Although often overlooked by North America and Europe, Japan is a true ski treasure. It offers excellent powder, fewer crowds and a culture unlike any other.
The Land of the Rising Sun boasts nearly 600 ski resorts and some of the finest snow in the world. Even though the nightlife isn’t an asset, there are still many things to do off the slopes. These include food and culture as well as the traditional onsen hot spring.
Niseko is Japan’s most popular, largest and snowiest ski resort. It attracts many international skiers, especially Australians, with its well-groomed runs and fantastic off-piste terrain. It is located in Hokkaido, its northernmost island, 100km from Sapporo. The average annual snowfall is 15m.
Niseko has more than 800 hectares worth of skiable terrain. It is also home to snowboarders and skiers of all levels. There are many accommodation options in the area. The dining scene is vibrant, with Japanese and Western-style eateries clustered around Hirafu Village.
Rusutsu Ski Resort is located only 40 minutes from Niseko, a popular spot for skiing and winter sports in Japan. It has excellent tree runs and modern lift infrastructure. The resort’s 37 gentle tracks are ideal for intermediate and advanced skiers.
There are many dining and lodging options. However, Rusutsu, unlike Niseko, is quieter and family-oriented. It has an outdoor amusement park, horseback riding, dog walking, snowmobiling and other activities.
Appi Kogen, Japan’s answer for St. Moritz, is nestled in the Towada Hachimantai National Park. Although off-piste skiing is prohibited in the area’s Towada-Hachimantai National Park, Appi Kogen has 21 well-kept slopes and excellent facilities that make skiing fun for beginners and professionals. Popular alternatives to snowboarding, snowmobiling and snowshoeing during the snow season include sledging, Onsening and delicious Japanese food.
Appi Kogen’s best feature is its children’s park. Here, children can enjoy the snow, learn to ski, and do various other activities.
Zao Onsen, located on Honshu Island, Yamagata Prefecture, is well-known for its hot springs and stunning Juhyo ice monsters. The lack of Australian tourists means that there is a more Japanese experience, and both skiers and snowboarders have plenty of space on the slopes.
Although the slopes at Zao Onsen may not be the best in the country, the snow monsters provide a spectacular backdrop for your ski ride. Many of the hotels and Ryokans (Japanese Inns) located in this ski resort offer their onsens. Visitors also love to sing at Karaoke bars.
Hakuba, which is home to many ski resorts and some of the most difficult runs in Japan, is one of the most popular ski destinations in the region. It’s located in the northern Japanese Alps and is home to many of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics events. As such, it has all the world-class facilities you would expect, including beautiful runs and high-speed lifts and great restaurants and a variety of accommodation options.
Each ski resort in the Hakuba Valley has its unique flavour and features. Happy One, which caters to intermediate skiers, is the most well-known. Hakuba 47 is for advanced riders and has long, steep, and challenging runs. Tsugaike, Goryu, Iwatake and Iwatake are great for beginners. Cortina, one of the most popular resorts for powder hounds, is also one of the few where off-piste or tree skiing is allowed.
Shiga Kogen, located in the Joshin’etsu-Kogen National Park, is Japan’s highest and most extensive ski area. It also has the longest ski season (mid-to-late December to early May). You can experience 21 different ski resorts with one ski pass.
It has more than 800 km of trails, making it a popular destination for snowboarders and skiers. Many with ski-in/ski-out facilities, the hotels cater to all tastes and budgets. Shiga Kogen also has a great apres-ski scene with good choices of bars, restaurants and other off-piste activities.
Tourists can visit the Jigokudani Monkey Park to see famous snow monkeys in hot springs. A day trip to Nagano (about fifty km) will allow you to immerse yourself in this country’s fascinating culture fully.