Japan’s winters are legendary. A combination of big mountains and some of the world’s deepest, driest powder make Japan a favorite destination for skiers and snowboarders from around the world. With the numerous resorts of Nagano and Hokkaido competing for your time, money, and devotion it can at times be daunting to know just which resort suits you and what they each have to offer.
We have previously looked at the Nagano resorts in terms of size – topped-out by Shiga Kogen and it’s 600 hectares of terrain – along with the longest ski runs, where to find the best powder in Nagano and many other factors. With more than 30 independents resorts within easy reach of JR Nagano Station, you really are spoiled for choice and ultimately can’t go wrong.
With the snow falling steadily and as we head into the middle of winter, the resorts are now very busy – a great time to look up and ask, which are the highest ski resorts in Japan?
Higher elevation equates with colder temperatures and that generally means snow stays in better condition or longer. It’s no coincidence that the resorts found at higher elevations have longer seasons – sometimes notably longer! – than other nearby resorts found at lower altitude, making the highest resorts worth venturing to and enjoy everything they have to offer. These – to the best of our understanding – are the five highest resorts in the country!
5. Kusatsu Kokusai, Gunma – 1245m to 2171m – 926m vertical
Nestled with the mountains of Joshinestsu Kogen National Park, Kusatsu Kokusai is notable for the alluring while alarming fact that it is a ski resort on the side of an active volcano, Mt Shirane, and serviced by one of Japan’s most famous ‘onsen’ (hot spring) towns, Kusatsu Onsen. With only 8 chairlifts, the resort is small however its relative isolation allows for runs of up to 8KM with very good vertical at 926m.
Kusatsu Kokusai’s small size and relative isolation mean it’s unlikely to attract you if you’re a newbie to Japan or wanting the best of the bigger, more famous resorts. However, it’s close proximity to one of the country’s most famous and visually striking onsen towns, and the unique attraction of carving the slopes of an active volcano – said to cradle the world’s most acidic lake within its caldera – this little resort located high above will definitely appeal to some of you!
4. Ciao Ontake, Gifu – 1810m to 2190m – 380m vertical
Another small resort offering only a handful of courses but great powder, the distinctively named Ciao Ontake is found on the northern slopes of Gifu Prefecture’s Mt Ontake. Offering 380m of vertical over 5 courses, the resort is the fourth highest in Japan reaching 2190m at its highest point. With the summit of Mt Ontake rising above to a height of 3067m, this is a tiny resort but one known for its great powder and beautiful setting.
Serviced by a gondola spanning 2200m, 90% of the terrain is rated beginner or intermediate and is an entertaining alternative to the much larger resorts of nearby Nagano, best suited to newbies and intermediates. The real attraction is the altitude which combined with the resorts north-facing slopes also equals very good powder.
3. Ontake 2240, Gifu – 1680m to 2240m – 560m vertical
The name says it all! Also located on the slopes of Mt Ontake and rising to a height of 2240m, Ontake 2240 beats Ciao Ontake’s altitude by 50m while offering greater vertical – 560m – and slightly more courses with a total of 9. As another small resort, Ontake’s 2240 appeal is again its altitude, scenic beauty, and the thrill of riding on another volcano. That’s right, Mt Ontake is another active volcano which both torments and tantalizes with its beauty and dangerous nature.
Offering panoramic views of the the beautiful mountain above and some great snow, Ontake 2240 combines with nearby Ciao Ontake to offer some fun skiing at two of the highest resorts in the entire country.
2. Pilatus Tateshina, Nagano – 1763m to 2240m – 471m vertical
Located on the western slopes of Mt Yokodake (2829m), the small resort of Pilatus Tateshina is situated from 1763m to 2240m, offering 471m vertical across its 7 courses. Another small and limited resort, Pilatus Tateshina’s only real note is its altitude and claim to being the second (or third depending on how you classify it) highest resort in Japan.
Despite its altitude, the resort’s geographical location notably to the south of other Nagano ski fields means it does not receive the same snowfall as its more famous counterparts to the north. Known for its greater number of bluebird days and beginner-friendly atmosphere, the resort retains some appeal but with its big claim being its height, which is only topped-out by one resort…
#1. Yokoteyama, Nagano – 1705m to 2307m – 602m vertical
As one of five mountain peaks spread through Shiga Kogen (as discussed below), Yokoteyama is home to the highest chairlift ski run in Japan. At 2307m, it is notably higher than anything in the more famous resorts of Hokkaido, Hakuba or nearby Nozawa Onsen and home to the fabled ‘Snow Monsters’ – snow-encased trees that take on an otherworldly character – of Nagano. With 11.6km of trails and a decent 602m of vertical, Yokoteyama is a favorite for locals and offers some of the best panoramic views of any Japanese mountain resort and is a must-visit for any Japan veteran or those seeking some of the most stunning views against which to drop back down a mountain!
Yet as one of 18 ski areas making-up Asia’s largest resort, Yokoteyama has to share the honor of being Japan’s highest resort as part of our favorite winter destination: Shiga Kogen.
#1. Shiga Kogen, Nagano – 1340m to 2307m – 972m vertical
The numbers and stats that tell the story of Shiga Kogen tend to vary depending on who’s reporting. Let’s just say that Shiga Kogen is big! With at least 79 courses serviced by 51 chairlifts and gondolas, Shiga offers the most expansive, interconnected ski fields in Japan including Japan’s highest ski run at Yokoteyama. Starting at 1340m, the ski fields of Shiga Kogen are steadily rising as most other resorts are maxing-out at somewhere around 1800m. Well at that height, Shiga is just getting started as it ascends to over 2300m, blessing it with Nagano’s best powder and longest ski season – which in a good winter – has you skiing and boarding into May with cherry blossoms in bloom in the valleys below.
As a much loved Snow Monkey Resort’s favorite, Shiga Kogen is our pick of the Nagano resorts. Bigger than any other resort in Japan, Shiga’s expansive size allows you to escape the crowds and head into snow fields of deep powder, kept fresh by the higher altitude of the resort and surrounding mountains that shield it from harsh winter winds. Less developed than other resorts, Shiga retains its Japanese character and wild appeal, with animals including monkeys and deer a common sight as you carve your way across the unending terrain on ‘Ski Safari’.
Shiga Kogen can confidently lay claim to being not just Japan’s largest resort but also its highest, meaning it stands alone as THE DESTINATION for skiers and snowboarders wanting to go higher and get the most out of their visit to Nagano this winter!