Top 10 Picks: The Best Places to Ski and Snowboard in Japan

Jan 27 2020
Mar 28 2020
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Winter is upon us, and what better way to spend it than gliding gracefully over mountainous slopes, a wake of powder behind you. For beginners and pros alike, there are abundant options for skiing and snowboarding all over Japan. So many, in fact, that it’s almost impossible to choose the top few, but we’ve listed a few of our favorites below. Give one or two of these a shot this winter and find the one that suits you best- the one that makes you go “WOW!”

10. Tateyama (Toyama Prefecture)

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Tateyama has some of the heaviest snowfall in all of Japan, making it the perfect place for winter sports. The town is home to the Tateyama Sanroku Ski Resort, which includes two different regions: Raicho Valley and Gokurakuzaka. Between the two, there is a good mix of courses for all levels, including sledding and a kids park. In fact, there is a family ticket available as well, which is good for one adult and one child and will get you a decent discount. Complete with weekend and holiday childcare services, this is a great resort for the whole family.

In addition to its ski resort, Tateyama is probably best known for the “snow walls” of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. Visitors can marvel at these massive drifts, usually 15-20 meters high, while walking safely along a meandering road. The Alpine Route is generally closed during winter, but the snow here can last as late as August. Even if you miss the ski season at Sanroku, you’ll still be able to enjoy some winter fun.

👍 WOW factor: Family-friendly fun

Tateyama Sanroku Ski Resort

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  • Open :Dec 14th,2019 / Close : Mar 15th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 7 level

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9. Katsuyama (Fukui Prefecture)

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Katsuyama is home to the largest castle, largest buddha, and largest five-story pagoda in Japan, and on top of that a pretty cool dinosaur museum, but for winter sports, Ski Jam Katsuyama is the place to go. A wide variety of runs with a good spread of difficulty, Ski Jam has courses to satisfy anyone and everyone. It’s easy to get to without a car too, with direct buses from both Osaka and Kyoto. English information and English-speaking staff are available on site, but lessons are only offered in Japanese.

But back to the slopes. In addition to the regular trails, Ski Jam has some unique courses as well: Fantasy 1600, to experience the natural terrain; the Powder Tree Run for the thrill-seeker; and a hike from the top of the lift to the mountain summit for exquisite powder snow and an incomparable view.

👍WOW factor: Trail rarities for the unique-seeker

Ski Jam Katsuyama

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  • Open :Dec 8th,2019 / Close : Early Apr,2020
  • The number of slopes : 13 level

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8. Fuji (Shizuoka Prefecture / Yamanashi Prefecture)

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Whenever Shizuoka or Yamanashi prefectures are mentioned, the first thing most people think of is Mt. Fuji, but did you know that you can actually ski on the mountain? Snow Park Yeti in Shizuoka and Fujiten Snow Resort in Yamanashi both offer you a chance to experience this World Heritage Site at close range. You’ll be able to look out at the mountain and the scenery beyond while you ski, and on a clear day the views are breathtaking.

The one catch is that neither resort offers many advanced runs, so if you’re an experienced skier there might not be much of a challenge for you. Both, however, are great places to learn, offering lessons in skiing and snowboarding in addition to plenty of beginner and intermediate slopes.

A note for the night owls: while some other resorts offer night skiing, Snow Park Yeti has all-night skiing. On most Saturdays and national holidays during the season, you can ski from the afternoon until eight o’clock the next morning.

👍WOW factor: Picture-perfect views day and night

Snow Park Yeti

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  • Open :Oct 25th,2019 / Close : Apr 5th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 5 level

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7. Hakkoda (Aomori Prefecture)

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The Hakkoda Ski Resort is known for its long season: it’s generally open from late November all the way through mid-May. In some places, however, the hills are open as late as August for summer skiing. The slopes here stem out from the Hakkoda Ropeway Summit Park Station, and many of the courses weave through beechwood forests on their way down the mountain. This area is also famous for a natural rarity- groves of soft rime ice, or frosted trees. The rime ice makes the surroundings beautifully white, and while some can be seen from the ski slopes, a snowshoeing tour around the mountain will give you access to larger, more spectacular formations.

At the foot of the mountain there is also a selection of onsen, so visitors have their pick of places to warm up and relax.

👍WOW factor: Awe-inspiring nature

Hakkoda Ski Resort

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  • Open :Dec 1st,2019 / Close : May 5th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 5 level

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6. Furano (Hokkaido Prefecture)

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Split over two separate zones, Furano Ski Resort boasts over 20 different courses. Day passes are a bit pricier than some other parks, but the sheer amount of space covered makes it worth every yen. The resort also offers lessons in English, kids lessons, and a fully-equipped international preschool.
There is also plenty of lodging on the mountain as well as a selection of other activities. Tubing, snow cafes, photography spots, even a New Year’s festival- you name it, they’ve got it. If you’re traveling in a group and/or planning a trip of at least a few days, this is the place for you.

Furano is probably best known, however, for its high-quality powder snow. The area usually gets fresh powder every few days, and the average yearly snowfall is over nine meters. When there is a particularly heavy snow, there will often be areas of untouched powder for days after, making for a particularly smooth skiing experience.

👍WOW factor: Top-quality powder snow

Furano Ski Resort

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  • Open :Nov 23th,2019 / Close : May 6th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 23 level

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5. Hakuba (Nagano Prefecture)

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A list of Japanese ski resorts would not be complete without mentioning Hakuba―if you’re thinking that name rings a bell, it’s probably because Hakuba Village was the main site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. The two most famous resorts in the area are Hakuba Goryu and Hakuba 47, both of which are popular among Japanese and foreign tourists alike. Because of their international popularity, English support and services are readily available at both resorts; conversely, it’s also usually very crowded.

Between the two of them, Goryu and 47 have over 20 runs with a good range of difficulty, making them enjoyable for people of all skill levels. The Hakuba area is only a couple of hours from Tokyo by bullet train and there are shuttle buses that run all around the village, so braving the winter roads in a car of your own isn’t necessary.

👍WOW factor: Stress-free planning

Hakuba 47

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  • Open : Middle Dec,2019 / Close : May 6th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 7 level

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Hakuba Goryu Ski Resort

  • Open : Dec 6th,2019 / Close : May 10th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 16 level

4. Nozawa Onsen / Shiga Kogen (Nagano Prefecture)

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Nagano prefecture is full of excellent skiing, and Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort and Shiga Kogen 18 Ski Area are two of a long list. Both of these resorts are remarkably large, Nozawa Onsen boasting 36 courses and Shiga Kogen with a whopping 80 trails over 18 areas. In fact, Shiga Kogen is the most extensive area of interconnected skiing courses in not just Japan, but all of Asia. All levels of trails are available, of course, and you could easily spend days, if not weeks, exploring and trying out all the slopes.

In addition to skiing, the area also offers museums, plenty of onsen, and even a snow monkey park where, you guessed it, you can see wild snow monkeys. Nozawa Onsen also has a zipline that is 652 meters long and can reach speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour. Shiga Kogen, on the other hand, offers a variety of deals and set packages for restaurants, accomodation, and transportation.

👍WOW factor: An all-encompassing experience

Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort

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  • Open : Nov 23th,2019 / Close : May 6th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 24 level

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Shiga Kogen Ski Resort

  • Open : Dec 7th,2019 / Close : May 6th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 15 level

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3. Zao (Miyagi Prefecture / Yamagata Prefecture)

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Mt. Zao lies over the line between two prefectures and is known for its heavy snowfall, averaging about 12 meters every year; because of this, there are a grand total of eight ski resorts on this one mountain. Two of these are the Zao Onsen Ski Resort on the Yamagata side of the mountain and the Sumikawa Snow Park on the Miyagi side. Covering the entire area is beautiful rime ice; Sumikawa offers snowmobile tours to see the magnificent structures, while at Zao Onsen you can actually ski directly through groves of the stuff. Zao Onsen also puts on illuminations at night, lighting up some areas of the rime ice in beautiful colors.

The only thing that might hold a potential visitor back is the access to these resorts―both require either driving or a rather long bus ride. Once you get there, though, the slopes definitely make the trip worth your time. Zao Onsen, in accordance with its name, also has an open-air onsen to relax in after the long drive or a day of skiing. The onsen itself has a 100-year history, and the water that flows from the natural spring is famous for its “beautifying” qualities.

👍WOW factor: Natural snow-white sculptures

Zao Onsen Ski Resort

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  • Open : Dec 7th,2019 / Close : May 6th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 25 level

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Sumikawa Snow Park

  • Open : Dec 5th,2019 / Close : Apr 5th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 9 level

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2. Niseko / Rusutsu (Hokkaido Prefecture)

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The Niseko area of Hokkaido is arguably the most well-known ski village in the entire country. The area consists of four separate ski resorts interlinked with lifts, and depending on the type of pass you purchase, you can get access to just one resort or all four. Niseko is internationally famous for its high-quality powder snow, and there are over 60 individual courses covering the mountain. Rental gear and lessons are available as well as night skiing. There are also plenty of other activities to keep you occupied, including snow rafting and reindeer-drawn sled rides.

Just south of Niseko is Rusutsu Resort, which was the winner in the Japan’s Best Ski Resort and Japan’s Best Ski Hotel categories at the 2019 World Ski Awards. Deserving, too- the resort is spread over three separate mountains with 37 courses coming in at a grand total of 42 kilometers of skiable slopes. There is also the unique experience of helicopter skiing, where you can ride a helicopter to the top of the mountain before gliding down. Add in the igloo bars―actual igloos where you can buy a variety of hot and cold drinks―and, well, you get the point.

👍WOW factor: Multiple-trip worthy

Niseko Village Ski Resort

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  • Open : Dec 1st,2019 / Close : May 6th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 27 level

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Niseko Resort Grand Hirafu

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  • Open : Nov 23th,2019 / Close : May 6th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 22 level

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Rusutsu Resort

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  • Open : Nov 23th,2019 / Close : Apr 5th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 37 level

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1. Yuzawa / Maiko / Naeba (Niigata Prefecture)

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Our number one spot goes to the Yuzawa area of Niigata. The area has a multitude of ski parks, from cozy ones with only a few courses to massive, interconnected mega-resorts. The area is easy to access, only a little over an hour away from Tokyo via bullet train, and once you’re there a variety of shuttle buses make transport around and between the many resorts simple and convenient.

The difficulty of the courses available will depend on the resort (or resorts) you choose to visit, but most places have a good selection of difficulty; Kagura Snow Resort, for example, has 23 courses over three areas, including everything from bunny hills to moguls.
In addition to skiing, there are a variety of other activities available if you choose to expand your trip. Naeba Ski Resort regularly puts on fireworks shows on the slopes after dark, and Gala Yuzawa Ski Resort has everything from snowmobile tours to the “Bell of Love” observation deck to strawberry picking.

Niigata prefecture is also known for its delicious sake, and the ski resorts and surrounding villages have plenty of restaurant and bar options. After a day of skiing or snowboarding, you won’t want for options for places to relax and have a drink.

👍WOW factor: A little of everything

GALA Yuzawa Ski Resort

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  • Open : Dec 14th,2019 / Close : May 6th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 16 level

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Kagura Ski Resort

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  • Open : Nov 23th,2019 / Close : May 24th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 23 level

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Yuzawa Kogen Ski Resort and Panorama Park

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  • Open : Dec 14th,2019 / Close : Mar 31th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 8 level

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Naeba Ski Resort

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  • Open : Dec 7th,2019 / Close : Apr 5th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 21 level

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Ishiuchi Maruyama Ski Resort

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  • Open : Dec 14th,2019 / Close : Apr 12th,2020
  • The number of slopes : 22 level

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