While the soaring peaks of the Rockies, the Alps, and the Sierra Nevadas are all well documented throughout winter sport lore, Japan may hold the world’s last great frontier for easily accessible world-class skiing and snowboarding. With many Japanese companies reaching out to attract more foreign tourism in recent years, accessing this frozen treasure trove just got a whole lot easier. That said, there are some things you should know before embarking on your first Japan ski trip.
What You Need to Know:
1. Book a Japan WiFi Rental
With the proper resources, traveling throughout Japan is easier than you could imagine. The country’s robust public transportation and Shinkansen (bullet train) network make getting from the city to the snow a breeze if you know what you’re doing. Booking a Japan WiFi rental eliminates the need for packing English-Japanese dictionaries and guidebooks by providing visitors with high-speed mobile Internet access from the airport to the slopes and everywhere in between. With convenient airport pickup and destination delivery options, you can use your existing smartphone, laptop, or tablet to stay connected for the duration of your visit. It’s important to point out that currently, only Docomo is able to provide consistent coverage in Japan’s most popular skiing areas.
2. Choose an English-Friendly Ski Resort
Japan is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of California, yet the island nation houses over 500 ski resorts more than the entire United States. Seemingly unlimited options, coupled with very limited availability of information in English, may make choosing the perfect Japan ski experience quite difficult. To help you along the way, here’s a breakdown of the three most popular ski resort areas in Japan-also be sure to check out our guide on exploring the winter scenery of Japan’s Hida-Takayama.
Niseko Ski Resorts
By far the most famous ski area in Japan, Niseko is the beloved powder capital of Asia. Each year, beginners and professionals alike flock to Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido to bask in Niseko’s abundance of light, dry snow and famed flood-lit night powder sessions. Like the Hakuba Valley, the name Niseko generally refers to the sixindividual Niseko ski resorts located on Mount Niseko. These six resorts are Niseko Hirafu, Niseko Village, Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Hanazono, Niseko Moiwa and Niseko Weiss, with the four most popular resorts accessible via the single Niseko United pass. With a wide variety of terrain suitable to all ability levels, Niseko skiing options vary; but in the past decade, Niseko’s unofficially sanctioned, easily accessible side and backcountry terrain have surged in popularity. As always, appropriate backcountry training and equipment are necessary, so strap up and cut some lines. After ripping it up on the mountain, continue the party in the town’s many bars, restaurants, and Japanese-style pubs.
Niseko WiFi Comparison
Of course, Niseko ski resort-hopping isn’t the only reason to visit the region. Stop into Hokkaido during the first week of February and you can catch the internationally acclaimed Sapporo Snow Festival a week-long event that features building-size works from the world’s greatest ice sculptors, tantalizing local cuisine, and free-flowing food and drink throughout the city.
Hakuba Ski Resorts
Skiing in Hakuba-not to mention snowboarding-is heaven for denizens of the snow, and one of the reasons why these are some of the best ski resorts in Japan. The Hakuba ski resorts, 10 in total, are all grouped within a valley that served as the main venue for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Whether it is the world-class snow park of Hakuba Goryu & 47, or the wide open bowls of Happo-One (Pronounced oh-ney), the Hakuba Valley has offerings for every level of skier or rider.
Hakuba WiFi Comparison
Each Hakuba ski resort offers a unique overall experience. Advanced and backcountry riders will find deep, secluded pockets in the trees of Cortina, while beginning riders and families can take advantage of the wide cruisers on Tsugaike-Kogen. Happo-One the largest of the Hakuba ski resorts was the site of the Slalom, Giant Slalom, and Super-G events during the Nagano Olympics, and offers long cruisers, wide bowls and stunning views of the surrounding Japanese Alps. With a great international community and plentiful apres ski and nightlife offerings, Hakuba is a one-stop destination for every winter sports enthusiast.
Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort
This local’s favorite is a mecca of Japanese powder skiing. Gaining international notoriety in recent years, Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort was the snowiest resort in the world from December through February during the 2014-15 season, with unprecedented early season storms bringing 5 meters of snow before the new year. A traditional mountain town nestled high in the Minami Alps of Nagano, Nozawa Onsen offers the quintessential Japan ski experience with its friendly locals, great nightlife, and famed hospitality. The town’s 13 free onsen (hot springs) and famous local cuisine will add a quaint twist to your winter vacation. With long cruisers, deep powder, and perfectly spaced glades, Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort offers a wide variety of terrain for beginners and advanced riders alike. Easily accessed side and backcountry lines beckon advanced skiers and snowboarders to find some of the world’s best lift-accessed powder runs looming above this vibrant mountain town. Grab a local guide and make sure you have the proper backcountry and avalanche equipment, because lines in Nozawa are both steep and deep.
Nozawa Onsen WiFi Comparison
Nozawa Onsen skiing is awesome by itself, but of course there is always more to experience. Show up in mid-January, and you just might catch the Nozawa Onsen Dosojin Matsuri: the town’s world-famous fire festival. Visit the friendly English-speaking staff at The Schneider Hotel or book with Yoji Lodge & Apartments to catch the locals’ take on what’s happening on the mountain and around town.
3. Pack the Right Gear for Japan
Apart from the uncrowded slopes and abundance of powder snow, Japanese winter sports destinations are similar to their North American and European counterparts. Be sure to pack multiple layers to prepare for rapidly changing weather conditions. As snow can accumulate quickly, waterproof hiking/snow boots are recommended once you near your destination. Almost every resort offers high quality rental ski and snowboard equipment, and most have goggles, gloves and helmets available for rent as well. If your group is planning on venturing into the backcountry, avalanche beacons, shovels, and proper touring gear are mandatory.
4. Book a Japan Ski Tour
If booking a hotel, securing your own travel, locating qualified guides and finding apres ski activities sound like daunting tasks, companies like Tokyo Snow Club offer comprehensive ski and snowboard tours suitable for all ages and ability levels. Should veering slightly off the beaten path be more appealing, lodges such as Canyons in Gunma and the Black Diamond Lodge in Hokkaido offer stay-and-ski packages for a totally immersive Japanese ski trip. With tours to all of Japan’s most popular ski areas, accessing Japan’s pristine powder with an adventure-loving group of enthusiasts has never been easier or more fun. The only question is, where to hit the slopes first?
Japan Skiing is an Experience Not to Be Missed
For some, untouched rugged mountain topography blanketed in meters of ice and snow presents a geological barrier, a perilous “danger-zone” not to be crossed. For others though, the pristine peaks, sky-scraping ridges, and wide, sweeping valleys are the most joyous of stomping grounds. Journey into Japan’s cold, mountainous interior, and you’ll be of the lucky few to experience these natural wonders. So what are you waiting for? Now that you know some of Japan’s best currently available ski resorts and tours, it’s time to pack your bags, book your Japan WiFi rental and get your adrenaline rushing!