The best ski resorts, hotels and ski schools of 2022
It’s been yet another strange winter season in Asia, with international travel severely restricted and operators mostly reliant on domestic visitors. However, lifts have continued to spin, businesses have toiled away, and the industry has, for the most part, shown its resilience. In Japan, resorts enjoyed some of the best snowfalls in recent times (perhaps the best season in a decade), which was likely a source of frustration of for many watching on from overseas!
We thank those of you who voted in this year’s Ski Asia Awards, now in their third year, and we hope you’ll find some value in seeing the best of Asia’s ski industry laid out in a single page. The awards were set up to recognize the top ski resorts, hotels and ski schools in the industry, and the winners are determined by votes from our readers, nothing else.
Japan’s best family ski resort
Japan’s best ski resort for powder
Japan’s best snowsports school
Japan’s best backcountry guiding operation
Japan’s best ski hotel
Japan’s best ski lodge/chalet
South Korea’s best ski hotel
China’s best ski resort
China’s best ski hotel
2020 Ski Asia Awards
Japan’s Best Ski Resort (Overall)
Winner: Hakuba Valley
The name “Hakuba” has become synonymous with skiing in Japan, with an honours list that includes hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics and becoming Asia’s first stop on the Freeride World Tour.
The resort comprises 10 separate ski areas, which are connected by a single Hakuba Valley lift pass. There’s enough terrain in areas like Happo One to satisfy skiers for an entire holiday, but there’s huge appeal in the variety, not to mention areas that are better suited to certain conditions or skier preferences.
Of course, world-class skiing is only one card in a full deck of Hakuba attractions, and the range of dining, nightlife, accommodation, services and off-slope entertainment is as good as any ski area in Japan. Simply put: you can’t really go wrong with a holiday in Hakuba, as the many thousands of international tourists who have come before you will attest to.
Highly Commended: Lotte Arai
Lotte Arai once again features across multiple categories in our Ski Asia Awards winners list, and for good reason. The resort has developed a cult following in the four and a half years since its reopening, thanks to a potent mix of epic terrain and phenomenal amounts of snow (22 metres this season).
Naturally, it’s a bucket-list destination for powder seekers, but it also benefits from high quality lift infrastructure, a gorgeously renovated hotel and easy access from Tokyo – attributes that will be attractive to visitors of all descriptions.
Japan’s Best Family Ski Resort
Winner: Lotte Arai Resort
We don’t instinctively think of Lotte Arai as a family resort due to its reputation for expert terrain and powder, however if you look closely you’ll find a resort that has gone out of its way to cater to kids and families – with great success. (Our readers agree.)
The presence of Myoko Snowsports, who are a long-time family favourite with a loyal base of clients, is almost reason alone to cart the family off to Lotte Arai for the family ski trip. However, there’s also some great beginner terrain merely steps from the hotel, and a tube park that the younger generations will absolutely adore.
Add in Strider snow bikes, “handlebar” snowboarding, a snow park and an indoor-playground with trampolines and climbing walls, and the biggest problem your kids will have is choosing one of the many activities to keep themselves entertained.
The cherry on top? These koala-themed rooms in the resort hotel, which are “full of Joys and Dreams” according to the company’s website. Delightful.
Highly Commended: Nozawa Onsen
If there’s a better place to learn to ski than Nozawa Onsen’s Uenotaira run, then we haven’t found it. The wide, mellow run is a perfect training ground for beginners skiers of all ages, and the fact that it requires a gondola ride to get to, means that learner skiers are not stuck at the base of the resort as is often the case.
Families will also love the Kids Park, which is found at the base of Nozawa’s Hikage bowl and is alive with jumping castles, tube runs, magic carpets and the sounds of happy children.
Nozawa Onsen is also regarded as a great introduction to Japanese culture; families can roam the beautiful cobbled streets in the evenings, with an abundance of onsen and local restaurants to choose from.
Japan’s Best Ski Resort for Powder
Winner: Lotte Arai Resort
22 metres of snow fell at Lotte Arai over the 21/22 season, which was enough to leave freeskiing legend Mike Douglas in awe. Lotte Arai’s snow safety program manager, Dave Iles, described it as the “best year of the five I have been here” with “the best powder skiing of my life”. In Iles’ 30+ years as an avalanche specialist, he’d have seen more than a handful of powder days, so it’s an impressive call.
Of course, it’s not simply snowfall data that makes this resort so attractive to powder seekers. Lotte Arai is renowned for its powder-friendly approach to grooming, with lift-accessible powder zones generously spread around the resort, which feature some of the best freeskiing terrain in the region.
Highly Commended: Hakuba Valley
There’s a reason Hakuba has captured the interest of pro riders like Terje Haakonsen and Travis Rice, and why it’s now a regular fixture on the Freeride World Tour. It’s the closest you’ll get to European or North American-style big mountain skiing, but with the famous consistency and quality of Japanese powder.
There are plenty of areas within the boundaries of the 10 Hakuba Valley resorts to ski the deep stuff, but the attraction for many is in Hakuba’s incredible backcountry, which opens up all kinds of terrain from open powder bowls and gladed forests to steep ridgelines and chutes.
Japan’s Best Snowsports School
Winner: Myoko Snowsports
Myoko Snowsports has developed a winning formula that seems to leave guests very satisfied (check their reviews). Admittedly, it’s hard to have a bad time on the ski slopes of Myoko, but we suspect their top-notch service has a lot to do with it.
The snowsports school is stationed across two resorts in the Myoko region; one at Akakura and the other at Lotte Arai. They offer the standard mix of kids, adult and private lessons, but also run a multi-resort program that spans a few of the resorts in the area. Rental, photography and childcare services are also available.
Highly Commended: Evergreen International Ski School
Evergreen International Snowsports School was founded in 2000 by Dave Enright, and has since grown into one of the largest and most reputable snowsports operations in Japan. Evergreen offers group lessons out of its main base in Happo, and extends its private lesson coverage to other resorts in Hakuba including Iwatake, Tsugaike and Cortina.
We love their 80-minute Jump Start program, which is geared towards skiers wanting a few pointers in the morning without committing to a full day of lessons. Their recently launched Platinum experience provides a fully customised experience, including flexible start times, private pick-up and drop-off, video analysis and even help with restaurant bookings.
Japan’s Best Backcountry Guiding Operation
Winner: Evergreen Backcountry Guides
Evergreen Backcountry Guides were contracted to oversee safety for the Freeride World Tour stop in Hakuba, which tells you everything you need to know about their standing in the industry (where safety is of utmost importance).
The backcountry arm of Evergreen offers a range of tours and avalanche programs in the area, which now includes a Freeride World Tour Faces program enabling guests to ski the same South or North faces of Happo-One that were tackled by pro athletes in competition. You may not be able to spin, flip or huck cliffs like Travis Rice or Markus Eder, but you can now at least ride the same terrain!
Highly Commended: Freeride Japan
Freeride Japan is an Avalanche Canada-certified backcountry operation based out of Hakuba, specialising in avalanche training and multi-day alpine tours. In 2022, the company toured a range of backcountry destinations in Hakuba, Myoko, Nozawa Onsen and beyond, culminating in an epic series of spring tours on Tateyama, a 3,000m+ peak that splits Japan’s Nagano and Toyama prefectures, and is described by the team as “the Japanese alpine skiing experience of a lifetime”.
Japan’s Best Ski Hotel
Winner: Lotte Arai
If you like your powder with a side of luxury, then you’ll be hard pressed to find a better option than Lotte Arai’s Presidential Suite, which features a private jacuzzi, four poster bed, Grandfather Clock, and (probably) the aroma of rich mahogany.
For those of us with shallower pockets, the hotel’s deluxe and superior rooms will more than suffice; the hotel was immaculately refurbished prior to reopening in 2017, with elegant wooden furniture and painted walls that “create a warm atmosphere reminiscent of a European villa”, according to the company’s website.
Best of all, you’ll wake up steps away from the base station of the Arai Gondola, which means you can be skiing powder mere minutes after finishing breakfast.
Highly Commended: Refre Hotel Akakura
If we could put together a list of attributes that make a perfect Japanese ski hotel, it might look something like this: ski-in ski-out location, spacious rooms with healthy dollop of traditional Japanese style, a piping hot natural onsen, and a cosy communal area/bar for sharing adventures at the end of a great day.
Refre Hotel Akakura have nailed the brief and, in doing so, have left a trail of happy past guests in their wake. The hotel is based at Myoko Akakura, the largest of the Myoko Kogen ski resorts and one of the country’s famed powder hotspots.
Japan’s Best Ski Lodge/Chalet
Winner: Snowball Chalet, Madarao
There’s a lot to like about Snowball Chalet, but let’s start with the owners – the Solos – who are self-described “qualified, passionate, hopeless Japanophiles” who finally turned their dream into a reality by buying a ski lodge in Madarao, Japan. We love seeing business owners who continue to froth over the same things that get us excited as tourists, and if you want an insider’s view into life as a lodge owner/powder junkie, then we highly recommend following their social channels.
Snowball Chalet is gorgeous, oozing style, comfort and character, and located just a short walk from the lifts in Madarao. We’re particularly intrigued by the Luxury Suite, which is built inside a Yurt (yes, really!) and features a designer log fire, traditional Japanese bath, and an old school analog sound system. “You will literally not want to leave”, reads the website, though we quietly suspect a 50cm dump of “Madapow” would have most guests (and the Solos) out the door in the morning pretty quickly.
Highly Commended: Morino Lodge Hakuba
Morino Lodge Hakuba is another accommodation that does the important things well, with a fantastic location (just a short walk from Hakuba’s Happo-One resort), comfortable rooms, and a cosy, welcoming atmosphere.
This is a great place to stay for guests of all descriptions (“better than a 5 star hotel … this is a 5-star experience”, comments one guest), however for skiers on a strict budget, the 4,000 yen/night dorm room is hard to go past. There aren’t many places in the world you’d get world class skiing on your doorstep for roughly US$42 a night.
South Korea’s Best Ski Resort
Winner: YongPyong Resort
YongPyong is to South Korean skiing as Hakuba or Niseko are to skiing in Japan. It was the first purpose-built alpine resort in Korea, and remains today its largest and most popular, with 15 lifts and 31 marked runs.
Fans of the Olympics may recognise it as the host of the slalom and giant slalom events at PyeongChange 2018. However, if you’re not an Olympic-level skier you need not worry; one of the appealing trails of YongPyong is the variety of terrain, catering as much to first-timers as it does to its most experienced visitors.
Highly Commended: High1 Resort
High1 Resort in Korea’s Gangwon province is spread across three peaks, Jijang Mountain Peak (1345m), Valley Top (1376m) and Mountain Hub (1250m), the first of which is higher than any other resort in the country. Beginners will enjoy the gentle 4.2km run from Valley Top to the base, while more advanced skiers tend to gravitate to the steeper pitches of the Mountain Hub side.
The sprawling development at the base of High1 has plenty of attractions to keep visitors entertained after a day on the slopes, including the largest casino in the country (and the only one that will legally admit Korean citizens).
South Korea’s Best Ski Hotel
Winner: High1 Grand Hotel (Main Tower)
High1 Grand Hotel (Main Tower) is one three hotels that make up the complex at the base of High1 resort, which is home to numerous restaurant and entertainment facilities. The hotel is clean and well managed, but the real benefit of a stay here is having access to the High1 ski slopes at your doorstep.
Of the many restaurants available, our pick is a spacious, nature-inspired café called The Garden, which treats guests to panoramic views of the resort and, importantly, an extensive coffee menu. It’s a great respite from the weather on the colder days, and has some very interesting beverage selections including a sweet potato latte or a hot ginger tea.
Highly Commended: InterContinental Alpensia Pyeongchang Resort
InterContinental Alpensia Pyeongchang Resort is one of three IHG-managed properties at Alpensia, and the most luxurious of the trio. Guests can expect the typical spacious rooms and 5-star service from the InterContinental brand, as well as high-quality meals from the underwhelmingly-named Flavors Restaurant.
China’s Best Ski Resort
Winner: Beidahu Ski Resort
Located in China’s Jilin province, Beidahu ski resort gets more natural snow than its Beijing counterparts, and is home to some of the best intermediate and advanced skiing in the country. The resort is spread over two main peaks, both of which are serviced by a gondola – an important feature given the cold, dry conditions.
Beidahu offers skiers more than 1000 vertical metres of riding – more elevation than any other ski resort in China.
Highly Commended: Sun Mountain Yabuli
Sun Mountain Yabuli is located in China’s Heilongjiang province, bordering Russia to the north. It’s naturally very cold, with temperatures that regularly sit between -20°C and -30°C. If you can handle the weather, then the skiing is pretty good – albeit quite firm unless there has been a recent snowfall. There are a number of steep-ish black runs directly off the gondola that will appeal to advanced and expert skiers.
China’s Best Ski Hotel
Winner: Club Med Beidahu
Club Med resorts have become a mainstay of China’s ski industry, with locations in Yabuli and, more recently, Beidahu. The Beidahu resort features all the trademarks of a typical Club Med stay: friendly service and all-inclusive meals, drinks at the bar and activities. Importantly, this includes access to the ski lifts, rental and lessons, which can make a ski holiday in Beidahu a surprisingly attractive option for those on a budget.
Highly Commended: Club Med Yabuli
Club Med Yabuli was the brand’s first venture into China’s snowsports scene, and the reviews have largely been positive. The resort features the usual diverse range of dining and entertainment, but what we like most is the presence of a heated pool and a 10-metre climbing wall for the days where the wind makes the skiing conditions particularly harsh.
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