Skiing in Japan? Look No Further With These Top Japanese Ski Resorts
Offering some of the best snow in Asia, Japan is indeed high up on skiers and snowboarders' bucket list. In fact, there exist more than 500 high-class Japanese skiing resorts in the country's northern region. Certainly, skiing in Japan is an experience you do not want to miss!
Averaging 600 inches of fresh and exceptional snow during the winter season from late December to early April, indeed, Japan is a powder hound’s mecca.
Aside from the consistent deep powder, Japan’s snowy mountain ranges create excellent and panoramic skiing and snowboarding experience that is comparable to North America’s.
Japan's skiing resorts also feature the world’s best and centuries-old onsens. Thanks to the country’s volcanic terrain, the hot spring waters are mineral-rich; hence, highly therapeutic.
In fact, Japan is home to thousands of hot spring resorts ranging from traditional public bath to luxurious and private open-air baths with magnificent highland views.
Japan’s rich culture and history is another reason to visit Japan for a ski holiday. The well-preserved temples, shrines, and castles attract millions of travelers annually. A culinary destination too, Japan’s healthy and authentic cuisine, partnered with traditional Japanese drinks, is a must after exploring and enjoying the slopes.
Discover Yourself While Skiing in Japan
The country's winter activities, fantastic culture and festivals, and breathtaking mountains, make skiing in Japan a blast. Above all, luscious food and drinks and friendly locals will make you wish you could stay longer.
With several Japanese skiing resorts to choose from, your only worry is how to get the best out of each experience:
1. Niseko Ski Resort
Located in Hokkaido, Niseko Ski Resort is famous for its tree runs and wide open powder bowls. Niseko's skiing areas are spread over the beautiful slopes of Mt. Niseko-An’nupuri (1,308m).
With a vast, unique skiing terrain totaling 887 hectares, Niseko has been a popular international destination for skiers and snowboarders alike.
Alongside the spectacular backcountry landscape, an average 15 meters of “powder season” snowfall enriches the resort every season.
Niseko's skiing history dates back to 1912 when Lieutenant Colonel Theodor von Lerch skied the dormant volcano Mt. Yotei and taught Japanese soldiers alpine skiing. Consequently, they built skiing facilities on the island.
In 1962, Niseki hosted the very first All Japan Skiing Championship. In addition, Niseko won the “Japan’s Best Ski Resort” title at the World Ski Awards in 2015.
Aside from being a skiing mecca, Niseko offers great winter activities like snowmobiling and snow rafting. The ski resort is home to several traditional restaurants, most of which offer a spectacular view of Mt. Yotei. Guided tours across the mountains for sightseeing and helicopter tours are also available.
Niseko Ski Resort Information
Thanks to the Siberian winds, Niseko averages twice as much snow as most resorts in North America. The renowned “Niseko Powder,” famous for its fresh light powdery snow, is one of the reasons skiers love Niseko.
Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village, Annupuri and Hanazono are the four resorts that make up Niseko United. The Niseko United shuttle ride is free for all “Niseko All Mountain Pass” holders.
During regular seasons and depending on age, the ticket costs between 4,800 and 8,000 Yen for a one day pass. Unlike the regular season, you can get the tickets for less during spring season.
Located on the eastern side of Mt. Niseko-An’nupuri, Grand Hirafu is the largest among all the ski areas connecting the Niseko resort. Occupying 60% of the whole area, Grand Hirafu offers the biggest selection of skiing terrains, accommodations, and nightlife.
Grand Hirafu has a total of 30 marked slopes suitable for all skill levels. Furthermore, graded runs on the Hanazono side, cat skiing on Weiss ski area, and inbound off-piste areas are worthy of every skier's time. Add to these the infamous backcountry terrain and you are all set for a powerful adventure.
Every winter season, the resort holds extraordinary floodlit night skiing events in the lower portion of the mountain. The resort is serviced by 17 lifts in total, including one gondola, with some lifts running until 09:00 pm daily.
Located at the base area of Hirafu are the children's tube parks and public and private onsens. Onsens is the term they use to refer to Japanese hot springs. You can also find hotels and restaurants as well as bars and coffee shops.
Finally, Hanazono offers snowmobile tours that pass through the resort’s famous Strawberry Fields.
Niseko Village, formerly known as Niseko Higashiyama, is located between Annupuri Resort and Grand Hirafu. Although it is narrower than the other ski areas within Niseko, it showcases several fun slopes for beginner-advanced skiers. Additionally, if features some of Niseko’s steepest and longest runs for experts.
The Niseko Village Ski Resort has a total of 8 service lifts and 27 trails featuring some long scenic pistes leading to some open glades through Niseko’s virgin forests.
Niseko Village provides several steep trails like the legendary black run, Misoshiru (miso soup). It is named after the soup, as the locals believe the trail differs every time you try it.
Located at the base of the resort are several hotels like the Hilton Niseko Village and The Green Leaf Niseko Village. These hotels offer decadent food, hot baths, and amenities for kids.
Annupuri, located on the western side of Mt. Niseko-An’nupuri, is smaller and less crowded than the other Japan ski resorts in Niseko. The wide gentler slopes and the relaxing atmosphere at the resort particularly attracts beginner skier and families looking for a laid back and more affordable winter holiday.
Niseko Annupuri has 13 trails and 6 lifts, with several opportunities for an excellent skiing experience. Brave experts can easily access Annupri’s backcountry bowls. These bowls feature a significant natural half-pipe, alongside glazed slopes and sub-alpine terrain.
For skiers looking to flee the hustle and bustle of Niseko, Annupuri also provides easy access to the clear and powder stashed trails of the Moiwa Ski Resort.
Annupuri is a perfect spot for skiers looking for a relaxing Japanese hot bath with its numerous onsens. A day-pass to Annupuri is a bit cheaper than other resorts' passes. Cost-wise, you can opt to avail of the "All Mountain Pass." This will grant access to all of Niseko’s ski resorts.
This resort lies on the North Eastern side of Mt. Niseko Annupuri. You can ski across from Hirafu. Alternatively, you can catch the Hanazono shuttle bus, which travels from to Hirafu every 20 minutes between 7:50 am and 5:10 pm.
Winter activities at Hanazono await you, from Weiss Powder CATS to powder guides to terrain parks. Or you can sign up for snowmobile tours, snowshoeing tours or tube park experience. Certainly, you will find whatever your heart desires!
2. Zao Onsen Ski Resort
Zao Onsen is one of Japan’s largest hot spring ski resorts. It is located in the mountains of the Yamagata Prefecture.
Known for its all-year, therapeutic and traditional hot springs, Zao Onsen also provides over 300 hectares of skiing range including the resort’s iconic ‘snow monster’ terrain.
The ski resort is one of the few Japan ski resorts where Juhyo or “ice trees” appear after a blizzard. Juhyo, popularly known as “snow monsters,” are formed when the Siberian winds freeze against the fir trees on the slopes of Mt. Jizo. The snow monsters look best around February.
Zao Onsen Ski Information
The resort has 11 courses and 14 slopes totaling around 50km of well-groomed runs.There are 31 lifts that service Zao Onsen. The longest is the Zao ropeway, which brings guests and skiers over the snow monsters up to the mountain summit (1,661m).
You can also find several beginner trails at the base of the resort. The Uwanodai course and the Yokokura area are open for night skiing as well. Snowboarding lessons and ski schools for first timers and pre-school children are also available.
Most of Zao Onsen’s trails are for intermediate skiers including its longest course, Juhyogen. The Juhyogen is a 10-km course that starts from the Jizo Sancho station at the top of the mountain and passes through the ‘snow monsters’ terrain.
There are limited options for expert skiers at the resort. One of the more interesting black trails is the Omori’s 32° gladed trails.
The tickets for a full day, half day and overnight cost 5000 Yen, 4000 Yen, and 2000 Yen respectively, for all levels.
Zao Onsen Nightlife and Winter Activities
Zao Onsen is one of the largest Japan ski resorts in the Tohoku region offering dozens of unique hot spring resorts. Thanks to the stunning Mt. Zao, the quality of the volcanic waters at the resort is excellent and one of the best in the country.
A terrain park for snowboarders, fun snow parks for the family and snowshoeing tours are available. The resort also features several winter attractions including the the Zao Juhyo Fireworks Festival. There are also the tours on the Snow Monster terrain and the Juhyo Illumination show.
Nightlife at Zao is vibrant with an abundance of izakaya (Japanese pub) themed bistros and hotels and ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) offering excellent dining and drinking experience.
For more after-ski options, skiers can head to Yagamata which is only 40 minutes away from the resort.
3. Shiga Kogen Ski Resort
Shiga Kogen Ski Resort is also a hiking spot. It comes by the name of Shiga Highlands as well, and is located in the remote town of Yamanouchi in the Nagano Prefecture.
With 19 interlinked Japan ski areas, Shiga Kogen is considered as the second largest and highest ski resort in Japan.
In 1998, Shiga Kogen hosted various events for the winter Olympics. The very first snowboarding (giant slalom) competition was held in the Yakebitaiyama area. Skiing in Shia Kogen Ski resort/credit: Shutterstuck
Shiga Kogen Ski Information
Shiga Kogen offers 80 kilometers of trails and 980 meters vertical, and are interlinked and serviced by 68 lifts. Among those 68 lifts are several modern detachable high-speed quad lifts and a conveyor belt for beginners.
With approximately 600 acres of skiing range, it will take three days to explore the resort completely.
Two areas divide the resort: the southern area of Mt. Yokoteyama and the northern end at Okushiga-Kogen and Yakebitaeyama.
Southern End: Mt. Yokoteyama
Shibutoge, nestled over Mt. Yokoteyama (2,307m), is the highest ski area among Japan ski resorts. You can find gentle, flat slopes at the lower area and some steep powder-filled slopes at the upper area.
Its location is just over the Yokoteyama ski area. Famous for its snow monsters; the resort also offers excellent intermediate trails with panoramic views of Mt. Fuji and Japan Sea.
The Kumanoyu terrain's shape is similar to that of a mortar. It is popular for being a great training ground for ski racers. Due to high altitude, Shiga Kogen is open until the first week of May only.
The Kidoike ski area connects the southern resorts to the rest of Shiga. The resort is renamed to Kidoike Snow Park and offers plenty of attractions and slopes for beginners and intermediates.
Northern End: Okushiga-Kogen and Yakebitaeyama
Okushigakogen and Yakebitaeyama are situated at the northern end of the resort. With high altitudes, these two skiing areas provide steep runs. Perfect for intermediate and expert riders, Okushiga has excellent powder stashed glade trails while Yakebitaeyama boasts of steep slopes that Olympics organizers used in the past.
Other Ski Areas Within the Shiga Kogen Ski Resort
Ichinose is also a part of Shiga Kogen, primarily utilized by families due to its location and the fun parks.
Higashitateyama and Terakoya areas deliver the longest trails in Shiga. Higashitateyama, being one of the Olympics host venues, offers some exceptional tree skiing trails and fresh powders on its off-piste areas.
Terakoya, the second highest resort among all Japan ski resorts in Shiga, provides steep glade slopes and long scenic courses. It is also a popular terrain for ski racers.
Nishitateyama, Hasuike, Maruike & Sun Valley located near the base area of the resort are filled with well-groomed beginner trails and fun parks perfect for first-timers and families.
Several long red pistes and steep trails for ski racers are offered on the nearby Giant ski area. Beginners can head next to Takamagahara Mammoth Ski Area, with its vast terrain and well-maintained slopes. The area is an excellent training ground for novices and intermediates.
Shiga Kogen Ski Resort Nightlife and Winter Activities
In addition to skiing and snowboarding, Shiga Kogen offers plenty of other winter activities. Snowmobiles, kids park and horse sleigh rides are available at the resort.
Just minutes away from the resort is the Jigokudani Monkey Park, where you can find 200 hot-spring-bathing, adorable snow monkeys.
For skiers looking for relaxing after-ski activities, a number of hot springs are available for enjoyment at the base area of the Shiga resort.
Guests can also explore the 1400-year-old Zenkoji temple and the historical Matsushiro Kaizu castle by just a short drive to Nagano.
Accommodation is also provided by some of the Japan ski resorts on the highlands, especially in the area around Hasuike. Bars and restaurants in Yakebitaiyama and Okushiga are offering Japanese, English and French cuisines.
The best après in Shiga are located at Ichinose. Here, Izakaya and Western-themed bars serve Japanese craft beers and a wide variety of local and international dishes.
4. Hakuba Ski Resort
Spread across the Northern Japanese Alps in the Nagano Prefecture, the Hakuba Ski Resort or Hakuba Valley is Japan’s largest ski resort.
The large resort spans 950 hectares with an astounding 1071-meter vertical drop. In fact, it is one of the most famous Japan ski resorts in Nagano. Consequently, it attracts around 200,000 foreign visitors yearly.
Ten ski resorts comprise Hakuba, each offering exceptional ski and snowboarding experience. Hakuba’s Happo-one ski area used to be the venue for the 1998 Winter Olympics. This is where they held the alpine skiing, super giant slalom and combined slalom competitions.
Hakuba Ski Information
Hakuba’s extensive skiing range is serviced by 99 lifts and receives a yearly average of 12 meters of snow with great quality comparable to Hokkaido’s.
With over 130 slopes, Hakuba provides a variety of terrains for different rider levels. These include alpine and glade slopes and some backcountry and off-piste areas.
Happo-one, occupying the eastern slopes of Mt. Karamatsu near the heart of Hakuba Village, is the biggest ski resort in Hakuba. Beginner slopes and Kids Park are over the resort’s foothills.
The longest trail in Hakuba is Happo-one’s 8-km beginner run. Fifty percent of the pistes are for intermediate skiers.
Hakuba 47 owns the best and largest Snow Park in the valley. It is beside Happo-one and connects to Goryu Ski Resort, both sharing the same lift ticket.
The combined areas have a decent amount of beginner and intermediate trails and 4 black pistes in total. Goryu’s steep black piste named Champion Expert Course is a must for advanced skiers. Similarly, for experts looking for more action, Hakuba 47’s backside provides an extensive terrain for backcountry skiing and snowboarding.
Sanosaka is a small ski resort great for families and snowboarders. Kashimayari, to the south, is mostly full of Japanese skiers and has the largest night skiing area. The newest and southernmost Jiigatake has smaller crowds but offers few gentle slopes for novices and intermediates.
Northwest of Hakuba village, riders can head to Iwatake for its terrain park or some cross-country trails. From Iwatake, Tsukaige can be reached by the resort’s shuttle. This area is best for beginners with its numerous wide and unobstructed green trails.
Cortina and Norikura experience the heaviest snowfall among the Japan ski resorts in Hakuba. Not to mention several tree skiing and off-piste trails, and a side country access.
Hakuba Nightlife and Winter Activities
Aside from the snow monkey park and cultural sightseeing in Nagano, Hakuba offers a wide array of off-slope activities and attractions, including the Nozawa Fire Festival.
Snowshoe courses are available at Iwatake Ski Resort while snowmobiling tours are available at Hakuba 47.
Typical of Japanese culture, après-ski in Hakuba is somehow laid back and unique. It includes some reggae, motorbike themed and karaoke bars. Most of the resorts and hotels in Hakuba serve alcohol during happy hour and offer private open-air hot bath.
Hakuba has several coffee shops serving organic coffee, a delicious selection of snacks, and cakes and après drinks after dinner. For a more vibrant and wild nightlife, pay a visit to the Echoland village’s main street. You can find restaurants and bars or the Wadano Village for the famous European-style “The Pub.”
Disclaimer: The ticket rates and prices that appear in the article may be subject to slight variations as per resorts’ pricing policies. Moreover, the season dates may also change or undergo adjustments due to the absence or abundance of snow. It is best to check the official websites of respective resorts before going skiing in Japan.