Unless you’re flush with cash and time and can afford to be here for an extended period during winter, skiers and snowboarders headed to Japan are faced with one big decision before they even get here – where should I go? Nagano or Hokkaido? Which is better?
Based in Nagano we’re admittedly a little (just a little) bit biased but nevertheless let’s get into it! Firstly, whether you head to Nagano or Hokkaido you are going to experience some of the best snow in the world (lots of it!), fun resorts, great food, and friendly locals. So definitely come!
Both regions spoil you for choice with numerous resorts and deep, deep powder. So let’s break it down into specifics starting with the most important factor – the white stuff!
Snow: Quantity & Quality
Japan experiences some of the heaviest and best snow in the world. Known for its very dry powder and the reliability of its seasons, Japan has quickly become a popular destination for international visitors first and foremost for one reason – epic powder!
Hokkaido claims a higher annual (and more days of actual) snowfall than Nagano resulting in a longer season and an overall claim to the best powder in Japan. As weather moves across the island, the coastal resorts receive the first dumps of snow. Moving away from the coast increasingly robs the air of its moisture, resulting in drier powder as the snow falls on the more inland resorts including Niseko and Furano – both of which experience very deep and dry powder each year.
Nagano experiences equally impressive snowfall. While less than Hokkaido it’s still immense and can rightly be considered some of the best powder in the world. Subject to different weather patterns to Hokkaido but the same basic meteorological mechanisms, the Nagano resorts closest to the coast including Myoko Kogen experience extremely heavy snowfall – up to 16 meters annually – before the resorts further inland receive increasingly drier powder.
Located well away from the coast, Shiga Kogen lays claim to the driest and best powder in Nagano!
Weather & Terrain
Nagano is home to many of Japan’s highest mountains. Nestled within the Joshintesu Kogen mountain range, Shiga Kogen is Japan’s largest resort with a topography that protects its snow from winds that would otherwise make it icy, while its high elevation sustains lower temperatures and better snow for longer.
Shiga is in fact Asia’s largest interconnected area of ski fields including Japan’s highest chair-lifted ski run at 2307 meters, seemingly endless terrain, and fantastic powder. Shiga’s higher altitude equates to not only better snow but a longer season than most Nagano resorts.
To the west and nestled in the Northern Japanese Alps, the resorts of Hakuba Valley are set against the spectacular background of mountains ascending over 3000 meters making skiing and snowboarding an unforgettable experience.
Located far to the north, Hokkaido is subject to different weather patterns and notably different terrain with far fewer tall mountains. Hokkaido experiences much colder temperatures than Nagano, meaning that the powder is drier and (according to official stats) there is more of it. The higher latitude and colder weather also means that the season starts earlier than Nagano and runs longer.
While Hokkaido claims deeper and drier powder than Nagano, the trade-off is it experiences more overcast days and individual days of snowfall. This means fewer days skiing and boarding under big blue skies and the sunshine which you’re more likely to find in Nagano. Hokkaido’s mountains and resorts also don’t have the elevation of those in Nagano, meaning less vertical and variety of terrain.
Resorts & Access
Both Nagano and Hokkaido have numerous resorts to choose from – you really can’t go wrong with either destination. Nagano is home to more than 30 independent resorts – most within a 1 hour drive of JR Nagano Station and within easy access of the Tokyo airports – with Shiga Kogen, Hakuba Valley, Nozawa Onsen, and Myoko Kogen being the most popular.
As Japan’s most northern major island, Hokkaido is somewhat isolated and can’t compete with Nagano in terms of convenience and ease of access. For international visitors flying into Tokyo, they will then need to take another flight or long (very long) shinkansen ride to the north. Once there, Hokkaido also has numerous resorts to choose from with Niseko, Rusutsu, and Furano standing-out as favorites. Niseko is Hokkaido’s best known resort and extremely popular for international visitors who flock there seeking some of the best snow around , lively apres ski, and excellent accommodation options. Rusutsu and Furano also offer deep powder, attracting more and more visitors each year.
Snow Monkey Resorts Recommendation
We are admittedly biased, but for us, Nagano’s ease of access combined with world-class powder and numerous resorts makes it a great option when choosing where to head this winter. Not only is it much more easily accessed from Tokyo (approximately 1.5 hours by shinkansen or 3-4 hour by private charter), once here, moving between the resorts is straightforward compared to Hokkaido’s more distant, harder to access smaller resorts.
Easy access to other popular destinations including Nagoya, Kanazawa, Kyoto, and Osaka mean that it’s ideal for international visitors wanting to combine their snow adventures with other tourism and explore everything that Japan has to offer! And in that regard, Shiga Kogen stands-out among Nagano’s resorts.
As the largest ski resort in Japan, Shiga’s size, quality of snow, longer season, terrain, and proximity to popular destinations including the world-famous snow monkeys of Jigokudani or Zenko-ji Temple (one of the oldest, largest, and most important Buddhist temples in Japan – as pictured below), make it our recommendation when heading to Nagano this winter.
Whether it’s your first time to Japan or you’ve been before and know just how good it is, we look forward to seeing you here for winter 2018/19!
Multi-day Ski Packages
Snow Monkey Resorts is Nagano’s No.1 Tour operator, offering both 3 night/4 day and 5 night/6 day ski and snowboard packages in Shiga Kogen – the most convenient way to get the most out of your winter adventure in Japan!
Including all-mountain lift passes for the duration of your stay, accommodation at Hotel Mount Shiga, a fine dining experience at ‘Hotaru-tei’ (one of the region’s most renowned restaurants), guided visit to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, and transport from/to JR Nagano Station, our convenient packages take the hassle out of planning your trip and combine the best of Shiga Kogen with all that this beautiful region has to offer!
Getting to Shiga Kogen
Shiga is accessible by public transport from Tokyo and its airports or via JR Nagano Station using the express bus service or train. For visitors wanting the convenience and comfort of their own transport directly to Shiga Kogen (including transfers to and between other Nagano resorts), Snow Monkey Resorts operates a fleet of charter vehicles suitable for single travelers, couples and families, and groups of up to 45 persons.
As a locally-based tour and charter operator, our vehicles and drivers are fully accredited and the best way to get yourself to Shiga and beyond this winter.