Niseko, Hakuba and beyond: where to ski in Japan
A Japan skiing trip offers snow sports with a dash of culture (and sake). Take the guess work out of a ski trip to Japan with this quick guide to the best resorts to get your snow bunny on.
With its lush powder, exotic culture and thriving après ski scene, Japan is a world class ski and snowboard destination. But with more than 500 resorts to choose from throughout the country, where do you start planning the perfect Japan snowboarding trip? Try these for starters...
Situated on the northern island of Hokkaido, Niseko is generally considered the best resort in Japan. Famed for its abundance of powder and long, sprawling runs, it also has an increasingly vibrant après ski scene, especially at nearby Hirafu. There’s plenty of off-piste and backcountry skiing—a relative scarcity in Japan—as well as the largest floodlit night skiing area in the country. An added bonus: the Niseko All Mountain Pass grants you access to neighbouring Grand Hirafu and Mount Niseko Annupuri allowing you access to three great resorts on one pass.
Getting there: Fly from Sydney to Tokyo, then catch a domestic flight to Chitose (Hokkaido) Airport.
Host of the 1998 Winter Olympics and situated just three hours from Tokyo in the Northern Alps of the Nagano Prefecture, Hakuba is one of Japan’s most renowned resorts, thanks to the sheer diversity of its alpine terrain and 11 metres of annual snowfall. With a village atmosphere, there are many English-speaking service providers in Hakuba, so it’s also easy to organise activities off the slopes, from shopping or getting a massage to dining out at one of the many excellent restaurants throughout town.
Getting there: Fly from Sydney to Tokyo, then take a train from Shinjuku Station to Hakuba.
Famed for its ‘snow monsters’ (basically fir trees covered in snow and ice) Zao is a beautiful hot springs town that’s ideal for beginner and intermediate skiers and boarders. Located in the Yamagata Prefecture about 400 kilometres north of Tokyo, it’s the perfect place for a Japan snowboarding trip, especially for anyone looking to improve their riding on cruisier terrain. You’ll enjoy kicking back for a soak in an onsen at one of the many deluxe ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) or at the natural outdoor springs.
Getting there: Fly from Sydney to Akita, then catch a connecting train to Zao.
Resort: Shiga Kogen
For anyone looking to make the slopes the focus of their Japan skiing trip, the Shiga Kogen region is a combined group of 21 resorts that form the largest ski area in Japan. There’s scope for all abilities and much of the terrain can be accessed on one lift pass. Partying options are more limited here but there are many cultural attractions nearby including the historic Matsumoto Castle in Nagano. You can even visit the famed Japanese snow monkeys soaking it up in the onsens of Jigokundani.
Getting there: Fly from Sydney to Tokyo, then catch the New Hokuruki Line to JR Nagano Station where a connecting bus runs hourly.
Resort: Appi Kogen
Often drawing comparisons with Aspen, Appi was developed during the height of Japan’s economic boom in the 1980s. Its location in the Appi Highlands in northeast Honshu means it’s a little further out the way, but this ensures fewer crowds than at the more internationally recognised resorts. There’s a variety of terrain here but snowboarders will love the snow park with its multitude of rails, jumps and kickers. Off the slopes, the Hotel Appi Grand is the heart of the resort, while the small town below offers some unusual attractions such as ice fishing tours, a sake brewery and the beautiful Matsukawa hot springs area.
Getting there: Fly from Sydney to Haneda, then catch a connecting flight to Aomori or Odate-Noshiro airports.
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