Japan is quickly becoming one of skiers' favorite destinations! The Art of Travel, a partner destination management company in Japan, offers a few reasons why:
Amazing powder snow: Few people are aware that Japan is actually one of the snowiest countries in the world! Thanks to freezing winds blowing across the sea from Siberia, most Japanese ski resorts get around 500 to 600 inches of snow per year.
Top Ski Resorts: Japan has over 500 ski resorts, which makes sense when you know the country is 70% mountainous. You can choose to hop from one smaller ski area to another, or stay at one of the larger, world-class resorts. Some of our favorites include:
Niseko: located in Hokkaido, the country's northern island, this is Japan's most popular resort. It is famous for offering consistent powder ski throughout the year and having solid luxury accommodation options. It averages twice as much snow per year as most resorts in North America. Catskiing, heliskiing, and backcountry tours are popular activities there.
Hakuba: located on Japan's main island of Honshu. Its network of resorts features diverse ski slopes, plenty of powder, and some nice après-ski options. If you are looking for steep runs, this is the place for you. It was host to the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Nozawa Onsen: also located on Honshu. It is one of Japan's largest resorts and is famous for its many hot springs and vibrant nightlife. The village itself is very picturesque and has a rich history. It is host to a unique fire festival in February.
Night ski: Most Japanese resorts offer night skiing, with lifts open from 9 am to 9 pm. This is a great option for skiers who like to make the most of their ski day, and being on the mountain at night is a totally different experience.
Range of levels: The quality of snow in Japan makes it a great option for all ski levels.
There is soft snow for beginners and epic backcountry powder for the more experienced. Most resorts have a good range of slopes, with some offering at least one beginner slope and one expert slope at the top of each chairlift, making it possible for mixed ability groups to still spend time together. The Art of Travel will adapt resort recommendations to groups' combined levels.
Onsen: there is no better après-ski experience than easing sore muscles while soaking in an onsen overlooking the slopes. It is really special to be able to relax in the middle of the mountain in an outdoor hot spring watching snowflakes dissolve in the onsen steam.
Food and Drink: From ramen on the slopes to a hearty nabe dinner (Japanese hot pot), discovering Japan's ski resort food is an experience in itself. Winter is also the time for warming up with freshly brewed hot sake, or exploring the popular ski resort craft beer scene.
Snow Monkeys: Travelers skiing on Honshu island are a short drive away from the famous snow monkey park. The monkeys can often be seen relaxing in the park's snow-covered hot springs, much to the delight of the many visitors there to snap some picturesque shots.
Snow Festivals: Winter brings with it an array of culturally intriguing and often spectacular festivals. Many popular ski areas host their own, as so larger cities nearby. The following are well worth a visit:
Sapporo Snow Festival (January 21st-February 11th, 2020): Not far from Niseko, this Hokkaido festival features impressive snow and ice sculptures mingled with stunning illuminations.
Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival (January 13th-15th, 2020): This winter fire festival has everything you could hope for, including free sake and a 'fire-setting battle'. Villagers compete to either try to set fire, or to defend, a huge wooden shrine. It is a fascinating cultural event and also great fun.
Nagano Lantern Festival (Dates TBD): This festival is held in commemoration of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. During the festival, Zenkoji Temple is brightly illuminated and the main road leading up to it is decorated with numerous lanterns. These kiri-e paper lanterns feature four images on their sides and are backlit by a candle. They are made by local artists and students and the overall effect at night is stunning.