The Japan ski season typically begins from December and lasts to April. If you're aiming to see those beautiful white covered landscapes, or just looking for a thrilling slide down the mountain, this is the best time to travel Japan.
"Japow" abbreviated from "Japanese Powder", means powder skiing in Japan. Having low water content, the snow becomes dry and very powdery. Since the country is covered with an average of 10-20 meters of snow per year, there is an abundance of ski areas for beginners all the way up to experts; and but of course, for those Japow lovers out there. Most of these sites are only 2 to 3 hours away from Tokyo.
With wide varieties of Ski Resorts ranging from elegant 5-Star Resort Hotels to affordable backpacker inns, you’ll definitely find a place to call home for your vacation whatever your budget is.
― Hokkaido: Japan’s Winter Sports Capital
Located in the Northernmost part of Japan is the country’s largest prefecture and coldest region, Hokkaido, and it doesn’t disappoint when it comes to fresh seafood, spectacular scenery and snow resorts.
Tourists from all over the world flock the area during winter time, especially snow sports enthusiasts, because of its numerous snowy mountains perfect for skiing and snowboarding.
Hokkaido is famous for the Sapporo Snow Festival, usually held around the 31st of January to 11th of February, during this time over hundreds of snow statues and ice sculptures are built around the area for people to see.
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Sapporo Snow Festival
Derived from the Ainu language, Niseko means "a cliff jutting over a riverbank deep in the mountains".
Here you’ll find everything you need for a perfect winter vacation from budget to high end amenities, farm to table restaurants, drink all you can bars and clubs, traditional Onsen, to 47 kilometers of powdery snow-filled terrain – plus, the place is tourist-friendly too with its English-speaking townsfolk, you’ll find more English signboards than Japanese ones.
Heavily snowed Niseko is a powder bum’s dream come true: it has powdery snow that has just the right amount of water content - making it perfect for skiing and other winter sports.
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Tomamu Ski Area
Right in the center of Hokkaido is the family friendly upscale ski resort,Tomamu by Hoshino Resorts.
Its 145-hectare ski area boasts of a 699-meter vertical drop, 28 trails and 4200 meters of skiing distance perfect for long runs, is covered with light powdery snow that you can get a kick out of. For thrill seekers, they are introducing half-pipe skiing and there is an area called “Freedom of Winter Mountain” where you can enjoy back country skiing.
There is 70% chance of fine weather rate in the area so the kids and kids at heart can enjoy various activities like the snow playground and snow boat rides or visit the Ice Village.
Tomamu by Hoshino Resorts
Tomamu by Hoshino Resorts
Furano Ski Area
If you are looking for a more authentic Japanese Snow Resort experience, Furano is your best bet.
Exquisitely blessed with Central Hokkaido’s fluffy, powdery snow, it has 25 kilometer-long of excellently groomed ski slopes with best inclination angles it’s perfect for all levels of skiers and snowboarders.
It even has awesome backcountry areas such as Furano Dake and Tokachidake. Furano is also family and tourist-friendly, they have English-speaking child care centers and ski schools, a Family Snowland which offers ice hole fishing, snow shoeing and even dog sledding!
After a day of thrilling activities, experience warm Japanese hospitality and culture at the Tokachidake Onsen which has four hot spring “Ryokans” 1280 meters above sea level.
Furano Ski Area
Rusutsu Ski Area
Rusutsu is Hokkaido’s biggest ski area measuring 1,700 hectares has 37 courses, all covered by the finest dry powder snow with very little moisture, so it’s no surprise that the Rusutsu Resort has won World Ski Award – also known as the “Academy Award” of the Ski Industry – for two consecutive years.
The resort is so spacious that it has all sorts of accommodations like hotels, lodges and even log houses that lets you appreciate the rich nature of the area. You won’t run out of fun stuff to do here since Rusutsu offers a lot of family-friendly activities such as tubing, dog sledding and snowmobiling.
Rusutsu Ski Area
Just a little off of Sapporo is the upscale Kiroro Resort.
It is the part of Hokkaido that receives an overwhelming amount of snowfall, it has 21 courses mostly suited for beginners and intermediates, the longest being 4 kilometers long, has stunning views of the North Japan scenery, it also has off-piste tracks where you can run on untouched powdery snow, or you can join Kiroro Mountain Club giving you the opportunity to enjoy official backcountry skiing or snowboarding.
Go out with the family to a snow cat sightseeing tour, snow tubing or dog sledding. One big plus is that the place feels less crowded than the other resorts in Hokkaido, even during the peak season.
Only a two-hour bus trip to Shinchitose Airport is the Sahoro Resort. Being the biggest Ski Area in Eastern Hokkaido, it has 21 courses for all levels of skiers or snowboarders though the ski slopes are reserved for middle to high level skiers and boarders.
The Club Med Sahoro offers an upscale, international level of convenience, attracting more foreign visitors.
Fine weather rate is high here and the temperature is always low, so the Japow’s powdery snow quality is well preserved. Lifts are also a little pricier than in smaller ski areas, thus there’s less skiers and snowboarders allowing for a smoother and more pleasant cruising.
In Sahoro, you can take your partner to a romantic evening with the majestic Tokachi Plane and experience a place full of a sense of openness by joining the snow-covered car tour.
Just a thirty-minute drive away from the popular Sapporo City, you can ski like a local in the easily accessible Sapporo Teine.
A beginner’s favorite, it has wide, gentle slopes with the breathtaking views of Sapporo so it is great for just chill cruising or night skiing.
Go to downtown Sapporo after skiing for a fun night of sightseeing and have a bottle or two of the famous Sapporo beer.
― Nagano: A Dip into Japanese History
Nagano has hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics and it’s easy to see why.
The modern Japanese city has several world class ski resorts and lots of traditional Onsens that gives you the picturesque silver winter view of the mountains.
This is also home to the famous Jigokudani Monkey Park
where you can watch endangered Japanese Macaques or “snow monkeys” go about their daily lives, chasing and playing with each other in the Jigokudani hot springs.
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Jigokudani Monkey Park
Nozawa Onsen Ski Area
Powderhounds love the area for the vast terrains of 100% natural snow, where about 40% is reserved for beginners.
The longest slope is about 10 kilometers and is a gateway to see some surreal mountain views. However, Nozawa is not only known as one of the best Ski locations, but it is actually more popular as an Onsen village known for its traditional Japanese onsens and ryokans, like the Nozawa Onsen Sparena and “Gensen-kakegashi” or natural hot springs.
Have the best winter party of your life by coming to the Dosojin Fire Festival that is held here every year on the 15th of January.
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Nozawa Onsen Ski Area
Hakuba Valley is the host town of 1998 Winter Olympic Games. Just a direct shuttle bus from the Narita – Haneda Airport, and you’ll get access to everything Hakuba Valley has to offer.
It has high peaks of up to 3,000 meters of Japanese North Alps and backcountry tracks using gondolas and lifts for the advanced skiers. The town is tourist friendly, having not only Japanese but also foreign residents and because of this you can enjoy restaurants where you can get English menu and talk to English speaking staff.
For a more cultural experience, take a dip into the relaxing onsens in the area like Hakuba-Happo, Shionomichi or Katakuri – each one with different water color and texture.
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Just around the Jigokudani Monkey Park, you’ll find this resort 2,000 meter above sea level with the biggest ski slopes that even advanced skiers take days to conquer.
Shiga Kogen has a long ski season from mid-November to late-May because of its high altitude and it has the greatest number of ski lifts in the whole Japan too! Shiga Kogen gets high quality Japow thanks to its geographical and weather condition.
If you get envious of the snow monkeys skinny dipping in the gorgeous onsen of Jigkudani, stay at the Yudanaka-Shibu Onsen’s and experience traditional Japanese living. You can also indulge yourself with exquisite washouku or Japanese cuisine and go izakaya-hopping in the area.
― Niigata: Tokyo's Day-trip Ski Destination
Spoil the foodie in you by going on a Day Trip in Niigata, have a bite (or two ) of sushi made of fresh seafood and delicious Koshihikari rice, or if you go during mid-March you can have the best sake of your life at the Sake no Jin Festival!
The best part is, this town is just a 2-hour train ride from Tokyo, so you can’t say you’ve had a Tokyo Day Tour if you didn’t stop by here.
A powderhead’s paradise, Myoko Kogen is known for focusing on snow sports, not only skiing and snowboarding, but the area is big on snow shoeing as well.
It has about 60 courses varying in range, so novices and expert winter sport enthusiasts can both enjoy, and they offer lots of backcountry tours too.
After a day of exploring the traditional townscapes, and onsen-hunting, head to the town’s izakayas for a sip of locally brewed beer that will surely warm you up. If you want to learn a little more about Japanese Culture, head on to the Myoko Togakushi National Park.
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Snow Sports Rental and Lessons / Snowshoeing
Naeba and Kagura Ski Resort
Only eighty minutes off of Tokyo City Center by train and you can experience riding the longest Gondola in Japan, the Dragondora. Going on for 5,481 meters, it will take you to both the Naeba and Kagura Ski Resort.
These combined ski areas offer up to 45 courses covered with quality snow from the last week of November to the last week of May, all thanks to its high altitude. Get a buzz out of the endless activities Naeba has to offer, from onsens, rotenburos, kiddie parks, gondolas and other leisure facilities or have a romantic dinner in one of the twenty-four restaurants while enjoying fireworks lighting up the starry night skies during weekends or holidays.
Kagura Ski Resort
Appi Kogen in Iwate
Appi Kogen is definitely a snow lover’s “Appi” place – pun intended. With 43 skiing kilometers, lined up with 21 long slopes off up to 5.5 kilometers and 828 meter vertical – all surrounded with breathtaking snowcapped mountains, it has earned the moniker “Aspen of Japan”.
This ski resort caters to all levels of skiers and boarders, from child specific ski areas, novice’s wide gentle slopes to thrilling backcountry tours available.
Tourists will have no problem going around as the place is full of English signboards, restaurant menus, accommodations and even have English-speaking ski instructors and concierge for a more convenient winter vacation.
Zao Onsen in Yamagata
Located right above Mount Zao in Yamagata Prefecture, the historical Zao Onsen is the largest and maybe the oldest single ski resort in Japan dating back to AD110.
The ski area offers various courses designed for all levels of winter sport adventurers all of which are overlooking the world-class beauty of white silver rime in the Zao mountain range.
This ski resort is surrounded by prolific mountains and wilderness, and during winter when the fir trees gets covered with abundant quality powder snow creating Juhyo or Snow Monsters, it is undeniably a sight to behold while basking in the numerous ryokans and rotenburos in the area.
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Zao Onsen Ski Resort
Meiho SKi Area in Gifu
Right on the northeastern slopes of Mount Eboshi in Gifu Prefecture is the Meiho Ski Area, towering 1,600 meters above sea level, you can wallow in the 360-degree panoramic view of the Northern Alps.
It offers 15.5 kilometers of skiing slopes with beginner level course runs from the summit, one of which is a 5,000-meter-long slope down the side of the mountain. The ski area has lots of family-friendly facilities and after a day of shopping in the numerous restaurants and shops in Meiho, relax with a free foot bath.
And you know what the best part is? It is easy to get here when you’re traveling at the Kansai region of "Kyoto " and Osaka.
Meiho SKi Area
― In conclusion
Japan has everything that comes to mind when you think of a perfect winter vacation. The country doesn’t only cater to luxury style living but also has great options for those on a budget or who prefers to travel like a local.
You also have a lot of fun winter activities, may it be sports like skiing or snowboarding, but also others that you can enjoy even if you are travelling with kids of elders.
Not to mention, the wide array of restaurants and cafes that serve not only traditional Japanese cuisine, but offers international dishes as well. It surely is a recommended winter go-to no matter where you are in the world.