Japanese ski resorts offer a host of options for those new to the sport of skiing.

Japan is the perfect holiday destination for a beginner skier or snowboarder. There are no other countries in Asia that offer the same combination of high quality snow, ideal beginner terrain and international standard guest service. Japanese ski resorts also offer a range of other activities, both on and off the snow.

The Snow

First and foremost, Japan is known for the fantastic quantity and quality of its snow. This makes it the perfect destination for a first time skier or snowboarder. The cold Siberian winds sweep southwards over the Sea of Japan where they collect their payload of powder. The mountains of Japan are conveniently placed to intercept these snow filled clouds. As a result, over the course of a Japanese ski season, resorts will regularly receive over 10 metres of snow.

Beginner skier

You’ll fall a lot as a beginner skier! It’s all part of the fun…

Not only is the snow abundant, but the flakes have a remarkably low water content. This type of snow makes learning to ski or snowboard relatively easy, in contrast with the often icy conditions in the resorts of Europe, Australia and New Zealand, which can make your first time on snow a misery. The slopes are both unforgiving and painful, a poor combination for beginners. Instead, the Japanese snow will open your eyes to the wonders of snow sports in a way other countries cannot compete with.

The Slopes

The ski resorts of Japan are blessed with fantastic beginner friendly slopes. In general the mountains of Japan are less severe than their North American or European counterparts. It is difficult to find enough suitable beginner terrain in these larger mountain ranges, amongst the high altitudes and steep gradients. These mountains depend upon their extreme altitude to generate the temperatures necessary for snow to fall.

While the mountains of Japan are modest in comparison, with few higher than 2,000 metres, they do not rely upon altitude for their snow. This means that many of the slopes are found on the lower angle aspects of the mountains.

Beginner skier tips

The northern island of Hokkaido is blessed with many gentle slopes that are perfect for capturing the imaginations of first time skiers and boarders.

It is important when learning to ski or snowboard to develop skills in the appropriate terrain. Attempting an advanced or intermediate slope as a complete beginner may end a promising snow sports career before it has even begun. This is where Japan shines, providing some of the best beginner terrain in the world. In particular the northern island of Hokkaido is blessed with many gentle slopes that are perfect for capturing the imaginations of first time skiers and boarders.

The Cost

At first glance a ski holiday to Japan can seem expensive, however skiing in Japan is considerably cheaper than North America, Australia or Europe. In many ways, Japan is the optimal venue for a beginner to dip their toe into snow sports without breaking the bank.

In general, lift passes in Japan are significantly cheaper than elsewhere around the world. Niseko United has the most expensive single-day lift ticket in Japan and it is only ¥7,400 (approximately 65 USD). The majority of these lift tickets will include night skiing, meaning that you get even more potential ski time than in other countries where night skiing is much rarer.

ResortSingle Day Pass – Adult (¥)
Niseko United (Japan)7,400
Rusutsu (Japan)5,800
Kiroro (Japan)5,500
Vail (USA)20,890
Mt. Buller (AUS)10,260
Fernie (CAN)8,788

Accommodation options in Japanese ski resorts range from expensive Western-style resort hotels to much cheaper Japanese-style rooms. It is certainly possible to find budget accommodation in most Japanese ski resorts nowadays. It is also entirely possible to eat well in Japan on a low budget. Many of the small restaurants found in Japanese ski resorts provide excellent food for surprisingly low prices and the convenience stores offer a great fast food alternative.

The Ski Schools

In recent years there has been a massive increase in the number of international ski schools throughout Japan. As professional ski instructors from around the world have rushed to experience the famous Japanese snow, the standard of instructing has risen correspondingly. It is now common for a ski resort to have a host of ski instructors capable of teaching in English, Chinese and Japanese. As a result the Japanese resorts are now able to accommodate guests from all over the world wishing to make their start in the sport.

Tim from the Hokkaido Ski Club

Hokkaido Ski Club instructor, Tim, teaching a lesson on Niseko’s beginner-friendly Family run.

The Activities

Japanese resorts usually offer a tremendous array of activities to guests. Deciding to spend your holiday in a Japanese ski resort does not limit you to only skiing or snowboarding. There are usually plenty of both indoor and outdoor activities that are both adult and child friendly, ranging from adrenaline filled snowmobiling and snow-rafting to the more relaxed tea ceremony.

No trip to Japan would be complete without an onsen experience. These Japanese “hot spring” baths are a wonderful way to relax following a long day on the slopes. Wherever your holiday takes you there are bound to be a variety of indoor and outdoor onsens nearby the resort.

Onsen, Niseko Japan

There’s no better antidote for sore and tired muscles than a post-ski soak in a Japanese onsen.

The Resorts

We recommend the following resorts for beginners:

Niseko United

Four resorts covering one mountain. This ski area has boundless potential for first time skiers and boarders. The Niseko Village area has recently upgraded its lift system and built a new beginner specific run, providing great access to easy terrain. While the Hanazono area has an excellent beginner area, complete with a covered magic carpet to protect you from the elements. Terrain aside, Niseko United plays host to an impressive number of international ski schools, giving you access to some of the best instructors Japan has to offer. Off the snow the Niseko resorts are a hive of activity and give you every opportunity to enjoy an amazing holiday.

Niseko Hirafu Family run

Niseko United’s Family run is a popular spot with beginners for good reason, but it can get crowded during peak periods..

Read Ski Asia’s comprehensive guide to Niseko United ski resort.

Tomamu Hoshino

A purpose-built resort in central Hokkaido, Tomamu is a great beginner destination. The terrain of Tower Mountain is gentle and easily accessed from the resort hotels. The longest run in the ski area is the green Silver Bell which, at 3.3 km in length, provides a fantastic opportunity for beginners to practice their turns.

There is also plenty for guests to do off the slopes. Tomamu’s famous Ice Village is a beautiful exhibition of carved ice sculptures and light displays, while the Activity Centre offers more than 20 different programs to guests.

Nozawa Onsen

A beautiful ski resort located a 5 hour drive from Tokyo. The ski area has plentiful beginner slopes, with 16 green runs throughout the resort. Unlike many other Japanese ski resorts, beginners are not confined to the base area of the mountain at Nozawa. Instead, it is possible to reach the Yamabiko Station at 1,407 metres and descend on beginner terrain only, providing first timers with some great views and a wonderful skiing experience.

Nozawa boasts a fantastic learning environment, with an international ski school offering both group and private lessons, taught by professionals from around the world.

Uenotaira, Nozawa Onsen

The Uenotaira run at Nozawa Onsen is a beginner’s paradise. Image: Nozawa Onsen Tourism Association