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Where should I go SKIING in Japan?

Updated: May 28, 2019



Having grown up mostly in the Swiss mountains, I never knew how incredibly amazing the Japanese ski experience was, until I moved back to Asia. The quality as well as quantity of the snow is beyond anything I've seen in Europe or Americas. Coupled with the onsen (hot spring) experience and the Japanese food, ski trips in Japan are heavenly!

Japan has over 500 ski resorts! So it can be hard to decide which resort to go to. So here are some of my picks with its pros and cons!

First 3 are on the main islands - reachable by train from Tokyo and the latter 3 are on Hokkaido - the Northern island of Japan.

KAGURA

If you want to do a day trip from Tokyo, Kagura is your best option. It's only 2 hours from Tokyo and as soon as you get through the last tunnel on your train, you will be awed by the amount of snow that surrounds you. It's highest lift takes you over 1800m (which is quite HIGH in Japan standard), so this place DUMPS with fresh powder. The great thing about Kagura is that its great for backcountry with so much to explore, but it somehow doesn't attract the international crowd YET so it's truly a hidden gem for powder lovers. It also offers 23 runs and is connected via Dragondola to Naeba so there are many pistes for beginners and intermediates as well. Once you are done with your day skiing, you can soak in the onsen and then have a quick bite in an izakaya by Echigo-Yuzawa station, and then take a train back to Tokyo. The night life in Kagura is really non-existent so be ready to go to bed right after dinner if you decide to stay over a night.

NOZAWA ONSEN

This is probably my favorite because it's a great weekend getaway from Tokyo where you can have amazing ski coupled with authentic Japanese onsen village experience. Nozawa is 1.5 hrs by train plus 30 mins bus ride from Tokyo. It is home to one of the best onsens in Japan and as soon as you arrive in this quaint little town, you will smell that sulphur (onsen) smell. There are countless public baths where you will find local Japanese soaking into what I find is too hot to even put my feet in! But, the experience is amazing! Though the mountain is small, it offers enough terrains to entertain beginners to intermediate. And what I LOVE about Nozawa is that you can go from the top to bottom, all off-piste, which means you can experience real Japanese powder snow on a quite steep slope (especially the top). It has become more and more famous these days but it's still not like Niseko where you'd be pushing other gaijins for a piece of fresh powder. If you choose to go to Nozawa, I would definitely recommend that you stay a night or two. Check out Naraya or Sumiyoshiya for the real Japanese ryokan experience.

HAKUBA

This resort is about 3 hrs from Tokyo so if you are looking for a bigger sized resort with a variety of terrains for all levels, Hakuba is a great option for you. With unspoiled backcountry, mogul runs, terrain parks, and all level terrains, HAKUBA is your dream come true. For off-piste runs, you can sign-up for access at the ski patrol hut at the base of Hakuba 47. The downside is that the accommodation options aren't great and I personally have not found any specific one that I love.

KIRORO

Situated in Hokkaido (the north island of Japan), it is a a top notch resort in terms of its facilities and snow quality. Powder here rarely disappoints. The off-piste is roped off and you'd have to sign the form when you go into the zone and sign off at the end of the day so they know exactly who is in the zone. The downside is that the resort itself isn't that big so unless you go off-piste, you may be bored after a few days. Also, the only option for accommodation is a big-sized hotels (A ski-in-and-out Sheraton or Tribute Hotel a shuttle bus away from the resort). Being in Hokkaido, it's a bit of a trek to get there : a 2 hrs flight from Tokyo to Chitose and then 1.5hr bus ride to Kiroro. But if you are hungry for JAPOW, the journey is totally worth it!

NISEKO

This is probably the most famous resort amongst foreigners. Situated in Hokkaido, it is a large scale resort where 4 mountains inter-connect. As it is for any resorts in Hokkaido, it's a trek to get there but once you are there, you will be fully entertained for 5 to 7 days because its the snowiest resort in Japan, with a variety of terrain, access to top-notch back country, onsen to chill in, and plenty of bars and restaurants to entertain you apres-ski. It's honestly a dream for any big skiers. But it does come with a big price tag - Niseko is probably the most expensive resort in Japan in terms of accommodation and lifts. It's also over-crowded especially during the holiday seasons so you'd have to fight to get the first track. If you want to escape the crowd, consider doing a day trip to Moiwa - a small resort right next to Annupuri where you will be assured to find more than knee-deep powder on a snowy day. Niseko truly caters for international visitors so everything is in English and the transportation from the airport is easy. However, it does feel like you are in Australia and not in Japan. But having said that, I make sure that I go to Niseko every season as it's a sure bet for some awesome powder days!

RUSUTSU

If you are a true power lover, RUSUTSU is the place to go. Here you will find the deepest snow, with no crowds (for now), amazing onsen, and modern covered ski lifts and gondola (which is clearly lacking in Niseko). The variety of terrains is another good reason to visit Rusutsu. It has trails for all levels of skiers and it has gentle terrain for first-time power skiers and of course steep powder runs for JAPOW junkie. The issue IF ANY with Rusutsu is that it's a standalone resort with no village attached - which means that there is no restaurants or bars. The only accommodation really is the Rusutsu Resort Hotel, a massive hotel with multiple restaurants, onsens and everything you will need. So it's convenient but it is lacking the charm if that's what you are looking for.

#seasonality #nature #countrysideofjapan #Ski #lifestyle

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