Photo Credit: James Robb
Japan is one of the world’s most epic powder destinations. But, few people know that Japan has the most ski resorts per capita. For a country as populated as Japan, that’s really saying something. Choosing the best ski resorts in Japan from the lot was not an easy task.
Japan has hosted 2 winter Olympics and has been an annual stop on the Freeride World Tour since 2016, solidifying its place as one of the top international ski destinations in the world. With borders opening up, now is the time to find out what everyone is talking about and take Japan off the bucket list.
Whether you’re looking for world-class terrain, incredible views or a unique cultural experience, one of these 7 best resorts in Japan will fulfill your wanderlust.
What Are The Best Ski Resorts in Japan?
Here is our list of the 7 Best Ski Resorts in Japan.
The 7 Best Ski Resorts in Japan
- Best Overall Ski Resort – Hakuba Valley
- Best Powder Ski Resort – Niseko United
- Best Cultural Experience – Zao Onsen
- Best Family Ski Resort – Tomamu
- Best Luxury Ski Resort – Lotte Aria
- Best Onsens – Nozawa Onsen
- Best Intro For Ski Touring – Hakkoda
1) Best Overall Ski Resort – Hakuba
Photo Credit: Events Hakuba
- Max Elevation: 1,830m
- Vertical: 1,070m
- Skiable Terrain: 200+ Runs
- Terrain Difficulty: 35% Beg/ 40% Int/ 25% Adv
Hakuba Valley is the best overall ski resort in Japan. It is a collection of 10 resorts located in Nagano, Japan. It has hosted several international events, including the 1998 Winter Olympics, and is a regular stop on the Free Ride World Tour.
Hakuba may not be the most powdery resort in Japan (though 11m+ of annual snowfall is nothing to shake a stick at), but it has more skiable terrain in one location than any other resort in Japan. With 10 resorts, 200+ runs, 3 terrain parks, and as much off-piste skiing as you can ask for, Hakuba is hard to beat.
Hakuba has a wide variety of English-friendly businesses, including ski schools, backcountry guiding companies, and hotels. Despite catering to non-Japanese guests, Hakuba still retains its traditional Japanese feel.
The wide variety of terrain will suit any group, from advanced skiers to absolute beginners. Families with youngsters will appreciate the wide-open beginner slopes at Tsugaike or the family-friendly lifts at Iimori. While park rats will enjoy lapping the half-pipe and terrain park at Hakuba 47. Powder hounds may spend the day in Cortina’s trees or access the tree riding zone at Hakuba 47 or Tsugaike’s renowned DBD area. For those looking for more of an adventure, Hakuba’s peaks offer 1000m of some of the most intense backcountry powder skiing above the top lifts.
Hakuba is a lovely resort with some of the most magnificent skiing in Japan. It has enough runs to satisfy the requirements of any group of skiers and should be on your list of must ski resorts in Japan.
2) Best Powder Ski Resort – Niseko United
- Max Elevation: 1,308m
- Vertical: 940m
- Skiable Terrain: 200+ Runs
- Terrain Difficulty: 44% Beg/ 36% Int/ 20% Adv
Niseko United is located in the southwest corner of Hokkaido and is about a 2.5-hour drive from Sapporo. The four resorts that make up Niseko United are Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village and Annupuri. Combined, they offer some of the best powder skiing and snowboarding in Japan, with over 200 runs.
Niseko United is best known for its copious amounts of light dry powder snow. On average, the resort receives 15 meters of natural snowfall annually! The light, dry powder is perfect for skiing and boarding and has made Niseko United one of the most popular ski resorts in Japan, especially among international visitors.
Niseko is also one of Japan’s most friendly ski resorts for international visitors. It offers various accommodation types to suit all budgets, a vibrant nightlife, and plenty of English-language services.
3) Best Cultural Experience – Zao Onsen
- Max Elevation: 1,661m
- Vertical: 881m
- Skiable Terrain: 25 Runs
- Terrain Difficulty: 50% Beg/ 33% Int/ 27% Adv
Zao Onsen is one of Japan’s most famous hot spring resorts and has welcomed guests for over 1,000 years.
The resort is located in Yamagata Prefecture in the Tohoku region of Northern Honshu and is about a 3-hour Shinkansen bullet train ride from Tokyo.
Zao Onsen is most famous for its “snow monsters” (juhyo in Japanese) that form when ice and snow accumulate on trees during the winter months. The snow monsters can be found all over the mountain, but a special viewing area at the top of the Zao Kokusai cable car offers superb views.
The traditional Japanese ski town experience with a good selection of ryokan (traditional Japanese inns), onsen (hot springs), and restaurants is unrivaled.
Zao has a long history as a hot spring resort dating back over 1,000 years, and there are many public and private onsen to be enjoyed in the town. The sulfurous water is said to have many health benefits, including easing muscle pain. Something every skier enjoys after a hard day on the hill.
4) Best Family Ski Resort – Tomamu
- Max Elevation: 1,171m
- Vertical: 585m
- Skiable Terrain: 29 runs
- Terrain Difficulty: 35% Beg/ 35% Int/ 30% Adv
Tomamu Ski Resort in Hokkaido, Japan, is one of the most family-friendly ski resorts, with plenty of activities and amenities to keep everyone happy. Kids will love the zone dedicated to make-believe, with stamp rallies, checkpoints, and even playhouses. They also have Japan’s largest wave pool and an ice village with slides, skating, and more. There are two hotels at the resort, Tomamu Hoshino and Tomamu Club Med. Both hotels are ski-in/ski-out and provide a high standard of accommodation.
Not just for the kiddies, adults will enjoy some of the driest lightest powder snow in Hokkaido.
5) Best Luxury Ski Resort – Lotte Aria
Photo Credit: Events Hakuba
- Max Elevation: 1,280m
- Vertical: 951m
- Skiable Terrain: 14
- Terrain Difficulty: 36% Beg/ 36% Int/ 28% Adv
Situated in the Myoko Kogen region of Niigata Prefecture, Lotte Aria Resort is one of Japan’s newest ski resorts. Lotte Arai was shut down in 2006 but re-opened under new ownership in December 2017. The resort was grandly refurbished, reinvigorated, and reinvented with no expense spared. The result is a high-end modern skiing experience unrivaled in the rest of Japan.
Arai Resort averages 15m+ of snow a season. The snow and wide-open powder bowls above the tree line have made it a favorite for powder skiers. The terrain, however, is limited for intermediate and beginner skiers, with large portions of the resort classified as free-riding zones.
Lift infrastructure includes a roomy gondola and 2 fast hooded quad chairs. The upscale hotel at the base provides easy access to and from the slopes and has several restaurants, cafes, and shops. If you want a day away from the slopes, there are family-friendly child care services, tubing, and trampolining.
6) Best Ski Resort for Onsens – Nozawa Onsen
- Max Elevation: 1,650m
- Vertical: 1,085
- Skiable Terrain: 36 runs
- Terrain Difficulty: 40% Beg/ 30% Int/ 30% Adv
If you dream of soothing your tired muscles in an onsen after a hard day skiing, Nozawa Onsen is the ideal ski town. This resort village is famous for its hot springs, which were discovered in the 8th century. After a day on the slopes, you can choose from over a dozen different hot springs to soak in. Most are indoors, but there are also a few open-air baths.
The village has a lovely quaint feel with steam rising everywhere amongst the bustling narrow cobblestone streets and the traditional ryokan inns and shops. At night the main road fills with milling pedestrians, popping into different bars and restaurants.
The ski resort has a good variety of terrain and is renowned for its excellent powder snow. The off-piste and touring areas are also a highlight. There is enough terrain to enjoy for a week-long trip, and it’s close enough to other major Nagano ski resorts for day trips.
International visitors are well catered to in Nozawa, with many of the staff able to speak English.
The Nozawa Fire Festival is a season highlight and one of the biggest in Japan. It takes place on the 15th of January every year and is definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area.
7) Best Intro For Ski Touring – Hakkoda
- Max Elevation: 1,548m
- Vertical: 888
- Skiable Terrain: 8 peaks
- Terrain Difficulty: N/A
Hakkoda is a touring hotspot in Japan. With eight peaks easily accessible from the top of the gondola there is a wide variety of terrain at your fingertips. While the area may not satisfy experts (Hakuba is a better option), Hakkoda is a great experience for those looking for an introduction to the Japanese backcountry. The base of the Hakkoda mountain range is surrounded by a circular road, making it ideal for touring. A vehicle can be left along the road for easy to arrange transport back to the gondola.
Be aware that snow can be pretty deep, and weather conditions can change quickly. Hiring an English-speaking guide is best if you don’t know the area. Make sure to take your avalanche safety gear and a good backpack.
So there you have it, the 7 best ski resorts in Japan. Whether you’re looking for powdery slopes, diverse terrain, or a traditional Japanese experience, there’s a resort on this list that’s perfect for you. It’s time to book your flight, pack your bags, and head over to the land of the rising sun for the ski trip you have been dreaming of.
Hakuba Ski Concierge is a ski school in Hakuba, Japan, offering high-end personalized lessons to small groups and private individuals. We provide great lessons with instructors who go beyond to ensure you have the best experience possible.
Does Japan have good ski resorts?
Yes, Japan has many world-class ski resorts that offer a variety of experiences. Japan has 500+ ski resorts, more than any other country in the world. Many ski resorts are small family-run hills with only 1 or 2 lifts. However, several sizeable famous ski resorts, such as Niseko and Hakuba, offer great vacation opportunities for international visitors.
What is the best month to ski in Japan?
Japan ski season starts in late November and typically lasts until late April. The best powder conditions are usually found from late January to mid-February.
What is better Niseko or Hakuba?
Niseko is world-renowned for its powder snow, while Hakuba offers a more diverse range of terrain. Hakuba is also much steeper than Niseko and has more bluebird days. If you’re looking for pure depth of powder, Niseko is better, but if you want more terrain options and steep, deep backcountry, then Hakuba is a better bet.