30 Best Ski Resorts in Japan
Let’s face it, when heading to Japan in winter you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to skiing and snowboarding. Boasting over 500 ski resorts, Japan is without question the best winter sports destination in Asia. Each resort has its own character and something to offer making it important to do your research and choose the one – or more than one – best-suited to your level, needs and travel schedule. Japan’s most popular resorts are located in four regions – Nagano, Niigata, Tohoku and Hokkaido.
Host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, chances are you’ve heard of Nagano and its most popular resorts in the Hakuba Valley. But did you know that Sapporo in Hokkaido hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics? Most famous for its hugely-popular Niseko United resorts, Hokkaido is often compared directly to Nagano and Hakuba when choosing where to go.
Both are fantastic and are just the tip of the iceberg when choosing where to head in Japan this winter. The following list includes our pick of 30 of the best resorts in Japan. It does not rank them in order but instead lists resorts in each area that have something to offer. We recognise that when choosing where to go, different visitors prioritise different things and with that in mind, we’ve attempted to include a range of resorts – from the big to the small, challenging to mellow, high-end to local – that cater to a wide-range of tastes and needs. So let’s dive in! Here’s our suggestion of the 30 best ski resorts in Japan:
Lying to the north-west of Tokyo, Nagano prefecture boasts the largest number of resorts of any part of Japan – a total of 85! Host of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, Nagano’s pedigree speaks for itself, attracting skies and snowbooarders from all over the world each winter, who come seeking the region’s legendary powder, friendly resorts and all the trimmings including hot springs, great food and plenty of attractions nearby the resorts.
It is also extremely to reach from Tokyo – not to mention Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka – using the train network allowing you to move around and combine your trip with other destinations.Any discussion of skiing and snowboarding in Nagano has to start with its sleeping giant:
1 / SHIGA KOGEN – JAPAN’S LARGEST & HIGHEST RESORT
Located around 45km from central Nagano City, Shiga Kogen is Japan’s largest and highest ski resort, boasting an unmatched expanse of interconnected terrain and Nagano’s longest ski season. Comprising 18 ski areas and between 90 to 100 courses (depending on how you count them) the entire resort is covered by an all-mountain pass and best enjoyed on a multi-day visit. Shiga’s ski fields lie between 1340 and 2307 metres and as such, are notably higher than any other resort in the region.
Having hosted events during the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, Shiga Kogen hasn’t seen much development in recent years. While some areas look a little tired and are in need of updating, the resort retains its Japanese and distinctly local character. But don’t count on that remaining the case. Winter 2020/21 will bring the opening of the new ‘Pulse’ Gondola at Shiga Kogen Yamanoeki (Mountain Station), a sign that things are changing and the resort is about to become a whole lot more popular as more and more people discover Shiga Kogen – Japan’s largest and highest ski resort.
2 / KITA-SHIGA KOGEN – SHIGA’S LITTLE BROTHER
Nearby Shiga Kogen but not connected, the resorts of Kita-Shiga Kogen aren’t well-known to international visitors but are very popular with locals. Of the fours, Ryuoo Ski Park has the most to offer with some excellent powder up top and long runs all the way back down. Across from Ryuoo, the joint resorts of X-Jam Takaifuji and Yomase Onsen Ski Resort combine to offer around 100 hectares of terrain including X-JAM’s large park with two half-pipes. Easily accessible from Nagano City, Kita-Shiga Kogen doesn’t have the big selling points of the more famous resorts of Nagano but if you’re looking to do something different and go local, it’s worth thinking about.
3 / NOZAWA ONSEN – ONE OF JAPAN’S BEST
One of Japan’s oldest ski resorts, Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort offers skiers and snowboarders around 300 hectares of mixed terrain accessible via 36 trails and courses. By Japanese standards this makes Nozawa Onsen a medium-sized resort which is easy to move around given a good setup of gondolas and lifts. The powder is typically excellent with great fun to be had among the trees in the resorts upper Yamabiko area before heading down along the super-long Kaminodaria and Paradise courses. And at the end of each day, you have Nozawa’s lively village offering some of the best apres in all of Japan!
4 & 5 / MADARAO & TANGRAM – POWDER BOWLS, TREES & BACKCOUNTRY
Lying across the valley from the more famous Nozawa Onsen, Madarao Mountain Resort offers the magic combination of great powder and open attitude to side and backcountry – winning it lots of fans. The resort has 31 courses including 13 official tree runs serviced by chairlifts. Madarao sits in a natural bowl that receives a huge amount of snow each tree. and actively encourages you to get off-piste with its outstanding tree runs, natural snow bowls and leaving around 60% of runs ungroomed. Joint via the upper runs to Tangram Ski Circus – offering another 15 courses including some long and steep black and a couple of tree runs – the two resorts combine to offer a lot more punch than the official stats suggest.
6 / TOGAKUSHI – A HIDDEN GEM JUST OUTSIDE NAGANO CITY
While it may be small, Togakushi Ski Resort is the closest resort to Nagano Station – the main transport hub for people coming to and from the region – and has a couple of things going for it. Firstly, most international visitors don’t know about it so you’re likely to be one of the few foreign faces there and get a warm welcome. Secondly, other than weekends it is typically quiet, extremely quiet. You should have the runs more-or-less to yourself on those days. There’s a nice mix of terrain suitable for all levels with some gentle and wide runs perfect for beginners, while multiple black runs will keep advanced riders entertained. And this is the third point. The black runs on the back side of the resort are steep and left ungroomed. Most people don’t venture down them on days of heavy snow meaning that you can find some truly awesome powder there on days of heavy snow. On clear days, the resort offers fantastic views of the surrounding mountains while traditional ‘ryokan’ (guesthouses) and ‘shukubo’ (temple lodgings) connected to Togakushi’s famous Shinto shrines offer a more cultured snow experience than almost any other resort in Japan.
7 / HAKUBA HAPPO ONE – HAKUBA’S LARGEST & MOST POPULAR RESORT
Sitting at the heart of the Hakuba Valley, Hakuba Happo One is the largest and most popular of the 10 resorts in the area. The resort has only 13 courses serviced by an excessive 22 lifts, but it totals around 220ha of terrain and situated between 760 to 1831 metres, offers more than 1000 metres of vertical and spectacular mountain scenery. Happo One is somewhat unique in that its upper runs are above the treeline with access to some of Japan’s best backcountry. Also boasting a lively village, high-end accommodation including private chalets and a suite of services catering to English-speakers, Happo One is the most popular resorts in the valley for lots of reasons.
8 & 9 / HAKUBA GORYU & 47 – POWDER, PARKS & BACKCOUNTRY
Connected via their upper runs, the resorts of Habuka Goryu Snow Resort and Hakuba 47 Winter Sports Park are also amoung the most popular in Hakuba Valley. The two resorts can be enjoyed using an all-mountain pass – covering a total area of terrain comparable to Happo One and Tsugaike (see below). The combined resorts offers a great mix of terrain with something suitable to all levels, one of Nagano’s best terrain parks – located in 47 – along with some of Nagano’s best backcountry. Hakuba 47’s north-facing direction keeps its powder in better condition for longer while Goryu offers some nice terrain at the bottom for newbies to cut their chops. All-in-all, one of Nagano’s best resorts with some great powder.
10 / IWATAKE SNOW FIELD – GREAT VIEWS & PERFECT FOR FAMILIES
Located nearby Hakuba Happo Snow Resort and the central village, Hakuba Iwatake Snow Field was for a long time, something of a hidden secret. Offering some of the best alpine vistas of any resort in Hakuba Valley and lovely tree-lined runs, Iwatake is hard to beat when the snow is good. Iwatake has 26 ski runs serviced by 12 lifts and although it lies at a very low elevation of 539 to 1289 metres it offers a healthy 750 metres of vertical. Long, wide runs make it really attractive for beginners and families and when the powder is good, intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders will love carving it up. But given the resorts low elevation the snow needs to be good to really get the most out of it. So keep an eye on the forecast and head there when there’s fresh powder on the ground.
11 / TSUGAIKE – BIG, FLAT & WIDE = A GOOD PLACE TO LEARN
Located 8km to the north of central Hakuba Village, Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort is situated between 800 to 1704 metres with an impressive 904 metres of vertical. While the resort only lists 11 ski runs, they are serviced by 20 chairlifts and gondolas and cover a total skiable area of just under 200ha – second only to Happo One for stand-alone resorts in Hakuba. Large open ski runs at the base of the resort make it an ideal place for beginners and newbies to find their confidence, while intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders will find more to entertain them up top, including backcountry.
12 & 13 / HAKUBA CORTINA & NORIKURA – LET’S GET SERIOUS, LET’S GET STEEP
The connected resorts of Hakuba Cortina and Hakuba Norikura combine to offer skiers and snowboarders fantastic terrain, awesome powder and access to steep backcountry. The two resorts can be enjoyed using an all-mountain pass and offer some of Japan’s steepest terrain, maxing-out in an impressive 42° inside Cortina, while in total the two resorts have around 30 runs. Cortina and Norikura offer fantastic sidecountry and backcountry but as always, when it comes to going off-piste in Japan, make sure to follow the rules and consider arranging a local guide. The snow can be exceptionally deep and terrain is steep, a potentially dangerous combination and one best addressed by arranging an experienced guide who knows the area well.
Bordering Nagano Prefecture, Niigata also offers some outstanding boarding and skiing and some of the world’s deepest powder. The resorts of Niigata are effectively split into two main regions – Myoko Kogen and Yuzawa. When planning a visit to the area, it’s important to note that Myoko and Yuzawa are separated by at least a 2-hour drive with Myoko Kogen to the west of Yuzawa and nearby several Nagano resorts including Nozawa Onsen and Madarao.
For that reason, while Myoko is in Niigata it’s easiest to consider it together with the Nagano resorts as it’s much closer to them than it is to Yuzawa. Having explained that, let’s dive into the multiple resorts making-up Myoko Kogen:
14 & 15 / AKAKURA ONSEN & KANKO – MYOKO’S LARGEST RESORT
The combined resorts of Akakura Onsen and Akakura Kanko is the largest resort in Myoko, all covered by one pass. Often referred to simply as ‘Akakan’, the combined resort has around 27 ski runs of mixed terrain. Newbies and beginners will love all the green runs in Akakura Onsen while intermediate and advanced boarders and skiers should head up-top including over to Akakura Kanko and through themselves down some very steep terrain, typically full of massive amounts of powder. Blessed with some of the deepest powder in the world and excellent backcountry, Akakan isn’t as developed as the larger resorts of Nagano nor does it have the nightlife of Nozawa or Hakuba but if you’re all about eating-up some truly epic powder, then Akakan and Myoko are for you!
16 / IKENOTAIRA – THE SPIRITS! THEY’RE IN THE TREES…
Nearby Akakan, Ikenotaira Ski Resort is another resort known for its big powder and plenty of awesome sidecountry. While it’s a pretty small and old resort in need of an update, beginners will love its long wide runs while intermediate skiers and snowboarders can get off-piste and head into the trees. Running the entire length of the very long resort, the forest is mellow with trees well-spaced to get your confidence up without feeling like your moments from doom. Advanced skiers and boarders might find Ikenotaira too mellow but if you’re looking to get-up some confidence in big powder, then it’s a great option.
17 / SUGNIHOARA – ANOTHER TOP RESORT FOR NEWBIES & INTERMEDIATES
Often referred to simply as ‘Sugi’, Suginohara Ski Resort is one of the most popular resorts in Myoko Kogen, winning lots of fans for its long, long tree-lined runs through gentle terrain. Indeed, Suginohara claims to have Japan’s longest run at 8.5km however that’s contentious to say the least as resorts including Nozawa Onsen and Yamabiko Wild Snow Park – both in Nagano – and Zao Onsen in Yamagaata all lay claim to longer courses. Suginohara has 16 courses and situated between 731 to 1855 metres, Suginohara has the highest elevation of any resort in Myoko and offers an impressive 1124 metres of vertical and the longest run in the region at 8.5km in length.
18 / LOTTE ARAI – MYOKO’S LUXURY RESORT
Opened in 2017, Lotte Arai Resort is one of the few resorts in Japan catering exclusively to the high-end market with its large hotel, restaurants, spa and other facilities all designed ensure a comfortable stay. The resort itself is small with little to keep you entertained on-piste however being in Myoko, Lotte receives a massive amount of snow each year meaning that its powder bowls and tree runs win lots of fans. When the snow isn’t good however there’s little to keep anyone but newbies entertained so it really depends on the conditions when you’re there and for that reason, Lotte tends to divide opinions. If you’re looking for high-end creature comforts then Lotte might be for you otherwise, we suggest looking at other nearby resorts.
19 / GALA YUZAWA – SUPER EASY TO GET TO & SUPER BUSY
While also in Niigata, the resorts of Yuzawa are located a fair distance from those in Myoko – approximately a 2 to 2.5 hour drive from each other. It’s a point worth noting if you’re planning to combine them in an extended visit. Basically, you’ll need to arrange a car as moving between them on public transport isn’t easy. But if you’re heading to Yuzawa directly from Tokyo, then it’s super easy. The Joetsu Shinkansen (Bullet Train) runs from the capital to Echigo-Yuzawa Station with an additional, winter-only station located directly underneath the main resort of Gala Yuzawa. Super easy to get to, Yuzawa is unsurprisingly super busy with Tokyoites flocking there, especially on weekends and holidays. One of several resorts accessible from Yuzawa town, Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort is another resort best-suited to beginners. Intermediate and advanced boarders and skiers will likely be quickly frustrated by Gala’s crowded ski runs, lack of side and backcountry and exposed slopes which can get pretty iced-up. Avoid the weekends when the all-inclusive package deals from Tokyo attract too many visitors to the resort or simply head somewhere else nearby. Gala’s ski runs connects to both Yuzawa Kogen Ski Resort and Ishiuchi Maruyama Ski Resort (the best of the three) and from Yuzawa town, shuttle buses will transport you to the following resorts:
20 / KAGURA – BIGGER & BETTER THAN YUZAWA WITH GOOD BACKCOUNTRY
Located around 8km to the southwest of Yuzawa town, Kagura Ski Resort is a decent-sized resort that receives some big dumps of powder. The resort offers a good mix of terrain while side and backcountry are also permitted. Kagura also offers a little more altitude than other resorts in the area, maxing-out at 1845 metres with good snow found in the upper reaches. At much better option than Gala Yuzawa for intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders, it’s worth making the effort to get away from Gala by using the resort’s shuttle bus running from Echigo-Yuzawa Station. Kagura is also connected to nearby Naeba Ski Resort by the super-long ‘Dragon Gondola’ meaning that when considered in combination, the two resorts offer a large amount of varied terrain – a really attractive option! But the gondola is seriously long and for that reason, we’ll consider them as separate resorts.
21 / NAEBA – EXCELLENT TERRAIN PARKS & GREAT FOR FAMILIES
Connected to Kagura via the ‘Dragon Gondola’, Naeba Ski Resort is popular for its good amount of mixed terrain and decent infrastructure. The resort’s terrain parks attract a younger crowd while family-focused activity areas ensure the resort is usually busy. The snow isn’t as good as Kagura and both side and backcountry are restricted, but when considered as one connected area of ski fields, Naeba and Kagura have plenty to keep you entertained and aren’t yet too well-known by international visitors. So if you’re considering a visit to the Yuzawa, especially if you’re planning a multiday stay, we recommend giving Gala Yuzawa a miss and heading to Kagura and Naeba – they have something for everybody.
22 / MUIKAMACHI HAKKAISAN – EPIC POWDER MOUNTAIN
If you’re an upper-intermediate or advanced skier/boarder, then we recommend going a little further afield to the epic Muikamachi Hakkaisan Ski Resort. Not to be mistaken with the unremarkable Hakkaisan Ski Resort and little known to international visitors, Muikamachi Hakkaisan offers the tantalising prospect of steep terrain and deep powder with most of the resort being red or black with some green at the bottom and along the entertaining forest trail, which you bypass through the trees – best-suited to upper-intermediate and advanced riders. Just make sure to follow the rules. Given the amount of snow and steepness of the terrain, backcountry is forbidden (unless you have a guide) and should you break the rules and go out, don’t expect anyone to come looking for you. Quite simply, no one will come to help. So stay within the boundaries and enjoy one of Japan’s true hidden gems!
Of the regions listed on this page, Tohoku will be the least familiar to international visitors. Lying to the north of Nagano and Niigata, this expansive region covers the northern prefecture of Japan’s main island – including Fukushima, Yamagata, Miyagi, Akita, Iwate and Aomori Prefectures.
The size of the area and relative distance between its best resorts mean that it can’t compete with Nagano and Hokkaido however a couple of resorts in Tohoku are building big reputations:
23 / BANDAI – A SOLID OPTION BUT DON’T EXPECT EPIC POWDER
Located in Fukushima Prefecture, the fully-named ‘Hoshino Resorts Alts Bandai’ – let’s just call it Bandai – is a family-friendly resort offering a good range of services aimed at the mid to higher-end ski and snowboard market. Offering around 120ha of terrain across 29 runs totalling 30km of trails, the resort is best-suited to beginners and intermediates. The biggest highlight of the resort is the terrain park with plenty of jumps and hits. Unfortunately, backcountry is banned with limited sidecountry. Avoid weekends when plenty of people head there from Tokyo.
24 / ZAO ONSEN – YOU’VE PROBABLY SEEN THE PICTURES
Best known for its snow-wrapped trees – the frosty Snow Monsters of Zao! Zao Onsen Ski Resort is located in Yamagata,around 4-hours from Tokyo. A medium-sized resort, Zao attracts mostly Japanese, Chinese and Korean skiers and snowboarders and to date, hasn’t found big popularity with Westerners. The resort offers around 300ha of terrain and decent 880 metres of vertical, serviced by over 40 lifts. Best suited to intermediate skiers and snowboarders, beginners will enjoy the resort’s long green runs. Most famous for its snow monsters, it’s worth noting that the striking snow-wrapped trees are the product of regular wild weather which you won’t see in the promotional photos. But wild weather equals empty ski runs so even that can have its positives.
25 / APPI KOGEN – LARGEST RESORT IN TOKOKU
Located in Iwate Prefecture – also around 4-hours from Tokyo – Appi Kogen Ski Resort is a relatively big resort with lots of excellent long, groomed runs. In total, 21 runs offer around 830 metres of vertical with most runs over 2km in length and the longest measuring 5.5km. With a reputation for beautifully-groomed runs, Appi also offers some nice tree zones where you can find some excellent powder. All-in-all, Appi offers something for all levels. There isn’t much nightlife so if that’s important, it might not be for you. But the resort’s large hotel offers so excellent accommodation with the usual suite of restaurants and services so Appi Kogen is definitely worth considering if you want change from the usual destinations in Nagano, Niigata and Hokkaido.
Chances are you’ve heard of Hokkaido or its most famous resort, Niseko. Boasting a very long season and some of the best snow in the world, the resorts of Hokkaido are fantastic and for many, offer the best skiing and snowboarding in Asia.
The most distant major ski area from Tokyo, getting to Hokkaido takes a little more effort and isolates you from the rest of the country. This in turn might limit or restrict your further travel around Japan however if your focus is purely diving into some of the world’s best powder, then the resorts of Hokkaido are hard to beat:
26 / NISEKO – GREAT RESORT BUT SUPER BUSY & EXPENSIVE
Comprising of four resorts – Annupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu and Hanazano – the ski fields of ‘Niseko United’ make-up the most international resort in Japan. Hokkaido’s northern location means that Niseko along with its other resorts receive a massive amount of snow each winter, somewhere between 15 to 18-metres! Nicknamed the ‘Snow Factory’ there are protracted periods when the snow might never seem like it will stop – something rarely experienced in most other countries. For that reason, Niseko attracts hordes of visitors from around the world and over recent years, the villages around the resort are largely aimed to the mid to high-end international market. In peak periods including over Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year, Niseko is booming. Ski runs are crowded and accommodation is very expensive. Offering around 50km of trails and just under 1000 metres of vertical, the resort has plenty of terrain for all levels including some excellent sidecountry. So in terms of quality its very good but it’s the crowded and international atmosphere of the resort that will either win you over or turn you off. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds and dive into a more ‘Japanese’ resort, best to look elsewhere.
27 / FURANO – EXCELLENT ALL-ROUND RESORT
Another resort considered one of the best in Japan, Furano Ski Resort is popular but not nearly to the extent of Niseko and thankfully, retains much more of its Japanese character. Offering just under 200ha of terrain, the resort has 23 ski runs serviced by 10 chairlifts. Like all Hokkaido resorts its elevation is low – situated between 235 and 1074 metres – but its annual snowfall is huge. The terrain caters for all levels including advanced skiers and snowboarders who have access to excellent side and backcountry. The village retains much of its traditional character with a good mix of nightlife and accommodation.
28 / KIRORO – ANOTHER HOKKAIDO POWDER PARADISE
For quite some time, Kiroro Ski Resort was considered something of a hidden gem by skiers and boarders looking to escape the crowds of Niseko. While it is still much less busy the secret is well and truly out and Kiroro now attracts plenty of visitors looking to enjoy its deep powder. A medium-sized resort, Kiroro has 23 ski runs with a good balance of green, red and black terrain. The resort offers some excellent sidecountry and backcountry, lots kids activities and family-oriented services, and good accommodation options making it an excellent all-rounder with lots of powder.
29 / TOMAMU – A BIT OF GLITZ AMONGST THE POWDER
Operated by the Hoshino Resort company – the same company operating Alts Bandai in Tohoku – Tomamu Ski Resort offers a high-end winter experience in the middle of the powder. Tomamu isn’t just a ski resort, it’s an all-round resort with facilities including a 50-metre wave pool, fine dining restaurants and high-end accommodation. That will either appeal or might turn you off but it’s worth noting that the ski fields and powder are very good including excellent side and backcountry. On-piste, Tomamu offers 124ha of terrain split over 29 ski runs and 700 metre of vertical. With lots of services available at the resort including English-speaking staff, Tomamu is a good option when looking for a little extra comfort and things to do off the slopes.
30 / RUSUTSU – BEST RESORT IN HOKKAIDO?
Our final recommendation and often topping lists of the best resort in Japan, Rusutsu Ski Resort offers some of the best powder and tree runs anywhere in the world. Boasting around 220ha of terrain but a modest 594 metres of vertical – from 400 to 994 metres – the stats might not turn you on but when it comes to Rusutsu, it’s all about the snow. Receiving a typically massive amount of powder each year, the snow at Rusutsu is particularly dry and the trees are perfect. Both advanced riders and those just finding their feet in the deep stuff will love the tree zones, where there is typically lots of fresh powder to carve-up. For everyone else, there’s plenty to keep you entertained on-piste with the resort’s ski-in/out hotel well-setup and suited to families. Without the crowds of Niseko and boasting some of the world’s best snow, it’s easy to understand why for many people, Rusutsu is their favourite Japanese resort.