A guide to Japan's best ski and onsen destinations.

It’s no secret that Japan’s ski resorts rank among the best in the world. Japanese snow is famous for its quality, quantity and consistency.

But a Japanese ski holiday is more than just a chance to experience the country’s world-renowned powder fields. Winter is the perfect season to enjoy another of the country’s favourite activities – onsen bathing. In fact, a rejuvenating soak in one of Japan’s traditional onsen might just be the ultimate après-ski activity.

Here are some of some of the best ski and onsen destinations in Japan:

Nozawa Onsen


Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort is located at the northern end of Nagano prefecture, one of Japan’s winter sports capitals. Nozawa is one of several Nagano resorts than can be reached via Iiyama station on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line from Tokyo.

It has just the one main ski area, but which by Japanese standards is sizeable. The resort’s 44 marked trails span 50km and occupy a 297 hectare plot on Mount Kenashi. These slopes see upwards of 11 m of snowfall per season, typical of Nagano resorts but impressive by any other measure.

Nozawa’s lifts, which include the new 10-person Nagasaka gondola, extend to a height of 1650 m, offering a vertical drop of 1,085 m.


Nozawa Onsen Village is a major attraction in its own right. Its public baths (soto-yu), many of which predate the ski resort by several hundred years, have long been a source of tourism for the resort. The hot springs that feed the baths are thought to have been discovered in the 8th century.

There are more than a dozen public baths in town, which, while free for public use, are reliant on visitor donations due to the cost of upkeep. The most famous of these is Oyu, which can be found at the centre of town and is one of Nozawa Onsen’s most recognisable landmarks.

In addition to its public baths, Nozawa has a number of foot baths (ashi no yu) and cooking onsen. One of these, Ogama, has been official labelled a ‘natural monument of national importance’ due to its scalding hot water (90°C), used by locals to cook onsen tamago – a slow-cooked egg with soft yolk.

Zao Onsen


Zao Onsen is the largest ski resort in the Tohoku region, with more than 40 lifts servicing 50 km of terrain, much of which is well suited to beginners and intermediates. The resort is located in Yamagata, Japan’s snowiest prefecture, and receives a whopping 12 m of snowfall per season.

Zao is famous for its unique ‘snow monsters’, a phenomenon that occurs when snow and ice accumulate on Mount Zao’s Aomori white fir trees. These structures, which can can grow to 3 m tall, begin to take shape during December but don’t reach full size until late January. Nighttime tours allow visitors to a chance to see the monsters under illuminated lights.

The resort is best accessed via the Yamagata Shinkansen Tsubasa, a high-speed 7-car bullet train, which takes approximately 3 hours to reach Yamagata from Tokyo Station.


As its name suggests, Zao Onsen is more than just a ski town. The resort has long been known for its hot springs, which are uniquely high in acidity. A soak in one of Zao’s onsen baths is said to be good for the skin and blood vessels, and particularly beneficial to those with skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.

Visitors have numerous options in town, which include public hot springs, foot baths and day spas, both indoor and open-air. Additionally, many ryokan and hotels in the area have their own onsen facilities. An unlimited access pass can be purchased from the town’s tourist information centre.

Myoko Kogen


The Myoko Kogen ski area comprises several different resorts, each with its own lift system and facilities. Connected by the JoetsuMyoko Station Shuttle bus, these resorts include Akakura Kanko (Akakan), Akakura Onsen, Ikenotaira Onsen, Myoko Suginohara and Seki Onsen among others.

Akakura Kanko and Akakura Onsen are interlinked and together form the Myoko Akakura snow area, offering a combined 20 km of marked trails on a single lift ticket. These two resorts are especially popular due to their proximity to Myoko’s liveliest ski village, Akakura Onsen.

Myoko Akakura offers plenty in the way of beginner and intermediate terrain, but more experienced skiers may want to head further afield to Seki Onsen, which, although only small, is renowned for its deep powder and steeper gradients.


For the complete experience, skiers should base themselves in Akakura Onsen, which has the best range of hotels, restaurants, bars and, of course, onsen.

While Akakura’s only public bath is closed in winter, there are plenty of other options for an après-ski soak. Nineteen of Akakura’s hotels have their own onsen facilities, all of which can be used by visitors for a fee.

Akakura Kanko luxury ski hotel

Akakura Kanko’s indoor and outdoor public baths look out onto the slopes, providing stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

Further afield, The Akakura Kanko Hotel, perched halfway up the slopes of Akakan ski resort, offers a particularly luxurious onsen experience. The hotel’s indoor and outdoor public baths look out onto the slopes, providing stunning views of the surrounding mountains.



Yuzawa, known as “Snow Country” is a particularly convenient option if coming from Tokyo. Echigo Yuzawa station, which serves the Yuzawa Kogen ski area (800 m from West Exit) among others, can be reached in just 80 minutes from Tokyo station on the Jōetsu Line. One stop further is Gala-Yuzawa station, which houses Gala-Yuzawa Snow Resort’s Cowabunga Ski Centre. From here, skiers can buy lift tickets, rent gear and board a gondola to the resort’s lift hub.

Skiers can opt to buy a 3-mountain lift ticket (¥5,700-6,200) that provides combined access to Gala-Yuzawa,Yuzawa Kogen and Ishiuchi Maruyama, all of which are directly linked, offering 33.8 km of marked trails in total.

Also within striking distance is the Mt Naeba ski area, a Prince Hotel venture comprising Naeba and Kagura resorts. The two resorts are connected via the 5.6 km (25 min) ‘Dragondola’ lift – Japan’s longest gondola.


There are countless onsen found in Yuzawa’s hotels and ryokan, many of which are a stone’s throw from Echigo-Yuzawa station. Yuzawa’s hot spring water is mildly alkaline, which is known to soften the skin’s texture by removing keratin buildup.

The town also houses five public baths including the popular Komako No Yu, which takes its name from Yasunari Kuwabata’s classic novel, ‘Snow Country’ – a book that helped to popularise Yuzawa as a winter holiday destination.

In fact, fans of the book can even stay at Takahan Ryokan, which accommodated Kuwabata during his time in Yuzawa. The ryokan, which boasts a 900-year history, has its own onsen baths that feed directly from the spring source.

Shiga Kogen


Shiga Kogen is not an onsen destination in its own right but has earned a spot on this list due to its proximity to Shibu Onsen and neighbouring Yudanaka Onsen.

Snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park

A journey to Shiga Kogen is incomplete without a side-trip to Yamanouchi’s famed Jigokudani Monkey Park.

The mega-resort, located in Nagano prefecture, comprises 18 interconnected ski areas, totalling 83 km of marked trails spread across 600 hectares of terrain. Shiga Kogen is officially Japan’s second largest ski resort but also qualifies as one of the highest, with three peaks over 2000 m including Yokoteyama, which tops out at 2307 m.

At the northern end, the Okushiga/Yakebitai area is popular for its long runs, steep gradients and sidecountry terrain. Further down, Ichinose Village is Shiga Kogen’s unofficial hub, with the highest concentration of hotels, restaurants and shops.


Within easy reach of Shiga Kogen, Shibu and Yudanaka Onsen consistently rank among Japan’s best onsen destinations.

Shibu Onsen is a 15 minute drive from Sun Valley, one of Shiga Kogen’s smaller resorts. Its main cobblestone street, which runs parallel to the Yokoyugawa River, is home to nine public baths and countless traditional ryokan. With a 1300 year history, this picturesque hot spring town is a good spot to experience old-world Japan.

Yudanaka Onsen is another option for those eyeing up a soak in one of Japan’s traditional bathhouses. Conveniently, Yudanaka Station is the last stop on the Nagaden Nagano Line, which connects Nagano City with Yamanouchi.

Another popular stop between Shibu Onsen and Shiga Kogen is the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, home to the one of Japan’s largest populations of Japanese macaques. During winter, the monkeys bathe in Jigokudani’s bubbling hot spring baths.

Featured image by David McKelvey


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