Skiers and snowboarders around the world are always in search of that next great ski trip. And there are few bucket list ski trips that compare to a Japan ski vacation. However, you could ski every day of the year at a different Japan ski resort and you’d still just scratch the surface of Japan’s collection of ski resorts. That’s because there are more than 500 ski areas across Japan. However, we’re here to help sort out some of the best Japan ski resorts in this article.
Needless to say, Japan is an epic winter sports destination. As such, there are so many good reasons to ski in Japan. For starters, Japan is great for beginners because it snows in Japan more than most countries. The result is that beginners often are learning to fall in soft snow, and not hardpack. What’s more, advanced skiers and boarders are quickly learning that Japan ski resorts are loaded with dry, deep snowfields. Here, powder is often called “Japow,” and there’s lots of it.
And then there’s that of après-ski and Japan’s food and drink culture. Fill up your tummy with ramen at lunch and you’ll be warm and full the rest of the day. Then relax after a day on the slopes in what is called an “onsen,” which is a traditional Japanese hot bath. Before you have your first onsen experience, however, brush up on the house rules. Be sure you’re headed into the right gender room, for example, and make sure you shower first. Additionally, no clothes or bathing suits are allowed, and many don’t allow tattoos.
Now, without further ado, let’s take you on a tour of Japan’s best ski resorts.
The top Japan ski resorts
Ski resorts in Nagano
Nagano is probably the first of Japan’s 47 prefectures that comes to mind, since it played host to the 1998 Winter Olympic Games. Nagano’s slopes are a short train or bus ride from Tokyo, making it an ideal location for international travelers and locals alike. Headlining Nagano is the Hakuba Valley, at the northern end of the Japanese Alps. The Hakuba Valley is about 2.5 hours from Tokyo, and picks up an average annual snowfall of 36 feet. Hakuba Valley’s scenery is incredible and there are lots of backcountry options here as well. However, the Hakuba Valley can be very crowded at the peak of the ski season. Note that the Hakuba Valley is part of the Epic Pass.
Lift tickets in the Hakuba Valley covers all of the smaller resorts in the valley, but just consider the time you may spend on shuttles going between all of them if you want to hit more than one ski resort in a day. Après-ski here means soaking in hot springs and diving into the food offerings of a plethora of restaurants.
Shiga Kogen Ski Resort is known for its top notch intermediate ski slopes that are arguably the best intermediate ski slopes in Japan. Shiga Kogen is one of the largest ski areas in Japan, with a number of interconnected ski areas nearby. You won’t find any shortage of terrain in the region, which hosted some of the events from the 1998 Winter Olympics, including alpine skiing slalom and snowboarding giant slalom at Yakebitaiyama, and the alpine skiing giant slalom at Higashidateyama.
Last, but not least, Nozawa Onsen is another great skiing experience in Nagano. This hot spring ski resort features a village with a unique atmosphere where steam rises up everywhere as you wander the cobblestone streets. While not the most impressive Nagano ski resort for serious skiers and riders, it offers a few in-bounds and sidecountry ski areas with fairly steep terrain that you won’t just find anywhere in Japan. Time your visit to experience the strange, exciting fire festival held every year on January 15. You won’t forget it.
Ski Resorts in Niigata
Skiing in the Niigata Prefecture, which borders Nagano, began back in the early 1910s. Niigata is still a mainstay of Japan skiing, with about 55 ski resorts still operating. We’ll begin at Lotte Arai, which reopened under new ownership in 2017. It is now the new power destination ski resort in Japan for powder buffs and families looking for an upscale ski vacation. Only a handful of Japanese ski resorts like Lotte Arai cater to both luxury skiers and off-piste powder-chasing skiers and riders. Lotte Arai is also offered on the Ikon Pass.
Seki Onsen is a Myoko ski resort boasting great off-piste skiing terrain for powder skiers and riders. Opening in the mid-1900s, Seki Onsen is among Japan’s oldest ski resorts. As such, it’s not your typical expansive ski resort (it only has two lifts), yet has good steep tree skiing. Bonus: It receives a lot of snow each ski season.
Myoko Suginohara is a real favorite Japan ski resort with tree skiing, sidecountry action and long cruisers. Among its headlining ski runs is Japan’s longest ski run at more than five miles. Myoko Suginohara doesn’t have much advanced terrain, and the black runs are not particularly challenging, but it’s a great intermediate Japanese ski resort.
Ski resorts in Hokkaido
Skiing in Hokkaido is an iconic Japanese ski experience for powder seekers. The north island of Japan is ideally located in the path of consistent weather systems that bring the cold air across the Sea of Japan from Siberia. The end result is that Hokkaido ski resorts are generally piled on with powder that is incredibly dry.
Niseko Ski Resort is one of the most famous Japan ski resorts among international skiers and snowboarders. Why? It seems like it never stops snowing here, which makes for deep powder. Niseko is particularly an excellent choice for English-speaking families with young children, since kids ski lessons are available in English. The village vibe in Hirafu is fun with good shopping, restaurants and nightlife. Niseko is also offered on the Ikon Pass.
Rusutsu Ski Resort in Hokkaido is paradise for experienced powder lovers. It offers some of the country’s best powder and tree skiing, where skiers can blast right through the dry powder with virtually no resistance. They call it “Japow Nirvana.” Rusutsu Ski Resort is another good resort for international travelers, too, since there are lots of English signs and English-speaking staff at the resort. The resort is located about 90 minutes south of Sopporo, which was home to the 1972 Winter Games. Rusutsu is offered on the Epic Pass.
Kiroro Resort is a destination of its own with upscale facilities and infrastructure and, of course, lots of powder. It used to languish under the radar relative to some of the high-profile Hokkaido ski resorts nearby. However, it’s far more popular today, especially with the advent of Club Med Kiroro. Kiroro is a medium-sized resort spread over two mountain peaks, featuring 23 runs with a somewhat equal spread of green, blue, and black terrain.
Ski resorts in Yamagata
Yamagata Prefecture is located in the Tōhoku region of Honshu where there are 23 ski resorts, including, Zao Onsen Ski Area, which is known for its snow monsters. Snow monsters, as shown in the photo below, are fir trees bizarrely clumped with ice and snow as a result of the bitter Siberian winds. It makes for a uniquely Japanese ski scene. Zao is also an onsen resort town, which is just what the doctor ordered after a day of skiing. Onsens can be found in many of the ryokans (traditional Japanese inns), while there are also public bathhouses and open-air hot springs called rotenburo. The therapeutic waters are a great place to soak weary ski muscles.
The onsen theme continues at Ginzan Onsen, located an hour and a half north of Zao Onsen, characterized by wooden ryokan hot spring inns lining the Ginzan River. Lit with gas street lamps, this hot spring town will make you feel like you’re stepping back in time. At night, soft lights emanating from street lamps and the inns evoke a nostalgic, cozy feel that’s perfect for photos. You’ll find plenty of cafes, restaurants and shops here, too. If you want a more offbeat, unique lodging experience on a Japanese ski trip, then this is it.
Ski resorts in the Aomori Prefecture
While Aomori Spring Ski Resort (formerly Naqua Shirakami Ski Resort) is well off the radar of most international skiers and snowboarders, it should be on your radar. Aomori is a very modern skiing experience in abundant Japanese powder, and features excellent terrain parks as well. Plus, Aomori is offered on the Indy Pass.
Hakkoda is mostly known for its backcountry skiing terrain, so this is for the serious powder skiers and snowboarders. Hakkoda’s backcountry terrain is partly serviced by a cable car, while some routes drop from the road. However, note that major storms can buffet Hakkoda, so in the peak of winter there are times that the cable car (called “ropeway”) may be closed.
Ski resorts in the Iwata Prefecture
Finally, we end in Japan’s Iwata Prefecture. Geto Kogen is located northwest of the main island of Honshu, and about a 3.5-hour journey from Tokyo by bullet train and bus. Geto Kogen isn’t a Japanese destination ski resort like many of the other Japan ski resorts mentioned here, so it’s best visited for just a day or two. While the weather can be extremely temperamental, Geto Kogen gets an incredible amount of snowfall in an average winter. It’s also offered on the Indy Pass.
Appi Kogen Ski Resort is the most well-known of the Iwata resorts, which is in part because of its well developed facilities, family-friendly vibe and private lessons that are offered in English. Additionally there is tree skiing in-bounds and some sidecountry terrain. Appi Kogen accommodations include a luxury hotel and budget lodging options near the ski area.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Japan have good ski resorts?
Yes, and there are so many ski areas to choose from in Japan, with more than 500 choices. Just know that many of Japan’s ski resorts are small ski areas that don’t have the amenities, infrastructure, and luxury accommodations like an Aspen, Vail, Park City, or Whistler. The headliner is Japan powder, or what’s often called “Japow,” which shouldn’t be hard to find during the heart of winter in Japan. Many ski areas receive significant snowfall every season.
While many of the Japan ski resorts may not come with the vertical or challenge of your favorite North America ski resorts, there’s a lot of powder to be had. A safe bet for North American visitors is to go for one of the resorts in the Ikon Pass, Epic Pass, or Indy Pass portfolios noted in the descriptions above. The biggest challenge will be narrowing down the list of great Japanese ski resorts for a memorable Japan ski vacation.
Where is the best place to ski in Japan?
With so many ski resorts to choose from in Japan, it’s hard to narrow it down. However, Niseko is among the regions where you won’t go wrong. As we noted above, it never seems to stop snowing in Niseko and the powder is deep. Bonus, Niseko is also a great family-friendly ski resort. Beyond Niseko, Nozawa Onsen and its traditional village is among Japan’s best ski destinations. Time your visit to experience the strange, exciting fire festival held every year Jan. 15.
Is it expensive to ski in Japan?
In short, it depends, although it’s typically less expensive than the bigger ski resorts in North America. The primary choice at most Japan ski areas are one-day, half-day, or four- to five-hour lift tickets. A one-day ticket typically costs up to 5,000-7,000 (about US$35-$50), although it depends on the resort and time of year. Half-day tickets have become more popular in recent years.
What is the best month to ski in Japan?
January and February is the time to ski in Japan. Ski Japan says, “If you’re after powder, the best time to visit is January and February. For festivals, the best time to go is from late January until mid-February. If you want to get a great deal and enjoy stunning weather, March and early April is the time to go.”