Ski Asia's pick of the best ski resorts across Japan, China & Korea.
Traditionally, North American and European ski resorts have attracted more international attention than their Asian counterparts. Over the last few years much of that attention has turned to Japan’s world-class powder snow and, more recently, to resorts in South Korea and China – the countries chosen to host the next two Winter Olympic Games.
Asian ski resorts are now at the forefront of ski travellers’ minds, thanks to phenomenal snow conditions, fascinating cultural experiences and rapidly improving services and infrastructure. There are hundreds of ski resorts to choose from across Japan, China and South Korea, but to make it easy for those who are unfamiliar with the many different options, we’ve narrowed it down to our top 5.
Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort
Nozawa Onsen earns the top mention in our list of Asia’s best ski resorts because it delivers on so many levels. The resort boasts some of the best ski terrain in Asia, huge snowfalls and is one of the most adored ski towns in Japan – packed with character, culture and more than 30 traditional onsen (natural hotsprings). Skiers and snowboarders visit for the snow (an average of 12 metres a season); they return for everything else.
There is simply no better place to indulge in the three quintessential Japanese ski holiday experiences. Spend a day skiing light, dry Japanese powder, followed by a rejuvenating soak in a local onsen and an authentic Japanese meal, and you’ll wonder if Europeans and North Americans are getting the recipe for ski holidays completely wrong.
For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, time your visit to Nozawa Onsen to coincide with the town’s Dosojin Matsui (Fire Festival), an extraordinary display of blazing torches, mock battles and burning wooden structures – all enjoyed with liberal amounts of sake. The festival is held on January 15 each year and is a tremendously popular attraction for visitors, so book accommodation well ahead!
Changbaishan International Resort
Skiing in China is nothing short of a serious adventure, and if you’re planning to make a trip to one of the country’s 500+ ski resorts, then Changbaishan is your best bet. Located in Jilin province and surrounded by stunning national parkland, it is a stark deviation from the bustling, smoggy, high rise-filled picture that many conjure up when they think of China.
Changbaishan has international-quality infrastructure and facilities, with two high-speed gondolas, three six-person chairlifts and 10 magic carpets servicing 43 runs – more than catering for the many domestic (and some international) tourists escaping to the luxury ski destination. It is also blessed with frequent snowfall, a quality that shouldn’t be taken for granted at any ski resort in China (many rely on man-made snow).
Unsurprisingly, a large number of top Western hotel brands have jumped at the opportunity to establish themselves in the ski resort that is commonly regarded as China’s best. Brands like Park Hyatt, The Westin, Sheraton and Holiday Inn can all be found in the resort village, which – with walk-through shopping streets, restaurants and clock tower to boot – has been designed to mimic a Swiss ski village. Luxury alpine living in a very remote part of the world!
Niseko United is hardly the hidden gem it once was, and visitors to the resort can now expect to find high-end Western hotel brands, an international dining scene and an extensive range of English-language services – with a price tag to match. It perhaps no longer offers the authentic Japanese experience that many are looking for (you’ll find more Australian ski instructors on the hill than Japanese), but to exclude it from a list on Asia’s top ski resorts would be to forget why it became famous in the first place.
Niseko United is one of the snowiest resorts on the planet and averages 15 metres a season of the driest, lightest powder snow that you’ll find anywhere. Full stop. A bad season will still deliver the resort more snow than a good season in most places, and for this reason alone it regularly attracts the world’s best skiers and snowboarders.
With the four separate resorts combining to form Niseko United – all skiable on the one lift pass – its terrain is also arguably the most extensive and varied in Asia. Throw in lift-accessed sidecountry and backcountry and world-class night riding, and it’s very easy to see why Niseko is now a feature on the bucket list of virtually every serious skier or snowboarder.
Read Ski Asia’s complete guide to Niseko United.
As the 3-time winner of Korea’s Best Ski Resort at the World Ski Awards, YongPyong has already established itself as one of the top resorts on the continent. It will soon draw the attention of the world, when it hosts the slalom and giant slalom skiing events at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Needless to say, this is a serious ski resort with terrain and facilities to satisfy the most well-travelled riders. 15 lifts service the resort’s 31 runs, which range from gentle beginner slopes to challenging moguls and steeps. Those who like packing as much skiing as possible into a single holiday will appreciate the resort’s night skiing hours, which run as late as 2:30 am during certain periods of the winter.
YongPyong is also home to a mega complex called Dragon Plaza, which is believed to be Korea’s largest ski house. It is essentially Korea’s take on a ski resort lodge, with facilities ranging from the standard lift ticket sales booth, restaurants and equipment rental shop to the not-so-standard karaoke booth, bowling alley, billiards hall, video game arcade and indoor golf simulator. Truly something for everyone!
Asahidake Ropeway is essentially a lift-accessed backcountry ski area rather than a ski resort, earning a mention on this list because there is perhaps no better location to ski Hokkaido’s famed powder. Located in Daisetsuzan National Park in central Hokkaido, it is a magnet for huge snowfalls which, thanks it its inland location, are some of the lightest and driest in the country.
The ski area is serviced by a single gondola (The Asahidake Ropeway), which gives riders access to more than 400 metres of vertical and four marked runs. The marked runs are a starting point from which to explore the resort’s extensive off-piste terrain, which is mostly deep, steep and (sometimes) dangerous. We thoroughly recommend enlisting the help of a guide, as it can be very easy to get lost, particularly on low vis days.
Ski resort facilities, restaurants, bars and shops are all conspicuously absent from the ski town (barring a handful of very basic options), so this is not the destination for après enthusiasts or family vacations. But if you’ve got powder on your mind and don’t need services, facilities or comforts that you’ll find in most other ski resorts, Asahidake might just be your best option.