Japan, most often notable for its technologically advanced cities, exotic cuisine, cherry blossom trees, incredible seafood delicacies and overall mesmerizing culture. But the skiing is also world-class, with a list of powder coated resorts offering a dreamy blend of Japanese flare and winter sports. Planning a winter trip to Japan is a magical experience filled with traditional lodging, authentic food and soaking in hot springs, also known as onsens, which steam amongst the snow. We’ve rounded up several amazing places to hit the slopes in Japan.
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Niseko resides in one of the two popular ski destinations, Hokkaido, which has been described as having heavy western influence. You’ll find a lot of international accommodations and plenty of English speaking folks in the region. Niseko is a top pick for ski resorts in Japan, because of the variety of mountain trails, numerous lifts (around 30 if we’re counting), and plenty of comforts like hotel lodging and places to get a variety of food.
The other major ski region in Japan is Nagano—this is where you’ll want to book a resort stay if looking for a more authentic Japanese experience. Real, traditional food can be found among the Nozawa ski area, in addition to a popular onsen resort. Nozawa Onsen is a retreat centered around Japanese hot springs, and there’s nothing better than a healing soak in mountain spring, geothermal water after a day navigating some of the seriously heavy powder that gets dumped in Nagano on the regular. Stay at Ryokan Sakaya for super traditional accommodations—you’ll take your shoes off at the entrance, pop on your yukata robe and enjoy meals specific to Japan.
Madarao is not typical, because the majority of its terrain remains ungroomed. If you’re a major adventurist who lives for the rugged and enjoys paving your own path, this is a great place to explore. It’s imperative that only experienced skiers take on Madarao—these untouched acres of powder can be challenging. You’ll want to stay in a nearby ski town because there’s really nothing much here but fresh snow and beautiful views.
Sapporo Teine is excellent for beginners as there is ample smooth, gradual incline terrain to gain “ski legs”. But more advanced athletes will find more challenged areas to take on, in addition to illuminated night skiing, which is an experience all on its own. From the top of the lifts you can view the ocean, which is an added visual treat. Dog sledding and tubing are also available when you’re looking to change things up a bit.
Hoshino Resort Tomamu is an upscale retreat in Hokkaido. Amenities are above and beyond, with a huge, glass-enclosed wave pool and hot springs being some of the highlights. Varying terrain at the resorts means plenty of opportunities to cross country ski, snowmobile, snow raft, and heli ski. Definitely a family-friendly resort, there’s an awesome snow playground for kids and a mesmerizing, igloo accented ice village complete with a skating rink.
Furano ski area is located in Hokkaido and is also good for a variety of experience levels, particularly beginners. Dog sledding and snowmobiling are fun additions, but there’s plenty for adrenaline junkies too. A vertical drop of 3,117 at the top of the mountain will get the heart pounding.
Rusutsu is located in Hokkaido and is touted as the largest ski resort in Japan. Versatile terrain appeals to all, and the Rusutsu Resort Hotel is a “ski in ski out” facility, which just makes things easier and more fun. Guests also can enjoy an amusement park, gym, bathhouse, movie theater and an indoor pool.
Another rugged ski destination, Kiroro is also in Hokkaido and is pretty straight forward. The powder is perfect, the terrain smooth, and the scenery undeniably magical. You’ll need to take extra precautions thanks to a higher risk of avalanches, but overall it’s a pretty sweet place to hit the snow. You’ll also find an array of restaurants and cozy hotels nearby.
Far North of Tokyo, Appi Kogen sits on slopes of Mount Maemori. Long groomed runs make for a perfect ride down, and there’s more family friendly stuff like snow tubing. Appi Kogen Onsen Hotel is connected to the Shirakaba-No-Yu hot Springs and is something out of a fairytale. Japanese BBQ Izakaya Aburi Tei is a fantastic place to grab local sake, mountain veggies, grilled meat and seafood. Karaoke rooms are popular in the country, and this place has them. So as the locals say, come “Be Happy in Appi”.
Asahidake Ski Resort
Daisetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido houses Asahidake Ski Resort. With lots of backcountry runs, it’s perfect for experienced skiers, and also features a convenient cable car also known as the Ropeway. An astonishing 45 feet of snow accumulates on the mountain on average each year, and there are surrounding hotels with serene onsens.
Before Yuzawa became known for skiing, the area was popular for several onsens which are still accessible today. Yuzawa is very basic, with only one lift. Only skiing and sledding are permitted, snowboarders will have to find elsewhere to shred. But there’s something relaxing about the no-frills grounds and beautiful surrounding mountains, and it’s also great for all levels of expertise. Another pro is that it’s quite close to a train station where the Shinkansen, Japan’s bullet train system, stops. Echigo-Yuzawa Onsen Ipponsugi could be a great day trip if staying in another proximal city. Being somewhere as adventure filled as Japan, hitting several major destinations as possible is ideal.