For those of us up in the northern hemisphere, winter is already in full swing. And for skiers and snowboarders, that can mean only one thing: the snow-covered mountains are calling and it’s a race against the clock to get the most out of them.
Treated to generous snow dumps each winter and coupled with the fact that so much of the country is mountainous, Japan is one of the best locations in the world for ski and snowboarding fun, not to mention some of the best powder snow in the world. But which resorts should you be sure to visit before the powder turns to slush? Check out this list of five of Japan’s greatest, and our favourite, places to ski and snowboard!
It’s still January, so the snow’s not going anywhere quite yet, but when the weather starts to warm up and the green begins to peek through the white we may wish we’d spent more time on the piste and less time thinking about it, so let’s get right to it!
5. Monstrous conditions: Zao, Yamagata Prefecture
Kicking us off is a resort not especially well-known outside of Japan. Zao has been described by foreign visitors as everything from “simply beautiful” to “snowboarding heaven,” and it’s not hard to see why. This place has some of the widest runs you’re likely to come across in Japan, making it perfect for those wanting learn to ski or snowboard or those who want to try out a few new tricks without having to constantly look over their shoulder, but perhaps the coolest thing about snowboarding on Mount Zao are the “snow monsters” that line the runs. As the winter wind blows and droplets of water from the nearby lake come into contact with the snow-covered trees in the area, bizarre shapes are formed and freeze solid, making the mountain look like it is covered with the frozen remains of mythical beasts. Along with the high quality snow that Yamagata Prefecture is treated to each winter, Zao pretty much guarantees good times on the piste. More info
4. Monkey business: Shiga Kougen, Nagano Prefecture
It’s probably no surprise to find a ski resort on our list situated in Nagano, the home of the 1998 Winter Olympics, but Shiga Kougen (or Shiga Highlands) is a must for those who can’t get enough of the white stuff. Spanning a whopping 21 resorts – all of which are accessible with just one ticket – Shiga Kougen occupies a massive 4.3 square kilometres (1.6 square miles) of mountain, making it one of the world’s largest resorts and packed full of variety. The snow quality is of course superb, there’s snowmobiling to enjoy when your legs eventually get tired, oh, and there are wild monkeys that enjoy taking dips in the natural hot springs dotted around the area. Monkeys! What else could you possibly want for? More info
3. Chillin’ up north: Furano, Hokkaido
Located not far from Asahikawa City (which is home to a great Fuyu Matsuri, or winter festival, each year), the Furano Ski Resort is spread over two main areas, both operated by the Prince Hotels Group. There is plenty for advanced snowboarders and skiers to enjoy at Furano, but for intermediates and those still learning the ropes especially this location is ideal, with tons of runs and some amazing powder snow. A word of warning, though: off-piste boarders will be spotted and stopped by the resort’s many hawk-eyed staff, so if you live to dodge trees while carving you’re likely going to have a hard time. More info
2. From downtown: Hakuba Happo One, Nagano Prefecture
Located in the Hakuba ski resort of Nagano Prefecture, Happo One takes our second spot thanks to its wonderful snow and usually great conditions. Just as importantly, though, it is within relatively easy reach of Tokyo, with direct links from the city and Narita Airport (through which overseas travelers usually enter the country), so if you’re visiting Japan and don’t wish to spend your entire time on a mountain, you can blend city adventures with powder fun relatively easily. Happo One boasts 13 pistes that (although lower-level snow lovers will still find suitable runs) are steeper and a little wilder than the average Japanese resort, so you won’t be disappointed, especially if you’re looking for somewhere to level up. More info
1. Powder heaven: Niseko United, Hokkaido
Our top spot, however, has to go to Niseko United. This is, in fact, four different resorts situated on the same mountain, the 1,308.5m (4,293ft) high Niseko Annupuri. Sure, this is in Hokkaido so it will require a little extra effort to get there, but the runs are as vast as they are various, and the powder you’ll find up here is considered some of, if not the best in all of Japan. The area is also incredibly accommodating to foreigners, and, along with dozens of restaurants and bars, there are hundreds of lodges, hotels and guest houses ready to take you in after a long day of snowboarding and skiing. If you only have time to hit one snow-covered mountain in Japan, make it this one. More info
Well that wraps things up for our top five! There are of course plenty more resorts to try, and we’re sure you’ll all have your own favourites, so be sure to let us know your thoughts and share your knowledge with other readers in the comments section below. Have fun in the snow, everyone!
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Five of Japan’s best locations to ski and snowboard