There are over 500 ski resorts in Japan from the north of the country in Hokkaido right down to the southern island of Kyuushu. The most well-known and busiest resorts are Niseko in Hokkaido (popular with overseas tourists), Zao in Tohoku (famous for snow monsters), and the largest ski resort in Japan, Shiga-Kogen in Nagano (where you can spot real-life bathing apes). Yuzawa in Niigata is convenient for a day-trip from Tokyo being only an 80 minute train ride away.
Niseko is the most famous ski resort in Japan, known for having tons of light powder snow, spectacular back country and a large number of foreigners – especially Australians – who in recent years have been responsible for popularizing the resort area with the skiing/snowboarding community outside of Japan. As a result, Niseko’s resorts are very accessible and welcoming to foreign visitors, which they keep busy with plenty of vast, long ski runs, endless powder, and a growing number of after-ski activities.
In addition to kilometers of ski trails, many of Niseko’s resorts offer winter adventure seekers the option to explore off trail skiing, a relatively uncommon attraction at most other ski resorts in Japan. The back country can be accessed through special gates around the resorts or experienced on guided tours and helicopter tours. The latter is also possible on nearby Mount Yotei, a nearly perfect volcanic cone, which can be seen from Niseko.
Niseko’s ski resorts are all located on Mount Niseko-Annupuri. Three major resorts, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village and Annupuri, cover most of the southeastern half of the mountain while a few smaller resorts dot their perimeter. The big three are joined together with each other at the top of the mountain, and it is possible to ski between them, while shuttle buses connect them at their bases. A special combination ticket, the Niseko All Mountain Pass, gives access to all three resorts for 5600 yen per day.
When should visit?
December can be a great time to visit Niseko.
Mid Season deep powder action :
Peak powder season is January and February. It’s cold and snowy, and it rarely goes more than a few days without a fresh snowfall. The dumps are frequently 20-30cms and the temperature stays reasonably consistent (-10 to -15 degrees c), meaning the snow is kept in great shape.
March can be an excellent time of season to visit Niseko, particularly the first half. You still get decent snowfalls but the sun comes out a little more than it does in January and February.
Zao Onsen is a well known hot spring and ski resort in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture. It is one of only a few places in Japan where juhyo or “ice trees” can be seen. Also known as “snow monsters”, the trees take on curious shapes due to the heavy snowfall and freezing winds.
The snow monsters form around the peak of the Zao Ski Resort and are usually most spectacular around mid February. Access to the monsters is provided by a ropeway and a gondola for both skiers and non-skiers. In the evenings, the monsters around the summit are lit up to be enjoyed outside or from a warm seat in the cafe. Night skiing, however, is offered only in the lower elevations of the resort.
Zao Onsen also offers other resort attractions including a fun Family Snow Park and snowboard park. The resort also has easy to understand signs in English, Korean and Chinese as well as Japanese and the friendly people in the small village are always very welcoming to guests from overseas.
When Should Visit
December (Early Stage):
The trees begin to be coated by super cool water forming ice.
January – Growth Stage:
The “Shrimp Tail” shapes begin to develop.
February – Golden Stage:
The ice monsters grow to large-scale statues. This is the peak season for Juhyo.
March – Declining Stage:
The ice monsters begin to fade….
The Shiga Kogen Ski Area (志賀高原, Shiga Kōgen) is a group of 21 ski resorts that have joined together to create the largest combined ski area in Japan. Shiga Kogen is so large that it would take at least two days to cover it all, yet a single lift ticket gives you access to all 71 lifts, gondolas and ropeways in the area.
Located in the highlands of Nagano Prefecture, Shiga Kogen is divided into two areas that are joined at Hasuike. The southern area leads to the top of the 2305 m tall Mount Yokote and has ski runs and hot springs along the way to the summit.
The northern area leads to Oku Shiga Kogen and is flanked by a number of 2000 m high peaks providing an immense area for skiers and snowboarders to explore. The northern area’s Higashidateyama Resort hosted the slalom and giant slalom events of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.