Picking the best ski resorts in Japan for powder is a bit like choosing the best square on a bar of dairy milk chocolate. With that said, the Ski Asia team has racked its collective brain to narrow our selection down to five favourites.
So wax up your fattest skis or board, pack the snorkel, get in line for first chair, and enjoy. We’ll be the ones hooting from the chairlift.
In 2020, Lotte Arai was awarded Japan’s Best Ski Resort for Powder in the Ski Asia Awards for the second consecutive year, which makes it an obvious first inclusion in this list. The resort, which reopened in 2017 after 11 years in a state of abandonment, is known for its powder-friendly approach to grooming (70% is ungroomed) and its eight avalanche-controlled “free riding zones”.
When you add 14 metres of annual snowfall to the mix, it’s not hard to see why Lotte Arai is now considered a bucket-list destination for Japan’s powder-hunters.
Hakkoda has been referred to as the holy grail of powder skiing in Japan, and for good reason. The resort – if you can call it that – is serviced by a single ropeway, which gives skiers access to large areas of ungroomed terrain and handful of marked runs (which are much less the attraction).
The resort’s weather is infamous, and locals know the mountain for the blizzard in 1902 that killed a group of Imperial Japanese Army Soldiers. Low visibility, high winds and massive snowfalls (~17 metres annually) are all par for the course, so if sunshine is your thing, you’d be well advised to stay away. This is not a family resort.
Even experienced skiers should treat Hakkoda with caution, and should ideally ski the area with a guide who is familiar with the terrain. Avalanche awareness and rescue skills are a must.
Kiroro is becoming increasingly well known by the crowds that have been skiing Niseko and Rusutsu for years, but it’s fair to say that the resort still benefits from living in the shadows of its two larger and more popular neighbours.
Tom Rowley from the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team getting up close and personal with our snow. Photo: Garrett Russell / @funkygrussell
Claims of up to 21 metres a season put it among Japan’s snowiest resorts, thanks to a favourable aspect and location in a mountain valley. Best of all, much of the fun can be had in-bounds, with 10 high speed lifts and plenty of terrain to explore around the resort’s 22 designated runs. Kiroro’s tree skiing is superb.
Asahidake, like Hakkoda, blurs the lines between resort and backcountry. It is serviced by The Asahidake Ropeway which gives skiers access to four marked runs – a gateway from which to explore its extensive off-piste terrain. Skiers prepared to hike will be rewarded, with some fantastic terrain above the top station.
Asahidake’s location in central Hokkaido means that the snow is not only deep, but also light and dry.
Tanigawadake Tenjindaira or simply “Tenjin” if you’re a local, is a hard-core resort for serious riders, with the elusive mix of bucket loads of powder and steep terrain (the latter being the less common ingredient in Japan). Browse the comments in any ski forum and you’ll be regaled with stories from riders who all claim they were the first to “discover” the place (whatever that means), and while the resort has definitely worked itself into the conversation on skiing in Japan, the challenging and avalanche-prone nature of the terrain means it will likely never be prone to the kind of crowds commonly found in places like Niseko or Hakuba.
Last year, Snowaction magazine named the Tenjindaira tree skiing in its compilation of Japan’s best ski runs, while commenting that “Tenjidaira is love at first sight for all good skiers and snowboarders.”
The resorts you’ve never heard of
Perhaps the best powder of all? It’s at the resort you’ve never heard of, on the run with no one on it. Japan has more than 500 active ski resorts, many of which are in locations that receive very large snowfalls.
So take a punt on a smaller resort, or better yet, hit the road and go exploring. Trust us.