Almost two thirds of Japan is covered with mountains and hills. In the month of November, rain turns to snow which settles on mountainous slopes from Hokkaido to Honshu’s Alps, and in the months of winter, Japan claims some of the best skiing and snowboarding sites in the world.
Many people who don’t know about the delights of a Japanese winter are really amazed to hear about how much snow falls in the many of the mountainous regions of Japan.
Here’s the thing. Japan offers some of the most wonderful ski and snowboard experiences out there.
We are not unfair, honest!
There are number of reasons for this – consistent snowfall; often exceptional powder conditions; massive amounts of snowfall; varied and challenging terrain; many are easily reachable by car and train; literally hundreds of resorts, natural ‘onsen‘ hot springs to immerse in after a day on slopes, to name just a few.
In the recent years, the ski slopes of Japan have started to be internationally recognized as a major destination for the skiers and snowboarders.
In this introductory guide, we want to give you some information about the winter sports in Japan.
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Niseko is located in the western Hokkaido, it is one of the world’s premium ski resorts, globally well-known among snow-fans for the excellent quality and quantity of its crisp, fleecy, three-meter deep powder snow. Almost 700,000 skiers and snowboarders visit there every year.
In the language of Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu people, Niseko means „sheer cliff”. As the name proposes, Niseko’s main attraction has always been its tremendous mountain scenery. In the east, the perfect cone of Mt. Yotei flies high into the heavens; Niseko Annupuri is in north, which is the highest peak in a volcanic chain. Shiribetsu River flows between these mighty mountains, one of the most attractive unspoiled rivers in the Japan. The river presents a breath-taking sight in the warmer months, swelled by the snow-melt and reflecting the surrounding magnificent mountain scenery just like a mirror.
“There are four main ski resorts spread across the hills of Niseko Annupuri, and this provides the region, a rich range of miscellany and variety for the skier. Niseko Annupuri International Ski Resort is well known for its long steady slopes set between growths of the trees, offering a course suitable for everybody from beginners-level to expert-level skiers. At Niseko Grand Hirafu Ski Resort, visitors can enjoy spectacular close-up sights of Mt. Yotei as they ski.” said by Hamaguchi Kendo of the Niseko Resort Tourist Association.
Over the past era, the exceptional quality of the snow at Niseko has attracted extensive attention from the foreign skiers and snowboarders. And bringing the huge of visitors from New Zealand and Australia to Niseko’s slopes during southern hemisphere summer. Asian visitors have been gathering to Niseko in recent years for their very first taste of skiing. In the near future, Niseko might became a truly international winter sports resort.
Furano is also one of most famous ski resorts in Japan, though comparatively little is known about it outside of Japan. Located in the middle of Hokkaido, Furano welfares from the Siberian storm systems that pass by the Sea of Japan and then put away the lightest and driest snow in all of the Hokkaido, and 9 meters of it each season. After a huge snow fall, usually there is untracked powder for days.
Furano Ski area is made up of two zones, Kitanomine zone (Mid. Dec – Late Mar) and Furano zone (Late Nov – Early May). Both areas have a many lodging options and the town of Furano is just a 3 min shuttle from Kitanomine region and a 6 min shuttle away from Furano region, and is home to a huge collection of restaurants and bars and there are all the services you would imagine to find in a town. Both of the zones can be accessed on the one pass and are serviced by 11 lifts. Furano has a plenty of varied landscape for every level of the skier and snowboarder and a vertical drop of higher than 950 meters making it the steepest mountains in the Hokkaido.
Surrounded by Hokkaido’s stunning Daisetsu-zan National Park, Furano is really a world-class resort and it is an evidence to the mountain and the quality of the snow that it has 10 times hosted the FIS Downhill World Cup and often hosts National and International ski and snowboard events which includes the 2005/2006 Snowboard World Cup. Japan’s most of top skiers choose to base themselves here because of the great conditions and exciting mountains.
Hakuba, situated in the Northern Japan Alps of the Nagano Prefecture stands out as one of the finest winter resort areas in Japan. It is one of the most famous ski areas due to its snowboard slopes, good territory, vertical rise advance ski and thick snow.
Hakuba has hosted many Olympic functions during the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics and some Olympic facilities still exist in the area like Hakuba Ski Jumping Stadium, Olympic museum and Hakuba Olympic Memorial Hall which is just a walking distance from the ski jump.
Hakuba claims some of the highest snowfall levels in the Japan with an annual base of snow higher than 10 meters hence, makes it a favorite region for the skiers and snowboarders. It is not only a good choice for pros but also for the beginners. Ski and Snowboard teachings are also available for the beginners who are looking to getting into the sports. Lessons are conducted both languages, English and Japanese. Gear payments is also available in resorts around Hakuba valley.
Shiga kogen, Nagano
Shiga-kogen Highlands region is in northeastern part of the Nagano. It has a mountainous landscape that is scattered with more than 70 ponds and wetlands. From the spring to fall, more than 500 types of mountain plants bloom in this region, creating an inspiring spectacle.
Tourists can experience Shiga-kogen’s natural wonders at Higashi-Tateyama-kogen Shokubutsu-en (mountain Plant Park). The park’s most remarkable attractions include orange-yellow day lilies that usually bloom from mid to late July. Another natural attraction is the Yokoteyama Observation Deck, which is 2,305 meters over the sea level is Shiga-kogen’s highest point. Accessible in only about 10 minutes using the Skylator and the Natsuyama Lift, it gives the views of Shiga-kogen, the Northern Alps, the Kusatsu-onsen Hot Spring area and even Mt. Fuji.
The Shiga-kogen Highlands are also recognized as a venue for skiing and some other winter sports. The neighbor Yudanaka-Shibu-onsen-kyo Hot Spring Village and natural hot springs situated in the Shiga-kogen Hilltops are perfect places for the tired visitors to take rest after sports, nature walks, or some other activities.
Appi kogen, Iwate
Located in the Appi Highlands in Iwate Prefecture.It offers powder snow and 21 wide, long ski courses, which includes groomed and ungroomed runs and mogul lands. This ski resort is a winter sports heaven for the skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels. The ski courses are situated mostly along the slopes of Mt. Maemori (1305 meters), with the two runs on adjacent Mt. Nishimori (1328 meters). Observation points at the top of both mountains offer exceptional views of the surrounding mountain range during clear days, particularly of Mt. Iwate and Mt. Hachimantai.
Other attractions are Snow Park with rails and other hurdles for snowboarders to try out stunts, a family park with sledges and mini courses for the children to enjoy the snow. A resort center is situated at the foot of the slopes where rental equipment, restaurants and a ski school are available.
Ski areas suitable for the advanced users are all located high from the resort base, while the easy ones are all close to it, with a „no-man’s land” of somewhat flat terrain where it is essential to pole or tuck to keep moving. So the action is very organized here.
Zao, is a mountain park that is located in the Zao Mountain Range. You can really enjoy the beauty of nature there, especially when you visit the locations like the mysterious Okama hollow lake, also known as Goshiki-numa. It is well known for its variable water colors which can change many times a day. Also well-known is the Zao Shizen-shokubutsu-en, a treasure house of mountain plants. On the ropeway car, you can really take a bird’s eye view of the complete Yamagata Basin.
If you favor outdoor sports, enjoy camping and trekking among the lush greens of spring or the red leaves of autumn, you should take a lesson of horse-riding at the International Horse Riding Club. In winter, Zao changes into a mecca for the winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. Descendant slopes through the clusters of ice-covered coniferous trees is really exhilarating!