While Japan hosted the Winter Olympics in 1972 and 1998, the Pacific island has largely remained off the radar for Western skiers seeing a prime winter destination. With up to four times the annual snowfall seen in Colorado or Utah, Japan has nothing less than impressive powder. The country holds the record for the deepest snow cover recorded on the planet—not just hundreds of inches, but thousands. Just as impressive as the powder is Japan’s terrain. Because many Japanese skiers prefer groomers, the deep powder often remains untouched. With the slopes gaining more attention from ski media, the time to charter a private flight to Japan and catch the uncrowded powder is now.
The Best Skiing in Japan
Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, has the biggest ski resort infrastructure with the most Westernized feel. Here, you’ll find the most snow, mostly English speakers, luxury hotels and resorts, and international cuisine.
Niseko, like Whistler, has the country’s most developed and visited resorts with four interconnected mountains, 47 kilometers of groomed terrain, and 30 lifts. The trails are great for skiers and snowboarders of all levels, and there are plenty of pistes for beginners. Take an off-trail guided ski tour before hitting Hirafu Town for its amazing après-ski options.
Rusutsu, the largest ski resort in the country, is near Niseko. It offers more skiing and hotels with less of a ski town vibe.
Kiroro has the perfect terrain for experienced skiers and powder junkies and is famous in ski movies for its network of gates that provide access to the side-country. While the area doesn’t have a ski village, it does have a good lift infrastructure.
Where to stay: Hilton Niseko/Green Leaf Niseko or The Kiroro.
Where to eat: Snow Castle
Sticking more to traditional Japanese culture, Nagano offers an adventure for those who want an immersive experience and awesome skiing. Because English isn’t written or spoken much, you’ll find fewer crowds.
Nozawa, a mid-sized ski resort, is the birthplace of Japanese skiing and features two gondolas, 44 trails close to 20 lifts, and Snow Monkey Park. The area gets the heaviest snows in the Nagano prefecture, and Nozawa Onsen boasts the country’s best ski town, akin to Telluride. The hot spring resort town traces its history back to the era of the samurai and drips in Japanese charm.
Shiga Kogen in a national park is the largest resort on Japan’s main island. The area hosted many Olympic events and has a number of large, secluded ski-in/ski-out hotels. Because of its protected setting, Shiga Kogen does not have a ski village.
Madarao is popular for its snow-filled, ungroomed open spaces. The resort was one of the first to clear brush and created designated glades, making it a prime destination for a tree skiing day trip.
Where to stay: Ryokan Sakaya or Shiga Kogen Prince Hotel
Where to eat: Try the in-house cuisine if you’re staying at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, for their kaiseki cuisine. Wanryu Ramen in the village is a hole-in-the-wall with delicious après-ski cuisine (think big bowls of ramen and dumplings).