Japan is one of the most unique vacation destinations you can choose. Whether you want to enrich yourself culturally, geek out at all the various otaku-related shops and places, or simply enjoy the breathtaking sights, Japan has something to offer for every member of the family.
Japan is also home to some of the best snowfall on Earth. It boasts the heaviest, softest powder around, making it the perfect skiing destination that even the most hardcore skiers will enjoy.
As western resorts continue to have drier than average conditions, perhaps it is best to turn east, especially since Japan’s snowfall only grows heavier with each passing year.
Read on to find out where you can find the best skiing in Japan as well as a few local tips to help you navigate through the harrowing mountains that await you!
Where to Ski in Japan
While Japan as a whole may seem like a small country (it is roughly the size of California, after all), it offers a wide variety of ski resorts to choose from.
Hokkaido, one of the four main islands of Japan, is said to be a northern snow paradise, and it hosts a whole slew of famous ski resorts under its belt.
Niseko Ski Resort
Niseko Ski Resort is by far the most popular ski resort in Hokkaido, itself composed of four smaller, interlinked resorts — Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village, and An’nupuri respectively.
These resorts all offer different skiing experiences, with a few of them catering more toward expert skiers rather than beginner or intermediate ones. Keep this in mind before you whisk your family off to a more difficult resort than they may be ready for.
Luckily, it is easy to switch between resorts with your Niseko All Mountain Pass, which is a specialized lift pass that gives you access to each of the four smaller resorts Niseko houses.
Niseko offers both gondola and regular chairlifts to take you up the slopes and offers roughly 15 meters (almost 50 feet) of snow a season in each resort.
Because Niseko is so large, we will discuss the differences between each of their smaller resorts below.
Grand Hirafu is by far the most popular of the four that make up Niseko. It is the landing zone of all those who attend the resort, resulting in massive crowds of people from all kinds of nations.
It boasts all difficulties of ski slopes, with nighttime skiing options available for the more daring sportsmen.
The village nearby serves a variety of traditional and foreign foods, so be sure to stop by for a taste after you hit the slopes.
Hanazono is a resort best reserved for more experienced skiers. With their host of epic backcountry runs, these trails are not for the faint of heart.
Keep in mind that Hanazono resort does not offer night skiing options like Grand Hirafu does, so pay close attention to the times you ski in this resort.
Niseko Village is home to mountains suitable for skiers of all difficulty levels. This resort offers great off-piste terrain as well as a number of groomed runs best suited for beginning skiers.
More extreme skiers can also challenge themselves with Niseko Village’s thrilling volcano crater skiing, which starts at the very summit of the volcano.
Niseko Village is also the most scenic of the four resorts, so be sure to set aside time to see the sights that bloom around this wonderful resort.
An’nupuri is another resort that is best for all you hardcore skiers and snowboarders out there. It is also home to the biggest hardcore Hokkaido skiing scene this side of the country.
With its collection of amazing back bowls and backcountry gates that supply the largest mountain turns Niseko has to offer, An’nupuri has got it all.
Unfortunately, due to how frequently storms roll in that area, tourists and locals alike only have limited access to the mountain that makes up this resort, resulting in lots of ABS pack traffic and low traverse compressions.
Still, if you go during a time when the resort is a little more open, it can be one of the best Japanese powder skiing experiences you will ever have.
An’nupuri also offers an onsen (or Japanese hot spring) that will warm your chilled bones right up again after a long day of skiing.
Niseko powder skiing is one of the skiing experiences in Japan, but Hokkaido is home to a number of other fun ski resorts as well.
Rusutsu Ski Resort
This resort is more family-friendly than Niseko, as it offers tons of entertaining side stops that your kids can enjoy.
A talking tree at the ticket booth makes the lines an amusing wait, and the shopping mall base lodge is a great distraction. Other attractions include an outdoor lighting show and a sledding park that’s fun for the whole family.
It has a much more local vibe than Niseko does, and thus offers a more authentic Japanese hospitality that might not be found in foreigner-catering Niseko.
The mountains here receive around 12 to 14 meters (or 40-46 feet) of snow per season, and its wide, tree-lined courses are perfect for skiers of all difficulty levels. They offer both gondola and regular chair ski lifts up their slopes.
Kiroro Ski Resort
Looking to fulfill the ski trip of your dreams, but itching to avoid the seasonal crowds? Look no further than Kiroro ski resort, a smaller resort located in a mountain valley two hours away from Chitose Airport.
With their newly-introduced backcountry gates and off-piste terrain that lead to relatively untouched areas of that sweet, sweet powder, you may feel that Kiroro ski resort is almost made exclusively for you.
With its night-skiing options, you are sure to have a blast out on these quiet slopes.
On average, Kiroro gets over 17 meters (56 feet) of snow a season and offers both gondola and regular chair lifts.
The only downside is that Kiroro does not lie by a town, and has few, very expensive hotel options nearby.
Still, if you seek rugged, backcountry adventure unmarred by the fussy crowds, all this might be worth it for you in the end.
Furano Ski Resort
Furano is another family-friendly ski resort that boasts the lightest and driest powder in all of Japan, delivering an average of nine meters to eleven meters (30-36 feet) of snow.
Furano also has the most stable weather conditions out of most of the resorts listed here.
Furano is one of the quieter resorts in Japan, and its perfectly groomed runs are ideal for beginners and intermediate skiers alike.
For those who seek more of a thrill, they also offer off-piste powder areas and steep slopes.
Japan Powder Skiing Tips to Enhance your Trip
Hire a Ski Guide
Ski trips to Japan may sound like a rather straightforward walk in the park, but that does not mean you should go about skiing without a little help, especially if you are unfamiliar with the language and mountains.
A ski guide can help bridge this gap. Many of them speak English and can help you book rooms at smaller resorts and hotels, as well as obtain those all too precious lift tickets.
They also know the mountains and the year-round conditions surrounding them like the back of their hand, which can be an especially valuable asset for trekking through these slopes, as the ski resorts in Japan offer fewer signs and more complicated gate systems than western resorts.
Be Prepared for Snow—Lots of It
This may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised at just how much snow falls in Hokkaido every year.
Their dry spells are few and far in between, and blizzards and the usual amount of snowfall can soak through even some of your thickest gloves and shoes.
Be sure to carry avalanche beacons, shovels, and probes just in case of an emergency.
Because of the sheer amount of deep snow, you will want to bring your fattest skis, if you have them. If you do not own any fat skis, rest assured that many resorts offer high-quality rentals you and your family can use for the day.
Be Culturally Aware
You do not have to be hyperaware of how you act around locals, but just remember to be respectful and keep the shredding to the slopes.
This segment will refer mainly to the etiquette you must keep when attending an onsen since many ski resorts will also host an onsen or two.
If you choose to use an onsen, be prepared to have modesty fly out the window. Onsens prohibit clothing near the hot spring areas, meaning you will have to be naked in front of other lodgers.
Before entering an onsen, be sure you use the provided stools and showers to scrub yourself clean first. You will be sharing the onsen with other people, after all. Don’t make it gross for everyone else.
Keep in mind that onsens have a distinct sulfuric smell, almost like rotten eggs. This is not due to the other patrons. It is simply how onsens naturally smell.
Next, you will want to also keep in mind that onsens are hot springs—emphasis on hot. You will not want to jump in right away but instead slip in slowly to allow your body to adjust to the temperature.
Onsens are meant for soaking your body only, and no hair or towels should touch the water while you do, so women should tie up their hair if it is too long. The ideal level of submersion is up to your shoulders.
After you have soaked to your satisfaction, you just need to dry yourself before heading off to the dressing area.
Here’s a video showing some examples of skiing in Japan.
Japan’s powder skiing experiences can be some of the most exhilarating ones of your life.
With Hokkaido’s extensive amount of quality resorts, each featuring different sights and attractions, there’s no end to the powder possibilities available!
Do you have any tips on where to find the best skiing in Japan?