Tour the Slopes of Japan
The mountains of Japan are calling to those who ski and snowboard. Deep powder beckons winter sports enthusiasts from around the world — offering the best of Japan’s beloved snow season. With over 500 resorts and an average of 500 inches of annual snowfall, Japan is a dream destination.
Japan’s snow is what every rider hopes to see on the slopes: fresh, fluffy and dry. Much of Japan is considered a powder paradise because of its unique geography. As Siberia’s cold winds travel across the Sea of Japan they pick up moisture, which then falls as light, dry snow. These winds deliver an incredible amount of fresh, soft snow throughout the season, making Japan’s slopes enticing for all skill levels.
Planning Tips for Japan’s Snow Season
Timing Your Travels
When looking to spend time on the slopes, timing matters. Referred to by some as “Japanuary,” Japan’s snowy mountains are perhaps the most ideal in January when fluffy, “dry” powder falls consistently. However, keep an eye on the calendar for the Chinese New Year. This is a popular time for skiers from neighboring countries and regions in East and Southeast Asia, Oceania to visit, which can mean busier slopes and higher prices. Thanks to Japan’s impressive snowfall, the best of the season typically extends through the early spring months. March and April are a little warmer and typically less expensive. While the powder may not be as deep, there is an enticing tradeoff — cherry blossom season. Enjoy the best of winter sports and the beauty of Japan’s iconic blooms all in one trip.
Making the Most of Your Trip
Skiing in Japan is not just for seasoned professionals. While it may draw some of the sport’s most dedicated, the slopes are welcoming to everyone from first-timers and casual hobbyists to passionate adventurers. This is due in large part to the incredible range of groomed routes offered by the resorts as well as the seemingly endless opportunities to explore solo or with a guide. For those seeking untouched powder, it’s best to ski with a guide. The right guide can help make the most of your journey by introducing routes based on skill and interest.
Embrace Cultural Experiences
While skiing or snowboarding in Japan will have many of the same hallmarks of an excellent day on the slopes elsewhere, the long-standing tradition of après ski — French for after ski — takes a slightly different shape. Where else is dipping into a natural outdoor onsen, a hot spring bath, an option? Onsens are a popular destination after the last run as they are a soothing antidote to cold, achy muscles. Another way to enhance the Japanese après ski experience is refueling with a warm bowl of ramen. Packed with protein, it’s an excellent end to a day on the slopes. Of course, the experience of sharing tales both wild and true over a drink still holds true, but in Japan consider reaching for sake or a locally crafted beer.
Choosing the Perfect Resort Location
Getting to Japan’s mountainous regions will require some additional travel. If heading there directly from the airport, the two main destinations are best accessed from Narita International Airport, Haneda International Airport or New Chitose Airport. Resorts in the Japanese Alps and Hakuba Valley are located about a four or five-hour drive, train or bus from the Narita and Haneda International Airports. Some of Japan’s most famous ski destinations are located on the northernmost island of Hokkaido, all of which are about a one or two-hour drive, train or bus from the New Chitose Airport. When selecting a resort, be sure to plan for transportation and note that a car rental may be required.
Another key element when selecting the perfect resort location is the slopes themselves. Do the options for your skill level entice? You should also consider the type of experience you’re looking to create. Japan is replete with incredible options like dropping into a semi-active volcano, speeding past a closed amusement park, finding serenity on a night ski or the customized challenge of a guided tour. Determine what tales you want to share at the day’s après ski before booking.
Five Can’t-Miss Snow Season Destinations
Popular with international travelers for its vibrant village, ease of access from New Chitose Airport and wide variety of routes, Niseko is comprised of four connected resorts. From Niseko, those prepared to take on the challenge of the backcountry can drop into the iconic — if not infamous — Mt Yotei, a semi-active volcano.
485 Aza Niseko, niseko-cho, Abuta-gun,
Fresh powder abounds at Rusutsu. Typically less crowded, Rusutsu is a quieter location ideal for those looking to end a day on the slopes in a serene onsen. A wide variety of trails makes it accessible and enjoyable to all skill levels. While the resort offers stunning views of snow-covered mountains, it also wraps around an amusement park that closes for the winter — meaning guests can enjoy the unusual sight of passing by still, snow-covered rollercoasters.
13 Izumikawa, Rusutsu-mura, Abuta-gun,
Popular for a reason, Furano offers excellent routes, incredible snow quality, easy access to town and an array of traditional Japanese food. Furano is an excellent choice for those who are looking to enjoy amazing culture and fantastic slopes. When riders visit determines what part of the mountains are accessible — with the Kitanomine zone open mid-December through late March and the Furano zone open late November through early May.
Host for part of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Happo One is an excellent choice for more seasoned snow sports enthusiasts. The wide variety of terrain includes exhilarating Olympic routes, steep bowls and access to the expansive alpine backcountry. The village is easily accessible from the slopes and is incredibly popular for its variety of dining options, including traditional Japanese Izakaya.
Happo Kitajou, Ooaza, Hakuba-mura, Kita-Azumi-gun,
This hidden gem offers the best of Japan’s ski culture. Quiet and not as frequented by international travelers, it offers authentic cuisine, a nearby onsen and is accessible by bus from the Echigo Yuzawa Station. Kagura’s backcountry, with its off-piste tree runs and snow-drenched peaks, is what keeps riders coming back time and time again. Elevation makes Kagura especially cold, so come prepared.
742 Mitsumata, Yuzawa-machi, Minami-uonuma-gun
Japan’s mountains are calling — where will you go?