Call us biased, but we think Japan has the best skiing in the world. Japan is an archipelago made up of thousands of islands, more than 70% of which are covered in mountains. This mountainous terrain and proximity to the Sea of Japan make it a world-class ski and snowboard destination. There are over 500 ski hills located throughout the country. These range from large-scale international resorts to single-lift slopes kept under tight wraps and enjoyed only by locals. If we haven’t already convinced you, read on to discover why skiing in Japan should be on the bucket list of every ski and snowboard enthusiast!
While ski areas dot the entire country, the two main and most noteworthy are on the northern island of Hokkaido and on the nation’s main island of Honshu. In general, the resorts on Hokkaido get more snow each year than those on Honshu. The snow that falls on Hokkaido is also world-famous for having a very low moisture content, making it very dry and fluffy – perfect conditions for skiing and snowboarding!
As the cold winds blow over the Sea of Japan they collect moisture which is dropped when confronted with mountains and releases record amounts of snow. In Hokkaido, the snow can fall for days on end and is the reason behind its unofficial designation as the powder capital of the world! On average, Hokkaido receives 15 meters of snow annually, compared to 12 meters in Whistler and nine meters in Banff. It’s not only the amount of snow that Japan is famous for, but also the quality of the snow that has earned it the name Japow – and the reputation of having the best skiing in the world.
If all this talk about amazing powder hasn’t already convinced you to book a plane ticket, imagine capping off a day of skiing with a steaming bowl of savoury ramen noodles and a cold pint of Sapporo beer. Then head for a soak in a traditional hot spring (onsen) to ease your tired muscles. There’s no doubt about it, skiing in Japan is truly an experience of a lifetime.
In Japan, the ski season runs from mid-December to the end of March. The peak period for visitors falls over Christmas and Lunar New Year. The best time to avoid the crowds is in February and March when the skies are typically clearer and large amounts of snow accumulate on a well-established base.
On Honshu, Japan’s main island, the best time to ski is in January and February when the region receives the best powder. In the north on Hokkaido, the best conditions are later in the season (mid-February through March) when there is an excellent snow base and more sunny days on average.
With over 500 ski areas it is hard to choose where to go, so we’ve done the research and put together a list of the top five ski resorts in Japan.
Niseko is arguably the most famous ski resort in Japan, and quite possibly the best skiing in the world. Visitors from around the world head to Niseko to experience Japan’s famous fluffy powder, long ski season and consistent high falls of snow. English is the main language spoken on the resort making it easy for visitors to make their way around the four interconnected ski hills. In addition to long ski runs, Niseko resorts offer backcountry enthusiasts the option for off-trail skiing. Backcountry ski areas can be accessed through special gates or on guided tours, most notably to the slopes of the nearby volcano, Mount Yotei.
The Shiga Kogen Ski Resort is Japan’s largest ski area with 19 resorts in total and enough varied terrain to keep you busy for a few days. A single lift ticket will get you access to 52 lifts, gondolas, and ropeways in the area. Shiga Kogen is split into the two areas connected by a shuttle bus. The southern section has ski runs and hot springs that lead to the summit of the 2305m tall Mount Yokote. The northern section hosted the slalom events of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics and contains a number of 2000 m high peaks. All combined, Shiga Kogen has an extensive area for skiers and snowboarders to explore.
Furano is another one of Hokkaido’s top ski resorts with long runs, a terrain park, halfpipe and downhill courses used for World Cup races. It is a family-friendly resort with a good selection of beginner runs, wide slopes, and attractions where you can experience snow rafting, dog sledding, parasailing, and snowmobiling.
Zao is a well-known onsen and ski resort town in the Yamagata prefecture on Japan’s main island. The ski resort is most famous for its ‘snow monsters’ or ‘snow ghosts’ as they are sometimes referred to in North America. These beautiful formations are caused by combinations of wind, clouds, and fog near the mountain’s summit that coat the trees in layers of ice. The snow monsters are the most spectacular in mid-February when they are at their largest and lit up at night. Zao is Japan’s oldest ski resort with 30 lifts, gondolas, and ropeways giving access to runs for all abilities. The longest run starts at the summit with the snow monsters and extends for 10 kilometres.
This highly rated ski resort is located right above an English-friendly onsen town so you can end a day on the slopes with a hot soak. Nozawa is one of Japan’s oldest ski resorts but has been updated with modern high-speed lifts. Skiers and snowboarders have access to runs suitable for all skill levels, including a 39-degree slope for true adrenaline seekers.
With over 500 ski resorts, it’s hard to choose just five. Here are a few more to add to your bucket list:
Hakuba gained international attention during the 1998 Nagano Olympics when it hosted a number of alpine and nordic events. The ski area has several large resorts and is known for its good snow. Hakuba can be reached on a day trip from Tokyo, but an overnight trip will give you more time to enjoy the town’s onsens after a day on the slopes.
Known for deep powder and a long ski season, Yuzawa encompasses 20 resorts ranging from one to thirty lifts. All resorts are within a couple hours from Tokyo and are accessible by public transit making it a popular ski area. Like all the best ski regions in Japan, Yuzawa is also known for its onsen hot springs.
Interested to learn more about how you can get your dream job at a ski resort in Japan? Check out our Japan Ski Working Holiday Programs to view all the details. Do you know someone between the ages of 18 and 30 who would enjoy the experience of going on a ski working holiday in Japan? Share this article with them!
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