With amazing powdery snow which drops right in time for our Christmas holidays in Australia, and the extra addition of learning about an ancient culture, fantastic food and relaxing hot spas (onsens), Japan is a paradise for those who love to ski and snowboard.
Only nine hours flight from Australia, Japan is an affordable and time efficient destination for thousands of Australian holiday makers during ski season. As an added bonus, it’s pretty much in the same time zone, so there is no jet lag to conquer before you reach the slopes.
A ski trip requires more planning than your average holiday. That includes looking into the cost of ski and snowboard rentals before you go. Almost every ski resort in Japan has equipment for hire, but you’ll need to check your flight luggage allowances to see if it is cheaper to bring your own. Also confirm your equipment is suitable for Japan’s powdery snow if you’re packing your own.
The best time to go on a ski holiday in Japan
The best time to go skiing in Japan is over January and February. However, the snow season in Japan opens in December and closes in mid-April, so keep an eye on the snow reports from previous years and you will know where and when to go.
Where to go skiing in Japan
Hakuba is the most well known Japanese ski resort because it was the host of the 1998 Winter Olympics. Only two hours from Tokyo by shinkansen (bullet train), Hakuba is a winter sports hub offering incredible skiing and snowboarding runs, as well as hiking paths.
When the day’s skiing is done, hang out at one of the restaurants or bars for some apres ski fun. Master Braster reggae bar has great music, Blizzard does great coffee in the morning and has two levels of dance floors in the evenings, and Bar Refuel is another great option for the evening. It opens at 4pm and has a combination of Japanese and European bar food.
For an after ski soak in an Onsen, find a hotel which has an onsen on site. The onsen at the Hakuba Highland Hotel looks out over snow peaked mountains and is a perfect place to soak your body after a day of exercise.
For budget accommodation, have a look at Mt Hakuba Backpackers Hostel. The tarrif includes breakfast , wifi and a free shuttle bus which will take you to the ski fields.
Niseko is a great destination for family holidays during ski season. With an average snowfall of 15 metres the slopes here suit everyone from beginners to pros. There are ski schools and kids clubs as well as babysitting services and children’s activities like snow tubing and snowmobiling.
To get to Niseko, catch a plane from Tokyo to Sapporo (95 minutes). After this, it takes two to three hours by road to reach the resorts.
Despite the distance, Niseko is popular with Australians because, apart from the excellent skiing, English is widely spoken and the accommodation is a mix of Japanese and Western. There are interesting day trips for tourists which include visits to temples, hot springs and Japanese towns. Otaru, famous for its sushi and sashimi and high-quality seafood, is only a train journey away.
Brand new ski-in, ski-out luxury apartment hotel complex, Hinode Hills, has just opened in the Niseko Village. It offers apartment-style accommodation with full hotel-style amenities and is perfect for an alpine getaway. The price includes daily breakfast, complimentary access to Green Leaf Onsen and Hilton Onsen and a 50% discount on ski and snowboard rental at Niseko Village.
The ski resort village, Nozawa Onsen, combines amazing snow conditions with immersive cultural experiences and beautiful views. Beginners to advanced skiers will enjoy the variety of terrains and runs offered by this resort. The village is renowned for its après-ski activities.
Soaking in the onsens in this alpine environment during winter is only one of the delights of this town. With over a dozen public bath houses to choose from, skiers have ample opportunity to enjoy a good soak after a day on the slopes. You will need to bring your own toiletries and towels and remember that the Japanese onsen etiquette is important and needs to be respected. Guests must wash and rinse their bodies before entering the onsen, clothes are not worn in the bath house so be prepared for this. Also, those with tattoos may be denied entry. If you are prevented from using the bath house, please do not be offended; it is a cultural issue.
During ski season, there are over 100 bars and restaurants operating in the village which gives it a great buzz. Wakagiri, in the centre of the village, has a wide range of Japanese delights and Genki Burger is great for western style food.
If you are in town on January 15th, don’t miss the renowned fire festival.
Rusutsu attracts less visitors than its neighbour Niseko but it is this which makes it so special. There are no lines for lifts, no crowds and the runs are clear and fun.
Check the weather conditions if venturing here on a day trip from Nisenko. Things can be vastly different, even though the two towns are only 45 minutes drive from each other.
Furano, in the north of Japan, is a charming log cabin style township which offers 23 ski trails in total, over two zones; Furano and Kitanomine. For those who want to add an extra layer of excitement to their ski holiday, there are ski and snowboard races held regularly. There are also a number of evenings during which the Kitanomine slopes are open for ‘all night skiing’. Extra lift passes are required for these events.
Furano Kan Kan Mura is a fantasy ice village in the front of the New Furano Prince Hotel . Explore the ice and snow sculptures in the Enchanted Forest and have a go at dog sledding or snowmobiling. Thrilling Family Snowland is open daily for the kids to enjoy snow rafting, banana boat rides and other winter activities. The hotel has an onsen and Finnish-style saunas.
A family oriented hotel in this resort area is the Naturwurld Furano. There are babysitters, a kids’ corner, a library and a genuine desire for people to feel at home in the accommodation. There are indoor and outdoor baths in the onsen, as well as hot springs.
Yuzawa is a picturesque ski resort town in the Japanese Alps only an hour and twenty minutes from Tokyo on the bullet train. Because it is so accessible, with the train station in the centre of town, Yuzawa can be busy and crowded on weekends so try to plan your trip for midweek if possible. Visit the sake museum at the Echigo-Yuzawa train station. You can learn all about how to make this special Japanese rice wine and if you’re the type to want to bathe in alcohol, you can have a sake spa.
The Yuzawa Grand Hotel has modern Japanese style accommodation as well as an extensive hot springs bathing pavilion with separate baths, jacuzzis, cold baths and saunas for men and women. With Chinese, Japanese and Western cuisine, the meal options are extensive and delicious.
The Appi Kogen Ski Resort, close to the Towada-Hachimantai National Park on Honshu, is one of the largest ski resorts in Japan. With 21 trails easily accessed by gondola, everyone from beginners to experienced skiers and snowboarders will love it here. Snow cover is deep and this resort attracts snow lovers from all around the world.
The resort has full rental services for ski gear as well as a ski and snowboard school with English speaking instructors.
Stay at the Appi Kogen Onsen Hotel. The rooms are well equipped and reception is staffed 24 hours a day. The resort has three dining options as well as room service. There is a wellness centre and spa for guests and the ski up onsen offers traditional bathing facilities.
Shiga Kogen is one of Japan’s largest ski areas and is open from December to April. It consists of 21 ski resorts including nineteen interlinked ski areas with options including beginner slopes, long cruisers, challenging runs and powder bowls. One lift ticket gives you access to more than 50 lifts, gondolas and ropeways.
Hasuike ski area is central and good for learners and families; Nishitate-yama has long courses and great views; Yakebitai-yama is one of the biggest areas, with a huge variety of terrain and gorgeous panoramic views.
Don’t miss a day trip from Shiga Kogen to Jigokudani Monkey Park to see the Japanese snow monkeys (macaques).