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Have your best ski Holiday in Japan

 

Japan has an unfair advantage over other ski destinations. Scientists say the country has the greatest snow climate on the planet, with more snow at lower latitudes and elevations than anywhere else in the world. 

So if you love skiing, the question isn't why you'd go skiing in Japan - but why you wouldn't.

Girl in snow field

5 Best Japanese ski resorts to visit in 2019/2020

You'll find most mountains (and snow) on the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. There are literally hundreds of resorts to choose from. We've narrowed it down to five destinations that cater to every type of skier. Whether you're after heli-skiing, cross country skiing, tree skiing, exploring the backcountry, or gentler — but indisputably beautiful — beginner's terrain, you'll find it here.
 

Niseko ski

Niseko United
Best for Families With Kids 

At Niseko United, you get four Hokkaido ski resorts on one mountain: Grand Hirafu, Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Hanazono, and Niseko Village.

Each resort has its own character — some buzzing with activity, others offering a quieter, more mellow experience, with traditional lodgings. 

There's terrain for beginner, intermediate and experienced skiers, as well as the opportunity for night skiing, heli-skiing, and backcountry skiing. 

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All offer easy snow access and a range of kid-focussed activities — Kids Land Annapurni, the Hanazono Tube Park, the newly opened Niseko Grand HIRAFU Kids Park, and the creative Kids Snowsports School. There are even kid-sized snowmobiles that staff will teach your kids to ride.

Children 0-6 years ski free, and childcare is available for 1-6 year-olds. Lessons for all ages are available in English.

The cheapest way from Tokyo to Niseko is to fly, but you can also take the Shinkansen bullet train. Additionally, if you're travelling elsewhere in Japan, a JR Pass is worth investing in.

 

Manza Onsen ski

Manza Onsen Ski Resort 
Best for getting away from the crowds

What could be more beautiful than combining hot springs under the stars, a remote location in a national park, and great skiing? Manza Onsen is a town high on the slopes of Mount Shiran, on the island of Honshu. The onsens here reportedly have among the highest levels of sulphur of any in Japan.

The ski runs are mainly beginner to intermediate, but there's also a terrain park and backcountry skiing on offer. It's four hours by train from Tokyo, but if you're as much about the journey as the destination, you can ski there from Shiga Kogen, one of Japan's largest ski areas. 

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Manza Onsen is small and quiet, and not overrun with Western tourists. If you’re after some alone time, this is the ideal location. 

If that sounds a bit confronting, then you're better off heading to the larger, more accessible Nozawa Onsen. This UNESCO world heritage site, listed for its unique gassho style housing, is becoming a promising backcountry skiing destination. Right now, it’s still relatively unknown, so your experience of this picturesque mountain is likely to feel private and exclusive. 

Located at the foot of Mount Hakusan in the Northern Japanese Alps, there are no mechanised lifts from the valley, so you'll need a good fitness level, as well as the services of an experienced guide to make the most of it. 

Your hard work will be rewarded by steep, deep, untracked powder, and long runs that aren’t overrun by crowds.

Round off your adventure by exploring the traditional culture and cuisine of the local villages.

 

Shirakawa

Shirakawa-go
Best for Adventurous Couples 

This UNESCO world heritage site, listed for its unique gassho style housing, is becoming a promising backcountry skiing destination. Right now, it’s still relatively unknown, so your experience of this picturesque mountain is likely to feel private and exclusive. 

Located at the foot of Mount Hakusan in the Northern Japanese Alps, there are no mechanised lifts from the valley, so you'll need a good fitness level, as well as the services of an experienced guide to make the most of it. 

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Your hard work will be rewarded by steep, deep, untracked powder, and long runs that aren’t overrun by crowds. Round off your adventure by exploring traditional culture and cuisine of the local villages.

 

Hakuba Valley

Hakuba Valley 
Best for Seniors Who Need Accessibility 

Hakuba Valley is at the base of the Northern Alps. There are 10 resorts altogether, all connected by shuttle bus.   

There are two well-known resorts: Happo-One and Cortina. If Happo-One sounds familiar, that's because of the Nagano winter Olympic games in 1998. 

In addition to great skiing, Hakuba offers proximity to cultural experiences and opportunities for exploration.

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When you've had enough of the slopes, take a day trip to see the famed Japanese snow monkeys in Jigokudani Koen “Hell Valley Park” (named for the volcanic activity). You can try your hand at Otari Taiko drumming, or learn about tea ceremonies and traditional clothing known as Yakuta. 

It's also easy to find Hakuba accommodation in very close proximity to the Hakuba gondola, taking the hassle out of trekking to chairlifts.

It can take as little as 3 hours to get from Tokyo to Hakuba  — 90 minutes by bullet train to Nagano, and then a local train to Hakuba station. Both resorts offer a discounted ski pass for seniors.

 

Gala Yuzawa

Gala Yuzawa Ski Resort 
Best for beginners and last minute bookers

Sometimes plans change. If you suddenly find yourself with a spare 24 hours and an urge for snow, board the fast train from Tokyo to Gala Yuzawa. It only takes only 75 minutes, and Gala Yuzawa conveniently has its own Shinkansen (bullet train) station.

No equipment? No problem. You can rent everything you need. Pick up your tickets, take a lesson at the English language ski school, grab some food and head up on the gondola...it’s too easy! 

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Convenience brings crowds, of course, but the lines move quickly, and before you know it you're on the slopes. Beginner areas can be very crowded,  but if you can move further up, you'll escape the queues. Plus, it’s generally quieter mid-week.

 

 

snow activities to try in Japan

Tree Skiing

tree-skiing/glade skiing

Just like it sounds, tree skiing refers to skiing off the groomed slopes (off-piste) among trees of various shapes and sizes. Madarao Kogen has the most tree-skiing runs in Japan, suitable for a variety of skill levels.

Backcountry Skiing

back-country skiing

  • If you're keen to get off-piste, visit Hokkaido's Furano resort, which not only has the advantage of famed Hokkaido powder, but also more sunny days than any other Hokkaido resort.

Heli Skiing

Heli-skiing

  • There aren't many heli-skiing opportunities in Japan, but, for the exhilaration junkie, the Hokkaido Backcountry Club runs daily heli-skiing trips from Niseko to the Shiribetsu-Dake volcano. 

 

Snowboard

snowboarding

Everything that applies to skiing in Japan applies to snowboarding, too. But it's worth noting that Myoko Kogen is particularly favoured by local snowboarders for its soft powder and challenging slops. 

Cat Skiing

Cat-skiing

Cat-skiing uses a snowcat to explore the backcountry. You can cat-ski at Chisenupuri, which is part of the popular Niseko area, but far less crowded than other mountains. There's also less risk of avalanche here than at many other cat-skiing destinations around the world.

Dog Sledding

Dog sledding

A pack of dogs, fresh mountain air, and scenes out of a snow-globe. Try Asahakiwa or Minamifurano on Hokkaido for this exciting and exhilarating snow experience that's truly Instagrammable. 

 

when Should I go skiing in Japan?

  • Late November & April/May  

    The cheapest, but not the best time to go skiing in Japan. Still, you might find decent snow at Okutadami Maruyami, which tends to close in the middle of the ski season because there's too much snow in peak season. 

  • Mid December/ Christmas

    Expensive and crowded. You’ll need to book everything in advance.

  • January – February

    January is sometimes called “Japanuary,” because there is so much snow, the temperature drops, and there’s not much sun. Remember that Chinese New Year falls in January or February, and so it’ll be more expensive to book around that time. 

  • Mid February – end of March

    Spring skiing! More sunny days, it’s a little cheaper than December and January, and it’s the best time for beginners.

  • April

    Temperatures are staying above 0 degrees. Sunny days. Locals are skiing in t-shirts. If you book outside school holidays, you could get some true bargains.

  • Dates to avoid

    Christmas period, Chinese New Year.  It’s expensive and crowded at this time of the year.
     

 

7 little-known facts about skiing in japan

  • Luggage Forwarding

    Use a Luggage/ski gear forwarding service

    One of the greatest thing about skiing in Japan is the courier services that transport your ski gear from A to B. You can get to your destination by train or car, and your gear will likely be there before you. 

  • rules

    Rules are NOT meant to be broken

    If you want to go off-piste, check the rules. Where and where not to ski are strictly adhered to in Japan, and you could find yourself in a lot of trouble if you don't stay within boundaries. 

  • tipping

    You don’t need to tip

    Tipping is simply not part of the culture. In some restaurants you may be surprised with a small appetizer you didn't order, but are still expected to pay for (called "otoshi"), but this isn't always the case either.

  • tattoos

    Tattoos can be a problem

    Looking forward to an onsen to soothe those aching muscles? Many public onsen have an unofficial but strictly enforced ban on tattoos. So if you have one, you'll need to research tattoo-friendly onsens, or opt for kashikiri-buro (private baths).

  • quiet

    Be quiet on chairlifts

    In some places you can be a little noisy in queues and on chairlifts, but in Japan it’s impolite to cause any discomfort to other guests. So, keep the volume low.

 

 

skiing in Japan: What could go wrong?
 

injury

Beginner injuries
As far as ski destinations go, Japan is pretty safe. Safety rules are well signposted and observed. Rental equipment is new and well maintained. But that doesn’t exempt beginners from injury, so make sure you take lessons if you can afford it. 

Avalanche

Avalanche Nightmares

These are quite high risk when you go to the snow. You need to be educated about how to stay as safe as possible in the event of one because they can be deadly. Always read avalanche reports wherever you’re staying. 

 

Offending someone

You could offend someone

his could happen anywhere in Japan, but when you go to the snow, the big one to remember is that you can’t wear bathers/swimmers in an onsen. There’s a culture and ritual to using onsens - but that’s what makes it so much fun. 

 

Compass

You could get lost

People have to be rescued more often than you'd think, and 9 in 10 people rescued from the Japanese ski fields are Australian.This is not covered by insurance, so be careful whenever going off-piste.

 

ski insurance fAQs for Japan

  • Does insurance cover search and rescue operations in Japan?
  • What if a natural disaster ruins my ski trip?
  • Can my medical costs be recouped if I have a ski accident in Japan?

 

 

Get a Ski Travel Insurance quote in minutes! start here

 

 

helpful resources for Skiiers

First time skier?

Lucky you! There's nothing quite like your first timeIf you're hitting the slopes for the first time, here are some useful ski resources for you.

Smart Traveller's japan page

The Australian Government's Smart Traveller site is a must for anyone who's going skiing. Find out country specific travel advice, passport information, and visa information.

1Cover's Medical Hub

Do you have pre-existing medical conditions? Or are you pregnant? Maybe you're concerned about the types of vaccinations you get while skiing. Find out everything you need to know here.