Japan's ski resorts are suffering through one of the worst snow seasons on record, disappointing locals and foreign tourists, and jeopardizing the country's budding reputation as an international ski destination.

In Hokkaido to the north, where resorts like Niseko are known for reliable, fresh powder, the snow failed to fall in December and remains scant in the new year. In Sapporo, ski competitions have been canceled and the city is trucking in snow for its annual snow festival. December's snowfall there was the lowest since the Meteorological Agency began keeping records in 1961.

At resorts farther south, conditions are worse. In Nagano, which hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics, skiers dodge wide patches of grass on the slopes. In the Zao resort area in Yamagata Prefecture, where children usually squeal in delight at "snow monsters" created by sticky downfalls that cover the trees, there are few to be found. Niigata Prefecture, the setting for the classic novel "Snow Country," has had a quarter of its usual accumulation.