Japan. It ranks high on every skier and snowboarder’s bucket list—often topping dream destinations like British Columbia, Alaska, and the Alps—and for good reason, too. The celebrated snow (lovingly dubbed “#japow”) is the main impetus for the pilgrimage of powder-lovers that descend upon Japan come winter. That said, the curious culture and unrivaled cuisine ensure that any trip to the Land of the Rising Sun is sure to be a memorable one.
Where to ski in Japan?
While good times are all but guaranteed once you’ve got ski boots on the ground, planning a ski trip to Japan can be overwhelming. The country has hundreds of ski resorts across multiple islands, and resorts range from tiny, single-chair hills to serious operations that rival the infrastructure of their American counterparts.
In this Liftopia travel guide, we’ve outlined four of our favorite Japanese ski resorts to aid you on your quest for #japow: Niseko United, Niseko Moiwa Ski Resort, Furano Ski Resort, and Hakkoda Ropeway. You might have heard of some of these, and others, unfamiliar. Regardless, each of these resorts is well worth a visit.
Niseko United is one of the best-known resorts in Japan. Niseko is a buzzing albeit touristy ski town on the northern island of Hokkaido known for its deep, light snow, and Niseko United is the perfect place to kick off any ski trip to Japan.
Niseko United is actually made up of four different ski resorts: Hanazono, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village, and Annapuri. The resorts sit shoulder to shoulder on the flanks of Mt. Niseko Annupuri, and with Niseko United’s All Mountain Pass, you can ski multiple resorts in a single day. For skiers looking for fast chairlifts, varied terrain, modern amenities, and quality cuisine, Niseko United is the place to be. And regardless of which resort you end up at, chances are you’ll score top-notch snow!
The Town of Niseko
The town of Niseko has a lively feel—a far cry from many of the sleepy hamlets you’ll find in Japan—with everything from iconic whiskey bars to incredible restaurants. For a casual breakfast before hitting the slopes, check out Green Farm Café. After a day of hard skiing, try the soup curry at Tsubara Tsubara. And when you’re ready to dive into a full-on gastromonic experience, make sure to drop in at An Dining—just be prepared to have your mind blown!
Where to Stay
As far as lodging goes in Niseko, we recommend setting up your basecamp at the Landmark View. Not only are the accommodations comfortable and cushy without being over the top, but rooms also offer a breathtaking view of Mt. Yotei, the enormous volcano that dominates Niseko’s horizon. What’s more, you’re only steps away from the base of the Hirafu Gondola.
A Hidden Gem: Niseko Moiwa Ski Resort
Niseko Moiwa Ski Resort is located just to the west of Annapuri Resort, and Annapuri is the westernmost resort of Niseko United, so Moiwa feels a bit like an extension of Niseko United, at least in terms of terrain. Note: it is possible to ski from Moiwa into Annapuri and vice versa. But while Niseko United is built-up and has a western vibe, Moiwa is less assuming, with fewer lifts and less hubbub. Moiwa also has less crowds, making it somewhat of gem hidden in plain sight. No doubt, Moiwa is a must-visit resort for all powder skiers passing through Niseko!
Backcountry Skiing in Furano
Furano is a small city located smack dab in the middle of Hokkaido. It’s less popular than Niseko and you’ll notice that from the get-go: Furano is less touristy and feels more authentic. Whether you’re looking for manicured groomers or powder runs through the trees, the nearby Furano Ski Resort is a solid choice. The resort is a quick drive from town, where there are plenty of lodging options on tap (we suggest Hostel Tomar if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly stay). If you don’t have a rental car, public transportation is fairly easy, and there are regular shuttles from town to the resort base area.
If you’re looking to get into the backcountry in Japan, Furano is a great place to start. Not only are there opportunities just outside the Furano Ski Resort, but the town is also close to backcountry skiing destinations like Asahidake and Tokachidake. If you are not an expert backcountry traveler, we highly recommend that you hire an experienced professional guide familiar with the local snow conditions.
For Powder Purists: Hakkoda Ropeway
Hakkoda Ropeway is an idiosyncratic ski hill that’s not nearly as well-known as the more popular resorts in Japan, namely because it caters to a specific type of skier: the powder purist. There is a small double-chair that offers limited access to the lower section of the mountain, but the majority of Hakkoda is accessed by a single tram. While there are a couple of groomed routes that wind down from the summit station all the way to the base, the real draw at Hakkoda is the off-piste action. The backcountry access from the summit station is mind-boggling, but the risk is real: we recommend that you book a day trip with a Hakkoda-approved guide or go on a tour of the Aomori and Iwate ski zones with a professional guide service.
While these four must-visit Japanese ski resorts have something to offer everyone from beginners and intermediates to experts and professionals, they’re really just a jumping off point. With so many resorts to choose from—not to mention the fabled powder—Japan truly is a skier’s paradise.