Powder hunting in Japan – this is where you go to find powder heaven
When planning a skiing holiday, many often choose to head to the European Alps. But did you know that Japan is the country with the most ski resorts in the world? The small island state has as many as 500 active ski resorts of varying sizes.
Thanks to the cold winds that blow across the Sea of Japan, the country receives huge amounts of snow every single year and is seen as one of the most snow-sure places in the world. If you love real powder snow, you'll love Japan, whether you're into slalom skiing or snowboarding.
Japan is a hugely popular tourist destination, with people from all over the world visiting the country every year. Tokyo is perhaps one of the most vibrant cities in the world, and many people have it on their bucket list. But did you know that a short train ride out of town brings you close to some very unique nature, with lush forests, hot springs, and massive, snow-capped mountains?
Whether it's summer or winter, Japan has something for everyone. Moreover, no country in the world can beat Japan's snow-sure powder snow. Take your next ski holiday in Japan and try it yourself!
When is the best time to travel to Japan to ski?
The ski season in Japan runs from December to April but will depend somewhat on where in the country you are headed. High season is January and February, which are the months with most snow fall. If you want to save some money or travel when there are as few visitors as possible, April is the best time, but not if you are looking for as much deep snow and powder as possible. If you travel to Japan in April, you will also be able to experience its world-famous cherry blossom. The only time to avoid is Chinese New Year, when there are large numbers of Chinese tourists flocking to the ski resorts, inflating prices.
Ski and snowboard equipment rental
Make your trip to Japan easier by leaving your own ski equipment at home. It's possible to rent exactly what you need at just about every ski centre in Japan, from beginner to expert equipment, whether for skiing or snowboarding. Prices vary but are at about 5,000 yen and upwards per day for skis and poles or a snowboard.
Where should you go? Two major areas for skiing
As mentioned, there are a number of resorts to visit in Japan. Some are more Western with English-speaking staff and information signs, while others are more local, where a little more local knowledge is required to get around. But wherever you go, you'll experience gorgeous skiing and Japanese culture off the slopes, including traditional Japanese bathhouses, izakayas (Japanese pubs), and restaurants. There are two places in particular that are worth visiting - Hokkaido and Hakuba, but which one to choose?
Hokkaido, Niseko – powder snow at a heavenly ski resort for everyone
The Niseko ski resort in Hokkaido is Japan's largest and most visited ski centre. The resort is divided into four ski resorts that are all connected – Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village, and Annupuri. The area is known for being snow-sure and is truly a dream spot for powder sledding. On average, you can expect 15 meters of snow here (or more) each season. Not only is there a powder guarantee, but in Hokkaido you can also experience "diamond dust". Diamond dust is when the ice crystals in the snow sparkle and reflect sunlight as the snow floats in the air. This can only be seen under certain favourable conditions when it must also be cold and windless.
Hokkaido's spectacular views of Mount Yotei, forest trails and open powder lifts are a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. Niseko is perhaps the most international ski resort in Japan. Here, you can be understood in English, and the resort is suitable for beginners as well as experts. The difficulty levels are equally distributed on the different slopes, and there is also the possibility for off-piste skiing. Niseko's Grand Hirafu has a great network system where you can reach unprepared slopes from the ski lifts. A separate guide is recommended if you want to go off-piste, both to save time and planning, but also, of course, for safety.
Après-ski and fine dining in Hokkaido
In addition to great skiing, Hokkaido is the best place for parties and après-ski experiences. It should be said that après-ski in Japan is different than in Europe and North America, but Niseko is the closest you get. This is where the international skiers first arrived, making it a more Western-inspired place. You will also find more traditional nightclubs here, as well as shopping and tasty restaurants.
The Hokkaido area is also a good place to go for foodies. Fresh seafood, local meat and vegetables, and dedicated chefs make Hokkaido an excellent culinary destination. Here, you will find kitchens with traditional food made with innovative techniques. Although there are several restaurants to check out in Niseko, you can also drive into Sapporo, where the options are endless. It may be a good idea to visit restaurants there before or after traveling to Niseko, as you often have to pass by Sapporo on the way. If you are travelling in February, you can also catch the ice sculpture festival in Sapporo!
How to get to Hokkaido
Niseko is about a two-hour drive southwest of Sapporo. There are also a number of shuttle buses and trains that take you to Niseko and to New Chitose airport.
Hakuba - sun and skiing in cloudless surroundings
Hakuba is located in the middle of the Japanese Alps, a mountain range on the island of Honshu, on of which is iconic Mount Fuji. It was here that the 1998 Winter Olympics were held. The mountains are steep and have beautiful open features reminiscent of the Dolomites in Italy. In Hakuba, you will find nine different ski centres offering a great variety of terrain for both beginners and experts. It is easier to get away from the crowds In Hakuba as you can go to many different ski centres with a single ski pass.
A paradise of forest trails
If you want a little more adrenaline in your body, the ski centre Cortina is best for off-piste and forest trails. This is also the place with most snow. Hakuba has an area that is exclusively for forest trails, called Hakuba47, which is divided into two areas - one that is accessible to everyone, and one that requires registration. The latter is an area that is unpatrolled and off-piste. You are required to complete a safety brief before gaining access and being allowed to ski there.
You must wear a red scarf/bib at all times if skiing in this area. In March and April, the Tsugaike Kogen ski centre offers heli-skiing from the top of the mountain into the national park. The trip is carefully controlled and well-marked and is therefore also available for experienced skiers, not just experts.
Relaxed and intimate
Compared to Hokkaido, Hakuba is a little more relaxed when it comes to food. Think less fine dining and more homestyle, with Izakaya-style restaurants serving provincial specialties in shared portions. There is also après-ski here, but it's more traditionally Japanese than Western.
Hot Springs in Hakuba
Hakuba has a unique location with six hot springs in a single area. This makes it possible to enjoy hot springs, or onsen as it is called in Japanese, after a long day on the slopes. Simply relax and enjoy the natural heat. You may want to read up on onsen etiquette before traveling. The famous Japanese snow monkeys also enjoy the hot springs. Visit them in Snow Monkey Park.
How to get to Hakuba
Hakuba can be easily reached by flying into Haneda or Narita Airport in Tokyo, and then taking a direct bus or a shuttle bus or riding the famous Shinkansen high-speed train.
So, which one should you choose? In short, Hakuba is best known for cloudless days and Niseko for its powder snow. Both areas are well worth a visit. It is all about your taste and preference. Happy skiing!
Book your stay in Tokyo
Enjoy a urban stylish accommodation in the sophisticated and popular shopping area in Ginza neighbourhood.