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 destination 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 our top ten Japan ski destinations.
November 6th, 2020 | by April Eve Day and Jared Kubokawa
Yuzawa in Niigata may be number 10, but it is by far the most convenient destination to get to on our list. You could be standing in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo station, and in just over an hour a bullet train could whisk you away to the heart of Japan’s famous yukiguni or “Snow Country”. Yuzawa is home to 9 different ski resorts, including Gala Yuzawa, Yuzawa Kogen, Naeba and Kagura, just to name a few. Of note, Naeba is the site of the massive summer music festival Fuji Rock, and it also boasts the longest gondola in Japan—called the Dragondola (not a lie). The Dragondola is a 20 minute ride and connects Naeba to the neighboring Kagura ski resort. Kagura scores high points if you’re looking for spring skiing. In March it’s top lift opens, providing ski-able terrain all the way to June.
Famed for its “snow monsters”, Zao is a the perfect resort for skiers and boarders of all levels. While intermediates are cruising the groomers, experts can take on the “omori wall” (a 32 degree mogul course), or spend their time in the nicely spaced tree runs found in the side/backcountry. If you want to combine your days on the slopes with heavenly onsens, Zao is the ticket. There is a small village with restaurants, hotels, onsens, and Japanese style bars called “izakayas”. If you want to rub elbows with the locals and impress them with your incredible rendition of the Beatles’ Yesterday, stop by the local karaoke bar, where you are sure to be a hit.
Shiga Kogen, Nagano
Welcome to Japan’s largest resort by acreage, and one of the highest lift accessible ski areas on our list. Many of Shiga Kogens resorts are connected meaning you don’t have to take off your skis or board when moving from one to the next. A convenient bullet train to Nagano City, and a bus to the resort make getting here a breeze. There are many tourist attractions in the area including the world-famous snow monkeys; book a tour and get that picture you have been dreaming about. Back on the slopes, intermediates will have an absolute gas here. The only reason Shiga Kogen didn’t make it higher up the list, is because there are no real quaking in your boots’ steeps on offer. We do recommend sticking to Okushiga and Yakebitaiyama as the northerly aspect, higher elevation and un-groomed black runs will keep the stoke levels high.
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 the ropeway, the mountain, and all the powder you could ever want, is yours to enjoy. If the wind happens to be too strong for the ropeway, or if you have people in your group who aren’t quite as ambitious, you can 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 area consisting of 9 resorts, receives excellent snow, and is close enough to Tokyo for a weekend trip (2 hours by train or car). For those who want the Japow experience 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. Be forewarned, some of the terrain is super rowdy so make sure to bring your avy gear if you’re headed into the backcountry—shred with caution my friends.
Rutsutsu has some of the lightest, driest powder in Hokkaido, along with some incredible off-piste and tree skiing. It is the perfect place for experienced skiers and boarders. You’ll love how quiet the slopes are compared to the ever popular Niseko. The well-maintained lift system will keep you warm all day, something of a rarity in Japan. You’ll never get bored 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. Home to 8 resorts, Myoko offers both groomed and un-groomed terrain to suit skiers and snowboarders of any level. With an average yearly snowfall of more than 15 meters, it rivals even Hokkaido. Myoko is one of the most naturally beautiful ski resorts in Japan, with wide runs flanked by snow covered evergreens, and spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. If you’re looking to splurge, check out Akakura Kanko Hotel. Perched high on the slopes this beautiful hotel offers unforgettable views as you float above a sea clouds. 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. The best thing about Niseko though is 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 ski 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.
We have to admit we may be a little biased with this one, but you when you take amazing snow, add steep advanced terrain, gorgeous groomers, and some terrific tree runs, 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. With it’s hot springs, and small Japanese style inns called ryokans, the village retains the old Japanese charm that other resorts lack. Be sure to take advantage of all of Hakuba’s 10 resorts when you come. If you’re looking to catch a good pow day, don’t miss the resorts of Happo, Cortina, and Tsugaike. For the best Hakuba skiing experience, we highly recommend taking a backcountry tour. The mountains have 1000m of breathtaking terrain above the resorts and in our opinion the best skiing in Japan.
There you have it—the top ten best ski destinations in all of Japan. We want to know what you think. Leave a comment below and we will see you out on the slopes, mata ne!