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Snowboarding and skiing in Japan are popular winter pastimes, for good reason. The country is recognised as a world-class destination for winter sports lovers, providing high-quality snow, good conditions, breathtaking scenery, and relaxing après-ski activities. There are over 500 ski resorts across Japan from the northern island of Hokkaido to the southern island of Kyushu, varying in size and slopes.
This guide provides a look at some of the best ski resorts and how to get there.
Perfect snow to hit the slopes
The science behind Japan’s high-quality and abundant snow is explained as sea-effect snow. Cold winds flow from west to east, collecting moisture when crossing the Sea of Japan. Additionally, the water in the Sea of Japan does not freeze — providing a constant source of moisture to cold air to produce perfect, dry and tiny ice crystals when falling on land. The country receives an average of 300 to 600 inches of snowfall. This freshly fallen snow is known as powder snow: light and dry, fluffy and smooth which makes for a smooth, supportive, and enjoyable skiing experience.
The best times for skiing in Japan
While the season lasts from December to April, the best time to go is in January to early February. At the same time, skiers should be aware of booking close to the Lunar New Year, when many skiers and tourists will vacation in Japan to ski, meaning higher prices and busier slopes.
Hokkaido is home to some of the best resorts, known for deep powder, excellent conditions, and scenery. Travelling from Tokyo to Hokkaido requires a flight to Sapporo, and then a few hours’ drive by car or shuttle bus.
Niseko is in the northern part of Hokkaido and consistently featured on the World’s Best list for skiing and snowboarding. At the same time, popularity makes it one of the busiest during peak season. There are around 50 kilometers of well-groomed terrain with ski areas that have the highest average snowfalls in Japan of 15 meters. The resort is one of the largest and renowned for its deep, high-quality and consistent soft powder snow and long runs, ideal for families and skiers of all levels.
Rusutsuis an all-in-one ski resort and the largest one in Hokkaido, extending across 3 mountains. The area has 37 courses, totaling a length of 42 kilometers of groomed slopes. There are also opportunities for off-piste skiing, or on ungroomed, unmarked terrain. Rusutsu is also very family friendly, offering kids lessons, dog sledding, tubing, and snowmobiling.
Nagano is known for its mountains, architecture and hot springs. A one-way trip from Tokyo takes less than 2 hours by train.
Hakuba Valley is an internationally renowned resort in the Northern Japan Alps. After all, the valley hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics. Home to around 10 resorts, with more than 200 runs, the terrains are known for consistent snowfall, producing bottomless powder snow. The conditions are frequently good with slopes a bit steeper than the ones found in Hokkaido. For those travelling from Tokyo, Hakuba is easily commutable by bullet train. Nearby is the famous Snow Monkey Park, where visitors can observe monkeys bathe in onsens.
Nozawa Onsen is a ski resort and hot spring village near Nagano City that is considered the birthplace of skiing in Japan. There are around 36 courses, with a majority for beginners. The historic villages features abundant snow, diverse terrain and around 30 types of onsen. During ski season, there are over 100 restaurants and bars for visitors to enjoy.
Skiing in Gifu is prized for 360 degree views of Northern Alps. Located in the center of Honshu Island, it sits in between Tokyo and Kyoto. From Tokyo, visitors can take a combination of bullet trains and local trains. Meiho is a popular destination for those in the Kansai region, so it’s recommended for tourists to also make a trip to Kyoto and Osaka during the winter. The region is seen as the top ski resort in Western Japan with 4 slopes and 12 trails.
Niigata is located on the coast of the Sea of Japan, with about 20 resorts that are all are accessible by public transportation.
Myoko Kogen is suitable for skiers who are looking for a calmer time, without sacrificing the quality of the slopes. As one of the oldest ski areas, founded in the 1930s, the village differs from other areas in that it feels more like a traditional Japanese town. It is less crowded than other resorts, without a major nightlife or glitzy party scene.
Yuzawa is known as yukiguni, or “snow country” with its season lasting until May. This is one of the easiest ski areas to access from Tokyo, located 200 kilometers away, visitors can get to Yuzawa in around 80 minutes by bullet train. With many of the resorts close to one another, visitors can easily get to them on ski lifts. Beginners should head to the slopes towards the center of town, and more advanced skiers are recommended to go to more challenging runs around Mount Naeba.
After a long day of skiing, skiers can enjoy après-ski through bathing in onsen, enjoying the ski village’s restaurants, bars, and karaoke venues at almost all of these resorts. As one of the best places for winter sports and recreation in the world, you can’t really go wrong when skiing in Japan.
Keep up with the Go! Go! Nihon blog to learn more about life and activities to do in Japan.