Welcome, Winter! Quick Guide to Skiing in Japan

Welcome, Winter! Quick Guide to Skiing in Japan

Update: 24 April 2018

Japanese winter is amazing! Areas like Nagano and Yuzawa are known for their excellent powder snow and gain popularity with each season, drawing in not only Japanese winter sport fans but more and more visitors from abroad. But when is the best time to ski and where to go? Let’s take a look at the different areas close to Tokyo and other need-to-know things about skiing and snowboarding in Japan.

When is Ski Season in Japan?

When is Ski Season in Japan?

November to late March and early April is the general season for Japan’s pistes. While the first snow varies by region, especially comparing East, West, and North, the opening times of resorts are roughly the same. Only those with abundant snowfall tend to be open longer, mostly throughout April.

When is Peak Season?

Ski resorts' peak season is mid-January to early February. The snowfall is particularly abundant during these months and the quality of the powder snow is also outstandingly good. However, a lot of snow also brings harsh coldness.

Stable Climate from March

March marks the end of harsh winter days and the temperatures get milder. It’s the most popular time for students and families to hit the pistes, so it may get crowded. In Western Japan and Kanto, the snow already starts to melt but areas like Tohoku, Hokkaido, and Nagano still offer a stable amount and quality of snow.

5 Ski Resorts Close to Tokyo

5 Ski Resorts Close to Tokyo

A lot of Japan's ski resorts can be reached fairly easily and conveniently from Tokyo, some in under two hours. Take a look at the main winter sports areas around the Japanese capital, their key features, and how to get to them.

Yuzawa Ski Resorts

Yuzawa Ski Resorts

Nicknamed “snow country,” Niigata Prefecture’s Yuzawa is northwest of Tokyo, nestled in the Japanese Alps. Its closeness to Tokyo makes it one of Japan’s largest and most popular winter sports areas in Japan, offering a large amount of snow and over a dozen resorts.

Key Features:
・interconnected resorts and lifts
・especially recommended for beginners
・advanced pistes available at certain resorts
・marvelous scenery

Season:
Early December to early April

Access from Tokyo:
1) Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Echigo-Yuzawa Station (about 80 minutes, ~6,500 yen one-way)
※Covered by the Japan Rail Pass, JR East Nagano Niigata Area Pass and JR Tokyo Wide Pass.

Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort

Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort

Nozawa Onsen is a charming, traditional hot spring village in Nagano Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo. Well-equipped for international tourists, it is one of Japan’s most popular winter sports choices and offers diverse terrain for every level and a traditional hot spring experience in town.

Key Features:
・1,085 meter vertical drop
・equal distribution of beginner, intermediate, and advanced pistes
・a lot of snowfall and powder snow
・multilingual maps, signs, and pamphlets
・amazing hot springs

Season:
Late November to early May

Access from Tokyo:
By train:
1) Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Iiyama Station (about 100 minutes, ~8,830 yen one-way)
2) Nozawa Onsen Liner from Iiyama Station to Nozawa Onsen (about 25 minutes, 600 yen one-way)

By bus:
1) Shuttle Bus from Narita or Haneda Airport to Nozawa Onsen (about 5-6 hours, 11,000 yen one-way)

Hakuba Ski Resorts

Hakuba Ski Resorts

Located northwest of Tokyo and right in the heart of the Japanese Alps in Nagano, Hakuba is a top choice for many winter sports fans, both Japanese and international. The variety of terrain makes the area fun and challenging for all levels and Hakuba offers numerous ski resorts to choose from.

Key Features:
・no interconnected slopes but free shuttle buses and shared lift tickets
・a total of 137km of piste
・over 100 lifts
・courses for every level
・great for freestylers
・a lot of powder snow

Season:
December to April

Access from Tokyo:
By train (option 1):
1) Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Nagano Station (about 100 minutes, ~8,000 yen one-way)
2) Express Bus from Nagano Station to Hakuba Station (about 70 minutes, ~2,000 yen one-way)
※The Shinkansen is covered by the Japan Rail Pass, but not the bus.

By train (option 2):
1) Azusa Limited Express from Shinjuku Station to Hakuba (direct once a day, about 4 hours, ~8,500 yen one-way)
※Covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

By bus:
Direct Highway Bus from Shinjuku to Hakuba (about 4.5 hours, ~4,850 yen one-way)

Minakami Ski Resorts

Minakami Ski Resorts

A favorite skiing resort of Tokyoites, Minakami Ski Resorts is located in northern Gunma Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo. With few international tourists, it has a local feel to it and offers several resorts and pistes for all levels, while being especially recommended for beginners and intermediates.

Key Features:
・good to great snow quality
・beginner-friendly
・family-friendly
・plenty of hot springs

Season:
December to April

Access from Tokyo:
1) Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Jomo Kogen Station (about 75 minutes, ~5,500 yen one-way)
2) Bus from Jomo Kogen Station to Minakami Station (about 25 minutes, ~620 yen one-way)
※The Shinkansen is covered by the Japan Rail Pass, but not the bus.

Zao Onsen Ski Resort

Zao Onsen Ski Resort

Zao Onsen Ski Resort is located in northeastern Tohoku’s Yamagata Prefecture and is famous for its many hot springs. Mount Zao is a volcanic mountain range that offers the unique spectacle of “snow monsters,” fir trees that are so clumped with ice and snow that they take on the most curious shapes.

Key Features:
・881 meter vertical drop
・10km run
・about 32 lifts
・recommended for beginner and intermediate level
・few black pistes

Season:
Until early May

Access from Tokyo:
1) Yamagata Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Yamagata Station (about 2.5 hours, ~11,000 yen one-way)
2) Bus from Yamagata Station to Zao Onsen Bus Terminal (about 40 minutes, 1,000 yen one-way)

The Piste Map, a Skiers Best Friend

The Piste Map, a Skiers Best Friend

Piste maps offer a clear and easy overview of available courses, lifts, restaurants, restrooms and more with easy-to-understand icons. The difficulty level of courses is color-coded, so the maps are easy to read even without any knowledge of Japanese. They’re distributed at ticket counters, in restaurants, and kiosks or simply ask a staff member for a copy.

Skill & Difficulty Levels

Skill & Difficulty Levels

The difficulty of a course is indicated with lines and colors. Green means beginner level, red means intermediate, and black is used for advanced pistes. Dashed lines indicate areas that are currently under maintenance, while red areas with diagonal stripes are off limits.

Skiing and snowboarding in Japan is a unique experience that combines the fun of winter sports with savoring traditional hot spring culture. With the basics covered, check out our other guides on the topic!

Copy: Chiho Kuriyama. Editing by Pamela Drobig and Timothy Sullivan.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.

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