes after the start of the long race which is a nuisance for slow 50 km skiers and fast 25 km skiers since there is a lot of passing before the courses are separated. A wider time separation would be really nice.
The finish is also at the Sapporo Dome. You can go inside right away and change into dry clothing. They have excellent showers at the Dome. In the words of Hannes “ I found they were the best showers in the world: you step out with absolutely dry feet.” Hopefully they have been washed!
The spacing of the feed stations is adequate. The first two are at about 10k and 20k (50km race) and some closer spacing would be nice especially for slower skiers. All the feed stations have bananas, oranges, sport drinks and water and some more options. The course is marked at every kilometer with what seems like Japanese accuracy.
These are demanding courses and anybody completing it is an accomplished skier and should be proud of the fact.
You can enjoy other ski races before and after the Sapporo Ski Marathon but there is no web page about domestic races yet. Please contact Minoru at the above-mentioned email address.
The forecast is available at Accuweather.
The web site for the race is www.sspc.or.jp.