Where to ski in Japan – We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Japan is a skier’s and a snowboarder’s dream.
This country that’s known for its globally popular gastronomical delights, world-class floral displays, accommodation experiences both traditional and new-age, and a multitude of attractions that are at polar opposite ends of the scale (such as castles that are hundreds of years old versus spectacular contemporary digital art museums) is also home to, as some might consider, the best pow in the world.
Pow, short for powder, is essentially natural snowfall that is as soft as, well, powder. The phenomenon of ‘chasing powder’ around the globe is a real thing, and it’s an adventure that many snowboarders and skiers embark on the moment they get the hang of the sport.
It’s a craving, it’s an addiction – more powder you experience, the more you want to consume.
Not only does it hurt less when you fall (therefore people often go ham on Japanese slopes and try all these different tricks they wouldn’t normally try), but the idea of gunning it down the mountain whilst the softest of snowflakes land on your face is simply magical. The euphoria of experiencing powder cannot be replicated, and in Japan, it’s almost everywhere you look.
Where to Ski in Japan Spot #1 – Hakuba 47
A list of the best ski slopes in Japan is not complete without mentioning Hakuba 47, the premiere destination on Honshu that almost every snowboarder and skier will come across when looking for the best place to shred the mountains. It’s actually one of the largest ski areas in the Hakuba Valley region in the middle of Japan, and its popularity level and wide range of slopes and activities means that there are multiple ways to easily access it from various parts of Japan.
What makes Hakuba 47 so popular is the fact that it absolutely dumps during mid to the end of the snow season, so fresh powder is to be expected. It’s also got an amazing terrain park for those who want to have a bit of fun on the beams, and there’s a dedicated backcountry area for those looking to explore. The modern chairlift systems all around the slopes makes it a great option for those with large groups, kids, or those who generally want to avoid slow transport on the mountains.
Hakuba 47 is actually inter-connected with another ski slope, Goryu, and therefore you will be able to access both using the shared lift pass.
Where to stay in Hakuba 47
Minutes away from the Hakuba 47 base is Grove Inn Skala, an affordable ski house that provides you with everything you need for a comfortable stay near the slopes. You can either catch the shuttle to the base of one slope, or walk less than 50m for the other. It’s also close to the station, features a cosy shared lounge, onsite bar, and guests can opt to book a Thai massage or soak in the public onsen after a long day in the snow.
For a more premium stay, Ougiya Ryokan is a wonderfully quaint ryokan located just minutes away from the base of the slopes on the free shuttle. It also offers massages in-house, and you can head to its sister hotel Hakuba Hotel Ougiya nearby (via an underground passage) for a soak in the onsen.
Where to Ski in Japan Spot #2 – Shiga Kogen
Shiga Kogen is the largest interconnected ski area in the entire country. It’s not a slope itself, however, rather it’s made up of 19 different ski slopes that have trails running between them all over the mountains, and shuttle buses that operate amongst them on the ground. Because of this, a full day may consist of boarding up and down the slopes as well as stopping in at different villages below to explore the food scene.
The slope with the most trails at Shiga Kogen is Yakebitaiyama, and it also boasts the highest mountain as well, which stands at 2008 metres high. At a height like this, the snow is excellent throughout the winter season, and you can bet the views up top are stunning as well. For those looking to ski off-piste, this region has a great area dedicated for some exploring that all end up at the base of the slope.
The location means that some of the ski slopes are located near Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, so exploring that as a side trip would be a great idea. More info about Snow Monkeys in Japan here.
Where to stay in Shiga Kogen
For a fuss-free, no-frills, cheap stay nearby to the ski resort, check out Minshuku Miyama. This quaint guest house offers Japanese style accommodation, free Wi-Fi, a public onsen as well as yukata robes for all their guests – definitely doesn’t sound like a budget stay to us!
Otherwise, you can opt for the option of staying in the luxe Yorozuya Annex Yurakan, which is a premier ryokan accommodation that boasts both an indoor and outdoor onsen as well as a private one which can be booked, free Wi-Fi throughout the property, and an en-suite to all guest rooms.
Where to Ski in Japan Spot #3 – Kagura
This is one of the lesser-known slopes in Japan, however it definitely packs a punch. It’s a hidden gem that only sees mainly local crowds even in the thick of winter, therefore you can bet that you’ll be experiencing crowd-free backcountry and off-piste adventures here. On top of that, its known to encounter regular light snowfall throughout the season, meaning you can look forward to fresh tracks daily.
The ski resort is actually a three-in-one, boasting the Kagura, Mitsumata and Tashiro ski areas, and it’s also interconnected with the Naeba Ski Area which is connected via the long Dragondola. It’s got one of the longest ski seasons in all of Japan.
Where to stay in Kagura
To really make the most of the serenity, stay close to the slopes at Lodge Charlie Brown, which offers simple accommodation for guests who just want the basic necessities of a comfortable and convenient stay. It’s literally only a 10-minute walk from Kagura Ski Resort. There is the option of staying either in a western or Japanese style guest room, however all rooms offer free Wi-Fi. They also offer ski rental onsite.
You can also choose to stay at the very traditional Onsen Minshuku Yutakaya, which is located close by to the slopes and offers an awesome kotatsu (heated leg-warming table) for each room in winter.
Where to Ski in Japan Spot #4 – Nozawa Onsen
Nozawa Onsen is one of the most well-grounded ski resorts in Japan. It actually has slopes dedicated to all levels of skiers, and therefore makes it a popular choice for groups of friends, large families, and pretty much anyone who likes to have a bit of variety. There is reliable snowfall throughout the year here, and because it doesn’t command the same crowds as the larger, more popular resorts, you will likely be like experiencing freshly groomed tracks if you’re up early enough. For those who want the full Japanese experience, the Nozawa Onsen area is famous for its traditional onsen village authenticity.
Where to stay in Nozawa Onsen
If you’d like to experience the onsen village without paying a hefty price, a stay at the Lodge Matsuya should do the trick. This guest house offers western and Japanese-style rooms, all with furnished seating areas. It’s actually conveniently located right in the middle of the town so you can do a bit of exploring if you’d like.
Otherwise, located just 800 metres away from the ski resort is Shirakaba, a ryokan that offers some of the homiest guest rooms you’ll ever come across. Featuring Japanese style rooms with fluffy futon bedding and an en suite, Shirakaba leaves nothing to be desired. It also offers an indoor onsen and views of the surrounding hills. If you want to rent ski gear, guests here receive 30% off the on-site shop.
Where to Ski in Japan Spot #5 – Happo One
Happo One’s popularity is probably on the same level as, if not higher than, Hakuba 47, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a massive ski area with great terrain for skiers of all levels from beginners to advanced. It’s also a great option for larger families who are looking to book ski lessons for their kids or participate in other snow activities.
Frequent snowfall means that the slopes are consistently powdery, and fast chairlifts mean less waiting time being transported around. It boasts the longest trail across all of the resorts in Hakuba Valley, and after an eventful day up in the mountains, you can bet its variety of restaurants will be welcoming crowds until closing time.
Where to stay in Happo One
The adorable Pension Razteca is the perfect stay for anyone wanting a private and cosy accommodation that won’t cost a fortune. The furnishing and decorations here have been applauded as beautiful and welcoming, and the place is spotless clean. It’s one of the bestselling guest houses in Hakuba!
Ryokan Gozu offers a more traditional Japanese stay, with an on-site restaurant, free private parking, a cozy shared lounge, and ski-to-door access.
Where to Ski in Japan Spot #6 – Ishiuchi Maruyama
Ishiuchi Maruyama is probably one of the quaintest, less-crowded, and least commercialised of all resorts on this list. In fact, even though it’s interconnected with the larger and more popular Gala Yuzawa, it could not be anymore different. Ishiuchi is very much thrives on the Japanese community based around it, including the independently-run hotels, restaurants, rental stores, and souvenir shops.
In the thick of winter, the snow absolutely dumps here. So much so that on the heavy days, you won’t be able to see more than 10 metres in front of you! The slopes are very cruisy, and there are almost no crowds (the numbers here are mostly made up of locals), so you can take your time and go at your own pace. There is a small park area to play around in, the restaurants at the base as well as mid-mountain serve bomb food, and the nostalgic feel of the resort sets it apart from many others. Whilst it’s older-style chairlifts and lift passes (no scanners here, just wrap it around your arm or clip it onto your pants where its visible!) may deter some, it’s an experience in itself to be skiing at one of Japan’s most charming slopes.
Where to stay in Ishiuchi Maruyama
The family-run Allumeur is a great option for a cheap and comfortable stay near Ishiuchi Maruyama. It actually is a one-stop-shop/accommodation, with western and Japanese style rooms to choose from, ski rental shops in-house, luggage storage and lift pass services, and even the option to book in a soba noodle making class! It offers ski-to-door access to Ishiuchi Maruyama.
The gorgeous Maruyama Onsen Kojyokan is another option, albeit a tad bit pricier. Its stunning interior and exterior paves a path for its outdoor terrace and onsen bath. There is a free shuttle service to and from Echigo-Yuzawa Station and the ski resort.
Where to Ski in Japan Spot #7 – Furano
Furano is one of the largest ski resorts in Hokkaido, north of Japan, and it’s also definitely got a high degree of popularity. Whilst it’s long been a gem that locals can’t seem to get enough of, in recent years it’s absolutely boomed on the tourist market. Despite this, the crowds are never too much, and although it’s been renovated to cater for the large numbers, it hasn’t lost its authentic Japanese appeal. It boasts the fastest ski lift in Japan (Furano Ropeway), and is one of the steepest mountains in Hokkaido. Views from the top of the mountain are just incredible, especially during the golden hour, and the long runs are just mint.
Where to stay in Furano
Furano Mount Villa is actually centrally located in Furano city. It’s only minutes away from McDonalds, convenience stores, and shops and restaurants in town. Its guestrooms are larger than the average that you would encounter in guest houses across Japan, and it’s fairly new and modern, so you’ll immediate feel relaxed. It’s a great option for those driving.
For the ultimate convenience, you will need to book New Furano Prince Hotel. Literally located only steps away from the base of the Furano Ski Resort, this hotel is the epitome of a luxurious stay on the mountains. It is not located in town, however, with the 8 onsite restaurants and cafes, free Wi-Fi across all rooms, indoor and outdoor onsens, ski rental equipment shops, and even a convenience store onsite, you won’t be missing anything.
Where to Ski in Japan Spot #8 – Zao Ski Resort
When deciding to visit Zao Ski Resort, it is usually because of two things: either you’re interested in the onsen town itself (Zao Onsen Village is one of the most popular in Japan, and its located right at the base of the ski resort), or you’re interested in skiing through the Zao snow monsters. The snow monsters is a phenomenon which only exists at the Zao ski resort, and it occurs due to the arctic temperatures experienced in the region. They’re quite amazing to see first hand, and if you’re there during the right times, at night, there is a beautiful light-up festival that occurs.
Zao ski resort itself is a great place for beginner to intermediate skiers and snowboarders to have a bit of fun, practice, and enjoy great snow. It’s not the largest resort by far, but it’s not small either. The crowds are mainly made up of locals, and for those after a ski-in ski-out experience, many of Zao Onsen Village’s accommodation offers that.
Where to stay in Zao
Located only one minute away from Zao Onsen Ski resort, the Pension Puutaro guest house offers clean and comfortable Japanese-style rooms, complete with free Wi-Fi, free parking, and yukata robes for all staying guests. It offers a ski-in, ski-out opportunities for guests.
Otherwise, the Takamiya Hotel Lucent is a great option for a full-circle ryokan experience that also offers ski-in, ski-out opportunities. There are public onsens available onsite, all rooms feature en-suites, there’s ski rental services offered by the ryokan, and even karaoke and massage services available.
Where to Ski in Japan Spot #9 – Gala Yuzawa
Gala Yuzawa ski resort is one of the easiest resorts to reach if you’re staying in Tokyo and want to do a day trip, simply because it has its own shinkansen station that has a direct train to and from Tokyo. Once you step out of the station there, you’ll come across ski rental stores, souvenir stalls, and lift pass services, as well as access via gondolas directly to the slopes (or if you’re visiting another ski slope, there are shuttle buses as well!). Because of its overall convenience, it’s very popular. However, even though it doesn’t boast the best powder, it does have a decent amount of slopes, and really, you can’t beat accessing Japanese snow via only an 80-90-minute train ride from Tokyo.
Where to stay in Gala Yuzawa
Lodge Masaemon offers very traditional-looking, cosy and comfortable accommodation that’s only a short ride away from Echigo-Yuzawa station. The Japanese-style rooms are fitted with tatami flooring and traditional futon mattresses, and bathrooms are shared. There is free luggage and ski equipment storage on site, and lift passes can be purchased directly at the guest house.
For a more premium experience, and ski-to-door opportunities, Otowaya Ryokan is a great option. It’s got indoor and outdoor onsens as well as a Ganbanyoku stone spa for all staying guests. Yukata robes are provided, shuttle buses will take you straight to the slopes, and on-site parking is free. Purchase your lift passes and rent ski equipment onsite.
Where to Ski in Japan Spot #10 – Kiroro
Kiroro is one of the newer ski resorts in Japan having only opened up shop in 1999. It’s therefore relatively modern in terms of facilities and services. However, despite being only two hours away from Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport and only one hour away from Niseko city, it’s never received the level of love that neighbouring resorts such as Niseko and Furano have, and this is a blessing in disguise.
The resort itself offers 21 different runs across all ski levels from beginning to advanced, with the average trail length being relatively extensive. In fact, its longest run is just over 4 kilometres! The powder here is exceptional, especially in the middle of winter (even though its snow season starts earlier than most), and the relatively modern chair lifts keep your time on transport nice and low. The best thing about this resort? It’s still got a fantastically authentic Japanese vibe about it.
Where to stay in Kiroro
Being so close to Niseko city, you can easily save some money by staying at a guest house in the centre. Sanroku Kan is an affordable guest house situated in Otaru that’s bound to be one of the cutest accommodations you’ll ever come across. It boasts an adorable fireplace, Japanese-style guest rooms with stunning mountain or garden views, and free Wi-Fi throughout. You can catch a bus from Otaru Station (15-minute drive away) to Kiroro Ski Resort for only 900 yen. Fore more information or to check it out, follow this link.
Otherwise, for a premium ski-to-door accommodation, you can’t go wrong with The Kiroro, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, located right at the foot of the slopes. The accommodation actually consists of both the hotel as well as the Sheraton Hokkaido Kiroro Resort. It offers premium facilities including a stunning seasonal indoor pool, gorgeous hot spring, and an onsite ski school for beginners. There’s even a gym as well as activities for kids which can be organised. All guest rooms are of superb quality and size.
We’ve just gone through the top 10 amazing sports for skiing in Japan, and now, even we’re excited for the next snow season! Although hundreds of ski resorts actually exist, some might work out to be better than others in terms of transportation and access, number of chair lifts, degree of difficulty, and additional activities, so work out what’s best for you, and good luck! Remember, Japan boasts the best powder in the world, so regardless of wherever you go, you’ll be experiencing some world-class snow.
Before you go, feel free to get more general info about Japan in these articles: Japan Travel Blog.