If you are standing at the center of Sapporo, which is the TV tower in case you were interested, and looking along the park towards the mountains, you will be able to see a ski jump in the distance. And that is as far as most people get. They turn around and head back into the city. But if you have any time at all you should go there.
The easiest way to get there is obviously by car. You can take a bus from Maruyama subway station (get on bus 円14 from stand 4 – buses come by about every 30 minutes). Get off at Ogura Yama sports stadium entrance (小倉山競技場入口). You then have to walk up hill for about 10 minutes. There are bus tours of the city that usually stop here. Or, you can do what I did: You can cycle to the top of the very steep hill on a bicycle with a three-year-old on your back! Yes! That’s definitely how you should do it! I can even lend you the three-year-old if you want.
Once you arrive you have to travel up the longest escalator I’ve seen in Japan to get to the base. There are also stairs but I wouldn’t advise it. Especially if you’ve just cycled up with a three-year-old.
The first point of call when you reach the base will be tickets. There are two you can buy and it is cheaper to buy them together (¥1,000) then separately (¥500 and ¥600). The two tickets are the ski lift and the museum. With your tickets in hand walk round the base of the slope and head towards the blue lifts on the far side. As you stroll round, have a look up to the jump towering above you and spare a thought for the absolute nutcases that throw themselves off it. They don’t jump everyday but if you are lucky you will get to witness people playing with gravity. They jump in the summer as well, landing on water soaked AstroTurf.
The ski lift is a real ski lift. If you have never had the experience you will enjoy it. Walk up, stand apprehensively as the lift swings towards you, sit down, raise your legs in front of you, pull down the safety bar and enjoy the ride. It takes about ten minutes.
When you are half way up, take a glance over at the ski jump. It is about ten feet off the ground. Try to imagine flying off that with nothing between you and the ground but a pair of flimsy skis!
At the top you have to get off in the same way. Raise the bar as you come in, jump off and run to the right of the lift. It is not as hard as it sounds. With a little aid my three-year-old daughter was able to do it.
At the top of the jump are two viewing platforms: one inside and one out. We bought a well-deserved ice cream and took it to the roof; where it promptly melted. Looking down from the viewing platform you can finally see the whole of the jump spreading out in front of you. Just standing there, imagining myself shooting down that ramp made my little heart get all fluttery.
Once you’ve had enough at the top take the lift back down. At the bottom you should head for the museum next. Although it has many displays on the history of skiing and ski jumping (the first people basically did it on pieces of wood!), it also has a number of areas where you can experience the thrill of winter sports. These are a lot of fun.
Across the road is the inevitable gift shop. You can buy things that are only from here and also souvenirs from all over Sapporo. There are also two restaurants if you are getting hungry. The first one, attached to the side of the museum, is more of a café, and has some light fare. The second, above the gift shop, is a proper restaurant with Genghis Khan (lamb meat) and beer.
Even if you skip the museum, restaurants and gift shop, Okurayama is an amazing place to visit. Just watching ski jumping on TV is not enough. You need to actually see a ski jump first hand to realize how absolutely insane these people are! (Authors own opinion). And, talking of insane, here is a picture of the bike my daughter and I cycled up on, just in case you don’t believe me.