5 Best Ski Destinations in Japan
Japan has hosted the Winter Olympics twice now. The first time brought Japan’s powder potential to the world stage, while the second reinforced the fact that Japan is the prime winter sports destination for the Eastern Hemisphere.
Any ski or snowboard enthusiast dreams of a holiday that combines Japan’s beautiful landscape and vibrant culture with its amazing slopes and luxurious dumps of light and dry powder snow. It’s a holiday of kicking up clouds of snow atop scenic mountains, enjoying soothing dips in serene hot springs and eating fresh sushi and hot ramen around a fire while the snow falls in blankets outside.
Here are our five picks for places in Japan where the dream is real. If you want to experience it for yourself, click here to contact one of our Japan experts to start planning for the next snowfall.
Mount Teine, Hokkaido
Mount Teine, only 40 minutes from the city of Sapporo, is another host of Winter Olympics past—the first to be hosted, in 1972, outside America and Europe. Mount Teine showed the world what Japan’s winter had to offer, and Mount Teine continues to live up to that excellent first impression.
The Sapporo Teine ski resort is the largest on the mountain and the home of the ’72 Winter Olympics’ torch cradle. As for its slopes, there’s an even spread of beginner, intermediate, and expert trails, such as a long and easy easygoing 6km trail for beginners, and then tricky slalom courses on inclines too steep and wild for grooming. Step off the chairlift at the top of the mountain for a wide and breathtaking view over Sapporo and the surrounding snowy countryside. If you go in January, you can catch the colourful Sapporo Ice Festival, when the city decorates its streets with fantastic and brightly light ice sculptures.
Hakuba gets 11.1 metres of snowfall a year, is dotted with 11 ski resorts and lined with more than 200 runs of varying grit. In case you need any more proof of quality, Hakuba hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Hakuba itself is just one hour from the city of Nagano, and four hours drive from Tokyo, with the bullet train making it in about the same time if you don’t want to rent a car. Its laid back streets are home to an excellent variety of restaurants, shops and bars. Despite all that, lift queues are never a problem at any of Hakuba’s ski parks.
Shiga Kogen, Honshu
Shiga Kogen Ski Area, at 4.25 square kilometres, is the biggest ski area in Japan, and among the largest in the world. In that area, there are altogether 21 resorts, 71 ski lifts, all interconnected physically and by an easy lift pass for all. This extensive powder network also has a stamp of quality you can count on since it hosted some 1998 Winter Olympics events.
The town itself has over 100 hotels that range from classically Japanese to western-style accommodation. There are also hot springs, old cultural towns, wildlife preserves and other winter activities to choose from, like tube sledging, snowmobiling and snowshoe trekking.
Zao Onsen Ski Resort, Honshu
Zao Onsen is the oldest and most famous ski resort in Japan. It is also a traditional hot spring village that sits high above the city and tucked away in the mountains. Aside from the stunning scenery that you can enjoy while flying down the mountain or during a steamy soak in one of the outdoor hot springs, Zao Onsen is also known for its unique fields of juhyo. The “snow monsters,” which are trees that take on wild and bizarre shapes under the weight of ice and fresh powder. Winding your skis among these behemoths makes for a surreal and unforgettable experience.
Niseko has Hokkaido’s largest and most known cluster of ski parks. In 2015, the World Ski Awards named the town of Niseko as ‘Japan’s Best Ski Resort.” Mount Yotei, with an average yearly snowfall over 15 meters, is considered the “Mount Fuji of Hokkaido.” While every resort has a wide range of terrain that caters to all tastes and skill levels, where Yotei shines is its backcountry trails. It’s the best place in Japan for winding your way through snowy woods on a snowboard or pair of skis, and that reputation has made Niseko an international draw for snow sports enthusiasts.
With the large international crowd it draws, and all the resorts surrounding revolving around one mountain, and one lift pass, the town of Niseko has become a fun party town that’s also very foreigner friendly.
Ready to book your next skiing or snowboarding adventure to Japan? Contact one of our snow sports experts by clicking here.