Hit Japan's top-class powder snow
Japan’s ski resorts are known for top-class powder snow and attract visitors from all over the world. You’ll find ski resorts in various places throughout the country, such as Hokkaido, as well as the northern and central parts of Japan’s main island. There are courses for everyone from beginners to professional athletes.
If skiing and snowboarding are not your cup of tea, plenty of winter resorts also offer snowmobile excursions, snow rafting, snowshoe tours, and other activities so that you can make the most of the powder snow.
Hot spring areas are usually found near ski resorts, so you can relax and rejuvenate after a day of activities. Whether you’re an advanced skier, seasoned snowboarder, or first-timer, you can expect plenty of fun and thrills in Japan’s snowy landscapes.
The snow season in Japan varies from region to region. It generally lasts from December to late March, but some snow resorts may be open until early May.
Most airlines will allow you to check in your skis and boots as baggage for free, as long as they’re within the weight limit. You can also choose to come empty handed since the majority of ski resorts in Japan rent out equipment, clothing, helmets and other necessary items. Some places may require advance online reservations for rentals so that they don’t run out of your size, so be sure to check beforehand.
There are plenty of places that hold skiing and snowboarding lessons for visitors of various skill levels. They can range from a couple of hours to several days. Depending on the area, lessons may also be offered in several languages.
It’s important to note that off-piste skiing is prohibited. Resorts that allow backcountry skiing have rules to prevent accidents and avoid avalanches, so ensure to check them beforehand and familiarize yourself with the course for your own safety.
One of Japan’s top snow resorts, Niseko attracts ski enthusiasts from all around the world for its powder snow. Four ski resorts sit on the base of Mount Niseko Annupuri (1,308 m), offering a rich variety of courses—seasoned skiers can wind through virgin forests or slalom down long courses with big elevation differences, while beginners can enjoy wide, gentle slopes with great views.
The Niseko Annupuri International Ski Area on the southwest slope of the mountain offers spectacular views of Mount Yotei and Lake Toya on clear days. Niseko HANAZONO Resort has one of the largest terrain parks in Hokkaido and offers guided backcountry and horseback riding tours across vast fields of snow. Niseko Village Ski Resort is directly connected to four resort hotels, complete with shopping and dining areas as well as hot springs. Direct bus services run from New Chitose Airport and Sapporo to Niseko and shuttle buses are available between the ski areas.
Located at the foot of the Northern Alps in Nagano Prefecture, Hakuba Valley is an international winter sports destination which hosted 1988 Nagano Winter Olympics. It has ten unique ski resorts with courses geared to visitors of various levels as well tree run zones.
At the Happo-One Snow Resort, experienced skiers can choose from the Tenbo Course—an open slope with a maximum gradient of over 35 degrees, downhill courses used for the Olympics, or the 8,000-m Skyline Course. Hakuba47 Winter Sports Park has kickers and half-pipes, while Hakuba Iwatake Snow Field has a 5-km cross-country course certified by the All Japan Ski Federation.
If you’re not a skier, you can try alternatives like snowmobiling, snow tubing, or snow rafting.
Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Nagano Station (80+ min), then change to an express bus (about 60 min) to access the Hakuba area. There are shuttle buses operating on three routes between the ski resorts.
The Zao Onsen Ski Resort is one of the largest independent resorts in Japan. It has plenty of powder snow, stable slope conditions, varied courses, and is particularly famous for juhyo—frost covered trees that look like snow monsters.
The 8-km downhill run from the Zange slope starts at the top of Jizo Sancho Station on the Zao Ropeway and takes you to a field of Zao Snow Monsters—you can enjoy an otherworldly view as you ski down sandwiched between the snow monsters. The view from the observation deck by Jizo Sancho Station is particularly breathtaking on clear days. On weekends, you can take a snowcat cruise to see the illuminated juhyo trees.
After a day of snow sports, relax in the mineral-rich baths of Zao Onsen—the hot spring resort has a history of 1,900 years. You’ll find traditional inns, hotels, facilities for day visitors, and foot baths in the area.
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Sendai Station (90+ min), then change to an express bus (about 90 min) to arrive at Zao Onsen.
The Appi Kogen area, located adjacent to the Towada-Hachimantai National Park, is one of the best ski resorts in northern Japan. It’s expansive in scale and the north-facing slopes receive light powder snow low in moisture levels.
There are a variety of courses to choose from, including courses with wide and groomed slopes, tree run zones, mogul practice lanes, and slopes with unpressurized powder snow. Beginners can also enjoy the 5.5-km downhill course from the top of the mountain.
At the base of the mountain, you’ll find a food court with local fare, souvenir stores, and ski rental shops and located nearby are resort hotels with hot spring baths. Guided snowshoe tours and cross-country skiing lessons are also available. Families with children can head to Appi Snow Play Land for tubing and sledding.
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Morioka Station (about 130 min) and transfer to the JR train to get to Appi Kogen Station (about 60 min).
With 18 ski resorts of various sizes clustered at altitudes between 1,330 and 2,307 m, the Shiga Kogen area is one of the largest winter destinations in Japan.
It has a long snow season—you can enjoy snow sports in the area from mid-November to May. Each ski resort is accessible via lifts, gondolas, and free shuttle buses, and combined lift tickets are available for all of them. Each slope has its own unique features, so visitors can enjoy a long stay trying out each one.
The area is divided into five main zones, with 13 ski resorts concentrated in the vast central area. The 6-km long run which starts at Terakoya Ski Resort, the highest ski resort in the central area, takes you to Hoppo Bunadaira Ski Area, which is particularly popular. The Maruike Ski Resort’s Snow Activity Park is packed with fun activities for visitors of all ages. At an altitude of 2,307 m, Yokoteyama and Shibu-toge are the highest ski resorts in Japan accessible by lift, and offer great views of the Northern Alps.
Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Nagano Station (80+ min). From there, transfer to an express bus and get off at Shiga Kogen (about 70 min). You can also choose to stop at Jigokudani Yaen-koen to observe wild monkeys soaking in hot springs.
The Bandai-Azuma and Inawashiro areas in Bandai-Asahi National Park receive plenty of powder snow. The region has wide variety of ski resorts that take advantage of Mount Bandai’s terrain.
The resorts on the southern slopes of Mount Bandai offer you chance to try snow sports with stunning views of Lake Inawashiro and the mountain itself. Hoshino Resort Alts Bandai Snow Park & Resort, the largest ski resort on Mount Bandai, offers a wide variety of courses. With gentle beginner-friendly courses to a 2-km main course with dynamic changes, steep slopes, and great powder, it’s a great place for both new and advanced skiers. The central area of the Inawashiro Ski Resort has an array of slopes that beginners and families can safely enjoy.
At the northern slopes where Lake Hinohara and Goshikinuma Marsh are located, you’ll find the Hoshino Resort Nekoma Snow Park & Resort. It has a number of courses for intermediate and advanced skiers—you can wind through a beech forest or try a slalom trail for alpine practice. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, the family-friendly Urabandai Ski Resort offers guided snowshoe treks so you can enjoy the beautiful, nature-packed snowscapes around Mount Bandai.
Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Koriyama Station (about 80 min). From Koriyama Station, some ski resorts operate shuttle buses throughout the season, so be sure to check in advance.
Even if you’re not a skier or snowboarder, there are still plenty of spots around Japan where you can enjoy the snow. IWATAKE WHITE PARK* in Hakuba, Nagano sits at an elevation of 1,289 m. This outdoor facility lets you dive right into fluffy snow, play on a giant swing, and relax inside an igloo. There’s also a play zone where you can enjoy snowshoe tours, tubing and sledding without worrying about getting in the way of skiers. At the terrace, you can kick back with a cup of hot chocolate with views of the snow-capped Northern Alps.
For more winter fun, head to Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU in Hokkaido. The uniquely-shaped “Terrace of Frost Tree” is located on a mountain summit and offers excellent views of the snowy surroundings and frost-covered trees. The facility’s cafe offers hoarfrost-inspired cocktails and sweets. Head down to the Ice Village at the foot of the mountain where you’ll find an ice rink, ice slide, ice-themed atelier, general store, church, hotel, and ice bar.
Kamakura—igloo-like snow huts—are a deep-rooted tradition of snowy regions in Japan like Akita and were usually built around January 15th.
The Kamakura culture in Yokote City stretches back about 450 years. In the Edo period (1603-1867), square snow walls were built in inner samurai towns. They were dedicated to deities to ward off disasters and pray for the prosperity of their children. In the outer towns where merchants lived, snow pits were dug near wells. They were dedicated to water gods in hopes of receiving good water supplies. Children also used to make holes in the snow and play in them. It’s believed that over time, these customs became the kamakura we see today. In Yokote City, the Yokote Kamakura Festival is held every year in mid-February. Children serve amazake (fermented rice beverage) and mochi (rice cakes) in about 100 kamakura huts.
Iiyama Restaurant Kamakura Village in Iiyama City, Nagano sets up kamakura restaurants for about a month starting late January. There are about 20 of them where you can enjoy hot pots made with local ingredients.