Updated: 4 days ago
Regardless of your desire to ski, Japan is one of the top travel destinations in the world. With unimaginable craftsmanship, some of the best food this world has ever seen, and a history and culture that spans millennia, Japan should be at the top of everyone's travel list. What Japan also has, and what many will attest to, is perhaps the absolute best skiing in the world (Definitely in Asia!).
When the gods of the sky decide on who gets snow, what many mere mortals fail to understand is that Japan pours snow! Certain geographical features and weather patterns cause Japan to have arguably the best snow possible for skiing. It's a "constant whiteout."; a mix of deep powder, constant snowfall, and various terrains for every skier imaginable. That combination of culture, food, and unbelievable skiing should make a ski trip to Japan a must for any skier, regardless of level.
What You Need to Know About Skiing in Japan
When is Ski Season in Japan?
In terms of ski season timing, the Japanese ski season is very similar to that of North America, (November - April, sometimes May). January is the most popular month in Japan to ski, and February is not recommended as every Japanese ski resort will be packed with tourists from China due to the Chinese New Year. (Although Chinese New Year can fall in March or January sometimes). Spring skiing is also similar, stretching from March until May in some cases.
Other than the season, you need to know three things about skiing in Japan, including:
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Japan Ski Resorts
There are over 450 ski resorts in Japan, roughly about the same number as are in the United States. Japan has several distinct ski regions, as illustrated in the table and map below. The blue areas are Japan's ski regions, with the largest ski regions indicated by dark blue and the smaller ones indicated by light blue.
Although Japan has many different ski regions, most people wanting to ski in Japan will focus on two areas that are home to many of the top Japanese ski resorts: the island of Hokkaido and Nagano and Niigata prefectures, which are located on Japan's main island (and colored dark blue in the map above). We provide more detail on these areas below:
The Northern Island of Hokkaido is the most popular destination for skiing in Japan simply due to its unparalleled snow quality. What many don't know is that Hokkaido is actually home to possibly the first skiers in human history, the Ainu people who inhabited the island in the 12th and 13th centuries. Known as "the Aspen of Asia," what really sets Hokkaido apart from the rest is its ridiculous powder and its long winters.
Hokkaido's colder climate, influenced by Siberian winds, results in long, snowy winters and milder summers compared to the rest of Japan. This climate, combined with its vast landscapes, makes it an ideal location to host some of Japan's best ski resorts.
The Snow in Hokkaido
Often termed "Japow," Hokkaido's powder snow is light, dry, and abundant. Its consistent and heavy snowfall, resulting from cold Siberian winds, provides some of the best powder skiing conditions globally. If you've ever been skiing in Colorado, that light dry powder feeling is similar, and some would say the Japanese version adds an extra "fluff” to it.
Ski Resorts in Hokkaido
Niseko is famous for the sheer number of resorts located within its boundaries. There are four different resorts that encompass “Niseko United.” There is plenty of backcountry and side-country access from Niseko as well.
Niseko Village (Higashiyma)
Each resort in Niseko offers something different. Hirafu, the largest of the four with 60% of the resort's total area, offers a more vibrant après ski and party scene and even offers night skiing. (Warning: Après ski actives involving alcohol should not be followed by night skiing). Niseko Village is much more family-oriented and has a variety of luxury restaurants and accommodations.
Annupuri is more laid back, has a natural feel, and is not as crowded. It's similar to what you would see in resorts farther away from Denver in Colorado, such as Crested Butte or Telluride. Hanazono is the most recently developed of the bunch and features a dedicated area for beginners, terrain parks for the freestylers, along with great access.
The Ikon Pass provides 5 or 7 days of access to the four resorts of Niseko. The resorts are all connected, and it is easy to ski from one to another.
Rusutsu ski resort isn't as well known internationally as Niseko, but that doesn't mean it won't completely blow you away with its terrain. It has the same fluffyish powder quality as you would get in Niseko, with fewer people roaming the mountain. is comprised of 3 interconnected mountain peaks and offers both amazing tree skiing for the more advanced as well as more gentle slopes for the newbies.
Rusutsu is an Epic Pass partner with 5 days of access on the Full and Local passes.
One of the unique parts about Rusutsu is that it operates in the summertime as an amusement park. Some of the amusement park rides will continue to stay open during the winter, making Rusutsu a kind of half ski resort/half amusement park mutant, which can result in unlimited pleasure for children and families.
How to Get to Hokkaido
Hokkaido can be accessed in 4 ways: by car from Honshu, by ferry from Honshu, by bus from Honshu, or by plane with flight from various different airports. Most travelers will fly into New Chitose Airport, which is located near Sapporo.
Nagano and Niigata: The Japanese Alps
Nagano and Niigata are located in what is called the Japanese Alps, which span a good portion of the central part of the main Japanese island, Honshu. In fact, there are three different parts of the Japanese Alps: Southern, Central, and Northern. The Northern Alps are home to both Nagano and Niigata prefectures, which house a number of resorts representing the best skiing on Japan’s main island.
Geography of the Japanese Alps
Niigata is nestled right in the middle of the Japanese Alps, with peaks from the Northern, Southern, and Central portions of the range. Niigata is located just North of Nagano, bordering the Sea of Japan. The snow for both areas is derived from the Japanese Winter Monsoons, which bring certain periods of extremely heavy snowfall.
The Snow in the Japanese Alps
Nagano has a higher altitude and is located more inland, and thus, the snow at many ski resorts is powdery and dry. Niigata is located next to the water, so the snow is much heavier and wetter, which can sometimes be ideal for beginner skiers or certain types of snowboarders.
Ski Resorts in Nagano and Niigata
Hakuba is located in the Nagano prefecture and hosted several events in the 1998 Winter Olympics. Like Nisseko, Hakuba isn't just one ski resort; it's a valley that encompasses ten individual ski areas, including Happo-One, Goryu, Hakuba 47, Iwatake, Tsugaike Kogen, and Cortina, among others. It boasts immense snowfall, with a whopping 11m per year.
Due to its multiple ski areas, the Hakuba Valley offers some of the most extensive skiing in Japan, with over 200 runs combined. Hakuba is also much more international compared to other Nagano-based ski resorts and thus has the diversity of accommodation options needed for the international crowd.
Hakuba is an Epic Pass partner with 5 days of access combined to the10 resorts in the Hakuba Valley on the Full and Local passes.
Myoko Kogen (Niigata)
Myoko Kogen is located in Niigata on the border with Nagano, meaning it has the best of both worlds when it comes to snowfall. Its proximity to the Sea of Japan gives it a ridiculous amount of snowfall (13m), yet its inland location bordering Nagano keeps the snow nice and light. Myoko Kogen consists of 5 different ski resorts: Akakura Onsen, Akakura Kanko, Ikenotaira Onsen, Myoko Suginohara, and Seki Onsen.
Myoko Kogen caters to domestic and local tourists and is thus more traditional and less international than Hakuba. It's similar to Kagura ski resort, a neighboring Niigata resort. Some ski areas, like Akakusa Ansen, also offer night skiing. Myoko is also one of the best Japan ski resorts for backcountry or "off-piste skiing."
How to Get to Nagano and Niigata
There are airports in both Nagano and Niigata, but the vast majority of people will fly into Tokyo Narita and travel via train (preferred), bus, or private car. The Hokuriku Shinkansen (bullet train) connects Tokyo to Nagano in about 90 minutes. The Joetsu Shinkansen connects Tokyo to Niigata in about two hours.
The Japan Skiing Experience
How Japan’s Ski Business Differs from Others
Let's face it: the United States seems to love itself a good merger and acquisition. These days it seems just a handful of conglomerates control most of the major industries in the US, and it's also occurring in the ski industry. In the US, the resorts often own a majority of the businesses that are tangential to skiing, such as schools and rentals. Not so in Japan; almost every business on or off a Japan ski resort is independent. This may change, however, as international developers come into places like Niseko and build.
Want to experience Niesko while it's still primarily independent?
Most of the ski schools, rental shops, restaurants, and eateries that we outline below operate independently of the resorts. When you book your Japan Ski experience with Avant Ski, we help coordinate all aspects of your adventure.
In Japan, many ski schools operate independently of the resorts. While they might be located within the resort area, they are often separate entities with their own management and staff. This means visitors have a choice of ski schools, each with its own teaching methodologies, prices, and class offerings. It encourages competition and can lead to a wider range of services and specialization.
Ski and Equipment Rentals
Similar to ski schools, rental shops are often independently owned and run. While some resorts might have their own rental services, there are numerous independent shops offering ski and snowboard equipment.
Restaurants and Eateries
Instead of resort-owned dining options that dominate the culinary scene, in Japanese ski areas, many restaurants and cafes are independently run. This leads to a rich culinary landscape where local flavors, traditional dishes, and diverse cuisines thrive. This can offer a much more diverse experience for the visitor because there are many more options to choose from.
However, to have the best experience, it's best to book with a travel provider who already knows where these places are! Avant Ski partners with local businesses in Japan to bring you a true insider experience.
Accommodations for Skiing in Japan
Japan has a range of options for lodging. From 5-star luxury hotels, to private chalets, to mid-range apartments and even family-run guests houses. Below are a few of our top places to stay.
Luxury /Top End Accommodations
Five-star hotel brands are plenty in the more international resorts, such as those in Hokkaido, Nagano, and Niigata. The Park Hyatt Hanazono is one of the newest hotels in Niseko. It opened in January 2020 and offers ski-in-out access to Hanazono with several restaurants, onsen, and stunning fitness and spa facilities.
The Kasara Nikseo Village Townhouses are some of the best luxury accommodation options available in Niseko. Based at the foothills of Mount Annupuri, these individual lodges are all ski-in-out to Niseko Village and range in size, with the larger units being ideal for families. With onsen, hot springs, spas, fine dining restaurants, chic boutiques, and bars, Niseko Village has it all. Some of the townhouses even have private onsen. There are also several Club Med options in Hokkaido.
Book with us for the following perks:
$100 hotel/resort credit
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible
Hakuba offers top-flight accommodation as well. Some of our favorites include Hotel La Neige Higashikan with ski-in-out access to the Happo-One slopes and a refined, European style ambiance. The Mizuho Chalet has luxurious, spacious accommodations that are great for families and some of the chalets have private onsen. The Hakuba Mominoki Hotel is conveniently located in walking distance from Hakuba Village and ski-in-out to the Happo-One slopes with spacious, comfortable rooms.
Pretty much everyone, when they think of mid-level accommodation in Japan, thinks of capsule hotels, but it isn't so! "Pensions" are family-run guest houses that are popular with skiers and snowboarders. For an even less expensive option, you can try a "Minshuku," which is a traditional Japanese bed and breakfast, including a home-cooked meal.
Japan Après Ski
Although a bit more subdued than you might find in European or American mountain towns, Japan’s après ski scene is one of a kind. Here is what you might find at the end of a long.
Onsens (Hot Springs)
Arguably the most quintessential Japanese après-ski experience, onsens are natural hot springs where skiers and snowboarders can relax and soothe their muscles after a day on the slopes. Many ski resorts and nearby towns have onsens, both public and private. Niseko and Hakuba are particularly famous for their onsens, but they are littered around every ski area.
Most ski destinations outside of the US have excellent cuisine, but Japan takes it to another level. Japanese sushi, in general, is insanely good, but sushi that's located in a place like Niigata, which borders the sea of Japan, is of a quality that might change your opinion about the meaning of life. Iziyakas are small, cozy pubs littered around the ski areas where you can get your fill of sake and Ahasi.
It's called KTV in China, but most people know it internationally as Karaoke. Many don't understand the difference between Karaoke in Asia and Karaoke in the Western World because they take it way more seriously in Asia. Rather than a crowded bar, karaoke in Japan and the rest of Asia is often done in private rooms and small groups.
Bars and Clubs
As Hakuba and Niseko are the resort areas with the most international travelers, they have the most hopping nightlife. That doesn't mean there isn't great nightlife to be found all around the Japanese ski resort.
Where to ski in Japan?
Japan has over 450 operating resorts, so there are plenty of options. However, the most popular destinations for travelers are Hokkaido, Nagano, and Niigata.
When is ski season in Japan?
The ski season in Japan typically spans from December to April, though the exact timing can vary based on the region and specific conditions of the year. The ski season is similar to that of North America, with some resorts open in May.