Chase some of the softest powder in the world at one of Japan’s finest snow resorts.
While Australia might have some pretty good snowfields, they’re nothing compared to the Japanese Alps, where the powder feels like a cloud. Not only is the snow is delicate, season is long. It runs for four months from mid-December to mid-April, with snowfall still likely at the end.
Two of the most popular resort areas in Japan are Niseko and Hakuba. Hakuba can be accessed by train and shuttle from Tokyo’s airports, while Niseko can be accessed by shuttle from Sapporo Chitose Airport. Direct flights are available to Tokyo from Australia, with connections to Sapporo available via Tokyo or Osaka, so keep an eye out for those cheap Japan flights to make an affordable ski trip a reality.
Best Japan ski resorts compared
A quick comparison of Niseko, Hakuba, Furano, Nozawa Onsen and Shiga Kogen ski resorts.
|Location||Annual snowfall||Number of lifts||Number of runs||Terrain|
|Niseko||15m+||30 lifts and 3 gondolas||61|
|Hakuba||11m+||138 lifts and 5 gondolas||200+|
|Nozawa Onsen||10m||32 lifts||36|
|Shiga Kogen||10m||67 lifts||310|
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, Hokkaido
- Number of main resorts: 4
- Number of runs: 61
- Annual snowfall: 15m+
Niseko accommodation for any budget
Budget: Pension Cotton Farm
Affordable: One Niseko Resort Towers
Splurge: Niseko Konbu Onsen Tsuruga Moku no sho
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+
Hakuba accommodation for any budget
Budget: Hakuba Goryu Pension Kurumi
Affordable: Hakuba Hotel Ougiya
Splurge: Hotel Hakuba Onsen Ryokan Shirouma so
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.
Fast facts about Furano:
- Location: 145km from Sapporo, Hokkaido
- Number of main resorts: 2
- Number of runs: 24
- Annual snowfall: 9m
Budget: Alpine Backpackers
Affordable: Furano Natulux Hotel
Splurge: Furano Fresh Powder Apartments
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.
Fast facts about Nozawa Onsen:
- Location: 270km from Tokyo, Honshu
- Number of main resorts: 1
- Number of runs: 36
- Annual snowfall: 10m
Budget: Wafu Pension Miyazawa
Affordable: Nozawa Grand Hotel
Splurge: Sumiyosiya Ryokan
Image: Shiga Kogen Prince Hotel
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.
Fast facts about Shiga Kogen:
- Location: 280km from Tokyo, Honshu
- Number of main resorts: 21
- Number of runs: 310
- Annual snowfall: 10m
Budget: Charade Inn Shiga
Affordable: Shiga Kogen Prince Hotel
Splurge: Aburaya Tousen
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 2017-2018 snow season, Hokkaido's ski resorts (including Niseko) are open from 23 November 2017 to 6 May 2018, including early and late season dates. The regular season is from 9 December 2017 to 18 March 2018. 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.