Skiing in Japan

Japan boasts some of the best skiing in the world. Frigid Siberian winds gather strength in the winter months and collide with Japan's soaring mountain ranges; delivering metres upon metres of fresh snow to the more than 500 ski resorts in the country.

Japan’s snow is also renowned for its forgiving, powder-like consistency, thanks to its low water content. These special conditions attract ski bunnies from around the world, who flock to the beginner-friendly slopes of Hakuba, the challenging descents of Shiga Kogen and everywhere in between.

But like any adventure, a Japanese skiing holiday takes research and preparation. Let’s look at when and where to go, and what to expect once you get there.


Ski season in Japan

Japan’s ski season typically runs from December to March, however certain parts of the country see snow as early as November and as late as May. The exact dates that your chosen resort will operate change from year to year, so it’s best to check their website before booking your trip.


When to go

Your chances of scoring quality conditions are best in peak season. However, you can also expect more crowds and higher accommodation costs during this time, especially on the dates surrounding Christmas and New Year.

An early and late season trip can be less crowded and less expensive, but also less consistent in snow quality. As temperatures rise through March and April, the chance of ‘powder days’ becomes less and less likely. However, if you’re a beginner or intermediate skier, these months can be a great chance to escape peak season crowds, enjoy the finer weather and hone your skills.

Timing your trip is all about research. Some pros and cons to consider include:

Peak season: pros

  • Higher chance of better quality snow
  • All amenities (like equipment rental shops, restaurants and bars) operating
  • Great atmosphere and extra attractions to enjoy

Peak season: cons

  • Crowds
  • Higher accommodation, ski lift and rental prices
  • Hotels are booked out early

Early and late season: pros

  • Less crowded
  • Cheaper accommodation, ski lift and rental prices
  • Clearer weather

Early and late season: cons

  • Less likelihood of ‘powder days’ (top quality snowfall)
  • Some rental stores and ski schools, may have closed up shop
  • Fewer operating restaurants to choose from

3 best ski resorts in Japan

Japan has over 500 ski resorts, which range anywhere from hundred-lift wonderlands to single-slope attractions. Below are three of the most popular ski resorts in Japan.


1. Niseko

Niseko is arguably Japan’s most popular ski destination, comprising four interlinked resorts; Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village and Niseko Annupuri. Located on Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido, Niseko has long been a favourite for all skill levels seeking quality powder snow.

Quick facts:

  • Four resorts
  • Great restaurants and nightlife in Hirafu Village
  • Caters to all skill levels

Insider tip: Because Niseko is actually a combination of resorts, it’s important that you buy the correct lift pass for where you intend to ski. The Grand Hirafu and Hanazono resorts share a lift pass, but Niseko Village and Niseko Annupuri operate on independent tickets.

Want the freedom to explore as you please? A Niseko United ticket grants you access to all four resorts on the mountain.


2. Hakuba

Next to Niseko, Hakuba is one of the most popular ski resorts in Japan. Its convenient location a few hours north-west of Tokyo makes it a great option if you only have a short holiday. Hakuba is made up of 11 resorts:

  1. Happo One
  2. Goryu
  3. Hakuba 47
  4. Tsugaike Kogen
  5. Iwatake
  6. Cortina
  7. Sanosaka
  8. Hakuba Norikura
  9. Kashimayari
  10. Jigatake
  11. Minetaka

The Happo One resort is the most well-known in Hakuba and one of the premier ski resorts in Japan. It has a massive variety of terrain that is suitable for all skill levels, and its tourist amenities like ski shops, transport and accommodation are plentiful.

Quick facts:

  • Close to Tokyo
  • Beautiful alpine terrain with less severe weather than resorts on Hokkaido
  • Can become crowded during peak season

Insider tip: If you’re keen to beat the peak season crowds, Hakuba can be a great option for off-season skiing.


3. Shiga Kogen

One of Japan’s largest ski areas, Shiga Kogen comprises 21 resorts and 19 connected ski areas. If you’re looking for a lot of room to explore, Shiga Kogen could be the perfect option, with one lift pass granting you access to over 50 lifts.

Quick facts:

  • Mostly hotel accommodation (instead of apartments or houses)
  • Can be hard to get around after dark due to spread out amenities
  • Considered quite traditional and less westernised than the resorts of Hakuba and Niseko

Insider tip: There’s no better way to relax the muscles after a long day on the slopes than bathing in an onsen (a Japanese hot spring). Luckily, Shiga Kogen has plenty. Just remember to abide by Japanese onsen etiquette like:

  • Don't submerge your head
  • Rinse off before going in
  • Avoid taking photos and using your mobile phone
  • Check their policy, as some onsen are still not open to people with tattoos because of its association with gangs
  • Check the dress code, as many onsen do not allow swim suits

4. Rusutsu

Rusutsu promises a serene and powder-filled skiing experience, making it a top destination for those seeking exceptional snow quality and a wide range of skiing opportunities in the breathtaking landscape of Hokkaido.

Quick facts

  • Offers less crowded slopes than Niseko
  • Distinctive mix of off-piste trails ad well-groomed corduroy runs
  • Off the slopes, Rusutsu offers thermal hot spring baths.

Insider tip: Rusutsu is best known for its extraordinarily powdery snow, with annual snowfall over 1270 cm. To get there, fly into New Chitose Airport, and take the 1.5 hour journey to the slopes either by bus or rental car.


Japan ski packages and money saving tips

Package deals, like those organised by travel agents, are a popular way to book ski holidays. These ski packages can include things like lift passes, rental gear, accommodation, transport and even meals. However, because the travel agent charges a fee for organising all of these moving parts, they can come at a premium.

Going it alone and booking your own skiing holiday will take some research. But with some savvy shopping, you might end up saving yourself some spending money. Remember to organise:

  • Accommodation close to where you intend to ski (remember to ask your accommodation about package deals that could include shuttle transfers)
  • Transport to and from the resort
  • Rental equipment
  • Lift passes
  • Ski lessons if needed

Tips for booking an affordable trip:

  • Book early! You can find early bird deals that could offer up to 30% the full package prices
  • Make use of a rail pass if you’re moving around Japan. The JR rail pass is a great option
  • Shop around for accommodation, and consider a Japanese-style family room which is big enough to accommodate 4 or 5 people.
  • Try to book accommodation with kitchen facilities, so you can save money on eating out. Nothing beats a quick breakfast at home before hitting the slopes!

Staying safe on the slopes

Skiing can be an enjoyable adventure holiday for all the family, but can also turn sour if you’re unprepared. Everyone should be aware of basic ski safety, including:

  • Always skiing with a friend or family member
  • Staying hydrated and protected from the sun
  • Taking lessons if needed
  • Sticking to your abilities and staying on-piste (in the designated skiing area)

Some ski destinations have their own code of conduct, so it’s important to follow signs and seek advice from resort staff if you’re unsure. Japan’s larger ski resorts like Niseko and Hakuba have English-speaking staff on hand if you need extra guidance.


Skiing expectations and etiquette

Hitting the slopes for the first time can be intimidating. But if you do your best to follow the expectations and etiquette of the ski field, you give yourself the best chance at a safe and enjoyable experience.

In general, skiers are expected to:

  • Stay in control of yourself and your equipment
  • Only stop in a safe place for yourself and others on the slopes
  • Avoid colliding with people in front of you
  • Always look uphill before starting off
  • Always follow signs, staff and warnings
  • Follow chairlift safety

Renting ski or snowboard equipment

Although it’s always preferable to have your own equipment (you know how to use it and that the boots fit right!), but we know that it’s not always possible, especially for overseas trips where your baggage allowance may be limited.

Most of Japan's popular ski resorts offer well-maintained and up to date gear, and you’ll easily be able to find the type of equipment you’re looking for. On-site rental facilities allow you to quickly get geared up and hit the slopes, or you can opt for a rental shop in the nearby towns, which may be slightly cheaper (you’ll just need to ensure you can get the gear up the mountain!)

As well as skis, snowboards and boots, you’ll also have the option to rent clothing and outerwear, if you don’t want to lug these around on your trip!


Ski travel insurance

Whether it’s a bout of the flu or a broken bone, skiing holidays don’t always go according to plan. It’s important to protect yourself with comprehensive travel insurance that covers you for unexpected events that happen on the slopes.

You can add skiing and snowboarding cover to your international travel insurance policy for an additional premium.

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