Japan is an amazingly beautiful country that is a great travel destination at any time of year and one of the best things you can do is a book a trip to Japan during winter for a memorable ski holiday.
Japan is one of the best skiing destinations in the world for a number of reasons but the biggest factor is the amazing snow. The northern island of Hokkaido has some of the best powder skiing in the world as during winter dry cold air blows over from Siberia and drops meters of the dry fluffy stuff over the whole prefecture. Honshu also has many ski resorts and the mountains tend to be steeper here as many popular resorts are spread throughout the Japan Alps.
With the range of different resorts on offer it can be hard to know which one to visit first so you need to decide on what you want out of your ski holiday. If it’s your first trip to Japan I would recommend staying in Niseko as it is considered an international resort and has a lot of foreign staff which makes it very easy to get by if you are worried about a language barrier. Niseko also consistently has around 15 meters of snow a year which makes it an amazing place to ski whilst also having some of the only in bounds trees in Japan.
If you want to access a bit of back-country terrain then Niseko is also great as they have a gate system that closes when the avalanche risk is too high. It’s also a good place to base yourself for day trips to other resorts as their are bus services to many surrounding resorts that are very affordable. One of the best things about Niseko is they offer night skiing until 8.30pm every day during peak season so you can ski 12 hrs long if you have the energy.
There are many other great resorts in Hokkaido like Furano, Kiroro or Rusutsu that also offer similar amounts of snow but are typically more popular with locals so are often a little quieter than Niseko. Honshu also has many ski resorts that are worth a visit with Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen being the most popular with international visitors.
Hakuba is a large ski area near the city of Nagano in the Northern Japan Alps. The Hakuba area encompasses 11 different ski resorts that makes it easy to access lots of varying terrain whilst staying at one accommodation base. Nozowa Onsen is found north of Nagano and is considered to be one of the birthplaces of skiing in Japan as well as being a famous hot spring resort.
But it is not only the skiing that makes Japan an awesome place to have a ski holiday. The food in Japan is delicious and even if you think you’ve had Japanese food in other countries nothing compares to the food you can find here. Many resorts have some of the finest restaurants in the country and you can usually find a restaurant to suit every budget. If you visit Hokkaido make sure you don’t miss out on trying Soup Curry as it is my favorite food in Japan.
Accommodation options in Japanese resorts can range from small family run budget lodges up to large five star hotels but all offer clean rooms and amazing Japanese hospitality. For a more traditional Japanese experience you could stay at a ryokan which is a Japanese style inn that typically has rooms with comfy futon mattresses set up on tatami mat floors. If you are a large group you can also rent out larger self contained condos or apartments for your group.
My favorite part about Japan in the winter is being able to visit an onsen (hot spring) and soak away my tired muscles while having snow fall on my head. Many ski resorts are located in famous onsen areas so make sure you do not miss this Japanese cultural experience. One of the best ski resorts for onsen hopping is Nozawa Onsen as there are seven public onsen that are free to visit spread throughout the town.
Many resorts also offer you the chance to experience other activities that are great for skiers and non skiers alike. If you travel to the resorts in the Nagano area like Hakuba then you must make time to take a trip out to Jigokudani Monkey Park where you can see the famous Snow Monkeys hanging out in the onsen to keep warm. Other fun activities include snowmobiling, snow shoeing or cultural activities that give you the chance to experience Japanese traditions.
Winter in Japan is also a great time to check out some winter festivals like the Sapporo Snow Festival or the Otaru Light Path Festival. Festivals in Japan offer a chance to taste yummy festival food and see how the Japanese embrace the beauty of winter.
Japan is one of my favorite places to ski after working many winter seasons around the world. The mountains on there own would make for an amazing trip but when you combine everything else like the food and the culture it makes for a memorable ski trip!