Nagano Prefecture is home to the majority of Japan’s highest mountain peaks and an abundance of snow. Just ask the locals, they’ll tell you the snow here is world class!
As host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano was on show to the world and since that time welcomes skiers and snowboarders each winter – from all over the globe – to its numerous ski resorts and deep drifts of powder snow.
When planning a winter visit to Nagano you are spoiled for choice. Numerous resorts cater for all levels – from absolute beginners to the most advanced – each with their own unique atmosphere and individual appeal. You may well ask, which resort is right for me and how do I get there?
Nagano is home to around eighty ski resorts so needless to say, visitors are spoiled for choice when visiting each winter. Our ‘Nagano Ski Resorts’ page provides everything you need to know about resorts including Shiga Kogen, Nozawa Onsen, Madarao, and the multiple resorts of Hakuba Valley and Myoko Kogen.
For any visitor incorporating a trip to the Jigokudani Monkey Park with skiing or snowboarding in Nagano, the first thing we suggest that you do is look up!
At an elevation of 850 meters, the monkey park is located at the base of Shiga Kogen – not only Japan’s largest ski area but the most extensive ski fields in Asia:
Shiga Kogen is by far the easiest ski resort to access from the monkey by either local bus, taxi, or private car. Comprised of 18 ski areas all covered by an all-mountain pass, Shiga Kogen offers visitors more than 80kms of trails to explore and challenge themselves on – the biggest expanse of connected ski fields in Japan and boasting the longest season and most reliable snow in Nagano.
Given the vast expanse of the ski fields, the time taken to access them from the monkey park depends on your means of transport and which ski area you want to start from. Sun Valley is the closest – only a 20 to 30-minute drive – from the park, while Okushiga – 60-minute drive – and Kumanoyu and Yokoteyama – 60-minute drive – are the furthest.
Our ‘Recommended Places to Stay in Shiga Kogen’ page highlights some of the most convenient areas to stay in the resort, including partner hotels you can include in our ski and snowboard packages.
Reasons to visit Shiga Kogen?
There is something for everyone at Shiga! Those visiting snowfields for the first time will be thrilled by views and quality of snow that make your first days on skis and a snowboard enjoyable and fun, including family activity parks. For intermediate to advanced skiers and snowboarders, you are spoiled for choice, with varying terrain to challenge yourself on including Japan’s highest chair-lifted ski runs.
The real attraction of Shiga is its size. Away from the central areas, you are likely to experience open runs with few other people (particularly on weekdays). The surroundings are beautiful, typified by the vistas from the higher runs and ‘snow giants’, snow-wrapped trees found at the highest peaks. Given Shiga Kogen’s size, we recommend a multi-day visit over which time you can explore its numerous trails and varying terrain.
While Shiga Kogen’s popularity with international visitor is rising it remains most popular with Japanese and retains an authentic, if not somewhat retro feel. Shiga Kogen is the most easily accessible ski area from the monkey park and the most ‘Japanese’ of the larger Nagano resorts. For those who want to focus on hitting the slopes with a huge variety of trails, we highly recommend it!
For further information, see the Shiga Kogen section of our ‘Nagano Ski Resorts’ page.
Located to the north of the Snow Monkey Park, Nozawa Onsen – trails between 565 to 1560 meters – is easily accessible and offers both skiers and snowboarders fantastic powder snow and excellent diversity of terrain with a lively village. From the monkey park, Nozawa Onsen can also be accessed by local bus, taxi, or private car (an approximately 45 to 60 minute drive depending on your means of transport and road conditions).
While further from the Jigokudani Monkey Park than Shiga Kogen, it is definitely worth the visit! Known for its powder snow, abundance of trail options, and fun village atmosphere, Nozawa is well-established as a destination for international visitors with its popularity increasing year-by- year.
Nozawa Onsen offers skiers and snowboarders a range of ski areas – accessed from 3 different entrances – with courses suitable for all levels, comprising 45-50kms of trails serviced by 18 lifts and 2 gondolas. The mountain base area provides gentle slopes for first timers with 40% of the resort comprised of beginner trails. Intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders can cut their teeth on an array of more challenging trails – intermediate 30% and advanced 30% of the resort – powder areas, snow fun park, and half-pipe. It should be noted that despite the terrific powder conditions at Nozawa going off-piste is officially banned.
Reasons to visit Nozawa Onsen?
While the powder and diversity of terrain at Nozawa will keep you smiling during the day, it’s the village that entertains you at night! Located at the base of the ski runs, Nozawa Onsen village retains much of its traditional charm while being well-catered for international visitors. There is an abundance of accommodation options – from hostels and hotels, traditional guesthouses, and private chalets – with numerous restaurants and bars to keep well fed and in good spirits. The village is lively but retains a family friendly atmosphere with touches of the traditional in the form of public onsens (natural hot springs) that are nothing but magic to soak in at the end of day on the mountain. Ski/snowboard rental is readily available along with backcountry tours. English-speaking ski/snowboard schools and even childcare and babysitting options are all available at Nozawa.
Nozawa Onsen is a great destination for those looking for great snow conditions and a range of terrain and trails to explore in a relatively compact resort and village that caters well for families and non-Japanese speakers. But be prepared. Its established popularity with international visitors means that the more traditional aspects of resort are increasingly diluted – to the point that you might at times forget that you are in Japan – and it is likely to be busy any day of the week. Plan ahead, as the better accommodation options can be fully booked well in advance of winter. But do so knowing that Nozawa Onsen is a resort that guarantees great snow, a fun atmosphere, and is well-catered for international visitors!
For further information, see the Nozawa Onsen section of our ‘Nagano Ski Resorts’ page.
MADARAO MOUNTAIN RESORT (& Tangram Ski Circus)
Known locally as ‘Madapow!’, there’s no surprises when guessing what Madarao Mountain Resort – trails between 940 to 1382 meters – is known for – that’s right, powder! Of the three resorts profiled here, Madarao is the smallest with 35kms of terrain across 22 courses serviced by 16 lifts. But don’t let that fool you. With up to 10 to 12 meters of snow each winter and 60% of slopes left ungroomed, this resort comes into its own with its deep powder and liberal approach to off-piste skiing and snowboarding. Unlike Nozawa, Madarao permits and even encourages off-piste and backcountry with gladed forested areas that open up beautiful tree runs.
From the Snow Monkey Park, Madarao is accessible by bus (via Iiyama Station), taxi, or private car. Transport by taxi or private car (approximately 45-45 minutes depending on the road conditions) are the easiest options with no direct buses servicing the snow monkey park from the ski resort. It is however possible and relatively easy to do so via Iiyama Station. Through winter, shuttle buses run between Madarao Mountain Resort and Iiyama Station, and additionally between Iiyama Station and the snow monkey park. While less convenient than taxi or private car, to do so is straightforward and can be arranged on the day.
Reasons to visit Madarao Mountain Resort?
While relatively small, Madarao Mountain Resort is a great option for those seeking the thrill of world class powder in a resort that actually wants you to dive right in! Visitors have the option of lift passes covering just Madarao or an all-mountain pass which permits access to the smaller (and distinctively named) Tangaram Ski Circus resort on the other side of the mountain.
While even smaller than Madarao – Tangaram offers 15 trails serviced by 5 lifts – in combination with Madarao visitors can enjoy the estimated total of 35kms of trails at Madarao across 37 runs serviced by 21 lifts. Tangaram itself is unlikely to keep anyone but absolute beginners entertained for long, however we strongly encourage using the all-mountain pass as it will open-up even more off-piste adventure for you!
Madarao Mountain Resort offers a range of accommodation options including guesthouses and private chalets, across a small but spaced-out village with limited but enjoyable dining and nightlife options. Ski/snowboard rental is easily arranged at Shirakaba Rentals and Action Snow Sports or Sports Academy offer English language lessons and even multiday powder courses! Childcare is also available making it another suitable destination for families. Given its proximity to Iiyama Station (serviced by the Hokuriku Shinkansen line) and its world class powder, Madarao’s profile and popularity with international visitors is quickly rising. Yet it remains most popular with Japanese and being less developed than Nozawa Onsen, Madarao continues to retain its local and distinctly Japanese atmosphere. We regard Madarao Mountain Resort as a great option for intermediate to advanced skiers and snowboarders who want to get off-piste and into the trees, while still catering for beginners and families.
For further information, see the Madarao section of our ‘Nagano Ski Resorts’ page.
Sitting at the southern end of Niigata Prefecture, the resorts of Myoko Kogen are not actually within Nagano however given its closer proximity to many Nagano ski resorts – rather than the other resorts of Niigata to the east – Myoko is often incorporated to into many visitors winter getaway to Nagano.
Myoko Kogen itself doesn’t actually exist but is instead a number of different resorts that are generally referred to using that name. Different people include different resorts under the name of Myoko Kogen but generally it refers to the following: – Akakura Onsen, Akakura Kanko, Ikenotaira, Suginohara, and Seki Onsen.
Myoko experiences a ridiculous amount of snowfall – 14 meters or more per year! – making it a powder paradise best suited to intermediate and advanced skiers/boarders with a taste for deep powder!
Reasons to visit Myoko Kogen?
The ski resorts making-up Myoko Kogen are smaller and less developed than those in Nagano. Most are in need to investment and don’t offer much in the way of nightlife or high-end accommodation. So why do people go there? That’s easy! Because of the snow – massive amounts of snow! Myoko’s location nearby the coast means it receives earlier and bigger dumps of snow than other areas in Central Japan and for that reason, it appeals to many visitors – especially intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders looking to get off-piste and dive into the deep stuff.
While the resorts are in need of some investment and are showing their age, this appeals to some visitors who feel that Myoko feels more local and ‘Japanese’, opposed to the now hugely popular resorts of Hakuba Valley and Nozawa Onsen. When heading to Myoko, staying in and around the central village of Akakura Onsen is a good option, from where you can head to a different resort each day or at least, mix-up the terrain from day-to-day.
In terms of accommodation, there are plenty of ski lodges and guesthouses to choose from. Most are family-run and offer warm and welcoming atmospheres. For families, the central resorts of Akakura Onsen and Akakura Kanko are best-suited, with some nice wide areas to practice on, a couple of kids parks, and day-care facilities. Outside of these two resorts, families requiring dedicated kids facilities including day-care won’t find much. But if you’re looking to go local, go off-piste and dive into some of the deepest powder in Japan, the resorts of Myoko Kogen are calling.
For further information, see the Myoko Kogen section of our ‘Nagano Ski Resorts’ page.
Hakuba Valley is one of Japan’s best-known and most popular winter destinations. Multiple resorts make-up the area collectively referred to as ‘Hakuba Valley’, a spread-out over a wide region with only a handful connected by ski runs.
Of the resorts of Hakuba, Hakuba Happo One Snow Resort is the most popular, central and largest. Having hosted several events during the 1998 Winter Olympics and subsequent FIS World Cup Events, Happo One’s pedigree is well-known and draws visitors from all over the world. With the Olympic Ski Jumping Arena nearby, the spirit of 1998 is alive and well in the heart of Hakuba.
Experiencing between 11 to 13 metres of snowfall each year, visitors are spoilt for choice with the joint resorts of Hakuba Goryu Snow Resort and Hakuba 47 Winter Sports Park combining to rival the popularity of Happo One.
To the north of Happo One, Iwatake Snow Field is one of the most picturesque resorts in Nagano, while a little further on, Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort is a large, stand-alone resort with a good-sized village. Finally, the most northerly of Cortina Snow Resort and Norikura Onsen Snow Resort are connected and win lots of fans for their steep terrain, backcountry and great powder.
In total there are ten resorts making-up the Hakuba Valley, all of which are covered by the Hakuba Valley Ticket. It’s important to note that unlike Shiga Kogen, most ski fields are not connected – only Hakuba Goryu and 47, and Hakuba Cortina and Norikura have connecting ski fields – requiring use of public or private transport to make the most of what’s on offer. However, with so much on offer it’s easy to understand why the resorts of Hakuba are so popular.
Reasons to visit Hakuba Valley?
The resorts of Hakuba are popular for many reasons. Easy to reach from Nagano Station, the resorts attract crowds of visitors each winter especially over the Christmas and New Year periods and every weekend through from opening until close. Hakuba offers a great range of accommodation, dining, and action off the mountain with the most vibrant nightlife of any ski area in Nagano.
Hakuba Valley also boasts the most services for international visitors, including English and other foreign language facilities and staff in many hotels, outlets and restaurants. Visitors with children will find the most services here, with convenient day-care and other facilities catering to the young ones.
Hakuba Happo One is the most popular of the resorts with the joint resorts of Hakuba Goryu and Hakuba 47 coming a close second. Powderhounds often talk-up the northern resorts of Hakuba Cortina and Hakuba Norikura, while Hakuba Iwakate is particularly beautiful and well-suited to beginners, intermediates and groups of varying levels wanting to ski and/or snowboard together. Hakuba Tsuigake rounds-out the most popular of the resorts – another well-suited to beginners.
Visitors looking for a more local, ‘Japanese’ atmosphere might want to consider a different area and should you want to avoid crowds, steer away from Hakuba between Christmas and New Year, and weekends after that, as the resorts can be crowded at times.
For further information, see the Hakuba Valley section of our ‘Nagano Ski Resorts’ page.
GETTING TO & AROUND THE RESORTS OF NAGANO
Use the links above to visit our pages for each resort area including information of how to get there. For many visitors, accessing the resorts via Nagano Station will be the most convenient option. As a stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line running from Tokyo to Kanazawa, Nagano is quick and easy to reach, and from where, you can use public transport to reach the resorts or for groups wanting the comfort and convenience of their own transport, we can provide charters to and from any resort – see below for details.
PACKAGE & SAVE: BOOK YOUR NEXT TRIP TO NAGANO
Locally-based and operating all year round, Snow Monkey Resorts is Nagano’s No.1 tour and charter operator. We have the local knowledge of where and when to go, to help you discover and enjoy the region’s many ski resorts, the Jigokudani Monkey Park or any other regional destination that takes your fancy!
As a registered travel agent participating in the national ‘Go To Travel’ campaign, we can package your next trip to any ski resort in Nagano including transport, accommodation, lift-passes and more!
For guests wanting to access the resorts in the comfort of their own transport, we can arrange a private tour or charter customised to fit your needs, starting and ending at any destination. Our drivers and vehicles are fully certified, allowing us to transport you to and from your preferred destinations in combination with any activity that suits your interests and schedule.
Vehicles are fitted with a protective screen – separating the driver from passenger and luggage area – and our drivers wear protective masks, allowing you to move between your destinations in comfort and safety.
We can arrange both private tours with an English-speaking guide or a private charter, including a private vehicle and driver but without a guide. We’d love to be part of that experience and help you discover even more!
Why choose us?
Awarded a 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for our 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour – recognised as one of the Top 10 Experiences in Japan – we have the local knowledge and experience to help you get the most out of your time in Nagano.
Got a question about visiting Nagano this winter? Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get planning together!