Presenting Japan’s best ski resorts to our readers is not a task we take lightly. The information below features contributions from several Ski Asia writers over a number of years. And of course, one person’s perfect ski resort might not work for another, so we’ve done our best to include something for everyone, including family travellers, powder hunters, Tokyo weekend warriors and those of you who want to stray from the beaten track. If you’re a fan of skiing in Japan, there will be a resort for you in this list.
Best ski resort as voted by our readers
There’s something about Lotte Arai that our readers clearly love, whether it’s the state-of-the-art facilities, impressive terrain or superb powder. The medium-sized resort punched well above its weight in the reader-determined 2019 and 2020 Ski Asia Awards, picking up Japan’s Best Ski Resort over some of the bigger and better-known resorts like Niseko United or Hakuba Valley.
And this may be part of its secret. While its profile has grown very quickly since its reopening in 2017 (after sitting for 11 years in a state of abandonment), Lotte Arai is still somewhat off the radar for many international travellers, and a powder day there virtually comes with a guarantee of fresh tracks. It also boasts terrain that is steeper and more challenging than many of its regional counterparts.
Beginners and intermediates need not be worried by this description though, as there is ample terrain for all abilities, including a dedicated beginner area at the base of the resort.VIEW THE 2020 SKI ASIA AWARD WINNERS
Best family ski resorts in Japan
Niseko United is one of the more popular resorts in Japan and features regularly in discussions on the world’s best powder destination. The benefits of the larger ski resorts are that there are plenty of options to choose from so that your kids can enjoy themselves whilst the adults can experience the world-class powder.
Niseko also has several ski schools that offer children’s lessons (group and private), including NBS, Gondola Snowsports and NISS. And if the kids don’t want to ski? Take them to the NAC Kids Garden, a giant 3-storey indoor playground playground. It’s located inside Jojos, a popular Niseko cafe/restaurant, where weary parents can relax with a coffee or glass of wine.
Club Med Sahoro / Club Med Tomamu
If you have young children and haven’t heard of Club Med, you are missing out. These resorts provide all-inclusive services so that the only time you need to see your little trouble-makers are when they are too tired from all the playing.
Club Med Sahoro and Tomamu are located in central Hokkaido, easily accessible from New Chitose International Airport, Obihiro Airport and Asahikawa Airport. Club Med Tomamu opened not long ago, so expect excellent facilities. On the other hand, Club Med Sahoro has a proven track record in providing its famously friendly service to all members of your family. Rest assured the kind staff of Club Med will take care of the children, whilst the adults can enjoy the best Hokkaido has to offer.View our top 5 family ski resorts in Asia
Best ski resorts for powder
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.
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.View our best 5 ski resorts in Japan for powder
Best for beginners
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.Read our beginner’s guide to skiing Japan
Best ski resorts for advanced skiers
There’s a never-ending debate between Niseko and Hakuba locals over which ski resort is better, but the truth is that both are incredible on their day. Like Niseko, Hakuba is internationally renowned, and has the terrain, snow and services to attract the best skiers and snowboarders from all over the world.
Technically, Hakuba Valley is Japan’s largest ski resort, though it’s really a partnership of ten resorts accessible on a single lift pass (you’ll need to take a bus to travel between resorts).
Located in the Japanese Alps, Hakuba has some of the best backcountry skiing and steeps in Japan, which in recent years have helped earn its place as a stop on the Freeride World Tour, hosting riders like Travis Rice and Gigi Ruf.
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.”
Best lesser-know ski resorts
Sitting roughly 25km to the north west of the better-known Myoko resorts in Japan’s Niigata prefecture (though only accessible from the north via the coast), Charmant Hiuchi is a tiny 3-lift resort that punches well above its weight and is a highly recommended day trip for anyone holidaying in the area.
This is not necessarily the place to learn, though, nor will it provide much interest to those who like long, cruisy groomed runs. Instead, the resort is best suited to powder hounds who can make the most of the deceptively challenging off-piste and side country terrain which, thanks to its northerly aspect and proximity to the coast, can get belted with snow by the winter storms that blow across from Siberia. So much snow, in fact, that the resort often stays open into the second week of May.
One reader noted that this is the resort they’d like to visit due to the fact that “60% of the area is ungroomed.” Sounds like a good reason to us.
Ryuoo Ski Park
Ryuoo Ski Park is surrounded by some of Japan’s most popular resorts – Shiga Kogen and Nozawa Onsen included – but has managed to escape the limelight of its better-known neighbours. Like the aforementioned resorts, it’s a great destination for powder seekers, and despite being a rather narrow resort (see the trail map), it has more than 1,000 metres of vertical to contend with and a decent variety of terrain.
One of the defining features of Ryuoo is its 166-capacity Ropeway (one of the largest in the world), which delivers riders to a top station panoramic lookout called SORA Terrace. The views can be magical, and many visit in the hope that they’ll witness a phenomenon called unkai – a “sea of clouds” that rolls in over the ski resort below.
Ryuoo was also one of the first resorts in Japan to allow snowboarding, which has made it a hit with Japan’s single planking fraternity – almost to the point that you’ll feel a bit out of place as a skier!
One of our readers summed up Ryuoo Ski Park to perfection: “I love traveling to resorts off-the-beaten-path, rich in culture and, of course, favoured by the snow-gods! Ryuoo ticks all the boxes!”View the lesser-known Japanese ski resorts on your radar
Most underrated ski resorts in Japan
Kurodake (“black mountain”) is located in central Hokkaido, 75 km east of Asahikawa. The resort is found just outside of Sounkyo, a town known for its namesake gorge and hot spring baths. The ski area is accessed via the Kurodake Ropeway (which transports guests from the town of Sounkyo). The ropeway provides sensational views of the gorge (weather permitting) and is used by non-skiers all year round.
Beneath the ropeway is Kurodake’s longest (semi) marked run. This is advanced terrain for experienced skiers—the route is frequently cordoned off due to avalanche concerns. Intermediate skiers will have more luck up top. The resort’s second ski lift (a short hike from the ropeway’s drop-off) provides access to some gentler pistes, with options for powder on the flanks.
However, the best of Kurodake is found outside of resort bounds. A hike up to Kurodake’s peak (1984 m) allows access to the resort’s rugged backcountry. This is steep, treacherous terrain—not for the faint of heart. It’s recommended that skiers enlist the help of an experienced guide. Appropriate safety equipment is a necessity.
Kamui Ski Links
Kamui Ski Links is located on the outskirts of Asahikawa, a 30 minute drive from the city centre. It’s also an easy commute from Furano Ski Resort—just 55 km by road. The resort itself is fairly small, spanning 100 hectares. Mount Kamuiyama tops out at 799 m with a base elevation of 150 m. The resort is serviced by six lifts including a (recently refurbished) gondola which stretches from base to summit.
As is the norm in Hokkaido, Kamui is blessed with some of the world’s lightest, driest powder. The resort receives up to 8 m per season—and still manages plenty of blue sky days. Within resort bounds, there’s plenty of terrain to satisfy all levels. Confident skiers are free to explore off-piste (tree skiing is fair game). Those in need of more options can access Kamui’s backcountry via a licensed local guide. Otherwise, permission from Kamikawa Regional Forestry Office is required.
Madarao Mountain Resort
Madarao is not so much off the beaten path as hidden in plain sight. It sits between Nozawa Onsen and Myoko Kogen—two of Japan’s better known resorts—and is quieter than its neighbours, on and off the slopes. Long lift queues and congested slopes are uncommon. The resort is mid-sized, with 31 runs (34.8 km in total) and 440 m of vertical.
With 60% of its runs ungroomed, Madarao is a paradise for powder hounds. In contrast to many of Japan’s big-name resorts, Madarao isn’t overly policed. Ski patrol won’t berate you for venturing off-piste. The resort even glades (thins out) its tree areas, making for some of the best tree skiing in Japan. Some of this (PowderWaveII) is best accessed via Tangram’s lifts (Madarao’s neighbouring resort). An all-mountain pass is available to those who want this option.
Madarao’s northerly aspect is to thank for its world-class powder. The resort faces the Sea of Japan, resulting in frequent dumps of “Madapow”. Strangely, Madarao’s world-class powder is yet to attract world-class crowds, but this is surely a matter of time.View our top 5 underrated ski resorts in Japan
Best ski resorts near Tokyo
Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort
Distance from Tokyo (central): 200 km
Time from Tokyo (station): 75-90 minutes via shinkansen
Ski Area: 25.8 km / 17 runs / 26 lifts / 800-1181 (381) m elevation
Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort is located in Yuzawa, Niigata Prefecture, less than 200 km north of Tokyo. The resort is best accessed via Gala-Yuzawa Shinkansen Station, which during winter months is part of the Joetsu Shinkansen Line. The journey from Tokyo Station takes roughly 80 minutes on board the Tanigawa service (limited express).
Gala is one of the bigger resorts in Yuzawa – a region blessed with some of Japan’s heaviest snowfall, incredible natural beauty, several historic onsens and an abundance of skiing options. The resort offers 25.8 km of marked trails, with 26 lifts in operation including a gondola that transports skiers from the shinkansen station to Gala-Yuzawa’s lift hub – a convenience that sets it apart from the other resorts on this list. Lift tickets, concierge and rental can also be taken care of from within the station.
Skiers can opt to buy a 3-mountain lift ticket (¥5,100) that provides additional access to Yuzawa Kogen and Ishiuchi Maruyama ski resorts – both directly linked to Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort. Alternatively, a standard one-day lift pass fetches ¥4,600 (adults) during peak season, with discounts applied in spring.
Distance from Tokyo (central): 190 km
Time from Tokyo (station): 75-90 minutes via shinkansen + 30-40 minutes via bus/shuttle
Ski Area: 20 km / 22 runs / 15 lifts / 900-1789 (889) m elevation
Mt. Naeba comprises two adjoining ski resorts, Naeba Ski Resort and Kagura Ski Resort, the latter of which is divided into three separate areas, Kagura, Mitsumata and Tashiro. The two resorts are linked by the 5.5 km Dragondola, Japan’s longest aerial lift. In total, skiers have access to almost 200 hectares of terrain, totalling 20 km of marked runs.
On the Kagura side, the mountain tops out at an impressive 1,845 m, making it the tallest of Yuzawa’s ski resorts by some margin – nearby Gala-Yuzawa caps off at 1,181 m. Thanks to its elevation, Kagura delivers some of the best powder in Yuzawa, a region known by the nickname “Snow Country”. Naeba, on the other hand, offers a greater variety of pisted terrain, plus a lift system that spins until 9pm (10 pm on Saturdays). A combined lift pass, allowing access to both resorts, sells for ¥5,700, with discounts available to Prince Hotel guests.
Naeba Ski Resort lies 20 km south of Echigo-Yuzawa Station, which belongs to the Joetsu Shinkansen Line. The journey from Tokyo Station clocks in at around 75-90 minutes. From Echigo-Yuzawa Station, skiers can take the Seibu Crystal Line (YN) bus to Naeba Prince Hotel, which sits at the base of Naeba Ski Resort. This can take up to 40 minutes, with buses running from 6:10 am to 6:45 pm. Alternatively, guests of the Prince Hotel are entitled to a free shuttle service from the station.View our top 5 ski resorts near Tokyo
Best ski resorts in Hokkaido
Furano earns a mention in our list as a strong all-rounder that scores points in most categories. Yes, it has the deep, dry powder that has become synonymous with Hokkaido skiing, but that’s just the start.
Grooming is where the resort really stands out, and its expansive runs with perfect corduroy are the reason that many skiers list it as a favourite. That Furano has developed a long-standing relationship with the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup speaks volumes on the quality of its on-piste offering. It has hosted 12 FIS World Cup events.
And where Niseko is criticized for being too developed, Kiroro and Rusutsu for lacking ambience, Furano seems to have struck an appealing balance of culture and convenience. Its resort accommodation is a mix of upmarket hotels (the resort is owned by Prince Hotels) and a small selection of self-contained units. Furano Town, a short distance from the resort itself, provides “adequate creature comforts, including the ability to cater to English-speaking guests, without losing the essence of Japan“.
We hesitate to pigeonhole Furano as a “family resort” because that simply wouldn’t do it justice. The resort has an appetizing mix of terrain (steeps, bumps, off-piste & groomers) that will satisfy all but the most extreme skier.
It does, however, cater especially well to young children, who will benefit from a dedicated English speaking ski program, major resort discounts and even a snow adventure park known as Family SnowLand. For parents looking for a stress-free holiday, this might just be the clincher.
Rusutsu has never really emerged from the shadows of its neighbour – the larger and better-known Niseko United – but fans of the resort will list this as one of the best reasons to visit.
Rusutsu’s terrain is expansive and offers something for everyone. Expert skiers will not find anything overly steep, but the biggest drawcard of the resort is its sensational tree skiing, which is as good or better than any other resort in Hokkaido.
As one of the big-name Hokkaido resorts, Rusutsu offers an English-language snowsports program, top-notch facilities and world-beating accommodation. It is a destination resort where you’ll find virtually everything under the same roof. It’s a setup that’s not for everyone (après fanatics are advised to head to Niseko), but its admirers swear by it.View our top 5 Hokkaido ski resorts
Best ski resorts in Tohoku
The Geto secret is out! The self-proclaimed “Japan’s king of snow” lives up to its name, with a rapidly developing reputation for some of Japan’s best in-bounds tree skiing and powder. The bowl-shaped resort “catches windblown snow from the nearby peaks”, creating a “powder pocket” according to the resort’s website. Anyone who’s skied Geto knows that it’s no exaggeration.
Better still, Geto is about to get bigger, with reports that the resort is going to open up even more of its terrain to advanced skiers chasing fresh tracks.
However, riders who carry a terrain map and take pleasure in ticking off a run and moving onto the next one should stay clear. With 14 official marked trails and just five lifts, Geto is more about quality than quantity (unless you’re talking about metres of snow per season, in which case “15” is your number”). Beginners and intermediates are also well catered to, with some appealing groomers.
Another purpose-built resort, Geto is quite limited when it comes to accommodation, and there’s no real town to speak of. That said, the budget-friendly Geto Camp 88 will be a major draw-card for the younger crew who can do without the creature comforts of a top-end hotel. It has 88 beds in a dorm-style setup and, at just ¥5,800/night during the week, it has to be one of Japan’s best value ski-in ski-out accommodations.
“Be happy in APPI”, is Appi Kogen’s slogan, and it’s hard not to oblige. One of the larger resorts in Tohoku, APPI genuinely has something for everyone, ranging from its five dedicated “tree run” zones for the powder hunters, to its APPI Happy Snowpark for kids, which features learner slopes, sleds, snow tubes and much more. Its 21 runs are serviced by 10 lifts, one of which is a gondola that delivers riders from the APPI Resort Centre (620 m) to the summit of Mt. Maemori (1304 m).
While most of APPI’s terrain is on Mt. Maemori, strong riders are highly encouraged to take the lift to the summit of Mt. Nishimori, where they’ll find some of the resort’s best terrain for powder skiing on offer. Inuwashi run, which branches off to skiers right is known for its moguls and has 30° sections, so beginners should avoid at all costs.
Like many ski resorts in Japan (see above), APPI is a purpose-built resort, and its base is dominated by a few large hotels – the largest of which is the Hotel Appi Grand. There are are some smaller pensions down the road, but the town – if you choose to call it that – is very limited. For a more immersive cultural experience, we suggest heading into the nearby rural town Hachimantai for a meal or a drink, or further afield (50 km) to Morioka, which has a lively nightlife and is highly recommended for a night or two.View our top 5 ski resort in Tohoku
Best ski and onsen destinations
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.
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.
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.View our best ski and onsen destinations in Japan
Best skis for Japan [advice from a Hakuba ski instructor]
Is there a perfect one-ski quiver for Japan? Hakuba ski instructor Mike Humphrey gives us his best picks.