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Skiing in Japan

Japan – An Overlooked Skier’s Paradise

Where in the world do you think of as the ideal ski destination? Japan may not feature as many people’s first suggestion, but it is home to a number of world class ski resorts. The best time to visit for skiing in Japan is in January and February, when snow conditions are at their best; though if this does not fit in with your other travel plans, it is still possible to enjoy snow sports between December and April. Not only can you look forward to good snowfall in Japan, the scenery is stunning and easily able to rival that of winter destinations in Europe and America. However, it is not just about what happens on the slopes, Japanese ski resorts have a lot to offer off slope too; the natural hot springs are a must to visit after a hard day of skiing and the growing culture of après-ski is not to be missed. With hundreds of resorts to choose from, whether you want to ski for the entirety of your holiday, combine a few days in the mountains with a tour of Japan or add an active dimension following a Far East cruise, you will be able to find a ski area that suits your needs. While it isn’t possible to cover all the resorts here, we review three of the best areas in which to ski to provide a taste of what a ski holiday in Japan can offer.

Hakuba

Situated in the Northern Alps of Nagano Prefecture, Hakuba is one of the areas most popular with skiers. Here you can look forward to great snowfall and you have various large resorts from which to pick. Nagano hosted the Winter Olympics in 1998 and a number of events were held at Hakuba, including downhill, ski jump and cross country skiing. It is easily accessible from Tokyo, so wherever you are travelling from in Japan, Hakuba is in easy reach. However, while it is possible to take a day trip here from Tokyo, you will miss out on much of the atmosphere and attractions in the resorts if you don’t spend at least one night. Happo One is the largest resort in Hakuba and with 14 runs offers plenty of opportunities for all abilities. First time skiers can enjoy the wide gentle runs at the base of the mountains here and around a third of the runs are aimed at beginners. Those skiers who are more advanced are well served by runs of varying degrees of difficulty, though even if you avoid the black runs prepare to be challenged. If you are however looking for off-piste skiing, this is not the resort for you, as there are very few areas where this is allowed.

Myoko Kogen

In the heart of the Joshinetsu National Park and an hour north from Nagano, this area became Japan’s first international ski resort in the 1930’s and thanks to its high quality powder has remained popular ever since. There are nine mountain resorts around Myoko Kogen and as they all have their own features you will be spoilt for choice; they are in easy reach from each other via a shuttle bus. At 8.5Km, Myoko Suginohara has the largest ski run in Japan and the Akakura Onsen resort boasts the steepest ski run in Central Japan, known as “The Wall”. Off-piste skiers are well catered for in Myoko Kogen, as unlike many other ski areas, you are free to ski wherever you wish. However, younger skiers and beginners are not left out, as there are ample gentle runs; this area is a favorite with families and is very child friendly, everywhere from the hotels to the ski schools, with plenty of childcare options if needed. This area should be avoided if you are looking for a vibrant nightlife, as it is more somewhere to relax with friends and family while you meet the locals and usually a soak in one of the hot springs is the preferred way to end the day; there are a number of traditional bars and restaurants, but it lacks the discotheques and evening entertainment that can be found elsewhere. However, having maintained its traditional atmosphere is part of its appeal, as it provides you the opportunity to get a real taste of Japan. Make sure you have a phrase book or a translation app at the ready, as English is not widely spoken here and restaurants will often not have an English version of the menu.

Niseko

Located 100Km southwest of Sapporo, this resort is probably the most popular with international skiers; English is widely spoken and it is a gentle introduction to Japan. The skiing conditions are hard to beat, not just in terms of the snowfall but the range of runs on offer can keep everyone happy in your group; whether it’s the first time you’ve skied or you have had many previous ski holidays, there are enough runs to occupy any ability of skier, not to mention the options for off-piste skiing. This range of runs is aided by the presence of four interconnected ski areas here, with a fifth – the resort of Moiwa – accessible with an additional lift pass. There is a great nightlife in Niseko, but equally if you want to have a quiet evening, there are enough opportunities for you to do so. Niseko has a lot working in its favor, but be aware that it is very cold when you’re skiing here, as the sun often doesn’t make an appearance; the covered ski lifts and plenty of places selling hot drinks help to take care of this, but look elsewhere if you’re after a tan from your ski holiday.

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