Every year, tens of thousands of people flock to Sapporo during winter in February for the Yuki Matsuri or snow festival. Hundreds of ice sculptures crafted by hand would be on display in their full glory. A Star Wars-themed series of sculptures was even featured this year (2016) in honor of the latest movie release. However, the ice festival usually only runs 5 or 6 days, and tickets to Sapporo at that time may be slightly costly. A great alternative guised as a lucky surprise found us when we were visiting Lake Shikotsu, which is not far from the Shin-Chitose airport.
The scenery at Lake Shikotsu was beautiful. The ground covered with a blanket of white with the deep, serene blue of the lake, and fluffy clouds dotting the sky painted a really pretty picture. There were restaurants and cafes open, some of which had stalls selling street food. Steamed or grilled corn-on-the-cob, fried calamari, the local favorite potato dango, and even warm milk. The melon flavored soft serve was also really good!
Wandering further down the road, an ice castle greeted us over the blind bend. It was the Lake Shikotsu ice festival! Entrance is free though a donation of 100 yen for the upkeep of the park is optional. It comes with a nice postcard and 100 yen off drinks in the arena. There were many forts and castles that we could enter or climb. One had trees frozen into the walls, and another which was supposed to resemble a shrine or temple, had coins frozen in it!
After making a round around the small ice park, we stopped to look at the ponies and play on the slides. Sliding on ice is more exhilarating than I had thought. After exiting the park, we visited the Lake Shikotsu Visitor Centre, which was a museum of sorts that introduced the history of how the lake was formed as well as the native species of animals that lived there. Did you know that the ezo momonga, possibly the cutest animal on earth, lives there? It’s just too bad that the chubby flying squirrel is nocturnal.
Overall, it was a fun and eye-opening experience for a winter spent at part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park.