The Ultimate Guide to The Best Japan Ski Resorts | Niseko vs Hakuba

Chase some of the softest powder in the world at one of Japan’s finest snow resorts.

Let’s face it: while Australia might have some pretty good snowfields, they’re nothing compared to the powdery snow of the Japanese Alps, where falling down feels like falling through a cloud. The snow is delicate and pristinely white and the season is long, running for four months from mid-December to mid-April, with snowfall still likely at the end.

Two of the most popular and accessible snow resort areas in Japan are Niseko and Hakuba. Hakuba is on the main island, Honshu, and can be accessed by train and shuttle from Tokyo’s airports. Niseko is located on Hokkaido island and can be accessed by shuttle from Sapporo Chitose Airport.

While there are no direct flights to Sapporo from Australia, both Tokyo and Osaka Airports offer regular flights to Sapporo, and with budget airlines like Jetstar flying into these major cities, you really just need to keep an eye out for those cheap Japan flights to make an affordable ski trip a reality.

Looking for Japan ski deals? Check out the latest offers on ski packages in Niseko, Hakuba and more.

Best Japan ski resorts: Niseko vs Hakuba

A quick comparison of Niseko and Hakuba ski resorts to help you decide which has the terrain for your snow sport style.

LocationResortsAnnual snowfallNumber of liftsNumber of runsTerrain
  • Grand Hirafu
  • Hanazono
  • Niseko Village
  • An’nupuri
15m+30 lifts and 3 gondolas61
  • Beginners: 30%
  • Intermediate: 40%
  • Advanced: 30%"
  • Happo One
  • Hakuba 47
  • Goryu
  • Iwatake
  • Cortina
  • Sanosaka
  • Jiigatake
  • Kashimayari
  • Tsugaike Kogen
  • Yanaba Snow Park
  • Norikura
11m+138 lifts and 5 gondolas200+
  • Beginners: 30%
  • Intermediate: 40%
  • Advanced: 30%"

Japan ski-and-stay packages from $979

Stay dates vary by package, with availability ranging from January until April. Most packages include seven nights' accommodation with breakfast and a six-day lift pass near Hakuba or Niseko.

Image: Niseko Tourism


Heralded as Japan’s number one ski destination and often called Niseko United, the area comprises of four interlinked ski resorts. Each of the resorts offers runs for various levels. Naturally, there is side country access for advanced riders seeking a challenge.

What really puts Niseko on the map is its high snow quality and quantity (15m+ on average) that often falls into late March and early April

Fast facts about Niseko:

  • Location: 90km from Sapporo on Hokkaido
  • Number of main resorts: 4
  • Number of runs: 61
  • Annual snowfall: 15m+

Get more information about Niseko

Niseko accommodation for any budget

Budget: Pension Cotton Farm Hotels
Affordable: One Niseko Resort Towers Hotels
Splurge: Niseko Konbu Onsen Tsuruga Moku no sho Hotels



You’ll be hard pressed to visit all of Hakuba's 11 resorts in the one trip. Two of the most spots are Happo One, and the combined resort of Goryu and Hakuba 47.

Happo One is the area's largest and boasts 1,000m vertical and back country terrain. The combined resorts of Goryu and Hakuba 47 are more diverse and family-friendly. They offer wide-open runs for beginners and a superpipe for more advanced riders.

Fast facts about Hakuba:

  • Location: 275km from Tokyo, Honshu
  • Number of main resorts: 11
  • Number of runs: 200+
  • Annual snowfall: 11m+

Get more information about Hakuba

Hakuba accommodation for any budget

Budget: Hakuba Goryu Pension Kurumi Hotels
Affordable: Hakuba Hotel Ougiya Hotels
Splurge: Hotel Hakuba Onsen Ryokan Shirouma so Hotels

Search for more ski accommodation in Japan here:

What other Japan ski resorts are there?

Niseko and Hakuba might be the most popular ski resorts in Japan, but they’re certainly not the only ones. Throughout the country you can find resorts that offer a similar quality powder along with unique runs. Here’s a snapshot of them:


  • Furano: Located on Hokkaido Island and accessed via shuttle from Sapporo Chitose Airport, Furano resort is renowned for having some of the lightest and driest snow in Japan. Its terrain of 40% beginners makes it popular with families.
  • Kiroro: Also on Hokkaido Island and close to Niseko, Kiroro averages an astounding 17m+ of snowfall annually. It’s quite a small resort with only 21 runs, the longest of which is 4km.
  • Naeba: Currently run by Prince Hotel, Naeba ski resort belongs to the Mount Naeba resort area. On its own, it has 20 runs which are serviced by an impressive 21 lifts.
  • Nozawa Onsen: This historical onsen resort is a relaxing choice for the holiday skier. It boasts 960ha of ski terrain, 40% of which is beginner, and 18 lifts.
  • Zao: Zao resort is perhaps most famous for its Juhyo “Ice Monsters” (pictured). This natural wonder makes for spectacular scenery when barrelling down the mountain and occurs when strong winds and cool water droplets develop on the evergreen conifer and the snow depth reaches two or three metres.
  • Rusutsu: Just south of Niseko is this family-friendly resort. It’s the largest single resort in the region and features immaculately groomed wide trails across three mountains.
  • Tomamu: Take a 90-minute drive east of Chitose Airport and you’ll find yourself at this quaint, family-friendly resort. It has a mere 5 lifts but gets a good average of 14m+ of snowfall annually.
  • Yuzawa: Perhaps one of the most accessible ski resorts in Japan, Yuzawa is renowned for being the only resort to have its own shinkansen bullet train station. The gondola is in the train station itself, so you can head up the moment you arrive.
  • Shiga Kogen: With 21 ski resorts (19 of which are interlinked), Shiga Kogen is one of Japan’s largest ski resort areas. It has over 50 lifts and 4 gondolas, and with a ski pass that gives you access to almost all the lifts, you could be carving it up for weeks.
  • Myoko Kogen: This resort area comprises of three separate resorts (Myoko Akakura, Myoko Suginohara and Ikenotaira Onsen). Off piste riding is allowed and it claims to have some of the best vertical and longest runs in Japan.

Japan ski resorts map:

See how far the resorts are from each other with our map.

When is ski season in Japan?

The height of ski season in Japan is typically from December to April. Outside of this, early season is November and late season is April to May.

The official close of snow season in Japan is the end of March. Some runs and hotels may be open for late season, but this will be limited.

For the 2016-2017 snow season, Hokkaido's ski resorts (including Niseko) are open from 20 November 2016 to 8 May 2017. These days may vary depending on location. Hakuba Valley’s snow season also runs from November to early May.

Compare ski travel insurance for Japan

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned professional, snow trips come with an increased risk of injury – and being in Japan, you might not be covered for medical incidents should something occur.

Even if you’re not injured, other situations may arise such as bad weather, ski lift closures and lost and damaged equipment, which can cause you to bear unexpected financial costs.

Snowsport insurance can be purchased as an additional extra to travel insurance or as a standalone policy to provide extra cover should you need emergency assistance or compensation for lost equipment or unused ski passes. This guide can help you compare your options for snowsport insurance in Japan.

Latest Japan ski deals:

Japan ski-and-stay packages from $979

Stay dates vary by package, with availability ranging from January until April. Most packages include seven nights' accommodation with breakfast and a six-day lift pass near Hakuba or Niseko.

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Stephanie Yip

Stephanie is a journalist, avid traveller and all-round bargain hunter. If there's an online coupon code, deal or cheap flight available, she'll know about it. And she'll let you know about it, too.

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