Stunning views, no queues, low prices and easy tree skiing at Amihari Onsen

If you’ve never done any tree runs or powder skiing, Amihari Onsen Ski Resort is one of the best places in Japan to start. It’s a compact resort close to Morioka in northern Honshu, with mellow, easy-access tree areas between the runs. There are no lift queues, while lift tickets, food and drinks are surprisingly affordable.

Amihari Onsen is another one of those Japanese resorts dominated by skiers (80/20 split according to their website) who mostly stay on piste. So, after a dump, there’s no rush. You can easily find powder stashes for a few days and pick your lines through the easy trees. Or, if you’re more experienced, you can get a guide and explore the open bowls over the ridge towards Mt Iwate.

Off-piste is officially prohibited, but there seems to have been a big change in attitudes towards tree skiing across northern Honshu for the 2023-24 season. Just last year, even the resorts that encouraged tree skiing wanted you to register, wear a bib or armband, stick to the designated areas, and show that you have a helmet and a charged phone.

Many have now dropped this and are happy for visitors to assume responsibility on the mountain. As long as you’re respectful and know what you are doing, you shouldn’t get into trouble for skiing the trees at Amihari. If in doubt, watch the locals and do as they do.

Lifts and terrain

Officially, Amihari has four pair lifts and seven courses. In reality, one of the chairlifts hardly ever runs and goes virtually to the same spot as the first chair, and the resort counts connected green (beginner), red (intermediate), and blue (expert) runs as separate courses. The first lift at the base area also serves a beginners’ area. It’s basically three (old and a little slow) chairlifts to the top and three distinct routes down, with cat tracks that interconnect the routes – although it feels wrong to call them cat tracks as some are wide, winding, and an enjoyable cruise through amazing scenery. Getting to the top can take a while, but then it’s a good long run down. There’s not much thinking involved: just ride the three chairs, dip in and out of the trees and repeat. You can’t really get lost if you stick to the middle of the resort. If you usually stop for a rest on the way down, at Amihari, you’ll quickly get into the rhythm of running top to bottom without stopping, then jumping on the lift for a rest.

Unless you’re aiming for it, just make sure you avoid the giant bowl over the ridge to skiers left from the top chair clearly marked on the trail map – and don’t follow the tracks of the backcountry tours headed that way. The terrain is fun, but it isn’t out of this world.

Amihari Onsen trail map

The Amihari Onsen trail map, highlighting the advanced courses. Image:

There’s 710m of vertical, which isn’t bad for a small resort in northern Japan (Appi Kogen has 828m; Niseko Annupuri, 756m; Getto Kogen, 430m) and the longest route down is 5km, although avoiding the green runs and cat tracks it’s around 3km. There are also a couple of steepish spots at 35 and 37 degrees marked on the trail map – which you could use as a guide to sniff out the steepest tree skiing on either side of the marked courses. The areas of evergreen trees are more spacious, while the leafless deciduous trees can get a little tight in places.

Like other resorts in the area, it’s small, quiet, and easy to navigate without a map, and the majority of the people who are there aren’t very interested in fresh powder. If the temperature drops and it snows hard, most people will probably call it a day and you’ll have the mountain to yourself. They don’t groom every run every day, and they don’t usually bash all the way to the edge of the trees, so there’s plenty of powder to be had most mornings, even before you need to venture into the trees.

An adult one-day lift ticket is just ¥4,500, or you can buy in advance from their website for ¥4,050. Elementary school-aged children and younger are free (under 12).


Like all the resorts around Mount Iwate, it snows a lot at Amihari. I’m not sure they care about recording annual snowfall as figures are hard to find, but all you need to know is that, on average, it snows an astounding 6.2 days per week in January and 5.8 days a week in February. You tend to notice when it doesn’t snow rather than when it does. Amihari is one of the rare places in the world where I’ve experienced free refills – the snow was so light, fluffy, and deep, and it was snowing so hard – with gigantic snowflakes – that by the time we completed a lap, our previous tracks had been filled in.

Amihari Onsen snowfall

As usual, it’s snowing with huge snowflakes at Amihari

Appi Kogen, 30km to the north gets around 12m a year, and Geto Kogen, 80km to the south receives 15m at comparable elevations. Amihari might not get as much, but nobody knows for sure.

Accommodation and Resort Services


There’s only one hotel in Amihari Onsen, the Amihari Onsen Hotel (Kyukamura Iwate-Amiharionsen in Japanese). It’s not quite ski-in ski-out, but it’s a very short walk to the lifts.

The reception and shop at Amihari Onsen Hotel

The reception and shop at Amihari Onsen Hotel

The western-style rooms are compact and have a toilet and sink but no bath or shower. Washing is supposed to be done at the onsen baths. Laundry can also be done at their coin-operated laundry area which means you don’t need to overpack for your trip.

A western-style twin room at the Amihari Onsen Hotel

A western-style twin room at the Amihari Onsen Hotel

The hotel is excellent value at around ¥20,000, including the impressive breakfast and dinner buffets, while single occupancy rooms are available for ¥14,000. With Iwate Kogen Resort right next door and Shizukuishi, the Hachimantai resorts and Tazawako all within an hour’s drive, it also makes a perfect base for a multi-resort stay. The hotel feels very quiet, and guests are respectful, even though when we stayed it was full, and there were a reasonable number of overseas guests.


You can get a bullet train from Tokyo Station or Ueno to Morioka. Then, if you hire a car, it’s a 40-minute drive to Amihari or 60 minutes on the free shuttle bus. If you’re using Google Maps to get to the hotel, don’t take the right turn before the ski resort; that’s the onsen and visitors centre, but it’s pinned on Google Maps as the hotel. The hotel reception is up a slightly hidden road in the small resort car park next to the first lift. Just head to the base area of the ski resort.


The facilities are basic and mainly housed in one small building at the base area car park. There’s a cafe, a restaurant upstairs, a small shop with snacks and limited basic equipment, and a rental counter.

A western-style twin room at the Amihari Onsen Hotel

The base area and car park at Amihari Onsen Ski Resort

Rental is available at ¥4,000 a day for skis, boots and poles or a snowboard and boots, while the resort encourages people to come “hands-free” and rent a complete set of kit including jacket, pants, hat, goggles and gloves, which will set you back ¥9,800. Beware, though, Japanese people are smaller on average and have smaller feet, so check ahead if you need bigger sizes or a longer board or skis.


It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to book lessons in any language other than Japanese (again, check ahead) while snowboarding lessons are only available on weekends and public holidays. One day (4 hours) costs ¥6,000, while a two-hour private lesson is ¥15,000.

Attractions & Activities


The outdoor onsen

The outdoor onsen at the Aminhari Onsen Hotel. Image:

In the winter, the onsen are the only real activity other than skiing and snowboarding. The hotel’s main building has two onsen for guests, with separate indoor and outdoor baths for both men and women. There’s also another public onsen five minutes walk from the hotel. A good portion of the guests seem not to be here for the winter sports. There are many elderly guests who seem to be here for the mountain air, onsen and exceptionally good food.

The indoor onsen at the Aminhari Onsen Hotel

The indoor onsen at the Aminhari Onsen Hotel. Image:


Sometimes, a hotel buffet can mean cold food that’s not very well prepared or an ugly free-for-all. Here, there was plenty of staff cooking fresh eggs in the morning to order, or high-quality beef steaks and excellent quality sushi on offer, while guests seemed to be mostly respectful locals.

A selection of sashimi, sushi and freshly fried steak at Amihari Onsen Hotel

A selection of sashimi, sushi and freshly fried steak at Amihari Onsen Hotel

It’s obvious that the food is one of the reasons this remote resort-side hotel attracts discerning Japanese guests with no interest in skiing, as well as international skiers and snowboarders.

Freshly fried steak and tempura at the Amihari Onsen Hotel dinner buffet

Freshly fried steak and tempura at the Amihari Onsen Hotel dinner buffet

For lunch at the base area, food is ordered from a machine. It’s in Japanese, but you can match the characters on the buttons with the pictures on the wall. As is usual everywhere in Japan, the ramen was excellent.

Lunch at the base area

Prices for lunch at the base area range from about ¥900-1,300 for a main and just ¥400 for a beer

Culture & Ambience

Amihari Onsen is beautifully quiet. You get the feeling that, apart from the snowboarders, very little has changed around here in the last 30 years. And that’s a good thing. It feels very Japanese but different from the bustle of Tokyo, Kyoto, or Hokkaido. Here, as an international guest, you are genuinely made to feel welcome and don’t feel like part of the invading hordes.

If you want to experience low-stakes tree power skiing without breaking the bank, I can’t think of a better place to begin. The quality of the snow, the views (when it’s not dumping), the sheer lack of crowds and the ease of finding deep powder make Amihari an incredible place.