Japan is a veritable smorgasbord of skiing and snowboarding. With close to 600 different resorts from the Northernmost tip of Hokkaido all the way to Kyushu, Japan boasts the most ski resorts per capita of any country in the world. From world-class operations to small single lift family-run hills, Japan has the ski trip you’re looking for and the snow to match. With such a wide variety of options, it can be a challenge to choose where to ski in Japan. Not to worry, we are here to help! Without further ado, we give you Events Hakuba’s top ten Japan ski resorts.
November 6th, 2020 | by April Eve Day and Jared Kubokawa
Last but not least and by far the most convenient destination on our list is Niigata’s Yuzawa. You can be standing in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo station and suddenly, in just over an hour, you are whisked away via bullet train to the heart of Japan’s famous yukiguni or “Snow Country”. Home to the massive summer music festival Fuji Rock is Yuzawa’s Naeba ski resort which boasts the longest gondola in Japan—called the Dragondola, not a lie—that meanders across beautiful valleys and follows a year-round flowing river to Kagura Ski resort. Kagura is high on our list of spring resorts as they finally open the top lift in March and you can ski all the way until June.
Famed for its “snow monsters”, Zao is also the perfect resort for skiers and boarders of all levels. Let the intermediates cruise the groomers and send the experts to the “wall”, the nicely spaced trees, or into the side/backcountry. If you want to combine your snowsports with heavenly onsens Zao in Yamanashi prefecture is your ticket. There is a small village with restaurants, hotels, onsens, some Japanese style bars called “izakayas” and even a karaoke place if you want to rub elbows with the locals and impress them with your incredible rendition of the Beatles’ Yesterday, which they will surely request. It happened to us!
Shiga Kogen, Nagano
Welcome to Japan’s largest (by acreage) and one of the highest lift accessible ski resorts on the list. Home to many of the 1998 Winter Olympic events, Shiga Kogen has a distinctly European feel as you can travel a cirque around all of the resorts without ever taking off your board or skis. A convenient bullet train to Nagano City and a bus to the resort, there are many tourist attractions in the area including the world-famous snow monkeys, Zenkoji Buddhist temple and Matsumoto’s “castle black”. Back on the slopes, intermediates will have an absolute gas here. The only reason Shiga Kogen didn’t make it higher up the list as there is no real quaking in your boots’ steeps on offer. We do recommend sticking to Okushiga and Yakebitaiyama—or “Yakebi” to locals”—as the northerly aspect, higher elevation and a couple of ungroomed black runs will keep the stoke levels high. English lessons and some nightlife are available.
Powderhounds take note! With its single ropeway, Hakkoda is more of a backcountry destination than a traditional ski resort. But what it lacks in lift infrastructure, it more than makes up for in pure, unadulterated Japow. Once you get to the top of that ropeway, the mountain, and all the powder you could ever want, is simply all yours. If the wind happens to be too strong for the ropeway, or if you have people in your group who aren’t quite as hardcore as you, head over to Aomori Spring Ski Resort for more of a civilized affair. This resort is way off the beaten path, has an excellent park and pipe and the gorgeous ski-in ski-out Rockwood Hotel will knock your socks off.
This traditional Japanese ski resort receives excellent snow and is close enough to Tokyo for a weekend trip. For those who want the Japow without the crowds or the apres ski, Houdaigi in Minakami is the place to go. Beginner and intermediate riders are very well catered for here, and there is enough advanced terrain to keep experienced riders occupied for the weekend. Some of the terain is super rowdy so make sure to bring your avi gear if you’re headed into the backcountry—shred with caution my friends.
Rutsutsu boasts some of the lightest, driest powder in Hokkaido, along with some incredible off-piste and tree skiing, making it the perfect place for experienced skiers and boarders. You’ll love how quiet the slopes are compared to Niseko and the well-maintained lift system will keep you warm all day, something of a rarity in Japan. You’ll never get bored (see what we did there) in the largest resort in Hokkaido.
Hokkaido is synonymous with great snow, so when a ski resort is said to have the best snow in Hokkaido, you know it’s going to be epic. Not only is the snow in Kiroro fantastic, this small resort, with its luxury accommodation and quiet slopes, will have you feeling like a VIP. But as exclusive as it is, there are still ski and snowboard lessons available in English and plenty of family-friendly activities on offer. Don’t miss this incredible spot.
If you’re looking to escape the city crowds and kick back in a relaxed Japanese style resort, look no further than Myoko. There is both groomed and ungroomed terrain to suit skiers and snowboarders of any level here, and with an average yearly snowfall of more than 15 meters, it can even rival Hokkaido. Myoko is one of the most naturally beautiful ski resorts in Japan, with wide runs flanked by snow covered evergreens and of course spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. If you’re looking to splurge, check out Akakura Kanko Hotel. Perched right on the slopes, it is the highest hotel by elevation in all of Japan and boasts rooms with private onsens. If you don’t want to break the bank, Myoko is also full of charming family-run ryokans. For powder, don’t miss the resorts of Madarao, Arai and Seki Onsen.
If you’re hungering for a little taste of home, Niseko is the place to go. You will find large western-style hotels, restaurants serving all manner of western food, and some of the best nightlife in Japan. But did we mention the best thing about Niseko, the white gold? That’s right—the snow. The fluffy, soft, light, dry powder that just falls and falls and falls. This is arguably the best snow in Japan which makes it some of the best snow on earth. Utah, please look away. It doesn’t have the super steep terrain of some other resorts, but with snow this good, you won’t even notice. There are plenty of schools offering English lessons for adults and children alike so if this is your first ski trip, never fear, you’ll be busting some moves on the slopes in no time.
Take some amazing snow, add steep advanced terrain, gorgeous groomers, and some terrific tree runs and you have the epic…Hakuba. But that’s only half the story. Not only is Hakuba great for seasoned skiers and snowboarders, it’s also the perfect place to learn, with plenty of beginner runs and several ski schools offering lessons in both English and Japanese. The east meets west vibe continues in the village, where you can get the very best of both Japanese and Western food. If you’ve been falling behind in your Japanese lessons you can easily get by in English, yet with its hot springs, or onsens, and small Japanese style inns called ryokans, the village still retains the old Japanese charm that other resorts lack. Don’t miss the resorts of Happo, Cortina, and Tsugaike.
There you have it—the top ten best ski destinations in all of Japan. We want to know what you think and what experiences you’ve had at these resorts. Please leave a comment below and see you out on the slopes, mata ne!
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