Japan is undoubtedly one of the must-see countries rich in natural beauty and blessed with four significantly different but signature seasons. Therefore, Japanese people have been sensitive to the seasons and worshipped nature's gifts with various activities and festivals each year. For instance, when it comes to winter, most people will think of skiing in Japan.
Winter in Japan can be pretty harsh, with parts of the country being covered in snow from time to time. However, do not let the cold stop you from enjoying this amazing time of the year. Winter is a great time to experience snowy activities and travel. Especially for those who come from tropical countries, you might feel extremely curious about it. As for me, I never saw snow in my life as my home country is hot and dry all year round, so I was more than excited in my first winter in Japan.
If you are here in the winter and want to find activities to rest and experience, you should not miss out on trying skiing in Japan. There are different levels of skiing, from amateur to professional (so, even if you’re like me, there is plenty of support to get started). Through this article, I’m going to go through it step by step until you’re confident to head down the slopes! So, get your snow boots ready and let’s get to work on this winter's plan!
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When is the best time to go skiing in Japan?
Typically, Japan's skiing season is from mid-December until early April. Its peak season is from January to February, as it is the time of heaviest snow. However, the actual Japan ski season depends on snow conditions at each particular location. The best time for skiing in Japan depends on your priorities: whether you want to chase the best powder snow, avoid the crowds, benefit from discounts, or enjoy fine weather. Below are some of our top recommendations for newbies and pros alike.
Skiing in Japan Pre-Xmas
Going skiing from Christmas to New Years time might be a bad idea as it will always be absolutely crowded. It is the most popular time for the Japanese to ski as they might not have any other long holiday. Availability for accommodation will be sold out in the blink of an eye, and you have to pay massive fees for being there at that crazy time.
So, if you want to avoid the crowd and high cost, pre-Christmas time can be a good choice for you. As it is early season snow, Hokkaido will likely be the most appropriate destination for you because there is generally enough snow on-piste for both beginner and intermediate skiers. Before mid-December, you may be lucky enough to have lift ticket prices discounted at some ski resorts and find good accommodation deals. However, be aware that some ancillary and transport services may not be available until Xmas.
Skiing in Japan from January to February
The peak of skiing in Japan is in this period when it pours snow, and the powder snow quality is at its best in every spot, so you can choose whatever you like. However, the weather is also going to be its coldest. If winter and snow are not your cups of tea, you should think carefully before skiing during this time.
Late January to mid-February is the time of Chinese New Year, so there may be lots of folks from China and Singapore. They tend to visit large resorts, and accommodation availability may be scarce with some inflated prices. You may want to avoid this time or make a reservation before two months so that you will not need to compete with those ex-pats and visitors.
*Side note: If you want to see the Sapporo Snow Festival, it is better to visit Hokkaido in Early February.
Skiing in Japan April
April is the time when the skiing season in Japan is mostly coming to an end. Thus, not all resorts are open as the snow has melted and there is not much powder. Early April might be the safest time in this month to go skiing in Japan. It is also the best time for skiing in Japan on a budget with next to no crowds and lovely weather. Lift tickets and accommodation are relatively cheap but remember that some ski schools, rental shops and restaurants may have been closed.
You can refer to this Compare Japanese Ski Resorts Statistics for annual snowfall or beginning and ending season details.
Where are the best locations to go?
Japan is famous all around the world for its first-class ski and breath-taking snowboard resorts with superb facilities and diverse local activities.
Where are the best skiing spots in Japan if you have little to no experience?
If you are new to skiing or just have a little experience, Honshu island has several spots for your choices. Honshu is the main island that is home to most major cities of Japan like Tokyo and Kyoto. From here, you can travel anywhere you want with their massive transportation system.
The town of Hakuba is located in the Nagano Prefecture and about 270 km northwest of Tokyo. It is also referred to as the "Hakuba Valley" which is home to 11 ski resorts and several villages. Hakuba Noribuka Onsen Ski Resort is in the northern part of Hakuba Valley. You will feel a little bit out in the open as it has a simplistic Japanese charm style and there may not be buildings everywhere. There are many options for you to travel to Hakuba Japan including driving, flights, bus and train. See more on How to get to Hakuba.
Regarding accommodation, we recommend choosing the Hakuba Alps Hotel as it has an entire pack of services including an onsen, swimming pool, and plenty of restaurants to enjoy authentic Japanese winter dishes. In addition, the view is fantastic as it looks over a ski slope where you can perfectly relax. You can also visit the two main mini villages in Norikura and enjoy their handful of classic eating options such as katsu curry and rice bowls.
Ski and snowboard rentals are available at Hakuba Alps Hotel, so it is very convenient for anyone who doesn’t have (or doesn’t want to bring) their own gear. There is also a ski school, and the instructors can speak English, or at least just enough to keep you from running into anyone else. Anyway, it is probably better if you can communicate with them in just a little in Japanese.
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Noribuka ski resort is a beginner-friendly place as it is usually not too crowded so that beginners can learn in peace with little to no competition for the powder. Furthermore, there are Hakuba Guided day Tours available for private groups of up to 5 people at 14,400 yen for each, which might be a perfect fit for you and your groups of friends.
Tsugaike Kogen is another ski resort of the Hakuba Valley, and it is called the "Queen of Green" with a massive beginner area. There is an international ski school that offers private and group lessons in English. You can easily hire your gears at Spicy Rentals or Hakuba ski & snowboard rental.
The easiest way to get to Tsugake village from Tokyo airports is to get a Hakuba Airport Bus with Nagano Snow Shuttle (remember to select Otari accommodation). There are four schedules per day to start from the Narita Airport to the Hakuba bus and two from Haneda Airport.
Hakuba Tsugaike tends to attract fewer crowds than some of the higher-profile ski resorts in Hakuba. However, there are excellent tree skiing, high-speed lifts and above the resort is some gorgeous scenery. It is a great spot to stay for a peaceful ski holiday where you can become absorbed in a traditional Japanese ski village.
Tsugaike accommodation is abundant at the slopeside or very close to being ski-in ski-out. Much of them consist of simple pensions and hotels that serve Japanese style rooms (with futons on the tatami flooring), Japanese meals, and some also have western rooms. In the main street of the Tsugaike little town are restaurants, izakayas and a handful of local shops.
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Kagura Ski Resort Mt Naeba
The Mitsumata ropeway of Kagura is located In Niigata Prefecture, about 175km northwest of Tokyo. Kagura is easily accessible from Tokyo by train from Tokyo Station to Echigo-Yuzawa on the Joetsu bullet train (or Shinkansen) in only 70 to 90 minutes. Then, it takes only 25 minutes to get to Mitsumata from the Echigo-Yuzawa train station by bus.
The Kagura Ski Resort is interconnected with Naeba Ski Resort via the super long Dragondola to form the extensive ski area Mt Naeba. Kagura is generally quieter than Naeba and is a three-in-one ski resort that incorporates the areas of Kagura, Mitsumata and Tashiro. It is famous for receiving lots of powder snow and the most extended ski season in Japan.
Naeba, although wonderful, can sometimes get a bit crazy, so Kagura is an excellent place to get away and enjoy the relative tranquillity as its ski area is frequently uncrowded.
Kagura is not a commercial resort, and there is not much connection with the nearby villages and very little to do in the evening. However, accommodation is available in the small towns of Mitsumata and Tashiro in simple pensions and minshuku that serve only basic Japanese beds and breakfasts. You can check them out at Kagura accommodation.
The facilities at Kagura can cover the basics of ski and snowboard rentals. There is a ski school, but if you can not speak Japanese, it is better to reserve at Snow Country Instructions for lessons in English.
Where are the best skiing in Japan if you're an experienced skier?
If you are an experienced skier, there are plenty of places that you can go. Here are some of our favourite recommendations from your staff.
Sapporo Teine is a great ski resort located 20km northwest of Sapporo in Hokkaido Prefecture. It is visited by every type of skier from beginner to pro, especially powderhounds who want steep, deep and cheap powder lines. It is made up of two small areas, Olympia and Highland.
Sapporo Teine Olympia was once the site of the sledge competition for the 1972 Sapporo Olympic Games. Thus, the Teine Olympia ski area offers delightfully mellow slopes for night skiing. Furthermore, advanced and expert skiers can take advantage of and challenge themselves with the off-piste and the side-country regions where you can enjoy awesome Hokkaido powder.
Up the mountain is the Sapporo Teine Highland, which is 1,000 metres above sea level. The area offers spectacular views of Sapporo and the ocean and features some of the steepest in-bounds terrains in Japan. You should not miss this nice top view once you visit Sapporo Teine.
There is no on-mountain accommodation, sadly. However, you can stay at one of the Sapporo hotels to enjoy the buzz of this big city. Another convenient option is hotels on or near the Hokkaido Resort Liner bus route or near the major subway stations such as Odori, Susukino or Sapporo. Otherwise, you can stay in the quaint town of Otaru, at the Grand Park Otaru, a lovely hotel offering great views of the sea and the mountains.
Both Highland and Olympia areas have well-developed facilities with great cafeterias and lockers. Gear rentals are also readily available. For beginners, there are ski lessons provided in English. Sapporo Teine is a great spot for families if you have one. Childcare is provided for kids aged 1-6. There is a park for kids where they can go tubing or sledging.
Kurodake is located in the Daisetsuzan National Park in north-central Hokkaido, Japan.
It is a fabulous spot for powder hounds looking for big mountains with plenty of snow. The area is home to the tallest mountains in Hokkaido, with approximately 15 metres of snowfall each season. The base depth often gets up to 5 metres, so suffice it to say, the ski area is packed with snow and, as its name Kuro-dake (Black Mountain) suggests, this area is more black than white.
Kurodake Hokkaido is a mainstream Hokkaido ski resort. It is not a "resort" but an unpredictable beast that is only suited to the patient, hardcore, expert skiers and snowboarders who are looking for new challenges and to really test their limits.
Kurodake is probably best visited as a long day trip, and you can stay in the Sounkyo Onsen, an onsen resort town with various multi-storey hotels. Most of the Sounkyo hotels have Western and Japanese-style rooms and some penthouses with simple, sleep-on-the-floor accommodation. However, Sounkyo accommodation is not the ski-in, ski-out type. Many of the hotels require about 350-700 metres of walking to and from the Kurodake Ropeway.
Besides skiing and snowboarding, there are some winter activities in Sounkyo, including a soak in one of the many onsens or extreme ice climbing, the Sounkyo Ice Festival (from January to mid-March) and impressive ice sculptures. But,... the Sounkyo nightlife is quiet. There are only a few restaurants because most visitors dine at their hotel.
Skiing at Kurodake can be much more challenging due to harsh weather and frequently limited visibility. Therefore, I recommend you choose the services of a guide rather than do it yourself, for your safety.
Tenjindaira Ski Resort is associated with Mt Tanigawa, located deep in the Joetsu National Park at Niigata Prefecture. Tenjindaira is renowned for having massive amounts of snow every year with impressive deep powder. If you are a hardcore backcountry rider and have a great love for skiing, this will be a perfect location for you. Otherwise, there are not many other things to do here except an onsen, going snowshoeing and a quiet beer at the lodge.
There is no on-mountain accommodation. The Tenjin Lodge is the closest lodging to the ski area, about 800 metres down the road from the ropeway building. There are simple, reasonably priced rooms in either Western or Japanese style, with hot water available in a shared bathroom. The owner here can provide you with guiding, renting out skis, snowboard equipment and backcountry safety gear.
Another option for you is to stay in the town of Minakami, with various hotels to choose from. Nearby is the high-quality Ryokan Tanigawa with beautiful Japanese rooms, onsens and the option of fine kaiseki dinners.
In the evening, you can choose to have a warm dinner at your ryokan (Japanese traditional inn) and lodge or drive into Minakami town, where there is a good range of authentic Japanese izakayas and restaurants. Be aware that there is likely little or no English spoken. If you need an English menu and a western feed, La Biere Pizza in Minakami has good wood-fired pizza.
When coming there, you can check out the fantastic side-country and backcountry. The chairlift will take you to an amazing ridge, either to drop down into the north-facing birch trees where the powder built up or to head up into the big alpine mountain terrain. However, there is often avalanche risk and the propensity for the weather to rapidly change, resulting in incidents. Therefore, it is better to have a guide.
See more destinations at Ski Resorts Rating.
It is your first winter in Japan, and you want to know what to do. Let's check out our article on Activities in Japan in Winter.
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Wallet-friendly day trips from Tokyo for a beautiful (but short) Winter getaway
If you are busy with your business or school stuff and can not schedule a long trip, why not consider a day trip? If you are living in Tokyo, there are plenty of convenient locations with many options for skiing in Japan just on a day trip from Tokyo. They usually all offer lessons for both kids and adults with rental gear available.
Let's take a look!
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Gala Yuzawa in Niigata
Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort is one of the most convenient snow resorts to visit as it takes only 75 minutes to get there by Shinkansen from Tokyo station. You will be dropped off right at the base of the resort, which is ultra-convenient and time-saving. The resort usually opens from mid-December till early May, with business hours changed depending on the weather condition. The lift fee for a 1-day ticket for Adults is 5000 yen and it is 2500 yen for children. It might cost less if you buy tickets for just 5 hours in the morning or the afternoon.
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Naspa Ski Garden
Naspa Ski Garden is a ski resort suitable for families, beginners and intermediate skiers who want ungroomed snow and mogul challenges. It is perfect for a family vacation, for learning how to ski, for improving your skills and for playing in the snow. You can easily access Naspa Ski Garden by taking the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Echigo Yuzawa Station.
The resort opens from 9.30 am till 4.00 pm daily from late December to Early April. A 1-day ticket for adults is 4300 yen and 3300 yen for children. The cost also varies depending on your time, so you should have a detailed plan before to avoid being out of budget.
Karuizawa Prince Hotel Ski Resort
Karuizawa Prince Hotel Ski Resort is another easy access destination from Tokyo. You need to travel by the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Karuizawa Station in an hour and 10 minutes. Then, the resort is 1 min away by taxi or 10 minutes on foot from the South Exit. Additionally, there is a free bus service between the Ski Area and Karuizawa Station and served on a daily basis from early December to the end of March.
The resort area lies at the bottom of the ski resort, including Prince Hotels and a large shopping complex resort that offers beginner and intermediate trails with snow parks. The ski season here starts early from November and has ski schools with private lessons in English. I highly recommend you check its website for lesson time and make advance bookings.
They offer day-based tickets and 1-day tickets in general for adults is 5700 yen. Children younger than middle and high school students are not welcome here. Their ticket fee is 4700 yen. If you are a member of the Seibu Prince Club, you will get 500 yen off.
Looking for more? Take a look at some of the Top Skiing Day-Trips in Tokyo.
Things you need to know before you go skiing in Japan
So now, you have your location and reservation at the ready. Next is to prepare before you go.
You might be a little (or a lot) worried about skiing things and your Japanese.
In 1 minute, let’s get you up to speed and feeling confident with the short sections below!
You can rent ski gear at every resort
Why do you have to worry about lugging skis and other gear while it is much easier to hire equipment at the resorts? As I mentioned above, every resort and ski field offer gear hire at a reasonable price. If you are a professional skier and own your favourite gear, you can include them as part of your checked baggage. In that case, just remember to add the required additional checked baggage allowance when booking simply.
There are plenty of ski lessons for beginners
Ski schools are usually available for all ages and skill levels at ski fields, depending on your request. The friendly instructors will help you to feel confident even if this is your first time on skis. There are groups or one-on-one lessons available and can be booked through your resort or ski fields. However, it is always better to read the information carefully before booking. The good news is that there are many friendly English-speaking instructors and staff throughout the resorts and ski fields.
Also, be mindful that you might fall over several times, and there will be legs and arms everywhere, with some bonus screams and an “oh, dear” or two. So, prepare to look like a baby giraffe learning to walk as it is hard to remain upright the entire time. Anyway, I believe that will be half the fun of your ski holiday!
Some important Japanese phrases that might save your life
Japanese people there might understand and speak basic English and try to help you as much as possible. However, it is still crucial to know some basic Japanese phrases that may save your life in an emergency.
助けて。(たすけて / Tasukete)
あの木にぶつかると思います。(あのきにぶつかるとおもいます/Ano ki ni butsukaru to omoimasu)
I think I'm going to hit that tree.
/Dou sureba gensoku dekimasu ka)
How can I slow down?
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What do you need to take with you?
There must be plenty of things that you will have to pack for your trip, but below are some of the things you absolutely should not forget!
Warm clothes (You are skiing in Japan, after all)
It sounds obvious but warm clothes are a must. Be aware that in a sky full of snow, you might be wet all the time. Therefore, do not forget to bring enough warm clothes. There are some smaller items that you may forget, including waterproof gloves, jackets, beanies, ear muffs. Although these items are available for hire, it is better to have your own preferred stuff that perfectly fits you and can easily fit into your suitcase.
Cash (in case there is no ATM)
For more than six months in Japan, we strongly suggest you get a bank account. Take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Bank in Japan if you want to open a bank account and don't know where to start.
As there are usually a lot of international travellers, some resorts do offer ATMs on site, and most motels accept credit cards for services such as dining, gear hire and lift passes. However, Japan is a largely cash-based country and most local shops, bars, cafes, and restaurants prefer cash. Therefore, it is always better to have plenty of cash with you on the go. Do not forget to check the facilities of your accommodation provider to see whether ATMs are available.
It is imperative to prepare travel insurance for a ski holiday because skiing is quite a dangerous sport under harsh weather conditions, and none of us can predict the situation. Whether you are a seasoned skier or a first-timer, accidents can happen, and it is beneficial and crucial that you are covered for all eventualities.
Whether it is lost or damaged gear or just a nasty fall, travel insurance means you are covered and will not be out of pocket for both domestically and internationally expensive medical bills. Therefore, make sure that you ask your travel consultant about the levels of cover and carefully read the contracts to ensure you are covered specifically for snow sports.
Lost your resident card somewhere on the go? See what to do in our Guide to the Zairyu Card.
What else can you do when you're there?
Apart from the biggest attraction of all skiing spots, their skiing slopes, several side activities are waiting to welcome you. So if you are not too addicted to skiing and want to try it for a bit of an experience off the beaten path, you should go around and discover some excellent sightseeing and attractions nearby.
Attractions in Niseko range from natural and geothermal to historical, cultural and hands-on spots.
After hours on the slopes, you then might suffer from stiffness and soreness. Traditional onsen hot spring baths and a soak is the perfect remedy to wrap up a hard day. Many resorts have their onsite onsens and several ones dotted around the village. Notably, the Konu and Annupuri areas feature a large number of onsens that you should take a note down and pay a visit to.
If you are here in early February, you will be welcomed by the Sapporo Snow Festival when you can see the giant statues and incredible sculptures created from ice. Another popular Niseko attraction is a day trip to Otaru, an exciting place full of quirky Japanese shops, historic canals, and seafood markets. Or, you can enjoy the natural features of the volcanic caldera Lake Toya, or the very active volcano of Mount Usu, on a day trip.
One of the best-known attractions in Hakuba is the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Just over an hour and a half drive from Hakuba, the monkey park is the perfect day trip, and you will have the chance to witness 200 'wild' snow monkeys warming themselves in the hot springs. Have your cameras ready, and you may have some interesting shots of the cute and playful monkeys. You can get quite close to them as they are used to tourists.
The Nagano Zenkoji Temple is also located nearby and is often combined as part of a day trip to see the snow monkeys. This temple has a long history, including bringing the first Buddha image to Japan during the 7th century. If you visit there, remember to wear warm socks as you must remove your shoes before entering the temple.
You can experience the fascinating walking through the small tunnels in complete darkness. In addition, local streets around the temple provide some insight into traditional Japanese architecture and way of life.
Another popular Hakuba attraction is the so-called "Crow Castle" known for its black exterior, also known as Matsumoto Castle. This is Japan's oldest five-tiered donjon castle and was built roughly 400 years ago. Nearby, you can taste wasabi in various forms at the Daio wasabi farm, including the unique wasabi ice cream.
Besides, you can experience various activities in Hakuba, including samurai evenings, sake tastings, soba noodle making, origami folding, tea ceremonies and traditional kimono dressings.
So, with the number of destinations and things to prepare we have looked at so far in this article, I hope I have shed some light on your plans this winter break. Even if you are too busy with your business or school stuff, there will always be options for you to engage in skiing in Japan. So, please keep this page as a note for your preparation. I hope you all have a charming and memorable trip!
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