Where to Ski in Japan – The 7 Best Ski Resorts
Don’t know where to ski in Japan? Our guide will list the best ski resorts in Japan, from Niseko to Hakuba. Additionally, it’ll prepare you for the best skiing experience in Japan.
As little as ten years ago, skiing in Japan was virtually unheard of internationally. Though things are beginning to change, led by intrepid snow-hounds and internet hype, the nation is still better known as the Land of the Rising Sun than the Land of the Falling Snow. Let us be clear though, this is no fault of the facilities the country has on offer. The sport has long been popular among the Japanese middle-class, translating into a high-volume of resorts in northern Honshu (main island) and Hokkaido (north island). With so many resorts to choose from, there is something to appeal to every skier, so long as they can be prized away from the appeals of the well-worn après-ski of the classic European destinations.
Fundamentals are important when it comes to skiing, and nothing is more fundamental than the snow itself. Luckily, and without hyperbole, the snow in Japan is truly world-class. Similar to the lake-effect witnessed in certain American destinations, the Japanese slopes benefit from the so-called ocean-effect. Cold Siberian air amasses over the surrounding oceans and dumps large volumes of soft, powdery, fantastically skiable snow onto the northern Japanese land mass. Some say this is the best snow in the world, others merely take advantage of it.
Japan combines an abundance of ski resorts and some of the best conditions on the planet – how could you resist? This guide will equip you with everything you’re going to need to get on the slopes: details of the best resorts big and small (including indoor slopes), instructions on how to get them and accurate guides to how much you should expect to fork out. You are already one step closer to the white-stuff. Additionally, in order to best prep yourself for this ski trip, check out Weather in Japan – Month by Month Guide.
You have a decision to make when it comes to skiing in Japan. Resorts can largely be placed into two categories: the big, with multiple slopes, good facilities but sizable crowds or the small “mirco-ski” spots, which are basic but quiet, relaxed and characterful. First, we’ll concentrate on the former grouping in a rundown of the best of the big.
1. Niseko Ski Resort, Hokkaido
To begin, Niseko on the island of Hokkaido. Niseko is by all accounts the most well-known of the Japanese ski resorts, and certainly the most popular. Does this mean that it’s also the best? That’s for you to decide.
Niseko designates the multiple ski resorts surrounding Mt Yotei, all of which can be taken in on a trip to the area with a single lift ticket. Its location is both strategic and accessible – a mere 100km from the city of Sapporo and the most snow-blessed location in the country, with an average snowfall of 17 meters annually. The snow here is a powdery delight, there are excellent off-piste and backcountry options for the advanced among you and the facilities, including recreational, are more than adequate.
As said, advanced (or foolish) skiers (and boarders) are well catered for by off-piste and easily accessible backcountry trails, use of which is permitted by the resorts themselves. First-timers and the less confident shouldn’t be deterred however as Niseko truly has something for everybody, including beginner slopes and a ski school. Moreover, those without Japanese language ability shouldn’t worry, the area is extremely foreigner friendly in all regards.
Niseko is also regarded as the pinnacle of the Japanese version of après-ski; offering skiers multiple watering holes and eateries to recoup their strength in.
Niseko Ski Resort Accommodation
Niseko is divided into a number of villages; which to stay in is your choice but be aware that Hirafu is the most popular and probably the most convenient for skiing. The village boasts the greatest number of places to rest, good nightlife and excellent amenities. For the latest deals and full listings of available hotel rooms, lodges and other types of accommodation, check out Holiday Niseko’s listings.
Prices for accommodation vary: ski-in/out lodges are generally the most costly option but obviously offer great convenience whilst basic hotel rooms in the villages tend to begin at around 5000 yen per night. As you’d expect, the earlier you book the better chance you have of a good deal and always be on the look-out for deal packages that are regularly available to the eagle-eyed.
Niseko Ski Resort Access and Prices
An adult 1-day on-season lift pass costs 7400 yen. Types of passes are plentiful so check the official Niseko price list for further details.
Getting to Niseko is relatively straight-forward from Sapporo proper or Sapporo Chitose Airport. The best and cheapest option is the Hokkaido Resort Liner, a bus service taking around 3 hours. The bus can be booked via Hokkaido Resort Liner in English, though note this needs to be done a minimum of 9 days in advance. Taking the train to the resort is possible though a little complex, it is also more expensive and nearly as time consuming as the bus.
2. Shiga Kogen Ski Resort, Honshu (near Tokyo)
Next up is Shiga Kogen, an area made up of 19 individual but linked resorts spread across the largest area of continuous ski terrain in Honshu. Within reach of Tokyo, Shiga Kogen is a great destination for a weekend or even a days skiing, though as always, a longer stay is probably preferable.
Of the 19 resorts, 15 are linked by slopes and lifts and a single pass can grant you access to them all. Many visitors comment on the European feel of the skiing in this area – largely down to the ease of skiing between villages to refresh yourself and the European tint to the architecture. For those skiing for the first time outside of Europe, a slice of the usual may be very welcome. Needless to say, the snow at Shiga Kogen is to a high standard though for those preferring off-piste action the options are limited and even then, frowned upon. The resort does offer long slopes and steep declines though and beginners, like most places in Japan, are also taken care of.
Another of Shiga Kogen’s big draws is its proximity to the Jigokundani Snow Monkey Park, where screams of “kawaii!” are a common sound in reaction to the sight of the world-famous primates relaxing around the hot-springs. Humans are also given access to an abundance of hot springs and onsens throughout the region. Access to these places is easily organized once in Shiga Kogen, with regular shuttle buses the best choice.
Despite its European feel, Shiga Koen is much more authentically Japanese than Niseko, for example. Though foreigners are not an uncommon sight and wholly welcome, the area as a whole is less accommodating than some resorts, with the language barrier becoming more of a factor. This said, it is still very possible to plan and undertake a trip here without much Japanese ability and the added adventure this introduces may be a plus.
Shiga Kogen Ski Resort Accommodation
Hotels are pretty much your only option in Shiga Kogen so if you prefer self-catering or more informal lodgings you may be out of luck. The hotels are aplenty, however, with prices and styles to appease all. Handily, the majority are ski-in/out, offer cheap meals and a choice of Japanese (futon on a tatami mat) or western style room. For full listings, prices and bookings, check out Shiga Kogen Hotels.
Shiga Kogen Ski Resort Access and Prices
Shiga Kogen’s season lasts from November to May, in which a day-pass for all lifts will cost 5000 yen. Other options range from a half-day to a season pass so be clear on what you’re looking for before making a purchase. For further details, check out Snow Japan.
The closest city to the area is Nagano and from here shuttle buses to Shiga Kogen run regularly and inexpensively from the main train station. To get to Nagano from Tokyo can be done in two ways. First, the Nagano Snow Shuttle bus service runs from Narita and Haneda airports and takes around 6 hours. Book online for a stress-free change from plane to bus. Alternatively and the best option if you’re located in the city, take the train from Ueno or Tokyo Station. The shinkansen takes around 90 minutes, with plenty of storage space if you are traveling with skis or other equipment.
3. Zao Onsen Ski Resort, Honshu
The Zao Onsen resort, with its renowned and numerous onsens, is the go-to resort of the more laid-back skier, the skier who is as likely to be found bathing in a hot spring as hurtling down a slope. This is not to talk down the standard of the slopes, however, for they are up there with the best Japan has to offer.
Aside from its onsens, Zao is known for the “snow-monsters” that litter its slopes. Without meaning to spoil the mystique, these monsters are the product of the icy winds clumping the trees with snow and ice and make for a unique backdrop. The skiing itself is a good mix of steep and languid slopes, catering to all ability levels. The lifts here are plenty but vary in quality and prices tend toward the more expensive end of the spectrum. Moreover, the integration of the different skiing zones is less comprehensive than in other resorts.
The skiing in this area may not be the best or cheapest but the atmosphere that pervades is one of calm and relaxation. Spend a morning on the slopes then ease your strains in one of the many onsens (public and private available), with a meal and drinks at an izakaya or bar in the evening. What could be better?
Zao Onsen Ski Resort Accommodation
Before people thought to make a pastime out of strapping lengths of wood to their feet, Zao was an onsen town. Consequently, the accommodation on offer is of a decidedly traditional nature. Ryokans (Japanese-style hotels) are the town’s bread and butter. Most are brilliantly elegant in their design and offer an in-house onsen for your pleasure. Prices do range but in general, a stay at one of these establishments is going to require a medium to large budget. More western-style hotels do exist alongside self-catering options, again, prices varying from place to place. Check out Rakuten for up to date listings and deals.
Zao Onsen Ski Resort Access and Prices
The Zao Onsen ski season begins in early December through to early Map. A full day pass costs 5000 yen but as ever, other options are aplenty. Click out Snow Japan for the low-down.
Yamagata City is the closest hub to Zao to which you’ll need head before venturing on to Zao. From Tokyo Station, a shinkansen train ride takes 2.5 hours direct to Yamagata. Shinkansen tickets are available from the station but you might like to book in advance, which can be done with ease online.
From Yamagata City, the best option for getting to Zao is the bus. The bus leaves from stop no.1 of the main train station each hour, takes 40 minutes and is inexpensive. Taxis will also be available from the station but may be pricey.
4. Hakuba Ski Resort, Honshu
Not far from Nagano in the Japanese Alps, Hakuba is one of Japan’s premier destinations for international ski and snowboarders. One of Hakuba’s biggest draws is its similarity to European and North American resorts: Catering extremely well to English speaking visitors, offering a solid range of luxury and self-catered accommodation options, as well as being wholly kid-friendly for families.
Resorts in the Hakuba Valley total 11 and though they are not all directly connected by the slopes, they are all covered under a common lift ticket. The resorts are, from north to south: Cortina, Norikura, Tsugaike Kogen, Iwatake, Happo-One, Hakuba 47, Goryu, Sanosaka, Kashimayari, Jigatake and Minekata. Although differences exist, each resort offers similarly good quality facilities and services.
As for the snow and terrain itself, you’re in for a treat at Hakuba . The area is comprised of 960 hectares of skiable slopes, with over 200 courses and 136 lifts. There is something for all ability levels here, with long, smooth runs and perfectly manicured snow. Although some of the resorts can be a little strict on off-piste skiing, if this is your thing, you’ll be catered for somewhere. Overall, 5-star skiing all round.
Moreover, Happo, the area’s main village, boasts a range of good quality and reasonably priced eateries and bars. Should you want seclusion and calm, however, this can be catered for too.
Hakuba Ski Resort Accommodation
One of Hakuba’s premier selling points is its range of accommodation options. Unlike many resorts, find here self-contained, self-catering apartments, rentable whole houses, budget hostels and of course, hotels. Most hotels are western in style but more traditionally Japanese options are also available if you’d like. For details, check out Rakuten.
Hakuba Ski Resort Access and Prices
An adult single day pass, granting access to all 11 resorts, costs 5,700 yen. Passes covering your whole stay are available and may save you some yen. For all the options, check out Hakuba Hotels’ Lift Passes page.
44 km west of Nagano and 270 km northwest of Tokyo, Hakuba is relatively easy to get to. From Tokyo’s Narita Airport, the quickest and cheapest way to get to Hakuba is a train and bus combination. First, one must catch a train into central Tokyo, from here, take a Shinkansen to Nagano, and finally, a bus to Hakuba – a total journey time of roughly 4 hours. Alternatively, a shuttle bus or rental car could be taken directly from the airport, but this would take closer to 6 hours.
5. Furano Ski Resort, Hokkaido
With nine lifts, 24 courses and 974 meters of vertical, ski and snowboard friendly slopes, Furano in central Hokkaido is another excellent Japan ski option. Although the resort has all the facilities we’ve come to expect from modern ski destinations, the resort itself and its nearby towns and villages have an air of authentic charm that is lacking from other major Japanese ski spots.
Long, well-maintained courses are the norm at Furano, perfect for ski and snowboarders of all abilities. Once renowned for its strict rules and no off-piste or tree skiing policy, today, this is no longer the case. In fact, Furano has some of the best off-piste skiing going, as well as nice side country and easily accessed backcountry.
Happily, the reputation of Hokkaido snow is strongly reinforced at Furano. Soft, powdery and plentiful – the snow of kings. If – somehow – you tire of the slopes, you’ll be glad to know there is plenty more to keep you occupied in the local area. From taking it easy at a local izakaya to, well, taking it easy in an onsen, you won’t get bored in a hurry.
Furano Ski Resort Accommodation
Staying in Furano means staying in either Furano ski zone, Kitanomine, or the town of Furano. Across these three options, ski-friendly accommodation options abound. Like Hakuba, Furano is renowned for offering a range of self-catering houses and apartments, as well as the more usual hostel and hotel options. For a complete rundown, check out Rakuten.
Furano Ski Resort Access and Prices
A day pass between December and March will set you back just over 5,000 yen at Furano. As always, season passes and other options are also available, so be sure to check Prince Hotels’ Lift Ticket page for the best deal for you.
Located in central Hokkaido, 59 km south of Asahikawa and 141 km north-east of Sapporo, Furano can be slightly tricky to get to. The airport in the city of Asahikawa is the most obvious gateway to Furano. A transfer at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, Osaka or Seoul is usually required to get here. Alternatively, flying to Sapporo’s New Chitose is also an option. From the former, shuttle buses to Furano are available, or from the latter, a service called the Hokkaido Resort Liner provides access. Trains are also available to Furano Station.
The Top Smaller (Micro) Ski Resorts in Japan
As the ski craze began to boom in post-war Japan, developers and capitalists saw an opportunity. Mountains and hillsides were cleared, replaced by pristine slopes ready for business. These Japanese ski pioneers built fast but small, birthing the uniquely Japanese “micro-resorts” that persist to this day. Saying this, numbers are dwindling in line with the customers, perhaps because of a combination of a fading interest in the sport and the lure of the bigger resorts we’ve seen above.
Nonetheless, the micro-resorts remain a great option for a day on the slopes, providing basic amenities but the promise of empty courses and virgin snow. This is rough and ready skiing best suited to those wanting a new experience unencumbered by crowds and commercialism. The anonymity of a lot of these spots is part of their draw but makes reaching them a challenge for a tourist. Those without access to a car will most often need to make it to the closest train station and look to local buses or taxis. Where there is a will, there is always a way. Here’s a selection of the best:
6. Izumi Ski Resort, Fukui
A favorite of those who prefer freestyle and jumps and popular among skiers and boarders, Izumi is one of the more well-equipped of the micro-resorts. With 2 lifts, 6 courses and good rental shops, it’s very much worth the trip. Two on-site hotels also make multiple days on the slopes a piece of cake. Rates start at around 6000 yen per night including traditional hot-spring facilities.
Access and Price: Izumi’s nearest station is Kuzuryuko Station, 8km from the resort itself. Taxis and buses are available to transfer between them. A day lift pass costs 3200 yen.
7. Hirugano Kogen Ski Resort, Gifu
Perhaps pushing the ‘micro’ tag a little far, Hirugano Kogen still maintains a compact feel. The resort’s 7 slopes were designed with beginners and first-timers in mind – making it a great family day out. The area also has multiple accommodation options and even a number of restaurants.
Access and price: 4000 yen for an adult day-pass. A bus service is offered from Nagoya which takes slightly under 3 hours in total. The train is the quickest option, though, with multiple services daily from Nagoya to Mino-Shirotori Station. From here you’ll need to catch a bus.
Indoor Skiing in Japan
A good way to get some practice in year-round, indoor skiing could be the best way to get your fix without trekking out to the mountains. Below are some good options for those looking to get on the slopes from Tokyo. In other areas, a small amount of detective work is sure to yield results, though the indoor skiing phenomenon does not seem to be as widespread here as in other countries.
1. Sayama Ski & Snowboard Area, Saitama
Jump on the Seibu Line from Ikebukuro and you’ll reach Kyujomae Station, the hiding place of the Sayama Ski Area. With a slope of above average length (300m) this is one of the countries leading indoor spots. Hours are generally 10am-9pm but all-nighter sessions are also available for the insomniacs among you. All the necessary gear is available to rent and there are even lessons for those that need them.
Opening Hours: Till March 12 (Sunday) 10:00 - 21:00/March 13 (Monday)-April 9 (Sunday) 10:00 - 18:00 Website: Sayama Ski Phone Number: 04-2922-1384 Address: 2167 Kamiyamaguchi, Tokorozawa, Saitama 359-1153 Access and Price: Kyujomae Station on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line. A full day or night costs 4100 yen.
2. SNOVA, Shin-Yokohama
Though only 60 meters long, this is a decent practice slope for all levels. The advanced are even catered for by a section of bumps and a half-pipe. Again, equipment is available to hire at a reasonable rate. Close to Tokyo, Yokohama is easily reached, even with skis.
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 11:00 - 22:00/Sat&Sun 09:30 - 21:00 Website: SNOVA Shin-Yoko Phone Number: 045-570-4141 Address: 1-2-43 Kajiyama, Tsurumi, Yokohama, Kanagawa 230-0072 Access and Price: Passes begin at 3000 yen. Shin-Yokohama Station on JR and subway lines is the closest station.
3. SNOVA Mizonokuchi 246, Kawasaki
Snova offers jumps, boxes and rails as well as less intimidating sections. The slope is 60 meters long and well-maintained at all times.
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 12:00 - 23:00/Sat&Sun 09:00 - 21:00 Website: SNOVA 246 Phone Number: 044-844-1181 Address: 5-28-1 Shimosakunobe, Takatsu, Kawasaki, Kanagawa 213-0033 Access and Price: Prices start at 2650 yen and the closest station is Tsudayama on the JR Nambu Line.
Japan Ski Resort Package Deals
The cheapest way to experience skiing in Japan is to organize your trip personally – booking flights, arranging transport, accommodation and your itinerary. Holidaying this way is nowhere near as difficult as it once was, the internet making things far more accessible. What’s more, most resorts and hotels/lodges offer English language guidance throughout the booking process.
However, should the thought of this bring you out in a cold sweat, a good option would be choosing one of the many package deals offered by various travel companies. These packages take the legwork out of your pre-trip planning, leaving you free to daydream about the coming adventure.
In most cases you will need to arrange your own flights to and from Japan but the tour company will arrange everything else – lift passes, airport transfers, hotels, food and gear rental should you need it. These deals can cost as little as 60,000 yen so are well worth considering.
Many companies offer these services so shop around, though Japan Package comes recommended by past users.