Japan’s amazing powder snow and the brilliant après-ski scene make it a favourite for skiing and snowboarding holidays. These are seven of our favourite ski slopes in Japan for beginners, experts and everyone in between.
Niseko is a collection of seven individual ski areas on Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, four of which are connected under a single pass, so there are plenty of beginner and intermediate runs on which to develop your snow skills and get used to light powder before taking on more advanced terrain. The region receives an average of 15-18 metres of snowfall each winter, so there’s definitely no need for artificial snow-making, and the reliable season attracts snow bunnies from all over the world, which has resulted in an international atmosphere where English is widely spoken. Choose from a wide range of accommodation options, ranging from modest pensions to five-star hotels.
The season runs from mid-December to late April, with the best snow conditions occurring between late January and late February.
Boarding in Hokkaido is all about the powder, and Rusutsu offers what many consider to be the best in the world. Located a 90-minute drive from Hokkaido’s New Chitose Airport, Rusutsu is a smaller ski resort than nearby Niseko, but it more than makes up for the less developed infrastructure by offering fewer crowds. There’s still plenty of space to ride – more than 200 hectares of slopes and trails spread across three low-lying mountains, including a “freedom”-style snowpark made from natural features and fallen trees. It’s also a popular location for heli-boarding and -skiing – a two-minute helicopter ride will deliver you to the top Mt. Shiribetsu, where professional guides will ensure you safely enjoy the best possible downhill, off-piste powder ride.
The season typically runs early December to early April – plan your snow holiday for the first week of February if you want to incorporate the Sapporo Snow Festival.
The slopes of Hokkaido’s tallest mountain are ideal for backcountry snow fun. The high altitude and inland location combine to deliver powder snow that is dry, pillowy and very deep, plus there’s the added thrill of skiing or snowboarding on an active volcano (rest assured, it hasn’t erupted in almost 300 years). A popular location for backcountry ski touring, you can ride the ropeway 500 metres up the mountain, then you’re free to explore a variety of challenging terrain options amidst scenic features such as ‘snow monsters’ and steaming fumaroles.
The season runs from mid-December to early May, but the Asahidake Ropeway may close during April for maintenance.
Less than a two-hour journey from Tokyo by bullet train, Lotte Arai offers a stunning scenic mountain setting and recently refurbished facilities that include a gondola and two hooded quad chairs, plus a luxury, full-service resort hotel at the base of the mountain. Mt. Okenashi (Okenashiyama) receives an average of more than 15 metres of snow each winter, and the varied terrain offers an even mix of beginner, intermediate and advanced slopes. It’s also one of the few resorts in Japan that work with the global Ikon Pass program, connecting you to 50-plus of the finest ski resorts around the world.
The season runs from mid-December to mid-May, with night skiing a fun addition during early January.
Located in the Japanese Alps less than two hours from Tokyo by bullet train, Hakuba Valley in Nagano prefecture is home to ten individual resorts and offers something for everyone. Famous for having hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics, the facilities are world-class, offering a variety of winter sports activities and plenty of long, immaculately-groomed runs that are ideally suited to beginner and intermediate levels. Ski schools offer coaching for every level of expertise, and there are plenty of family-friendly accommodation options. A day trip to see the famous snow monkeys of Jigokudani Monkey Park is a great way to complete your epic family snow holiday experience.
The ski season runs from early December to mid-April, and the resort is generally much busier on weekends when many Tokyo locals arrive for a weekend snow break.
Does soaking tired muscles in pools of naturally heated, mineral-rich volcanic spring water sound like your ideal way to conclude a day on the slopes? If so, you’ll be enchanted by the village of Nozawa Onsen, which offers the ideal combination of public hot spring baths, traditional Japanese ryokan accommodation and fantastic powder snow. The Nagano Prefecture, where Nozawa Onsen is located, is also renowned as a famous sake-producing region – be sure to try it hot, paired with a warming bowl of ramen.
The ski season generally runs from late November until early May, with January being a particularly busy month.
In a country that’s renowned for some of the world’s best and deepest powder snow conditions, Kiroro is considered by many to be at the top of the snow pile. The ski resort itself is located near the village of Akaigawa, west of Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido, but we recommend basing yourself in the seaside town of Otaru if you’re looking for a little après-ski fun and amazing sushi restaurants. Venture a little further along the coast to Yoichi Whisky Distillery to sample some of Japan’s finest whiskies.
Kiroro is renowned for its abundant early snow, with the ski season typically running from late November to early May.
This is just a small selection of our favourite places to ski in Japan – in total, there are more than 500 snow resorts to choose from, ranging from huge-interconnected areas to tiny resorts that remain well-kept secrets for the locals to enjoy. Your personal travel manager can help you choose the resort that best suits your needs and skills.