We're not going to lie. Skiing holidays can be expensive, but they don't have to be *as* expensive.
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Japan is often considered to be an expensive country to visit, but the reality is that skiing can be considerably cheaper than its foreign counterparts – namely resorts in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Lift tickets are alarmingly reasonable, food certainly doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg (see our first item), and there are increasingly more deals aimed at attracting foreign travellers to the Japanese slopes.
For a country often said to have the best powder in the world, a trip to Japan is one of the best investments a skier can make. Here’s how to do it on a budget.
Make the convenience stores (konbini) your second home
Konbinis (convenience stores) are a cultural icon of Japan, and one of the most popular discoveries for many a budget-conscious traveller stepping foot in the country for the first time. They stock everything you could possibly need and more, with products ranging from instant noodles, to onigiri (Japanese rice balls), to alcohol, to ready-made meals, to stationary, to cosmetics. We could go on…
If you were do travel to Japan on a ski holiday and eat nothing but the food purchased in a convenience store, you would certainly not be the first or last. We encourage anyone on a tighter budget to see just how far they can get on a 500 yen konbini lunch or two. You’ll be amazed.
Most foreign visitors will only scratch the surface when it comes to making use of the do-it-all convenience stores; Japanese locals use them – among many other things – to pay their power bills, buy concert tickets, send luggage or withdraw cash.
Join Facebook groups
If you’re travelling to a resort with a large contingent of foreign staff, there’s every chance that there’s a private Facebook group in existence – a channel where “locals” can trade advice, alert each other to great deals, arrange shared transportation, or buy and sell ski gear. (Start with this one.)
These kinds of groups can be a gold mine for budget-conscious traveller, for whom the save-at-all-costs mindset is similar to that of a foreign worker surviving on a resort wage. Use these groups to track down the best happy hour specials or a great deal on second-hand snow gear.
Keep an eye out for the best deals
The internet is truly your friend when it comes to finding the best skiing deals in Japan; the competition between hotels, ski schools and various other resort operators means that companies are frequently extending offers to their Facebook followers and newsletter subscribers in a bid to win your business and to encourage you to book directly (hotels pay a substantial commission if you book through third party services or travel agents).
In particular, look out for the big Early Bird discounts – generally offered between April and July for bookings for the next season. As peak periods fill out, businesses will then start focusing on filling off-peak periods with spring skiing offers.
Our advice is to shortlist a few of the businesses you are most interested in, then follow them on Facebook and subscribe to their newsletter (you can always opt out later). You’ll be the first to hear about the best discounts.
Ride the smaller resorts
Niseko and Hakuba have made a name for themselves on the international stage, and for good reason. They are large resorts, with excellent terrain and a variety of English language services … with a price tag to match.
Scoping out some of the country’s smaller, lesser-known resorts can be a great way to shred “Japow” on a budget. Lift tickets, accommodation and restaurants will all be substantially cheaper, and if you’re the kind of traveller who seeks out a more authentic experience, you’ll appreciate the immersion in Japanese culture, language and food.
Not sure where to start? Read our article on the top five “off the beaten path” resorts in Japan.
Visit outside peak periods
Visiting Japanese ski resorts outside peak periods is an easy way to shave a substantial amount off your holiday expenditures. The major holidays to avoid are Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year – which attract a higher volume of international guests and are priced accordingly.
If you’re heading to Japan in search of its famous powder, then you can either gamble on an early arrival (the first half of December tends to be relatively cheap and often gets some really good snow), or you can work around the dates of the major holidays (note: any dates in January and early February are still going to be relatively expensive).
If waist-deep powder and weeks without sunshine are not your thing, then we strongly suggest considering a spring trip. In early March the snow can still be extremely good – you may well score the odd powder day – and just about every accommodation and service provider drops its prices in an effort to keep busy over the slower part of the season.
If you’re a beginner rider or bringing kids with you on holiday, then you’ll also appreciate the milder temperatures, sunny skies and uncrowded slopes.
Interested in knowing more about the different parts of the ski season? Read our detailed post on the best time to go skiing in Niseko, which applies broadly to resorts around Japan.
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