With close to 700 resorts across the country, reliable snow, some great deep-powder and prices comparable to European resorts, Japan is a great place to come for skiing and snowboarding. As well as world class conditions, Japan also offers some unique après-ski, fantastic food and a wide choice of places to stay.
You can opt to stay Japanese style, sleeping on deep, comfortable futons on a tatami floor; in shared cabins or lodges; or in a range of western style hotels. You might have meals included in your stay or perhaps you will self-cater from restaurants or supermarkets. On the slopes meanwhile you’ll probably be lunching on curry-rice or noodles.
As well as skiing or snowboarding you might like to time your visit to coincide with an ice festival – Sapporo’s central park is home to an incredible display of ice sculptures in early February. Other activities include visiting the snow-monkeys near the Hakuba resort or Yudanaka.
And, after a long day on the slopes and a full evening meal, what could be better than sipping a cup of sake in an outdoors hot spring bath?
Sapporo Snow Festival / Yudanaka Monkeys
The winter sports season in Japan lasts at most resorts from mid-December through to mid-April although opening and closing dates of the various resorts do differ by location. One notable exception is Norikura Kogen where you can ski in a special area at the top of the mountain plateau until the middle of August.
Lessons, Rental and Lift Passes
English language lessons are now available at many resorts and good quality skis, boards and wear are easily available for hire. You should bring a passport photo for your lift pass as some of them require these. Here are some example prices from the Niseko Hirafu resort:
Standard and deluxe sets available
Lessons (with English speaking instructor)
2 Hour Group
3200yen for skiing, 4000yen for snowboarding per person
7200yen per hour per instructor for skiing or snowboarding
Lift Pass Prices
1 DAY PASS
2 DAY PASS
3 DAY PASS
4 DAY PASS
5 DAY PASS
BACK TO TOP
TOP 10 TIPS!
BACK TO TOP
THE MAIN RESORTS
There are three main areas for winter sports in Japan and each of them has a number of resorts.
Hokkaido is Japan’s northern island and has a much colder climate that the rest of the country. The Winter Olympics were held here in 1972 and this is the place to come for the best deep-powder snow. Access is easiest by flying from Tokyo Haneda Airport or Osaka Kansai airport. There are also overnight trains from Osaka and Tokyo and it is possible to use a Japan rail pass to reach Hokkaido during the day.
Moving down the country, Northern Honshu has a number of excellent resorts and excellent access from Tokyo by bullet train.
Thanks to the 1998 Winter Olympics, Hakuba in Nagano prefecture is now probably the most famous of Japan’s winter sports areas. The Olympic legacy means that there is an excellent village atmosphere in the resorts combined with a great choice of accommodation. This area is accessed from Nagano city which is a 1 hour and 40 minute bullet train journey from Tokyo.
Below you’ll find a brief profile about the major resorts in each area.
BACK TO TOP
Furano - Lifts Open: Late November to Early May
The main reason to come to the sleepy farm town of Furano, 120km northeast of Sapporo, is to ski at the renowned World Cup resort on the slopes of Mount Kitanomine. Furano's ski resort, overlooking Mount Furano and the smoking volcano Tokachi-dake (both within the southern border of Daisetsu-zan National Park), is run by the Prince Hotel group. Direct buses connect Rusutsu resort with Sapporo city (Prince Hotel) and Asahikawa airport.
Rusutsu - Lifts Open: Late November to Early April
About an hour and a half from Chitose airport, this one-stop Mecca for the ski and snowboard set can accommodate up to 4000 and has a little something for everyone. Featuring an amusement park for the kids, an indoor carousel designed by a former Disney employee, along with babysitting, nine restaurants, a massage and beauty salon, and spacious maisonette rooms, Rusutsu also boasts consistently good skiing weather which means that there are very few days where you can't zip from your room directly out onto the waiting slopes. Direct buses connect Rusutsu with Chitose airport.
Niseko - Lifts Open: Late November to Early April
Niseko is one of Japan's top alpine resorts. The resort is made up of 3 main ski areas: Hirafu, Higashiyama and Annapuri. Hirafu is the best of the three areas as it offers the most extensive array of runs and facilities as well as a great village with an abundance of hotels and nightlife. The resort has splendid views of Mt. Yotei, the "Fuji of Hokkaido", and there are hot spring facilities available too. Access is by direct bus from Sapporo or Chitose airport, or by train to Kutchan station (15 minutes from the resort by shuttle bus).
BACK TO TOP
Appi - Lifts Open: Early December to Late March
Appi offers some of the best slopes in Northern Japan. The variety of runs is excellent with many of the runs being 3 to 5 kilometers long, fairly wide, and well groomed. There's usually very good powder to play in along the sides of the runs as well. Access is by taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Morioka (2 hours 21 minutes from Tokyo), then an express train to Appi-Kogen station (50 minutes). From here the resort is a 5 minute shuttle bus ride away.
Zao - Lifts Open: Mid December to End of March
Zao, located in Yamagata Prefecture and recognized as one of the best ski areas, is a three-hour journey from Tokyo, followed by a 45minute bus ride. In addition to the astonishing number of lifts for a Japanese resort (42), Zao has all the prerequisites that western skiers imagine they will find in the Japan Alps: hot springs, night skiing and juhyo (tree monsters)! These are not demons that live in the trees, but the trees themselves that become so thickly coated with ice and snow that they form surreal, ghostly shapes.
Naeba - Lifts Open: Mid December to Mid March
Naeba, located in Niigata Prefecture, has over 30 lifts (including two gondolas and nine high speed quad lifts), a 4000m course and a top to bottom drop of nearly 900m. Add entertainment and concerts at the resort's Prince Hotel to the top-rate facilities and you have one of the more lively and enjoyable winter resort areas. The mountain has 28 official slopes to choose from, and a classical resort layout, with the wide beginner slopes at the bottom and the harder, advanced runs and mogul runs towards the narrower top area. It is extremely popular with Tokyo businessmen because it is relatively close to Tokyo and the lifts are open from 4:30am until 11pm. Access is by shuttle bus from Echigo Yuzawa Shinkansen station (90 minutes from Tokyo).
Yuzawa - Lifts Open: Mid December to Early May
Yuzawa snow resort is located in southern Niigata and is famous for its accessibility from Tokyo – it takes just 80 minutes to get here by bullet train.
BACK TO TOP
Nozawa - Lifts Open: Late November to Mid April
Nozawa Onsen is one of the oldest ski resorts in Japan, but has expanded over its 70 year history into a sizable resort. Nozawa ranks amongst one of the best ski resorts in Japan with an excellent course layout and selection of runs offering great skiing and snowboarding for beginners and the advanced. The top of Nozawa Onsen offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding national parks and the Japan Alps. This is also a great place for hot spring baths with 13 bathhouses available free of charge. From Tokyo, Nozawa is accessed by taking the Shinkansen to Nagano and then a local train to Togari Nozawa Onsen station.
Shiga Kogen - Lifts Open: Late November to Early May
Shiga Kogen, which co-hosted the 1998 Nagano winter Olympics with Happo One, is a microcosm of Japanese skiing. It is an extraordinary patchwork quilt of small ski areas - 22 in all, sharing 75 lifts which, rather like a Japanese version of the Portes du Soleil, can be visited on skis in a day or two at the most. Shiga Kogen is accessed from Yudanaka which you can reach from Tokyo by taking a Shinkansen to Nagano and then a local train.
Hakuba - Lifts Open: Mid December to Early May
Hakuba is situated in the heart of the Japan Alps and offers truly spectacular alpine scenery with many mountains towering up to 3000 meters. Hakuba was one of the major hosts of 1998 Winter Olympic Games. Its Happo-One slopes hosted the men’s and women’s downhill, giant slalom and ski jumping events. The valley is also home to 7 other great resorts, Hakuba 47, Goryu Toomi, Iwatake, Tsurugaike, Sun Alpina, Norikura and Cortina. Combined these separate ski areas have 139 lifts and a huge variety of terrain to satisfy all types of skiers and snowboarders. There are some direct Limited Express trains from Shinjuku in Tokyo to Hakuba, or you can get here from the cities of Nagano or Matsumoto.