With somewhere around 600 ski resorts spread across the country, the snowy mountains of Japan are a mecca for powder hounds. From steep backcountry with virgin tracks to well-groomed and traversed runs, northern Japan (Hokkaido and Tohoku, in particular) and the coastal mountains along the Sea of Japan (Niigata and Nagano) are a skier's dream. But don't fret, we did all the research for you. Here are six of the highest rated resorts and locations for kicking up powder.
Within the worldwide ski community, few places are as mythic as Niseko. A small town located on Hokkaido Island near Mt. Yotei, Niseko gets a whopping 55 feet of snow a year — and that's all light fluffy powder. While the place is treasured by the experts, beginners can find plenty of bunny slopes too. Even if skiing isn’t your thing, many of the resorts around the village offer delightful onsens (hot springs) and charming traditional restaurants to give you some cozy winter fun.
Also located on Hokkaido Island, Sapporo is home to their namesake beer and played host to the 1972 Olympic Games. Japan’s fourth largest city, there are many direct flights from Tokyo, making this a great weekend getaway.
Sapporo has skiing of its own, but it’s more of a gateway to other locations on Hokkaido. Most places are just a short drive out of the city, worthy of a day trip. For beginners and families, Sapporo Teine is a great place to learn, while experts will prefer the backcountry trails at Asari ski resort. For more resorts and travel plans in the Sapporo area, check out this site.
If you are visiting Tokyo, want to ski, and don’t have time to fly up to Hokkaido, look no further than Yuzawa. Known more for its hot springs, the town of Yuzawa in the Niigata Prefecture is an excellent weekend getaway with some of the most breathtaking scenery in all of Japan.
The largest and highest-rated resort is in the area is GALA. It’s only 75 minutes from Tokyo by train, and offers a ton of slopes at all levels. Regardless of experience, if you’re looking to escape the bright lights and big city of Tokyo, this is easily your best option.
Another location close to Tokyo is the historic city of Nozawa, famous for it's hot springs that were discovered way back in the 8th century. Skiing, while playing a historical role in the town’s development, is relatively new to Nozawa, and all of Japan, in fact. Only introduced in 1912, there are many who believe Nozawa to be the birthplace of skiing in Japan. Now, Nozawa is still a popular destination for winter enthusiasts, though you may find the hot springs, traditional way of life, and cozy wood cabins more appealing.
Located in the Niigata Prefecture, Kagura is another great day trip from Tokyo. Known to have some of the best beginner terrain for those still finding their ski legs, most of the slopes are green runs, with just about 35% for intermediate and 20% advanced.
Kagura itself is three resorts in one, connected to Naeba Resort. For those who are just starting out or with families, Kagura is recommended, as Naeba can get crowded and more intense.
When it comes to advanced terrain, quality of snow, and lack of people, it doesn’t get better than Asahidake. Rated as the best all-around by PowederHounds.com, Asahidake is a backcountry paradise. The highest mountain in Hokkaido, the snow is often pristine, light, fluffy, and there’s a lot of it — around 45 feet a year! There's even cable car access to the summit where some of the most cleanest freshies await.
This is no place for beginners or resort-goers. The slopes are free skiing and fresh lines and can be difficult to navigate, even for intermediate skiers. If that doesn't deter you, the mountain is actually part of a volcanic chain, and steam often escapes the vents, which is a marvel to see. No worries, though: the worst thing you'll experience is an unpleasant sulfur smell.
It should be noted that accommodations and activities in Asahidake are minimal. Without much outside interference, traditional Japanese culture still rules, and there is little to no nightlife in the village. If you're someone who enjoys a little apres action after a long day on the slopes, this may not be the place for you. But if you're into the thought of hardcore skiing at the top of the world, don’t be dissuaded: if you’ve got the skills, Asahidake has the thrills.