As the northern winter approaches and the froth for powder is on the upswing, seeing costs do the same can threaten to dampen one’s stoke for Japow. It’s no secret the ski resorts of Japan are a go-to for powder, culture and food, however, is the threat of rising prices likely to raise concerns about the cost of skiing in Japan?
Many will have already taken note of the JR Rail Pass hike and, when coupled with hefty lift pass price hikes at places like Rusutsu, it’s natural to wonder if skiing in Japan is becoming too expensive. So, it makes sense to have a look at factors contributing to these cost increases and ask whether Japan is still a value-for-money destination for powder fiends.
One of the noticeable cost increases ahead of the 2023/2024 Japan winter season is that of the JR Rail Pass. While the Pass has traditionally been a budget-friendly option, the October hike may give travellers pause. It is actually quite a drastic surge, perhaps best exemplified by the fact that the new 7-day price is more than the old 14-day price. The 7-day price was 29,650 yen but is now ¥50,000 while the 14-day price was 47,250 yen, now ¥80,000. The 21-day price too has jumped from 60,450 yen to an even ¥100,000.
While that might be enough to make you choke on your ramen, this issue may be side-stepped by simply staying at a ski destination for a week or two. Then, if looking to travel onwards, book location-to-location journeys. Also, consider that travelling to Hokkaido (and Kyushu) will be cheaper via domestic flights anyway.
Additionally, some ski resorts, like Rusutsu, have raised their lift ticket prices significantly. For example, the adult lift ticket for individuals aged 19 to 64 will be 11,500 yen in 2023/24, marking a substantial increase from the previous season’s 8,800 yen. Similar happened when comparing last season to the one before it.
Resorts will surely cite several factors that have contributed to the need for these price increases, including rising electricity, fuel and labour costs. However, these factors are not unique to Japan. Ski resorts worldwide face similar challenges, with operational costs steadily climbing due to a host of influences.
How to Counterbalance the Upswing
The currently weak yen is one of the factors to consider when deciding if Japan is still on the cards. A few months ago, the Wall Street Journal reported a 10% fall against the USD this year. Accordingly, various sources have reported a rapid return to post-pandemic inbound tourism. Bang-for-buck will work in your favour.
Additionally, there are often good deals and discounts available, especially when booking accommodations and lift tickets in advance or as part of package deals.
Another thing to think about is the wide range of options available throughout different parts of Japan. Outside Hokkaido, you can probably find a more pocket-friendly alternative on the main island of Honshu. Beyond Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen, consider areas like Myoko Kogen and Madarao, often with lower accommodation prices to go with the cheaper lift tickets.
While these destinations have all the access to English-speaking ski schools and rental services you’ll ever need, a lift pass will be cheaper than the Rusutsu hike mentioned above. Still affected by the same factors and subsequent price rises, there are so many options across Japan that you are bound to find something to suit your budget.
Still Cheaper Than Elsewhere?
Determining whether or not it is getting too expensive to ski in Japan requires a comparison to alternatives. Even with recent hikes, is Japan still cheaper than destinations in North America, Europe and Australia?
Referencing the 2022/2023 season’s prices (which, as mentioned, saw a similar rise when compared to the 2021/22 season), an article by The Japan News argued ski lift tickets in Japan still offer better value compared to those in other countries.
Citing a survey compiled by the Japan Tourism Agency and the anecdotal thoughts of those surveyed, the conclusion reached was that the price rise in lift passes would still be considered very reasonable by foreign visitors to Japan.
Other Things to Consider
Beyond lift tickets, trains and accommodation, food is a big factor to consider. Of course, you can find high-end options or go berserk at a yakiniku restaurant and end up with a hefty bill, but generally speaking, you will get more for your money in Japan.
Japan can often be spoken of as being fairly expensive but perhaps this reputation stems from comparison to most other Asian holiday destinations – locations that don’t boast the allure of thigh-deep powder. Comparing the food options at Japanese ski resorts to those in other countries like Australia or the States, you will typically find better value for money in Japan, whether that’s a curry or ramen on the mountain, or sushi and gyoza at the end of the day.
Of course, another magnetising drawcard for skiers and boarders is culture. Whether you’re a seasoned visitor or just now dipping your toes into some Japow, the bonus of onsens, festivals and the like is a kicker for most. These are opportunities you simply won’t find elsewhere, regardless of how much you pay for them.
Should You Ski Japan?
Ultimately, while the 2022/23 season was affected by post-covid blues and a lack of staff, etc., possibly contributing to higher prices, the 2023/24 version should look a little bit more like business as normal, albeit a bit more expensive in keeping with general price increases reflected in most places the world over.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that Japan’s ski resorts are right up there with the most bankable powder snow on planet Earth. If accessing said powder with a lift ticket that remains a fraction of the cost of the same thing in America or Australia, enjoying ramen for (give or take) $10 and then following it with a $2 konbini chuhi, sounds like good value, then no, skiing in Japan is not getting too expensive!
Still hesitant? Read our guide to skiing Japan on a budget for some practical tips on saving your cash.
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