Pristine slopes, stunning mountain vistas, fine powder snow and balmy onsen. If you’re looking for an extraordinary skiing experience, it doesn’t get better than this!
The northern island of Hokkaido receives regular snowfall, and the deepest snow. Niseko is the largest of the ski areas here, boasting four interlinked resorts, and a truly international outlook. It attracts travellers with its excellent après-ski nightlife with an interesting mix of traditional Japanese restaurants, western cuisine options, bars and karaoke, but mostly, the delightful quality of its dry, powder snow.
Niseko Annupuri offers a more traditional atmosphere, and is perfect if you want to learn how to ski or snowboard over quiet pistes. Even better is night skiing when the mountain takes on a whole new perspective with well-lit runs and beautiful shadows that are cast through the trees. The views from Niseko Annupuri are spectacular, and combined with the natural onsens at the base of the mountain, it is every skier’s dream.
While you’re in Hokkaido, also travel to Kushiro City in the east, where the graceful snow cranes gather in winter. Symbols of love, fidelity and longevity in the Orient, they perform an elegant synchronised courtship dance that you’d be lucky to behold.
Further south, the Japanese Alps in the Nagano and Niigata prefectures offer a slightly different cultural experience, right from the big hotels perched on the slopes to traditional ryokans to onsen and snow monkeys. In Nagano, Shiga Kogen is the second highest ski resort in Japan, accommodating varied piste terrains ranging from beginners’ slopes to expert levels; a joy for all skiers.
The Hakuba Iwatake Snow Fields was home to the 1998 Winter Olympic Games. It boasts 15 snow runs with unique features, and is an extremely scenic location for taking strolls or snowshoe courses. Authentic cultural experiences at small inns in this region are truly memorable.
For something truly special, travel the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, which cuts through the Japanese Alps, offering spectacular sceneries of the Tateyama Mountain Range. In spring, an imposing snow corridor, whose snow walls rise to 20m, forms around the upper sections of Midagahara and Murodo that people can traverse from mid-April to mid-June. With peaks above 3000m and deep snow, Tateyama is the epicentre of springtime skiing in Japan.
Yuzawa in Niigata Prefecture can be reached as a day trip from Tokyo. Its deep power and long season attract visitors to the approximately 20 resorts around Yuzawa. It is also known for its onsen, including a sake bath and a sake museum.
For something a little more scenic, visit Zao Ski Resort in the Yamagata Prefecture, and encounter the illuminated snow monsters. It is also blessed with an impressive vertical drop and a rather tough 10km run among other easier slopes. Peppered with onsen, enjoy a therapeutic soak in the hot springs after a full day on the slopes.
With over five hundred ski resorts to choose from, Japan offers exciting skiing and snowboarding opportunities like nowhere else in the world.