Japan has some of the best powder snow in the world, and plenty of it – many resorts can expect up to 6 metres! Add to that the efficient lift systems, well-tended slopes and efficient transportation, and Japan offers a top class ski experience. Many ski resorts are in areas of hot springs; after a day’s skiing, you can relax in the hot spa tub at your hotel before enjoying a Japanese dinner.
Japan has a long tradition of winter sports, and Olympic-standard facilities. In 1972 the Winter Olympics took place in Sapporo, capital of Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. In 1998 the Winter Olympics returned to Japan to the city of Nagano, in the heart of the Japanese Alps.
Both areas are easy to reach, and offer quality accommodation and of course a taste of Japanese traditions, culture and food. Japan is popular as a ski destination for the Australian market, so information in English is almost everywhere and in general English is spoken at all major hotels and lift stations. The facilities have plenty of capacity: crowded slopes and queuing at the ski-lifts are virtually unheard of except at certain weekends and national holidays.
When to go
The ski season runs from the end of November until April or even May at some resorts. But the ideal time to go might be February and March: at that stage the peak season is over but there are actually more sunny days. If you go towards the end of March, you might be able to combine it with the cherry blossom season in Tokyo.
Ski rental and instruction
Thanks to the the demand from visitors from Australia and New Zealand in recent years, ski rental is available for larger, Western shoe sizes. Hire of skis, boots and poles is around Yen 2,000-3,000 per day. Ski schools in English are available. If you bring children, many of the bigger hotels offer kids clubs, with a wide range of activities. The local tourist information offers good updated information in English of all ski schools and kids clubs.
If you are not eating on the slopes, you’ll be enjoying one of the many restaurants around the ski resorts. You can find small local restaurants in the villages, and also dining places on the top of the mountains. Menus are generally available in English, and food is reasonably priced: lunch for under Yen 1,000, and dinner for Yen 1,000-2,000. Beer is also not expensive at around Yen 500, and in some resorts the after-ski crowd is rather lively due to the many Australians.
After dark night skiing is possible on many slopes, usually until around 9pm. The resort buses go on until 11 or 12pm, to get you back from your après-ski.