Japan, home to the famous resort of Niseko is a country which offers a variety of exhilarating skiing and cultural opportunities, with levels of luxury to suit even the most discerning skier. It’s not quite the French Alps or Whistler but that’s what makes skiing in Japan such an exciting and different prospect.
Quite simply, the skiing is superb. Everything you have heard about this being a skier’s paradise is true (and, if anything, is likely to be understated!). Renowned for some of the best powder skiing in the world, most Japanese ski resorts get between 10 to 18 metres of snow every year. Thanks to Japan’s geographical location, all of this lovely snow is kept delightfully cold and fluffy throughout the season. Not only will the skiing possibly be the best you have ever experienced, but unique cultural experiences, sophisticated resorts and friendly people combine, to make this a truly fabulous destination.
There are over 500 ski resorts in Japan. An incredible number, all varying in size, facilities and ski terrain. We have narrowed this choice down to three of the best resorts, featuring great skiing, luxurious accommodation and a variety of après ski activities.
Located on the northernmost island of Hokkaido (an hour’s flight from Tokyo), Niseko is Japan’s largest ski resort and is THE place to come for powder snow. Renowned for the consistency of its snow throughout the season, skiers are spoilt for choice. With a selection of meticulously groomed pistes, suitable for all abilities, powder bowls, tree runs, half-pipes and mogul fields, all spread across four smaller interconnecting areas – Hanazono, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village and Annupuri.
And if you are left wanting more by the time the sun goes down, then fear not – Niseko boasts some of the best night skiing in Japan. Off the slopes, après ski is an inviting mix of high-end restaurants, cosy bars and lively clubs. Whether you want to dance the night away or spend a leisurely evening in a Michelin starred restaurant, the choice is yours.
Set at the heart of the spectacular Japanese Alps, Hakuba valley is just a short bullet train ride from Tokyo and is another of Japan’s most renowned alpine resorts. 11 separate ski resorts are all meshed together with one lift pass, allowing you to travel seamlessly from one to the other and providing you with a variety of terrain. Not to mention it is all set within breath-taking scenery with peaks towering over you at 3,000m high. With so many ski resorts to choose from, you will often find the slopes are delightfully empty during the week and you will never be short of new areas to explore. Backcountry skiing here is phenomenal and we will happily arrange the best guides to show you the way.
The main hub of the Hakuba valley is Happo. This ski village boasts luxurious accommodation and a great vibe. You will find a wide range of restaurants including Western style dining and plenty of options for superb Japanese cuisine. English is frequently spoken, which allows you to freely converse if your Japanese is not up to much! For the non-skiers and skiers alike, a visit to the Jigokudani monkey park is a must – home to more than 200 snow monkeys, these amazing animals use the hot springs in the area to keep warm during the cold winter months.
If you want superb skiing set in a stunningly beautiful location, brimming with traditional Japanese architecture, then this hot spring town in northern Nagano Prefecture is the answer. The ski area extends from the top of Mt. Kenashi (at 1,650m) and radiates out across 300 hectares of slopes, covered with high quality powdery snow into early May. With an impressive vertical drop of 1,085m, there are a lot of downhill runs, suitable for beginners and experts alike. Enjoy off-piste skiing with plenty of powder between the trees and numerous mogul runs and steeps.
Away from the slopes and back in Nozawa Onsen, you will find yourself in the midst of charming streets lined with wood-panelled buildings from the Edo period (1603-1868). A must-do is a visit to one of 13 public baths (sotoyu). Fed by natural hot springs, a soak in the soothing mineral waters is the perfect way to ease away aches from a day on the slopes. If you are looking for the cultural experience, then Nozawa Onsen is undoubtedly one of the best Japanese ski resorts to visit.
Where to stay? Ape picks
- Niesko – The Glasshouse (sleeps 10)
- Hakuba – Phoenix One Chalet (sleeps 10)
- Nozawa Onsen – Ryokan Sakaya (hotel)
Whilst the style of accommodation varies from resort to resort, the quality is on par with the finest hotels and chalets anywhere in the world. Stunning architecture, breath-taking views, beautiful designer touches, high-end finishes and an array of technology. Whether you want a private chalet with room for the family, a modern hotel suite with every amenity at your disposal, or a historic Ryokan complete with tatami mat floors, futon bedding, sliding shoju screen doors and Zen touches throughout, there’s something for every taste.