So just how big is skiing in Japan? Well, the country is home to over 500 ski resorts, its hosted two Winter Olympics, and the ski season here is one of the snowiest in the world! When it comes to pure, unadulterated powder skiing, the Land of the Rising Sun is undisputedly world-class.
The sheer quantity coupled with the amazing quality of Japanese powder is enough alone to draw in skiers from across the world. It’s no surprise that Japan is an annual fixture in my vacation schedule – it makes me question whether there is such a thing as too much powder. But you truly don’t know until you go, so pick one of my top 11 ski resorts in Japan and go get your fix of the legendary japow this fascinating country is famous for!
Known For: Being an economical option for sampling some of Japan’s steeper slopes and its famous powder
- Home to some of the steepest trails in Japan
- Top expert terrain easily accessible in the sidecountry
- Easy access - 40 minutes’ drive from Sapporo
- Not much terrain well-suited for intermediates
- Small ski area won’t keep you busy for long
- Slopes fill up with nearby city dwellers on weekends
Skiing at Sapporo Teine offers one of the cheapest ways to experience the legendary powder that Japan is so famous for. With just under 76 ha of skiable terrain it’s not a particularly big resort, and the vertical drop of 683 m isn’t much to write home about either, but slopes with a 38° pitch sure make up for it! It actually does get pretty steep here, something that Japanese ski resorts in general aren’t renowned for.
Ski Terrain to Satisfy Both Beginners & Experts
If you’re still learning how to ski or snowboard this resort offers plenty to keep you busy, and there is even a green trail running from the very top of the resort at 1,023 m. For skiers who are most at home when off-piste, powder stashes and tree skiing are easy to find just behind the boundary ropes, but remember that skiing out of bounds is at your own risk! The only group of skiers who might feel let down by the terrain here are intermediates. If you fall into this category consider a more intermediate-friendly Japanese ski resort, like Kiroro.
The Snow, Sea, and City All in One View!
Being literally just outside of Hokkaido’s biggest city, Sapporo Teine holds something unique over most other ski resorts in Japan. Head to the Highland Zone at the top and you’ll not only be able to gaze on the white mountains surrounding you, but look down and you’ll see the urban patchwork of Sapporo along with the endless blue of Ishikari Bay. It honestly is a rare view amongst ski destinations and enough of a reason by itself to visit! With the city so close by, this place does fill up quick on the weekends so try to come during weekdays if you can!
Cost: One Day Lift Pass - Adult ¥5,200 JPY ($63 AUD) / Child ¥2,600 JPY ($31 AUD) / Student & Senior ¥4,200 JPY ($51 AUD)
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Known For: Offering a truly authentic Japanese ski experience away from the crowds
- Excellent off-piste and backcountry without the crowds!
- Plenty of trails to keep intermediate skiers carving up corduroy all day
- Consistent powder makes it easy to find freshies on weekdays
- Offers a traditional Japanese ski vacation experience including cheap and authentic cuisine to enjoy off the slopes
- Easy access to Naeba for more terrain to explore
- Resort doesn’t focus much on terrain parks so freestylers could be disappointed
- High altitude means it can get bitterly cold and windy here
- Not many facilities or activities for families and new beginner skiers
- Nightlife is practically non-existent
It’s barely two hours by train out of the Japanese capital, but the snow-drenched peaks of Kagura are a world away from the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo. With 169 ha of skiable terrain and 23 trails, one of which stretches for over 6 km, it’s far from a small ski resort by Japanese standards. However, it’s what lies beyond the boundaries that make this place so special. The highest lift-served point here sits at over 1,844 m, from where you can access many off-piste tree runs packed with exceptionally good powder. The only downside to this high altitude is the freezing temperatures and wind chill, so just make sure you wrap up warm!
Score Pristine Backcountry Powder Without the Crowds
Kagura is relatively unknown to the international ski world, so you won’t find that many skiers from overseas nor many crowds on the mountain here. It really is a hidden gem considering how much amazing backcountry there is to explore, with much of it perfectly suited for a skier’s first foray into a powder-filled wilderness. Even though you won’t find much in the way of gnarly chutes or huge cliff jumps here, there’s enough variety to keep experienced backcountry skiers entertained. Talk to the guys at Mikuni Cat Skiing to arrange a guided tour!
Visit Naeba on the Dragondola to Ski an Entirely New Mountain
Once you ski everything that Kagura has to offer, you can access a whole other ski area via a lift that runs for almost 6 km! Dubbed the Dragondola, this remarkable feat of engineering is one of the longest ski lifts in the world. It’ll get you over to Naeba, where another 22 courses are waiting for you to carve up. When you combine the terrain of both Kagura and Naeba you have yourself a pretty big ski area, along with fun ski touring adventures between these two stand-alone resorts!
Cost: One Day Lift Pass - Adult ¥5,700 JPY ($69 AUD) / Child (Free) / Student ¥4,300 JPY ($52 AUD) / Senior ¥5,000 JPY ($61 AUD)
Learn more about Kagura
Known For: Its delightfully old-fashioned hot spring town and inbounds off-piste tree skiing
- Reliable snowfall and uncrowded trails for every level of skier
- Big inbounds tree skiing zone complete with a lift to drop you off at the start
- Green runs on the lower and upper sections of the mountain
- Easy to access the entire ski area using the two cosy gondolas
- Authentic Onsen/ hot springs village
- It’s prohibited to ski many of the powder stashes between the slopes
- Can be difficult to make it over the flat spots, speeding is essential
- Having to skate or walk some parts of trails is not that uncommon!
- Busy on-mountain restaurants mean long waits for meals
Before skiing transformed this historic mountain village into the fantastic ski resort it is today, people came to Nozawa Onsen for its healing hot spring baths. Now it combines these two attractions perfectly, along with retaining its small-town feel despite its new found fame. The ski area on Mount Kenashi is well-suited for skiers of all abilities, with gentle green groomers to cruise along and steep blacks to race down. Spectacular scenery awaits too, especially at the end of the day when the sun sets in front of skiers making their last run down the mountain!
Try out the Tree Skiing
Nozawa Onsen makes it easy for skiers to go from on-piste schussing to deep snow skiing. Thanks to an inbounds tree skiing area easily accessed from the highest point in the resort you don’t have to duck any ropes to find freshies! Being way up high means this spot fills up with white stuff after a dump and there’s no grooming to pack it down. Ride the Yamabiko Four chair to get a birds-eye view of the terrain on offer, then go test out your powder skiing skills.
Visit Revered Onsens & Experience Unique Festivities
Onsens are found all over Japan, but in Nozawa Onsen they are held in particularly high regard. There are many to choose from around town, with the standout being the longstanding O-yu onsen. Located right in the middle of town, its ornate wooden facade is unmissable. There’s something else that attracts people to the town too, the spectacular Dosojin Fire Festival. It’s been running since 1863, held on the 15th of January each year, and this traditional celebration involves battling torch bearers and quaffing down sake throughout the evening!
Cost: One Day Lift Pass - Adult ¥4,800 JPY ($58 AUD) / Child ¥2,200 JPY ($27 AUD) / Senior ¥3,700 JPY ($45 AUD)
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Known For: Being a modern ski resort with easy access to epic backcountry
- Practically no crowds here makes it easy to find freshies!
- Amazing backcountry and sidecountry to explore
- Expect huge dumps of top quality powder
- Enjoy an authentic contemporary Japanese ski trip
- Not many on-piste trails suited for expert skiers
- Can be difficult to get here, few transfer options and difficult to drive yourself
- Only accommodation options are the two on-site hotels
- Ski hire facilities are few and far between
A modern Japanese ski resort that only opened up shop in 1991, Kiroro enjoys all the benefits of well-thought-out planning and a top-notch lift system. It’s perfectly suited for destination skiers ready to spend all day on the mountain, then ski right back into their hotel at the bottom of the slopes. In fact, that’s your only option at this purpose-built ski resort, because there really is little to do outside of your hotel at night.
Decent Variety of Trails & Unreal Backcountry
The 21 trails here are spread out across two mountain peaks, and many of them are fantastically wide and long, no matter how steep they are. The longest course stretches for just over 4 km, and there’s plenty to keep beginner and intermediate skiers happy for days on end. Advanced skiers won’t find that much to challenge them on-piste, but outside of the resort boundaries there’s powder-filled backcountry to absolutely rave about!
Same Great Snow as Niseko, Minus the Crowds!
Perhaps Kiroro’s biggest draw for those in the know is how overlooked this ski resort is by international visitors. It’s true that not much English is spoken here and that there isn’t really a ski village with restaurants and nightlife to enjoy, but if epic skiing is your number one priority this place is an absolute gem. Whether you’re in the backcountry bouncing through waist-deep powder or cutting lines through the fresh corduroy, finding other skiers in your way is not a problem, unlike at the much busier Niseko nearby.
Cost: One Day Lift Pass - Adult ¥5,800 JPY ($70 AUD) / Child ¥3,000 JPY ($36 AUD) / Student & Senior ¥5,100 JPY ($62 AUD)
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Known For: Serving up the biggest interconnected ski area in the entire country
- High alpine territory keeps temperatures low and snow in fantastic condition
- Plenty of off-piste tree skiing is kept open here
- Quiet mountain trails to suit all levels of skier
- Excellent interconnectivity of ski lifts and slopes across multiple resorts
- An abundance of ski-in/ski-out hotels, a few even have their own gondola!
- Windhold can shut down exposed sections of the upper mountains
- Not many restaurants and bars to visit outside of the big hotels
- Hard to explore off the slopes unless you have your own wheels
- Smoking areas next to the gondolas aren’t pleasant to walk through
Welcome to the largest interconnected ski area in Japan! Shiga Kogen is made up of 19 separate ski resorts, with trails running between them through the mountains and a shuttle bus operating on the roads below. Being able to visit different alpine villages during your ski day gives it a European feel, and our top pick from all of them is Yakebitaiyama. Of all the stand-alone ski areas that make up Shiga Kogen, this one is the biggest! It’s also close to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, which makes for an unforgettable day trip off the slopes.
Tall Mountain Makes for Top Quality Snow
Not only are there more trails at Yakebitaiyama than anywhere else in Shiga Kogen, the mountain here is also the tallest. With a snowy peak standing tall at 2,008 m, the white stuff stays in excellent condition for longer compared to some nearby resorts. It also enjoys bigger dumps than other ski spots in the region, and that high elevation guarantees some wonderful views. Keep your eyes peeled for special viewing spots marked out by the resort and whip your camera out to capture amazing shots of the Japanese mountains!
Perfect Corduroy & Powder Skiing Made Easy
You won’t encounter any sloppy slope grooming at this place, expert precision is paid to the creation of fresh corduroy each day. Cruising the blues is a real joy here, but so is heading off-piste in search of powder. You’ll find a variety of gates scattered around the resort that point you in the right direction when it comes to exploring out of bounds terrain. The idea is that you’ll end up back inside the ski area once you’ve finished your powder run, which makes venturing off-piste much safer here than at some other Japanese ski resorts.
Cost: One Day Lift Pass - Adult ¥5,000 JPY ($61 AUD) / Child ¥2,500 JPY ($30 AUD) / Senior & Student ¥4,200 JPY ($51 AUD)
Learn more about Shiga Kogen
Known For: Its relaxed attitude towards off-piste skiing and amazing family leisure facilities
- Inbounds off-piste skiing is allowed here and it’s awesome!
- Snow Cat tours available to safely explore nearby backcountry
- A family-friendly resort with fun activities for non-skiers
- Crossing between the two main ski areas can be a pain
- Not much variety for accommodation, just four huge tower block hotels
- Non-existent nightlife
There aren’t many ski resorts like Tomamu in the world, or even in Japan for that matter. Nestled within a pristine national park and blessed with bundles of fluffy powder during the winter, you could say this flashy resort with 36-story skyscrapers sticks out against the natural splendour surrounding it! Whatever your first impressions might be, once you stay here you’ll realise just how much of a unique and amazing experience this place serves up, both on and off the slopes!
Top Destination for Off-Piste and Backcountry
Unlike many Japanese ski resorts where off-piste skiing is prohibited and doing so can lose you your lift pass, at Tomamu you can ski off the trails into untracked powder without worrying about ski patrol chasing you! There are marked expert zones that aren’t groomed, but practically all the treed areas between pistes are open to ski if you want to try them! For a guaranteed fix of the deepest powder around this resort, book yourself on a CAT tour and head off into the backcountry of Mt. Karifuri. It really is the ultimate untracked powder experience, and might just be the best experience on snow you’ve ever had!
Family-Friendly Skiing & Fun-Packed Activities
Not only does Tomamu cater well for expert off-piste skiers, there’s also a nice balance of beginner, intermediate, and advanced groomed trails to keep families of all skiing abilities happy. What’s more, off the slopes things can get even more interesting! Mina-Mina Beach features one of the largest indoor wave pools in Japan, and the Ice Village is home to a restaurant, bar, and church made out of ice, along with an ice rink and ice slide! That’s really just the start too, with sledding, snow rafting, snowmobile rides, and even curling all on the activities list here.
Cost: One Day Lift Pass - Adult ¥5,400 JPY ($65 AUD) / Child ¥3,800 JPY ($46 AUD)
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Known For: Having the finest terrain parks in all of Hakuba and ski terrain to suit all abilities
- Reliable powder dumps and excellent ski touring across resorts
- Professional level terrain park plus an open gate for backcountry access
- Modern and fast lift system combined with quiet trails during the week
- Perfect for family ski vacations
- Not much variety for on-mountain dining so the few restaurants fill up quickly
- Serious lack of accommodation options at the base areas
- Après-ski leaves much to be desired
Whatever you’re looking for on your ski vacation, whether it’s exploring unspoiled backcountry, bouncing over moguls, or jibbing rails, Hakuba 47 & Goryu serves it all up and then some! This ski resort is all about variety, so every skier, no matter what their ability, will find something to keep them happy. On the downside, off the mountain there isn’t so much to do, with just a few places to stay, eat, and drink next to the slopes. However, the advantage of this is that the slopes rarely get crowded!
Amazing Inbounds Off-Piste
You don’t even have head outside of the ski resort boundaries to score deep untracked powder, Hakuba 47 & Goryu have two special off-piste zones where you can get waist-deep in the white stuff! Just sign up for access at the ski patrol hut located at Hakuba 47’s base area and you’ll get your pass. These exclusive high mountain areas are north-facing so the snow stays in great condition for a few days after a dump. Finding freshies has never been easier!
Unbeatable Terrain Parks
If the incredible skiing across Habuka 47 & Goryu doesn’t impress you then perhaps their epic terrain parks will. Home to the best terrain parks in the Habuka Valley, Hakuba 47 & Goryu serves up some of the most epic features to keep freestylers frothing. You’ll find well-experienced park rats jibbing, jumping and stomping all day long at Hakuba 47’s terrain park and superpipe while those new to the game can test out their first tricks over at the more mellow terrain park at Goryu.
Cost: One Day Lift Pass - Adult ¥5,000 JPY ($61 AUD) / Child ¥2,700 JPY ($33 AUD) / Youth & Senior ¥4,000 JPY ($48 AUD) / Over 70 ¥3,200 JPY ($39 AUD)
Learn more about Hakuba 47 & Goryu
Known For: Blending amazing skiing with an equally amazing cultural experience
- A large ski resort by Japanese standards, complete with a variety of trails for all abilities
- Its central location in Hokkaido means snow quality here is often better than at Niseko
- Nearby city of Furano offers plenty of amenities, restaurants, and shopping to enjoy
- Average snowfall doesn’t match that of Hokkaido’s coastal ski resorts
- There’s not a great deal of luxury accommodation near the slopes
Furano has long been one of the most famous ski resorts within Japan, thanks to its place on the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup circuit and for having some of the best quality snow of anywhere in the country. Despite its popularity at home, for years and years this place really didn’t get much attention from overseas destination skiers. Well, the secret of Furano is well and truly out now, with visitor numbers increasing year on year, but it’s still far from being overwhelmed or westernised like some other Japanese ski destinations.
One of the Best All-Round Ski Resorts in Japan
Furano has adapted very well to its increasing popularity, catering well for international skiers without losing its authentic Japanese charm. Alongside a fulfilling cultural experience, you’ll enjoy some fantastic skiing here too. The ski area is above par in comparison to the rest of Japan, providing plenty of terrain to suit all abilities. It’s also home to the Furano Ropeway, the fastest ski lift of its kind in the country. Clamber aboard and join up to 100 other skiers and snowboarders heading up to the top of the mountain!
Enjoy Local Cuisine & Culture in the City
Being so close to the city of Furano, just 6 km away, means you don’t have to stay right by the slopes. Choose a hotel downtown and have an urban centre to explore while you’re not skiing! Even if you choose just to head into the city during the evenings or for a day, you’ll find a huge variety of restaurants serving all manner of traditional Japanese delicacies. Also, the beautiful Blue Pond in nearby Biei is worth a visit if need a day off from skiing, it’s just under an hour away by car.
Cost: One Day Lift Pass - Adult ¥5,500 JPY ($67 AUD) / Senior ¥4,900 JPY ($59 AUD)
Learn more about Furano
Known For: Having the biggest vertical drop and longest trail of all the resorts in Hakuba Valley
- Frequent powder dumps keep the slopes topped up all winter
- Wide range of terrain, from one-time Olympic ski racing trails to wide gentle groomers
- Backcountry gate beside the top lift makes going off-piste easy
- Upper mountain is quickly reached with fast gondola
- Easy access to the slopes from most lodgings within the resort
- Beginner terrain is seriously lacking here
- The upper mountain is exposed so windhold can be a problem
- Some old and slow chairlifts are still in operation here
- Weekends and holidays see plenty of crowds
Welcome to the largest and most popular ski area in Hakuba Valley! Happo One has got some serious skiing pedigree, not only because it hosted the Super-G event of the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics. Skiers have been schussing down the mountain here since the resort opened way back in 1958, and they keep coming back for good reason. Even though Japan isn’t renown for its steeps, this place bucks the trend both on and off-piste. If you’re looking for plenty of challenging terrain Happo One is sure to satisfy, and with plenty of first-rate restaurants and bustling bars you’ll be entertained off the slopes too!
Ski the Skyline Course for an All-Mountain Adventure
For a trail that serves up a little bit of everything, there’s no better choice than the Skyline Course. It takes a little imagination to get the most out of this run, but you could honestly lap it all day long without getting bored. Just ski off into the sidecountry to find deep powder between the trees, bumps to bounce through, and banks to launch off. All this is easily accessed from the safety of the groomed piste, which is always nearby for when you get tired and need a quick break!
Pilar for Fine Dining & Sakka for Beers Around the Fire
Happo One really does cater for everyone, whether you’re looking for a top-notch restaurant or just somewhere to hang out and drink with friends. To treat yourself to a sumptuous three-course lunch visit Pilar, where you can ditch your ski boots and get comfy in a pair of slippers! If kicking back around a fire with the smell of street food wafting through the air is more your thing, head to the Sakka base area. Here you’ll find food trucks serving up eats from around the world, with beers flowing, music pumping, and a fire roaring!
Cost: One Day Lift Pass - Adult ¥5,200 JPY ($63 AUD) / Child ¥3,000 JPY ($36 AUD) / Senior ¥4,700 JPY ($57 AUD)
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Known For: Its huge quantities of powder and being very accommodating for overseas skiers
- Bundles of dry and light powder to enjoy
- Large ski area connecting four different resorts and trails to suit all abilities
- Excellent backcountry gate system provides access to out of bounds terrain
- Great night skiing on offer
- Easy to get to with plenty of transport options running to and between the base areas
- Great shopping, lively nightlife, and English is widely spoken
- Fresh powder gets tracked out quickly
- One of the most expensive places to ski in the country
- The slopes can get crowded, particularly during the holidays
- With so many westerners visiting it’s not exactly the most authentic Japanese ski experience
Niseko is often the first choice for international skiers and snowboarders planning a ski vacation in Japan, and it really is no surprise why. It’s one of the snowiest ski resorts in Japan, with an awesome variety of terrain, access to amazing backcountry, and plenty of bars and restaurants for entertaining après-ski! However, its fame has brought with it an increase in prices and crowds on the slopes, while eroding the traditional Japanese charm it once had. Still, if it wasn’t an awesome place to ski people wouldn’t come, and it really is up there with the best ski resorts in the world!
A Great Resort for First Time Visitors to Japan
Life is made easy for foreign visitors in Niseko, so you really shouldn’t feel like you’re out of your comfort zone. This place caters for English speakers better than any other ski resort in the country and there are plenty of restaurants serving up western fare. Multiple transport connections also make it really easy to get to, plus there’s accommodation to suit every budget and taste. The Grand Hirafu base area should be your first choice to ease yourself into the Japanese ski experience, but don’t overlook Annupuri, Hanazono, or Niseko Village, they are all worth exploring too.
Score a Powder Stash and Some Solitude at Nearby Moiwa
Just outside of the Niseko United ski area lies a quaint little resort named Moiwa. There are only three lifts here, and little in the way of accommodation or restaurants, but it makes for a fantastic day trip from Niseko. Head here on a powder day to escape the crowds and search out the freshies! The off-piste terrain is the best thing about this place, and the powder gets seriously deep. It can actually be pretty scary when you stop and the white stuff is all the way up to your chest!
Cost: One Day Lift Pass - Adult ¥7,500 JPY ($91 AUD) / Child ¥4,500 JPY ($54 AUD) / Youth & Senior ¥5,600 JPY ($68 AUD)
Learn more about Niseko
Known For: Having insanely deep powder like Niseko but without the crowds!
- An average annual snowfall of over 1,270 cm!
- Great mix of powder-filled off-piste and corduroy groomers to ski
- An abundance of sidecountry and tree skiing to explore
- The slopes are much less crowded than nearby Niseko
- Not much variety of accommodation, difficult to find self-contained apartments
- Dining options outside of hotels are limited
- Only accessible by bus or car, there’s no train service running to the resort
- Partygoers will be disappointed, the nightlife here is very quiet
So we come to our top pick for the best ski resort in Japan, the powder nirvana of Rusutsu! Home to some of the deepest snow you’re ever likely to experience in your life, a place where crowds are non-existent (for now), and offering true indulgence to enjoy off the slopes. As far as ski vacations go, a trip to Rusutsu is one you surely won’t forget. But wait, there must be something wrong with the place right? If you want to party this resort isn’t the best choice, but honestly, after bouncing through powder all day you’ll probably be too exhausted anyway (along with frothing to get out there again in the morning!).
Unbeatable Powder Skiing for Both Beginners and Experts
Perhaps what makes Rusutsu such an awesome ski resort is its versatility, with a nice balance of trails to suit all abilities. There’s gentle terrain for first-time powder skiers and terrific tree skiing for those comfy in the steep and deep. The impressive 1,700 ha ski area is spread out over three summits, with Mt. Isola the largest of the trio at just over 994 m. Another thing that makes this resort so great is its modern lift system, with 4 gondolas and 5 high-speed hooded chairlifts to keep you toasty!
Voted Japan’s Best Ski Resort!
After years of being second best to Niseko, Rusutsu finally managed to knock its neighbour off the top spot and take the crown for itself! In fact, not only was Rusutsu voted Japan’s best ski resort at the 2017 World Ski Awards, but The Westin Rusutsu Resort retained its title as Japan’s Best Ski Hotel. It is really the place to live in luxury for your Japanese ski vacation; this resort comes complete with thermal hot spring baths constructed out of healing maifan stone, lavish to say the least!
Cost: One Day Lift Pass - Adult ¥5,900 JPY ($71 AUD) / Child ¥3,000 JPY ($36 AUD) / Senior ¥4,900 JPY ($59 AUD)
Learn more about Rusutsu