Where to Go During the Snow Season in Japan

Living life fully is something that most people aspire. However, this can be a bit subjective as the way of living life fully varies depending on the person. Many people these days create bucket lists, which are basically lists of goals or things to do or experience, before a certain point of one’s life. Ticking off a bullet in one’s bucket list is a way of fulfilling one’s sense of purpose, by being able to do extraordinary things or by being able to visit different countries or cities. The list can range from being able to eat a certain food to being able to do specific activities such as skydiving or bungee jumping. If you are more of the adventurous type of person, then why not try skiing? Granted that it does not snow all year round and not all places experience snow, but it can be done by planning and saving money for that trip. There are many places where one can snow ski, but among the best places is in Japan. Tourists from all over the world actually set dates on when they will be visiting Japan just to be able to snow ski, as the country truly offers an exhilarating experience.

How Snow Skiing Started in Japan

If there were anything that Japan has no shortage of, it would be mountains. A huge amount of the land area of Japan is composed of mountains. Hence, it is not surprising that  skiing was first introduced in Japan in as early as 1911. It was in Mt. Kanaya in Niigata that Major Theodor von Lerch of the Austrian Army first taught the Japanese on how to snow ski. His “students” then became the first members of the first ski club in Japan. However, skiing only became a sport in the country in the 1930s when Austrian Hannes Schneider came to Japan. The Japanese government at that time paid Schneider to provide lessons on skiing to the public. To paint a picture of how it was done, it is said that Schneider taught skiing lessons in front of thousands of people on Mt. Fuji, even using a loudspeaker for everyone to hear. It was during this time the skiing piqued the interest of the public, thus, the first “skiing boom” happened in the country.

Since then, several ski resorts were established to cater the Japanese people’s budding fascination for skiing. However, skiing as a sport was halted during the World War and only again developed in the 1950’s when tourists from Tokyo began visiting resorts on the island of Honshu to practice skiing. The major turning point for skiing in Japan happened in the year 1956 when Chiharu “Chick” Igaya won the first silver medal in the Winter Olympics in Cortina, Italy. Up to this day, Igaya is the sole Olympic winner in Alpine skiing of Japanese descent. Then, in the year 1972, the Winter Olympics were held in Teine Olympia and Teine Highland resorts in Sapporo, Hokkaido, which was a success and led to another “skiing boom” in the 1980’s. After some time, the Winter Olympics returned to Japan, known as the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. As of today, the country is on the winter sports map and hosts local and international events annually.

Ski Snow Report: When is the Best Time for Skiing in Japan?

Japan basically has four seasons and for tourists wanting to visit the country to snow ski, it is important to know which dates to book a flight. Generally,  skiing season in Japan begins in mid to late December and ends in either late March or early April. However, one cannot just start skiing once snow season starts; the amount of snow is a primary factor in safe skiing. It can be a race of which snow ski resort opens first and there have been some that open as early as late October. Because the amount of snow might not be enough at this time, most resorts utilize snowmaking machines to increase the amount of snow in the area.

On the other hand, people generally anticipate and start skiing in December, although it might still pose a risk due to the amount of snow. There are also resorts that open in late March and during this time, it can be expected that lift ticket prices are lower than usual because of the nearing end of skiing season, which will transcend to “spring skiing” mode. If one still opts to visit a resort until mid to late May, then mostly likely, only the higher resorts would still be accepting guests. To get the best experience and snow quality for skiing, then the best time would be from mid-January to late-February. Because it is the best time, then a busier slope is to be expected.

Visit the Best Skiing Resorts that Japan Has to Offer

Because Japan is famous as a snow ski and snowboard destination worldwide, the country is brimming with ski resorts from the northern island of Hokkaido to the southern island of Kyushu. With more than 500 ski resorts all over the country, it can be quite challenging to find which resorts and snow conditions are best for skiing. However, there are definitely certain ski resorts that are famous for offering the best skiing experience that one can hope for.

The most famous place for skiing in all of Japan is probably in Niseko due to the location having loads of light powder snow. Niseko is definitely a friendly place for tourists and very popular to Australians who have been known to popularize Niseko outside Japan. There are three main resorts in Niseko, namely, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village, and Annupuri. Among the three main resorts, Grand Hirafu is the largest. It has 17 lifts and has a secondary base on the east side of the mountain in Hanazono. The season for skiing in Grand Hirafu is from late November to early May. Strolling around Hirafu Town at night would definitely be a delight, especially for foreigners as there are many tourists visiting the area during skiing season. The second largest resort would be Niseko Village, also known as Niseko Higashiyama in the past. Niseko Village houses two huge hotels, one of them being the Hilton Niseko Village. Located just west of Grand Hirafu, there are also townhouse accommodation and small restaurants in the area. The season for skiing in Niseko Village is from early December to early May. The third resort being the Annupuri resort offers trails that are not as steep or as wide as those in Grand Hirafu and Niseko Village. However, for those who wish for a less crowded resort, then Annupuri is definitely the place for you. The season for skiing in Annupuri is from late November to early May. All three resorts offer a full day ticket for 8 hours, a half-day ticket for 5 hours, and a nighter ticket for access from 4:30pm to 9pm. All of them also offer rentals for those who do not own skiing equipment. If the goal is to visit all three resorts, then one can opt for the Niseko All Mountain Pass to have access to all three resorts; this pass can either be the 8-hours pass or the full-day pass. These three resorts are accessible by bus after alighting at Kutchan Station.

Another popular ski resort in Japan is the Shiga Kogen Ski Area located in the highlands of Nagano Prefecture. With 19 ski resorts joining together, the Shiga Kogen is considered the biggest combined ski area in the country. Because of the size of Shiga Kogen, it would take not less than two days to be able to cover the ski area. On the other hand, one can purchase a single lift ticket that will provide access to 52 lifts, gondolas, and ropeways in Shiga Kogen. The northern part of the ski area was where the slalom and giant slalom events of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics took place, which was hosted by the Higashidateyama Resort. While there is not much of a town in Shiga Kogen, visitors can still relax by stopping by hot spring resorts such as in Shibu Onsen and Yudanaka Onsen after a whole day of skiing. The resorts offer tickets for a full day from 8:30am to 4:30pm, a half day for 4 hours, and a nighter from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. The season for skiing in Shiga Kogen is from mid-November to early May. It is only a 30-minute bus ride from Yudanaka Station.

If one is looking for something different, then Zao Onsen might be the ski resort for you. Located in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture, Zao Onsen is both a hot spring resort and a skiing resort. It is particularly known for having “ice trees” or juhyo in Japanese. Almost every tree in the area takes on varying shapes because of the freezing winds and dense snowfall, hence, the trees are also known as “snow monsters.” These ice trees would be best viewed on mid-Feb. and can be accessed by a ropeway and a gondola. Take a photo with the ice trees to commemorate your visit. The snow monsters are also lit up at night for that beautiful view from the café. Because the resort offers different courses, Zao Onsen is great for both beginners and experts in skiing. It offers 39 lifts and tickets for a full day from 8:15am to 5:00pm, a half day for 2 to 5 hours, and a nighter from 5:00pm to 9:00pm. The season for skiing in Zao Onsen is from early December to early May. This ski resort is accessible by a 40-minute bus ride from Yamagata Station.

Visiting Hokkaido during snow season, it is definitely a must to drop by one of its popular snow resorts, the Furano Ski Resort. There are many snow attractions in the area that would be great for families on tour. The resort offers wide and gentle slopes for beginners and terrain parks and downhill courses for the experts. As it is meant for family tours, the resort also offers a Family Snowland, which offers snow activities like snow rafting, snowmobiling, and dog sledding. Furano Ski Resorts offers 10 lifts and tickets for a full day from 8:30am to 5:00pm, a half day for 3 hours and 5 hours, and a nighter from 4:30pm to 7:30pm. The season for skiing in Furano is from late November to early May. There are two ways to get there, either by car or taxi from Furano Station or by bus from Asahikawa Airports or Sapporo.

Other top-notch ski resorts to check out are Hakuba in the Northern Alps of Nagano Prefecture, Yuzawa in Niigata Prefecture, Appi Kogen Ski Resort in the Appi Highlands in Iwate Prefecture, Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort in Nagano Prefecture, Myoko Kogen in Honshu, and Rusutsu Resort and Tomamu Ski Resort in Hokkaido. For smaller ski resorts, one can opt to visit those in Akita Prefecture, Fukushima Prefecture, and Gunma Prefecture.

Tips on How to Fully Enjoy Your Skiing Trip in Japan

When snow season comes, most people tend to stay inside rather than go around the city or walk in the park because of the cold weather. For the more adventurous ones, they would go skiing during the winter. Now to be able to fully enjoy your skiing trip in Japan, here are a few tips to ensure that you will get the best experience. The first tip is to check the weather forecast before going outside. Although it is generally snowing, there are certain amounts of snow that are needed when skiing. The second tip would be to find the best ski resort that offers courses that are just right for your level of skiing. Usually, there are skiers who post a review and a rating for certain ski resorts. Third would be to visit the ski resort’s website for more information and to check out the best package they offer. Most famous ski resorts have an English website for the non-Japanese user of the website. Because school holidays in Australia are usually in January, the fourth tip is to snow ski either in mid to late December or in February to March. Especially for tourists, the last tip is to ensure that they have travel insurance that covers skiing in case they fall or get into an accident and would need to report this. Always make sure that you are ready before you go skiing, so you can have the best  skiing experience in Japan.