Tips for your ski holiday in Japan
Inspired by The Guardian’s list of 100 ways to slightly improve your life without really trying, we’ve put together our own version for skiers and snowboarders travelling to Japan, albeit with only 17 suggestions.
But we want more, and we know you’ve got some good ones. Submit your suggestion here for a chance to be featured in our reader edition.
Use the Black Cat (Yamamoto Transport) luggage service
There’s nothing worse than lugging heavy suitcases and ski bags through a crowded train station with family and kids in tow, especially when everyone around you appears to be moving lightly and swiftly. Japanese travellers (and savvy internationals) typically use a “Ta-Q-Bin” service to move their bags from the airport to the hotel or from one hotel to another. Yamamoto Transport, often referred to as Black Cat or Kuro Neko, is the most widely used, and generally offers a next-day delivery (even same-day for some locations). Learn more here.
Ski without your phone for a day (or more)
The Guardian’s article was big on getting away from phones (eight out of the 100 suggestions involve phones, or lack thereof), and we agree with the sentiment. Spend a day on the slopes without music, business calls, emails or social media and truly unplug. You’ll be more connected to nature, more aware of everything around you on … you might even strike up an interesting conversation on the gondola.
Soothe tired muscles with a daily onsen
Slip into a piping hot, mineral-rich onsen, close your eyes, and feel the tension in your muscles start to ease. If you haven’t acquainted yourself with Japan’s onsen culture, then you’re truly missing out – a post-ski onsen is akin to a vin chaud in France or a Jägertee in Austria. It’s an après-ski must.
Make it onto the first chairlift/gondola of the day
Keen skiers and snowboarders pay hundreds and event thousands of dollars to to go cat skiing or heli skiing, with the goal of skiing fresh powder and getting first tracks. You can do the same for the price of a lift ticket and a little patience. Worth it in every way, and it’s seriously not that hard.
Try soup curry in Hokkaido: the ultimate winter dish
A controversial one, perhaps, but we think Hokkaido’s Soup Curry is the ultimate winter dish – a warming and often spicy soup-like curry, mixed with a variety of meat and vegetables (the recipe can change depending on the location). If you’re skiing in Japan’s northernmost province or, better yet, passing through Sapporo (the home of the dish), then make sure to stop for a soup curry and a cold beer. It will make your life better!
Buy your ski boots with an expert boot fitter
There’s nothing that ruins a ski holiday quite like poorly fitted boots, and the single best thing you can to take most of the risk out of the equation is to have a boot fitter assess your feet and put you in a suitable pair of boots. The tricky part is actually finding someone good. We’ve revealed a few secrets of the dark art in this article.
Try a new konbini snack each day
Japan’s konbinis (convenience stores) are a culinary gold mine, and it pays to be a little bit adventurous. Avoid the temptation of picking the same thing each day and instead, dine on variety, the spice of life.
Take a lesson, even if you’re a good skier / snowboarder
Beginners will gain a huge amount by taking a lesson with a professional, but we’re challenging the intermediates and advanced skiers to sign up for a class or private lesson. You’re never to good to make improvements to your skiing, and you’ll likely learn more about the resort than you’d ever do on your own.
Buy your ski instructor a cold Asahi
And that brings us to our next point: buy your instructor a beer or a coffee. Instructors are often a fountain of local knowledge, and the small gesture is usually highly appreciated and can pay dividends in local tips and advice. Ask them where they head first on a powder day (worth at least the price of a beer…).
Book your room with a traditional futon / tatami set-up
There’s something about sleeping on a futon on a tatami floor that is totally rejuvenating, particularly after a long day on the hill. We’re not sure if it’s the tired muscles or the onsen that precedes it, but we’ve had some of our best sleeps on this traditional Japanese set-up. If nothing else, it’s a quintessential Japanese experience that you won’t get anywhere else.
Take a day to escape to a smaller local hill
There are more than 500 ski resorts in Japan – more than 100 in Hokkaido alone – and many are smaller resorts with just a handful of lifts and a single restaurant / resort centre. Often you’ll find these pint-sized resorts around the corner from the larger ones (Kutchan’s Asahigaoka ski resort near Niseko United, for example). These places are often the heart and soul of the local ski community, with dirt-cheap pricing to boot. Take a day or even an afternoon, you won’t be disappointed.
Ski moguls (especially in Spring)
Japan is rightly known for its powder skiing, but anyone who’s spent a whole season at the snow will tell you that spring (or even earlier) is for mogul skiing. Japanese skiers tend to adore moguls, and in addition to naturally formed mogul fields, you’ll often find a single line to the side of the groomed runs, which can be great fun. Give it a try if you’re up to it! Or get a lesson (see above).
Warm up with a hot beverage from a vending machine
Japan’s vending machines are famous, and in ski resorts they become a very welcome site for anyone looking for a quick way to warm up the body. The choice of beverage can be vast and very personal! A can of hot coffee? Corn soup? Milk tea? Hot lemon? Yes please…
Go ski touring
Ok, so this one doesn’t necessarily fit into the “without really trying” category – you’ll certainly work up a sweat – but if there is a place to try ski touring for the first time, we think it’s Japan. A lot of great skiing is done below the treeline and as a general rule avalanche danger tends to be lower than in Europe or the U.S. (note: dangers are still present and you’ll require an experienced and qualified guide if you’re new to the backcountry). Plus, fresh tracks in Japan’s famous powder are almost a guarantee.
Reserve your seat on the shinkansen
Anyone who’s spent time standing on a crowded shinkansen during peak season will tell you this is a no-brainer. Spend that little bit extra on reserved seats … trust us.
Carry a pair of ice grips
In case you haven’t heard, there’s a lot of snow in Japan, and the streets can be as dangerous as the ski slopes on occasion. Unless you have a very sturdy pair of snow boots, save yourself a trip to emergency and pick up an inexpensive pair of ice grips to attached to the soles of your shoes.
Try a limited edition beer / kit kat / ice cream
Japan is the undisputed home of limited edition food and beverage releases, whether it’s ice cream, beer or kit kats. So, once again, head to the konbini and indulge in a snack or a drink that you won’t get anywhere else in the world, and likely never again in Japan.
Think you’ve got a better suggestion? Submit it here for a chance to be featured in our reader edition.
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