Japan is the ultimate skiing destination
that should be on every powder seeker’s bucketlist.
Bottomless powder day after day, amazing tree skiing, unlimited freshies, beautiful scenery…
The chances are that, if you are already thinking about a snow sports holiday in Japan, you have already seen some of the incredible powder videos featuring Japan.
The unbelievable clips of waist-deep pow, faceshots galore, and shrieking and grinning skiers probably leave a simple question in your mind:
is it really that good?
The answer is even more simple: YES IT IS!!
Japan is a truly magical place to ski. The sheer quantity and quality of the daily near-guaranteed powder is a sight to behold; it just dumps and dumps and dumps here! Add to that the succulent food, amazing volcanic scenery and fascinating culture, and Japan really becomes the ultimate ski destination.
To find out more, read our short Japan Ski guide below
Check out these Videos to give you an idea as to what you will experience when you embark on a Japan Ski Tour.
Follow Skilas’ Silky Powder Road Blog to read just how magical this place really is…
Skilas Japan’s Short Guide on Skiing in Japan
Where to ski in Japan?
Hokkaido v. Honshu
There is a constant debate as to where to ski in Japan. Is it better to head to Honshu (resorts around Nagano) or further North to Hokkaido (Sapporo)? This short guide will give you an idea.
Hokkaido has the more consistent snowfall, both in terms of quality and quantity. It snows almost every day between mid-december to end-february so you are guaranteed fresh tracks every day.
Honshu can get bigger single dumps than Hokkaido, but the snow is generally more wet due to temperature variations and the time between dumps is often longer. Honshu is superb if you hit it on a good day, but it can be frustrating when the conditions aren’t perfect.
Hokkaido mountains tend to be more mellow than in Honshu, but challenges still exist if you know where to find them! The side country in Hokkaido is a lot of fun, with many natural features to jump off and trees to glide through. And with this much powder, most people don’t mind if there are not many cliff drops or couloirs to face!
Many resorts in Hokkaido have side country (i.e. off-piste) policies, allowing you to leave the resort boundaries under certain rules. In Honshu, most major resorts are more strict and do not allow people to go out of bounds – so you are generally restricted to more expensive guided tours, longer hikes or heliskiing.
Overall we at Skilas Japan prefer Hokkaido; the snow is amazingly consistent and there is terrain for everyone if you know where to go.
Hokkaido Resort Overview
Rusutsu Resort has got to be on every powder seeker’s to-do list. With a superb combination of delightfully fluffy powder, perfectly spaced trees, awesome natural features and expansive and varied terrain, it is definitely high up on Skilas’ all time favourite resorts list. To find out more, read Skilas’ Special Report on Rusutsu from last season.
Niseko no longer requires any introduction. By far the most famous and talked about ski resort in the whole of Japan, it is justifiably popular among worldwide powder seekers. The largest resort in Hokkaido, it offers fantastic terrain and a very well run backcountry policy (the ski patrol here is the pioneer of backcountry management in Japan). It also has plenty of accommodation, dining and nightlife options. Unfortunately it is now, perhaps, too famous for its own good. Overrun by Australians and South-East Asians, resort prices have sky-rocketed and lift lines are commonplace. Fresh tracks are now much harder to come by; the fight for first lift up the mountain is quite intense (quite unlike any other resort in Hokkaido). Although it is an emblematic resort that perhaps should be visited on a ski trip to Japan, Skilas Japan believes that there are far better ski holiday destinations in this magical part of the World.
[Read also: Silky Powder Adventure Tour: Why only one day in Niseko?]
Sapporo Teine boasts some of the steepest terrain of any Hokkaido resort, and is the closest of the major resorts to Sapporo (just 30 minutes from the city centre). The resort has two distinct ski areas linked together by a gondola: Teine Olympia (mainly reserved for beginners) and Teine Highland (more challenging terrain). The latter adopted a new backcountry ‘Gate’ system last season: based on similar principles to Niseko’s Rules, backcountry riders are welcome as long as they abide by certain rules (for example, only accessing backcountry terrain through dedicated gates) – and there are some awesome routes, most not even requiring any hiking or skinning!
Kiroro Snow World
Rapidly gaining in popularity overseas, Kiroro is a modern resort that offers powder lovers with some outstanding terrain to enjoy the bottomless white stuff on offer. There are plenty of groomers available on the slopes of Mount Asari and Nagamine, as well as some superbly designated Powder Zones for those who want to let rip in the deep stuff. Whilst backcountry is officially banned here, the rules are being relaxed and there are plenty of secret powder stashes to be discovered all over the resort.
The tiny lift system may put many powderhounds off, but Kokusai’s terrain is awesomely varied and hugely rewarding – if you know where to go! Nature feature drops, beautiful tree skiing, avalanche barrier jumps, open powder bowls… Officially the snowiest resort in Hokkaido (an incredible claim to fame!), some of Skilas’ deepest and happiest days have been experienced here.
Kamui Ski Links
Kamui, a little known resort close to Asahikawa, provides a perfect introduction to Central Hokkaido resorts (Furano, Tomamu, Sahoro, Asahidake…). The powder is usually even fluffier in this region than in Sapporo and Western Hokkaido resorts, and the resort atmosphere is markedly more relaxed and Japanese. The skiing at Kamui is plenty of fun, with plenty of pistes and excellent, easily-accessible side country to keep all skiers and boarders wonderfully happy.
Yubari Mount Racey
To the east of Sapporo and more inland than its more famous neighbours, Yubari has its own special micro-climate bringing some impressive overnight dumps. The snow in Yubari can get very deep, especially in the Nature Zone – an area of the resort left ungroomed for those dream powder runs.
Resorts near Asahikawa and Obihiro tend to get less snowfall than in Western Hokkaido and Sapporo, however the powder is often drier here. Tomamu and Sahoro are two resorts that cater well for families and also have great inbound terrain for powderhounds. The crazy fun for pure backcountry riders really starts in the Daisetsuzan mountain range. Home to the tallest mountains in Hokkaido and backcountry resorts such as Asahidake and Kurodake, there is some incredible skiing here (lots of avalanche terrain too so you’ll definitely need a guide).
Please contact Skilas if you have any questions regarding Hokkaido Ski Resorts!
Skiing in Japan FAQ’s
When should I visit?
Much like in Europe, the Japanese ski season runs from November to April. Resorts open towards the end of November, and by mid-december the snow base is already impressively deep. The really big daily snow dumps happen in January and February; don’t expect to get a suntan! The March and April spring season does see more sunny days, but with some incredible powder days. Thanks to the incredible snow base that accumulates throughout the season, you can still ski in higher Hokkaido resorts until June!
The Silky Powder Adventure Tours run from mid December to March. Please check this season’s tour dates on the Silky Powder Adventure page.
What should I bring?
We strongly recommend bringing your own ski/snowboard equipment with you since renting in Japan can be expensive. Renting for two-weeks in Japan will be roughly equivalent to buying new equipment. Many airlines carry ski equipment free of charge.
A helmet has become an essential part of ski equipment (and especially important if you are skiing through trees!).
In addition to your riding equipment, you may wish to bring back-country safety equipment (beeper, shovel probe) if you want to enjoy some of the amazing off-piste.
It can get very cold in Hokkaido, so make sure your clothes are plentiful and of good quality. Scarves, facemasks and spare gloves are important. There is generally very little sunshine (it dumps most days!) so a good pair of goggles is a must.
How long does it take to get to Hokkaido, Japan?
Direct flights operate to Japan from all major international airports. However there are currently no non-stop flights from Europe to Hokkaido. Depending on which airline you fly with you will need to change planes either in another Japanese city (Tokyo, Osaka etc.) or an Asian hub airport (Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore etc.) A flight from Europe to Tokyo takes around 10 hours, and the internal flight from Tokyo to Sapporo is 1hr30mins. Also don’t forget the time difference, which is 9 hours between Europe and Japan in winter.
Is Japan expensive?
Perhaps the biggest misconception about Japan is that it is a very expensive country to visit. No, you really don’t need to re-mortgage your house to enjoy a trip to Japan! Sure, some places (like Tokyo) and some imported goods can be (very) expensive. The reality however is that a ski holiday in Japan is much cheaper than you may think. A two week ski holiday to Japan – all-in – will cost roughly the same as an equivalent ski holiday in Europe. This may surprise most people who have never been fortunate enough to holiday in Japan. Although the initial cost of the flight may be high, expenses once in Japan are often much less than in European ski resorts. The exchange rate has also become very favourable for tourists coming and spending their own currency as the Japanese Yen has been strongly devalued in recent months.
To give you an idea, below are some examples of average food & drinks prices in Sapporo and Hokkaido resorts:
Lunch on the slopes (ramen noodles, meat&rice bowl, spaghetti bolognaise) – £4-7
Sushi lunch in Sapporo – £8-15
Pint of beer – £2.50-£4
Coffee (convenience store) – 80p
Dinner including drinks (local restaurant) – £10-20
I don’t like seafood – can I eat other things in Japan?
Yes: there is much more to Japanese cuisine than just raw fish and rice! Japanese food is deliciously varied and there is definitely something for everyone. Of course Japan is famed for its incredible sushi and other fish specialities (and with good reason too!), but there are so many other dishes that should be tried. In addition to its seafood, Hokkaido is well-known for its fresh vegetables, organic dairy products and warming noodle and curry soups.
Ramen: a steaming bowl of noodles in soy or miso-based soup with meat and vegetable options, great to warm yourself up after a session in the powder. Try the superb Hokkaido corn and butter ramen!
Soup Curry: a Hokkaido speciality, meat or seafood with tasty fresh vegetables and a choice of spicy sauces – choose as hot as you like!
Yakitori: Meat skewers (perfect accompaniment to an apres-ski drink)
Okonomiyaki: Make-your-own Japanese savoury pancakes using a hot plate on your table.
Izakayas: Japanese-style local restaurants that serve up a large array of tasty nosh, from obscure Japanese delicacies to mainstream fried chicken and chips – something for all tastes.
Do the locals speak English?
The language barrier can be a problem in Japan; very few locals speak any English at all so it can be tricky to communicate. Be sure to bring your phrasebook!
Can I drive in Japan?
You will need an International Driving License to rent a car in Japan. Some road signs and rules are different to other countries and signals are in Japanese. The Hokkaido roads are extremely snowy and icy in winter so previous experience on winter roads is essential. For a less stressful experience we recommend you to take public transport or to book a tour that includes transport.
Should I add a stopover in Tokyo?
Tokyo is an incredible city to visit. Many flight options include a change of plane in Tokyo, so if you want to take in the bustling city a one or two night stopover comes highly recommended. However the downside to Tokyo is that it is expensive, crowded and not near any skiing; so if that doesn’t suit you then why not stay longer in cheaper, chilled-out, snowy Sapporo instead?