niseko ski

Enjoy Winter in Japan! Top 5 Places to Ski

Places to Visit

Skiing is a popular winter pastime in Japan. From December through to the following spring, families and friend groups flock to the nearest ski slope. Some public schools organize yearly ski trips to teach students the basics.

Each of our curated locations contain a few individual resorts in one area. They differ in the extra experiences they offer (reindeer sledding or night skiing, for example). Fortunately, lift passes can be purchased to allow entry to multiple slopes.

Here are our top five locations across Japan for a vacation in your very own winter wonderland.

1.    Hakuba

The Hakuba valley in the Nagano prefecture has ten resorts to choose from. Located on the northern part of the Japanese alps, the region sees up to 11 meters of snow during the winter months. With the excellent powder quality of the snow, it’s no wonder the area is repeatedly selected to host global winter competitions!

Of the ten ski resorts in the local area, Happo One is the most popular. The varied terrains cater for both first time learners and advanced skiers. Tsugaike Ski Resort is more suited for families, due to the large beginner’s area. Hakuba 47 resort is better for advanced skier/snowboarders with its steep inclines and 16-meter jump.

Other activities beyond the slopes include snowshoeing, sampling one of the many historic onsens, and sightseeing. The Jigokudani snow monkey park and Matsumoto castle are two of the most beautiful attractions in Nagano.

Most resorts run a shuttle bus service to and from Hakuba station. Bullet trains from Tokyo will take you to Nagano city. From there, buses to Hakuba run regularly until 8pm. Taxis are highly recommended to reach your chosen resort.

From Shinjuku, the express train to Hakuba takes around four hours. The Alpico bus also runs from Shinjuku. Whilst it is the cheapest option (5200 yen for adult ticket, 2600 yen for children), a one-way journey takes five hours on clear roads.

Photo by @jun.inaba

2.    Nozawa Onsen

This quaint village sits at the foot of Mt. Kenashi in the Nagano prefecture. The abundance of hot springs and traditional architecture pair well with the ski resort for a truly authentic Japanese winter experience.

There are three entrances to the resort: the Hikage base, the Nagasaka base, and the Karasawa base. Along with a kid’s park and day care service, sledding, tubing and a snow mobile experience are available for children who don’t want to ski.

The Paradise and Forest courses are suited for families and beginners. Flat sections such as the Karasawa and Hikage areas allow novices to practice their form safely.

The steepest run is found on the 39-degree wall challenge slope, though the Schneider area is also quite steep. The best views can be found on Paradise course and Yamabiko area, where the Sea of Japan can be seen in good conditions.

A perk not found in most ski towns is the nightlife at Nozawa Onsen. The abundance of bars, restaurants and a skiing museum mean that there’s a lot to explore off the slopes.

By car, a one-way journey to Nozawa Onsen will take three and a half hours. Bullet trains from Tokyo will take you up to Iiyama in an hour and 40 minutes, where a bus service or taxi will take a further 20-25 minutes.

Photo by @kimknight3

3.    Yuzawa

Located in the Niigata prefecture, this area is informally nicknamed “yuki kuni” (snow country) after the classic novel by Yasunari Kawabata. The proximity from Tokyo makes this area extremely accessible, with the average bullet train journey taking about two hours.

The area is bordered by not only the Japanese alps, but also the Sea of Japan. This means the annual snowfall is considerably higher than other prefectures.

There are 12 resorts in the area to choose from. Currently, the Gala Yuzawa Snow resort is the only one in Japan to have its own bullet train stop. Most other resorts have free shuttle buses from Echigo Yuzawa station.

Young families will enjoy the Iwappara and Maiko resorts. Both locations are known for their gentle slopes, perfect for learners. The Iwappara Kid’s Paradise also has lots of alternative snow activities such as toboggining, snow strider bicycles and snow mobile sled rides. The slopes of the Maiko resort have their own child friendly section, including a 400m sled slope and indoor kid’s room with childcare.

Intermediate skiers can head to the Kagura resort for the best powder skiing. Japan’s longest gondola – the 5.5km “Dragondola” – connects Kagura to the Naeba resort next door. Naeba is known for its varied terrains, and the Mikuni Cat Skiing tour offered at the Prince Hotel.

4.    Niseko

This globally acclaimed part of Hokkaido is famed for its world class snow quality. Annually, the area receives over 15 meters of snow. This means that the weather may not always be sunny, but the conditions are ripe for snow sports.

There are four main resorts: Annupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu, and Hanazono Resort. Lift passes can get you entry across all four areas. Due to its increasing popularity with international visitors, the resorts have English support from their guides and instructors.

Both the Niseko Village and Hanazono resorts offer a huge variety of alternative snow sports for all abilities. The reindeer sled rides are a specialty attraction only found at Niseko Village. Both resorts also have snowshoeing tours, tubing slopes and cat skiing excursions.

Beginners can enjoy the wide slopes and low incline of the Annupuri resort. Advanced skiiers will be happy to know that Niseko allows off-piste skiing, along with side and back country terrains. The Strawberry Fields is a highlight worth checking out for its views and tree runs. Night skiing begins in late November in Hirafu, with glittering illuminated views of the village below.

From New Chitose airport, a car journey will take between two and half to three hours. Buses run every 30 minutes, at 4000 yen for an adult fare, and between 1-3000 yen for children. Trains from Sapporo will take you to Kutchan for up to 3000 yen. From there, taxi journeys to your desired resort are a short drive away.

Photo by @chrystleadventures

5.    Tomamu

Much like Niseko, Tomamu packs in a lot of activities and varied terrains into one area. Aside from the array of winter sports available, this resort boasts its own indoor pool. Mina Mina beach is permanently set to 30 degrees and contains the largest wave pool in Japan.

In the evenings, the resort comes alive at the illuminated ice village. Glowing igloos contain ice cafes, bars, and an instrument store. Take a romantic turn at the ice chapel or stroll through the crystal park as you soak up the enchanting views. The ice slide and skating rink are popular with families and children.

An expert’s only powder area beyond the regular courses is available for those daring enough to try. Tomamu has a variety of slopes catered to all levels. The maximum slope angled at 35 degrees, while the Silver Bell course leans at a mild 4 degrees.

The sheer variety of activities at Tomamu make it a perfect family retreat. Banana boating and snow rafting are among the more exhilarating attractions to try. Ice fishing is also available in a fully heated private tent. Groups and families will enjoy indoor curling and a snow picnic excursion.

Trains from the local airports go to Tomamu station, from where a shuttle bus will take you to the resort. From Chitose, the journey should take around 90 minutes. By car, the journey takes 60 minutes from Obohiro airport, and 100 minutes from Chitose. Buses direct to the resort also run regularly from all major Hokkaido airports.

There’s more to a Japanese winter than KFC Christmases and kotatsus. Skiing unites people from prefectures across the country. With excellent snow quality – and resorts that seem to have thought of every kind of activity possible – why not celebrate your winter vacation in Japan with a trip to one of their many ski resorts.

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