Skiing in Japan: Where to hit the slopes

07 Dec 2023
16 mins read
Written by Riona lye

Japan, the land of the rising sun, is not only famous for its rich history, unique culture, and delicious cuisine, but it’s also a paradise for winter sports lovers. The country is blessed with some of the world’s most spectacular snow-covered landscapes that turn into an irresistible playground for skiers during snowfall season.


Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newbie on the slopes, skiing in Japan offers an unforgettable experience. Three of the most popular destinations that truly stand out are Niseko, Hakuba, and Shiga Kogen.


Renowned for their incredible quality of snow, diverse range of slopes, and vibrant après-ski scenes, these resorts offer an unforgettable winter experience. Whether you’re a powder hound searching for deep, untouched snow or prefer cruising down groomed runs, these resorts have it all.


And when the day on the slopes is done, get ready to indulge in delicious local cuisine, relax in hot springs, or explore the charming villages that surround these resorts. Japan’s ski resorts truly offer a complete package for ski lovers seeking adventure and relaxation in equal measure.


Not convinced, let’s deep dive in.

Where to fly into Japan for skiing?

Now before we talk about the actual skiing, you need to know how to get to the location.


Here’s the deal: Most ski resorts are not going to have a direct flight option. You’ll need to do a bit of transit to reach these snowy havens, whether it’s hopping on a domestic airline or taking a combination of trains and buses. Let me break it down for you.


If you’re heading to Hakuba, Nozawa, Karuizawa, or Yuzawa, your best bet is to fly into either Tokyo Narita or Tokyo Haneda airports. These are the closest airports to these ski resorts. So, once you touch down in Tokyo, it’s just a matter of making your way to the slopes, whether that’s by plane or train.


Now, if you have your sights set on Niseko, Rusutsu, Kiroro, or Furano, the nearest airport is Sapporo New Chitose. So, make sure to book your flight accordingly and get ready to experience some incredible skiing in Hokkaido.


Oh, and here’s a bonus tip: If you’re interested in exploring Kyoto and/or Osaka, Kansai International Airport is another option to consider. You can combine your ski adventure with a visit to these amazing cities. So, strap on your boots, grab your skis or snowboard, and get ready for an unforgettable skiing experience in Japan!


Up next, let’s talk about where to ski in Japan.

Where to ski in Japan?

Looking for some awesome ski destinations in Japan? Well, you’re in luck because this mountainous country has no shortage of amazing slopes to choose from. We’ve narrowed it down to 6 popular locations that are definitely worth checking out. And hey, keep in mind that these are just a few options among many others out there. So let’s dive in and explore the snowy wonders of Japan!


It’s safe to say that Niseko is the go-to spot for pretty much everyone when it comes to hitting the slopes. In fact, about 97% of the people you’ll see skiing there are tourists. So if you’re not fluent in the language but still want to have a blast without relying on Google Translate, Niseko is the perfect place to start.


Now, let’s dive into the skiing scene. The main area that you absolutely must check out is called “Niseko United.” It’s a combination of four incredible ski resorts: Annupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu, and Hanazono. Trust me when I say that this ski area is the cream of the crop, especially in Hokkaido. You’ll find endless long courses to zip down, and they even have backcountry access through a gated system. Talk about an adrenaline-pumping adventure!


And here’s the cherry on top – with the “All Mountain” lift pass, you can explore the entire resort, giving you access to a wide variety of terrains to conquer. Make sure to grab a copy of the Niseko resort map before hitting the slopes, so you can navigate like a pro.


Now, let’s talk about Niseko’s location. It’s conveniently nestled in the southwest corner of Hokkaido. According to the Niseko tourism website, it’s only about 50 kilometres southwest of Sapporo, which happens to be Japan’s fifth-largest city. And guess what? It’s just a quick 80-kilometre journey west from Hokkaido’s international airport, New Chitose Airport. Getting here is a breeze with plenty of bus, train, and road options available. And if you’re coming from Honshu, you’ll even find ferries operating to Otaru, Tomakomai, and Hakodate.


How cool is that?


Nestled at the base of the magnificent 3,000-metre tall Northern Japan Alps, Hakuba is an absolute must-visit for all ski enthusiasts out there. This place is famous for its incredible snow conditions and offers a fantastic selection of large ski resorts to choose from. In fact, it’s so good that it played host to various Olympic competitions, both alpine and Nordic, during the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.


You’ve got a total of ten incredible resorts in Hakuba, each blessed with abundant snowfall and boasting top-quality powder snow. And the best part? You can easily hop between different ski routes by using the convenient Hakuba Valley Shuttle Bus. Talk about convenience!


Now, let’s get into the details of how to reach Hakuba from different locations:

  • If you’re starting your journey from Tokyo, catch the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line and then jump on an express bus. In just around 2 hours and 50 minutes, you’ll find yourself in Hakuba, all geared up and ready to hit the slopes.
  • Coming from Osaka? No need to fret! Take the Tokai Shinkansen followed by the limited express Shinano, and finally, hop on the limited express Azusa. In approximately 4 hours and 47 minutes, you’ll arrive in Hakuba, fully prepared for an epic skiing adventure.
  • For those travelling from Nagoya, simply catch the limited express Shinano. In as little as 3 hours and 34 minutes, you’ll arrive in Hakuba, set to carve through the fresh snow.
  • And if you’re venturing from Kanazawa, rely on the Hokuriku Shinkansen and the JR Oito Line. In just around 2 hours and 42 minutes, you’ll reach Hakuba, greeted by a mesmerising winter wonderland.


So, whether you’re a seasoned skier or a newbie hitting the slopes for the first time, Hakuba has something special in store for you. Get ready to soak in the breathtaking beauty of the Northern Japan Alps and experience the exhilaration of skiing in this incredible destination!

Shiga Kogen

Let’s talk about Shiga Kogen, an amazing ski resort located in Northeastern Nagano, right on the border with Gunma Prefecture. It’s truly a hidden gem that’s eagerly waiting to welcome international visitors like you.


Now, when we say Shiga Kogen is the highest elevation and largest continuous ski resort in Japan, we mean it! With a peak elevation of 2,307 metres, it stands tall as the highest resort in the country. This means consistently cold temperatures, which allows it to open earlier in the season than many other resorts and stay open until Golden Week in late April or early May. Talk about a long skiing season!


What makes Shiga Kogen even more amazing is that it’s made up of 18 different ski areas, all interconnected by over 70 ski lifts (including 60 interlinked ones). And guess what? There are free shuttle services within Shiga Kogen that make it super easy to access all the various resorts. Plus, if skiing isn’t your thing, you’re in for a treat because the nearby Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park is world-famous! It’s the only place where you can see monkeys taking a dip in hot springs. How cool is that?


Now, let’s talk about how to get to Shiga Kogen from Tokyo:

  • If you’re flying into Narita Airport, you can hop on the Skyliner train that’ll take you to Keisei-Ueno Station. From there, it’s just an 8-minute walk to Ueno Station. Then, you can catch the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Nagano Station. Following these steps will get you to Shiga Kogen in no time.
  • If you’re arriving at Haneda Airport, take the monorail to Hamatsucho and then switch over to the Yamanote line. Get off at Tokyo Station, where you can catch the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Nagano Station. From there, just follow the directions to reach Shiga Kogen.
  • And if you prefer flying and driving, it’s approximately 45 kilometres away from Nagano City, and it’ll take you about 1.5 hours to drive there.


So get ready to experience the wonders of Shiga Kogen, with its breathtaking slopes and incredible wildlife. It’s a destination that’s sure to leave you with unforgettable memories!

Nozawa Onsen

Looking for a perfect blend of historical Japan and skiing, then you’re in for a treat! Let me introduce you to Nozawa Onsen Village. It’s nestled in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture and is a charming hot spring village located at the base of Kenashi-yama Mountain. Around 4,000 people call this place home, and its history traces back all the way to the 8th century during the Edo period. Truly a locale steeped in rich history!


Nozawa Onsen Village is a feast for the eyes when it comes to traditional architecture. You’ll find beautiful temples, shrines, hot spring facilities, and traditional ryokan inns scattered throughout the village. As you wander the streets, you might even stumble upon free foot baths where you can rest your tired feet. And speaking of accommodations, Nozawa Onsen offers more than just your typical ski resorts. So, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from.


Now, let’s talk about food because we all know skiing works up an appetite! Despite its small size, Nozawa Onsen Village boasts over 100 restaurants and bars that are open during the ski season. So don’t worry about going hungry in the cold, you’ll be well taken care of.


Sure, Nagano has its fair share of popular ski resorts, but Nozawa has recently emerged as a go-to destination for avid skiers. With diverse terrain and exceptional snow conditions that are hard to beat, it has quickly gained popularity in the last few years. So get ready to hit those slopes and experience the joy of skiing in Nozawa.


Now, let’s talk about how to get to Nozawa from Tokyo. The total cost of the train journey is around 10,000 yen, and it usually takes about 3-4 hours, depending on the route.


So, get ready to soak up the historical charm of Nozawa Onsen Village while enjoying some epic skiing adventures. It’s a destination that’s sure to leave you with unforgettable memories!


This is another resort in Hokkaido. Now, what makes Rusutsu Resort truly special is its three distinct peaks: West Mt., East Mt., and Mt. Isola. Each of these peaks offers its own unique terrain, giving you endless opportunities to have a blast in the snow. Whether you’re a beginner looking for gentle, wide slopes or an experienced skier craving more challenging runs, Rusutsu has got you covered with its 37 runs. And with 4 gondolas and 14 lifts serving these peaks, getting around the resort is a breeze.


Speaking of the snow, let us put your worries to rest. Rusutsu Resort’s strategic location to the southeast of Mt. Yotei works wonders. It acts as a shield against the harsh winter winds blowing in from the northwest, resulting in fantastic powder snow on the slopes. Plus, being close to the Pacific coast means the resort enjoys plenty of sunny winter days. So you can ski to your heart’s content without worrying about bad weather ruining your plans.


When it comes to food, it doesn’t skimp on dining options. With over 30 restaurants serving up Hokkaido’s mouthwatering cuisine and four different resorts within the area, you’ll have plenty of choices when it comes to satisfying your appetite and finding accommodations that suit your preferences.


Now, let’s talk about transportation because this is really one of the most convenient locations. Rusutsu Resort offers a handy transportation service for overnight guests. The BIGRUNS BUS shuttles between the resort and New Chitose Airport, which serves as the gateway to Hokkaido. And if you’re staying in Sapporo, there’s a free daily shuttle bus available to take you to Rusutsu Resort. Just remember to make reservations ahead of time to secure your spot.


Karuizawa is a fantastic destination located in the southeastern part of Nagano Prefecture. The best part? It’s just one hour away from Tokyo if you hop on JR’s Shinkansen. So you can easily escape the city and find yourself in this amazing place in no time!


Now, when it comes to skiing, the season in and around Karuizawa really depends on the weather conditions for the year. In some cases, the slopes can open as early as mid-October. But for those who are all about that top-quality powder, the ski season usually kicks off in November. That’s when the snow machines work their magic in the chilly air, ensuring you have the best skiing experience possible.


But let us tell you, Karuizawa has so much more to offer than just winter sports. It’s famous for its top-notch buckwheat, which means you absolutely must savour some delicious soba noodles while you’re here. Trust us, it’s a traditional Japanese dish that will leave your taste buds dancing with joy.


And that’s not all. Karuizawa’s pristine water sources have created the perfect environment for a thriving sake production industry. So, if you’re a fan of sake, you’re in for a treat. You’ll be able to enjoy a wide variety of sake options, as well as craft beer and wine, which have become quite popular among tourists. It’s like a paradise for all the beverage enthusiasts out there!


So, whether you’re looking to hit the slopes or indulge in incredible culinary experiences, Karuizawa has got you covered. It’s a destination that offers something for everyone, making it an ideal getaway from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

When to ski in Japan?

Now that you know where to ski in Japan, it’s time to talk about when to ski in Japan.


You might think that as long as it’s winter and there’s snow, you’re good to go, right? Well, you’re only halfway there. You see, not all snow is created equal when it comes to skiing and snowboarding. Some types of snow are an absolute dream for riders, while others can be a nightmare. Let me break it down for you.


The holy grail of snow is what we call “powder”. It’s soft, fluffy, and a joy to glide through. The best part? Powder is much gentler on your joints, so you can leave those extra butt pads at home. Trust me, you won’t need them if the snow is powdery.


Powder snow also makes it a breeze to make sharp turns or slow down whenever you need to. It’s like nature’s own cushioning system. So, if you’re new to the sport, having this type of snow makes it easier for you to pick up without requiring fancy techniques.


And here’s the scoop for Japan: You’ll usually find these powder conditions from January all the way to March, before early spring starts creeping in. That’s the prime time to hit the slopes and experience the magic of Japanese snow.


So, mark your calendar and get ready for some epic powder days in Japan!

Is skiing in Japan worth it?

So, if you’re thinking about hitting the slopes in Japan, it’s not just about the skiing. Japan has a lot more to offer, like relaxing in hot springs, savouring delicious food, and soaking in the overall post-ski ambience, which can sometimes be even more enjoyable than the skiing itself.


And guess what? Japan is a fantastic place for beginners too. You’ll find plenty of beginner-friendly courses with short runs that are perfect for building your confidence. The best part is, ski lessons are reasonably priced, and many instructors speak English. Plus, the snow conditions are top-notch, and the slopes are gentle, so you’ll have a forgiving environment to learn in.


When you’re not shredding the slopes, you can treat yourself to some mouthwatering, wallet-friendly meals at the resorts. And if you need a breather from skiing, simply kick back, sip a cup of tea or coffee, and soak in the breathtaking views for the rest of the day.


Now, let’s talk about where to go skiing in Japan. You don’t have to go all the way to Hokkaido or Niseko for a great skiing experience. Those places can be a bit of a trek and might be heavy on the pocket. Plus, they tend to attract a lot of tourists, so you might miss out on the local vibe.


Now, if you are looking for “where to ski in Japan near Tokyo”, you have plenty of options. There are ski resorts that are only 1-2 hours away from Tokyo. Places like Hakuba, Nozawa, Karuizawa and more. These resorts offer a wide range of well-maintained runs for beginners, and ski lessons won’t break the bank.


And here’s a bonus: You can rent ski gear right in Tokyo, including all the outerwear you need.


For those seeking an authentic Japanese experience, Nagano is a fantastic choice. Some online communities even recommend Hakuba for its size or Nozawa for its charming atmosphere. The best part? They’re both easily accessible from Tokyo via the Shinkansen. And if trains aren’t your thing, no worries! There are convenient bus options available for a round trip. Don’t forget, Nagano also offers a variety of food options and onsen choices, so get ready to indulge yourself.

Before you go…

Hey, before you head out to conquer the slopes, we’ve got an awesome tip for you. Make sure to bring along Instarem’s amaze card for your trip. Trust us, the last thing you want is to be blindsided by hidden fees and unfavourable exchange rates.


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That way you can avoid all that hassle and focus on enjoying your skiing adventure to the fullest. So, don’t forget to grab your amaze card and hit the slopes with peace of mind!

*Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. All details are accurate at the time of publishing. Instarem has no affiliation or relationship with products or vendors mentioned.

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