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Skiing Japan

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 

Sorry if this has been covered.  I didn't find another thread on this but if there is one please point me to it.


I'm just musing about taking a ski vacation to Japan.  The trip would be more about the country and culture but it wouldn't hurt to get some turns in while we're there.  This is totally hypothetical at this point.


What do you know about snow conditions?  Which mountains or areas are the best?


I'm talking resort skiing only.


Edit:  I did find this but first hand information would be great.



post #2 of 20

I'm skiing in Japan right now. 3 days in Hakuba (site of 1998 Olympic events).  I've had 6 days in here in Niseko, two more to go.  Lots of details and pictures in TR's here: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewforum.php?f=5


http://www.snowjapan.com/. has archives of daily snow reports going back to 2003.

post #3 of 20
post #4 of 20



I've just spent January in Japan with my wife and 12 year old daughter, and it was the best ski vacation - and arguably the best vacation of any kind - we've ever had (beating trips in recent years to Colorado (Aspen/Snowmass and Vail/Beaver Creek), Utah (DV and PC), Wyoming (JH), France (Courchevel) and Switzerland (Zermatt), which probably sounds like boasting but I'm just trying to give you a sense of the comparison set).


In addition to the skiing, which I'll get to, we spent some time in Tokyo (which was mind-bogglingly good fun, manic but still somehow quaint and friendly and despite everything all still on a human scale). We didn't visit Kyoto on this trip, but my wife has on a previous trip and says it offers a nice cultural counterpoint to Tokyo.


We skied in a number of different resorts on Honshu and Hokkaido. The highlights for us included the resorts around Myoko Kogen in Niigata Prefecture in western Honshu about 3 hours from Tokyo by a combination of Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Nagano and then local train to Myoko. There is a fantastic international ski school (Myoko Snowsports) in the Akakura Onsen village, which is a great base in a region that doesn't see a lot of western visitors, not yet anyway. However, that is changing quickly as Australians especially are starting to see Myoko and some of the other Honshu resort areas as more authentic alternatives to the more beaten path to the Hokkaido resorts.


We had great sking at Akakura Onsen, Akakura Kanko and Suginohara, linked resorts that run down different sides of Mt Myoko (Myoko San), a dormant but not extinct volcano that supplies all the thermal hot-springs in Akakura Onsen (onsen = bath = heaven at the end of a ski day, once you get over the culture shock of public nudity). And we had perhaps even better skiing when our Myoko Snowsports instructor drove us just 20 minutes in different directions to Seki-Onsen (a crazy little two chair family-run area where the lift ticket office is a lounge-room window and we found chest-deep powder in the trees with just the three of us skiing) and to Madarao/Tangrem (a truly magical little resort just over the 'border' - the border is invisible if you don't know to look for it - in Nagano Prefecture.)


The amount of snow in these resorts is jaw-dropping. We woke on at least three mornings in a week in Myoko to more than a metre of fresh snow. And there was always at least a few inches of something new over the top of the groomers and never more than a day or two between bigger dumps which meant there were always fresh tracks to be had in the trees. Some of the more world-weary locals might tell you the snow's a little heavier on the Niigata side (as opposed to the Nagano side), but only by Japanese standards. Even the 'damp' side was deeper and dryer than any snow I've skied anywhere in the US.


The terrain in the western Honshu resorts (which are in the Japanese Alps) is all you could ask for, and the scenery - when the weather clears - is alpine spectacular, although obviously there's a trade-off between the frequency of the snow and the quality of the light. One really interesting aspect of skiing in Honshu is the lack of crowds. You definitely get the sense that the ski industry has struggled in Japan as the economy has struggled. The resorts seem to have been built for a much larger skiing population (local skiing numbers are apparently down by 50% or more on 10 years ago), and some of the infrastructure looks a bit jaded and dated, but when you're in the right frame of mind that can be pretty charming as well.


Hokkaido, which I think in other respects has always been the poor cousin of Japan's islands, has by contrast a thriving ski tourism industry, thanks in part to Australian investment and the antipodean appetite for skiing in what is roughly the same timezone during the Southern Hemisphere summer. After our own quintessentially Japanese skiing experience in Myoko, I half-expected not to like Niseko, which is the resort in Hokkaido that attracts the most international visitors, a couple of hours by coach or car from Sapporo (or New Chitose airport). We'd heard it was over-run by obnoxious Australian lifties and snowboarders ;-), and that while the snow was good, the terrain was said to be less inspiring.


But in fact we loved the place and the mountain. Niseko is definitely more developed than Myoko, and there are certainly more Westerners, but you never forget that you're in Japan, and I was much less ashamed of the behaviour of my fellow Australian visitors than I feared. We had a great powderguide (Toshi from Niseko Kutabuki, a tiny ski shop in Niseko Village) who showed us around the various linked resorts and then helped us find fresh tracks in the side country even days after a storm. And when there was fresh snow, it was honestly lighter than any snow I knew fell anywhere on the planet. We were skiing in waist deep and in some places practically bottomless powder that offered no discernible resistance. We made the short hike (30 mins) above the gate to the top of Mt An'napuri after good dumps and had runs that I think I will replay in my mind as I fall asleep for the rest of my life. 


Many of the Japanese mountains and resorts, especially in Hokkaido are surprisingly low altitude (less than 1,500m summits!), but the vertical is still often 1,000m + because it snows right down to sea level (the views from the top of the Niseko resort(s) on a sunny day (rare) to the Sea of Japan and the frozen white coastline are breathtaking).


I couldn't recommend Myoko and Niseko more highly, and I'd be happy to retrace our steps exactly on the same trip next year. However our instructor in Myoko told us - just quietly - that his favourite resort area in Honshu is Shiga Kogen in Nagano Prefecture (not that much further from Myoko than Madarao), and that on Hokkaido there are several resorts closer to Sapporo than Niseko with even better quality snow. His suggestion was, rather than stay in a ski resort at all, stay in the cities (Nagano and Sapporo) and travel short distances each day to different resorts (each city has dozens of resorts within an hour's easy drive). He thought we might enjoy the greater range of cultural diversions in the cities, but to be honest we found ourselves completely immersed in Japan and all things Japanese in the little villages we were skiing in and around everyday and eating in every evening. 


And I've really only talked about the skiing. I'd go back for the food alone, which was unbelievably good everywhere, even in the most remote villages. And for the people, who are not just unfailingly polite, but disarmingly thoughtful and charming and accomplished (our wonderful instructor in Myoko - Shimpei - was a genuine renaissance man). And for the sense of craft and care and the reverence for nature and tradition, but also for progress that is apparent in every aspect of Japanese life.


If you're even thinking about it, I'd say you're the kind of person who'd love it.

post #5 of 20

Anthony17,thanks for the review and insights. Sounds wonderful. Skiing in Japan will go on my "bucket list."

Did you put the trip together yourself or work through a travel agent?



post #6 of 20

Great stuff Anthony, thanks.  I too have just put Japan skiing into my life plans.

post #7 of 20

Yep, definitely a place I will have to visit after reading this!

post #8 of 20

Hi David,


We had a lot of help from friends who'd visited in previous years and then we booked flights, rail passes, transfers, lift passes and accommodation in the resorts through an Australian company called Deep Powder Tours. They have an office in Niseko, but they also knew a fair bit about the bigger Honshu resort areas. We booked our hotel in Tokyo (Claska) directly based on the recommendation of a friend. We were nervous about all the rail connections, and we have almost no Japanese, but the public transport systems are incredibly well-organised and signposted (with continual bi-lingual announcements and real time digital routemaps on trains and subways), so it was really easy and inexpensive to get around.


Carting skis between resorts and cities and islands could get awkward, but there's a great courier service called Takkyubin (Black Cat), with counters everywhere (airports, trainstations, postoffices, convenience stores, hotels), that takes skis and other oversized luggage practically anywhere in Japan usually overnight and for a ridiculously small fee. Tom and Nozomie at Myoko Snowsports told us about that service when we booked lessons and guiding with them a couple of months before we arrived, and in fact they helped us tremendously with many other travel tips before and during our stay. I can't speak highly enough of their operation, and the quality of their employees. Our instructor in Myoko - Shinmpei - literally became our travel guide for a week, driving us to different ski areas each day, visiting favourite local eateries for late lunches on the way home, and all for less than it would cost to join group lessons or a mountain explorers program at a North American resort. 


The only phrase we really needed to find our way around, other than simple greetings and thankyous was 'Do you understand English?' ('Eigo ga wakarimasu ka?'). The answer was usually a very modest 'a little', with fingers held up in a pinch. But people almost always knew enough English to help us, and even when they didn't their desire to help usually overcame the language barrier.



Edited by anthony17 - 2/2/11 at 4:00pm
post #9 of 20


Thanks for your kind and detailed reply. I have already told my wife that she should sharpen her chop sticks skills for next year.


Warm regards,


post #10 of 20

Time for a bear meeting 2012 in Japan? biggrin.gif

post #11 of 20

Le's Go Nagano!

post #12 of 20

I was also in Japan 9 days in summer 2009 http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=8113.  I used the luggage courier service then to send bags fro Kyoto to Tokyo while I spent a day in Hakone and another climbing Mt. Fuji.  This time I did lug all of my stuff on the trains from Tokyo to Hakuba to Niseko and back to Tokyo.


I would have liked to get a couple of days in at those 2 resorts near Sapporo but that didn't work out.  I was well educated before the trip by snowjapan.com on the quantity and incidence of snow but was most impressed with quality.  The snow was light and dry down to base elevations, and in the sidecountry 6 days after the last major snowfall.  When it started dumping insanely at the end of my trip there was actually too much powder relative to the pitch of the open runs/trees to keep moving by my last day.  The storm continued in Niseko 2 more days after I left for a total of 190cm in 4 days.


In Hakuba I skied half a day with a guide Bill Glude who lives there 2 months every winter http://www.alaskaavalanche.com/About_US.html.  He mentioned that the Honshu resorts closest to Sea of Japan get noticeably more snow (specifically mentioning Niigata Prefecture) than the 350 inches the Hakuba areas do.  Areas farther inland like Shiga Kogen get much less though. 


I talked to quite a few Aussies.  Their airfare to Tokyo is very cheap, so Honshu resorts are a great deal for them.  I was impressed enough to consider going back, but when you live in the western U.S. the cost equation is a lot different than for the Aussies. 


As I've mentioned elsewhere the snowfall is highly concentrated midwinter, 2/3 in December/January vs. 35-40% in western North America.  January being prime season in Japan is a point in its favor IMHO. For many Europeans and North Americans prime season in their home resorts or favored destinations is February/March, so less opportunity cost in traveling so far. A couple of Europeans asked me about ski bumming a whole season in Japan or North America. I told them to do both, leave Japan by February 15 and spend the rest of the season in North America, Salt Lake if they wanted to live somewhere for a couple of months and not pay resort lodging prices.

post #13 of 20

Hi Tony,


Your guide was right about the amount of snow in Niigata. We were literally buried in our week in Myoko. Our instructor actually explained his preference for Shiga Kogen as being partly on account of it not receiving so much snow. He was also a racer and coach, so I think he liked to see and ski different conditions over the course of a season. Plus Shiga Kogen is quite a bit higher than the Niigata resorts, so the snow sticks around a lot longer (into May).


But when you're trying to get your fill of deep skiing in a few short weeks in January (to fit in with the Australian summer school holidays), let it snow I say. Niigata and Niseko fit the bill for us.


However, we did talk to an Australian couple when we were at Madarao (Nagano) who had been in Zao (the snow monster resort in Northern Honshu) the week before, where they'd had so much fresh snow (something like 6 metres in a week), that they'd basically had to close not just all the gated areas but practically all the ungroomed runs as well. So you can have too much of a good thing!



post #14 of 20


you can have too much of a good thing!

That was my last day in Niseko: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=9402

post #15 of 20

I usually go skiing in Japan once a year for the last 10 years. My Japanese friends told me that the prefecture of Nagano and Hokkaido have the best snow in Japan, and I agree with them.


The best powder in Japan is in Hokkaido and the three resorts to go skiing are Niseko, Rusutsu and Furano. Access to Niseko and Rusutsu is easy, there is regular bus service from the airport front door.


The resort to go to in Nagano is Shiga Kogan, it is the largest ski resort in Japan, getting there is a bit tricky unless you go there by taxi (4 hours drive).


Other popular ski resorts in Japan are Hakuba (a bit dis-jointed), Naeba and Zao.


You can easily google the above resorts for more information.

post #16 of 20

I'm going to Japan for the first time later this month.  I'll have 5 ski days in the Nagano/Hakuba region.  It's with a ski club, and below is the suggested itinerary of mountains - I have the flexibility however to go to any of the 9 or so mountains in the Hakuba "family", so I was wondering if the forums had any recommendations of mountains that I should spend more time on, or mountains I should just skip.  (I am totally open to skipping a mountain and doing another mountain more days if that's the better approach)


What do you guys think? 


Any other recommendations or points of advice about skiing in this region will be well received as well.


Hakuba 47


post #17 of 20

Make sure and learn a little bit about the Japanese language and culture. Just get a pocket translator, or booklet with key phrases. It's surprisingly easy, and you should be able to pick it up quickly. Thankfully most signs have English characters under them, so it's fairly easy to get around. I used to go to Japan quite often, and what I found is that if you show just the slightest bit of effort to speak their language, they will go out of their way to help you, and I experienced nothing but graciousness and hospitality. Unlike most countries I've been to, I found that very few people seemed to know much English, but that never seemed to be a problem. Although huge, their public transportation is amazing, and makes it very easy to get wherever you need to go.  Have fun! I need to make it back out there for skiing someday.

Fun fact: Tokyo subways at rush hour only suck for anyone shorter than 5'. I'm 6'0, so was easily the tallest person around, so while the subways were packed like sardine cans, I had all the breathing room in the world. Haha.

post #18 of 20

Off to Japan (Nagano area) tomorrow.  Reports to follow!

post #19 of 20

My wife and I own Hakuba Luna Hotel, a 16 room hotel at the base of the Sakka lift in Hakuba Happo-one (pronounced o-nay).


Our website has some good information on Hakuba as well as the hotel itself.


The website is www.hakubalunahotel.com

post #20 of 20



There are masses of info on threads, like the one above, over on www.ski.com.au 's travel forum. 


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