THE MOUNTAINS (AND ONSEN) ARE CALLING
Japan is a top ski and snowboard destination famed for its high-quality snow and gorgeous scenery. With
hundreds of snow resorts of various sizes, many of which double as hot spring resorts, there are ample
opportunities for travelers to experience Japan’s powder snow.
Snowboarders and skiers often point to Hokkaido as the best region in Japan. For example, Niseko, the country’s leading ski destination, is known for its fluffy powder snow and stunning backcountry runs. However, enthusiasts don’t need to go all the way to northern Japan to find high-quality powder. There are many notable ski resorts in the mountains along the Sea of Japan’s coast, such as in Nagano and Niigata prefectures, that can be reached with relative ease from metropolitan areas.
Located in the Northern Alps that run through Nagano Prefecture, Hakuba is one such spot. The area consists of 10 resorts with a variety of runs for skiers and boarders of all levels, ranging from gentle slopes in wide and uncrowded areas to halfpipes and long runs for cruising. Hakuba first gained worldwide recognition when it hosted several events during the 1998 Winter Olympics. Some of these Olympic facilities, such as the Hakuba Ski Jumping Stadium, remain in use today. The Hakuba Olympic Village Memorial Hall is also walking distance from the ski jump, providing skiers and boarders with a chance to catch their breath and learn about the area’s Olympic history. Travelers can also stop by the main village of Happo, home to excellent izakaya (Japanese pubs) and restaurants, and other quieter villages in the area.
Yuzawa in Niigata Prefecture is another great choice for winter sports excursions, especially for those
coming from Tokyo. Yuzawa is one of the largest and most easily accessible ski areas from Tokyo, taking less
than two hours to get to the slopes from Tokyo Station. The 12 ski resorts that comprise Yuzawa vary in size
and feature gentle slopes suited for families, runs for advanced skiers and boarders, non-compacted snow
fields and tree runs. Yuzawa is known for deep powder and a long season, with some resorts open from
mid-November to late May. There is also a town near the station where travelers can find souvenir shops,
restaurants and hot springs.
When discussing ski areas along the Sea of Japan’s coast, Shiga Kogen in the highlands of Nagano Prefecture is also a point of conversation. This group of 18 ski resorts is the largest combined ski area in Japan, and a single lift ticket gives travelers access to 51 lifts and gondolas, all of which are connected by shuttle bus. Shiga Kogen offers a variety of ski and snowboard terrain and boasts quality snow due to it having the second-highest elevation of Japan’s ski resorts. The southern area leads to the top of the 2,307-meter Mount Yokote with ski runs and hot springs along the way to the summit, while the northern area has several 2,000-meter peaks perfect for exploration. Off the lifts, travelers can visit nearby hot spring resorts Shibu Onsen and Yudanaka Onsen, or the Jigokudani Monkey Park, where wild monkeys can be seen bathing in natural hot springs.
With its high-quality snow, varied terrain for skiers and snowboarders of all levels and unique leisure activities, Japan is a strong contender for the top spot of any winter sports enthusiast’s bucket list.
For more information on powder snow in Japan, see