1. Niseko
    Photo: Chung Jin Mac/DreamstimeNiseko, Hokkaido
  2. Hakuba Valley
    Photo: M_blue_surgeon/ShutterstockHakuba Valley, Nagano

8 best snow and ski destinations in Japan

Suit up and hit the slopes at these amazing snow resorts and mountain villages around Japan this winter

Kaila Imada
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Kaila Imada
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Japan’s remarkable snow conditions make it one of the best places around the world to go skiing and snowboarding. After all, there’s hardly much to complain about when you’ve got endless powder, friendly locals, great food and relaxing onsen to look forward to.

Even if you can’t make it during the winter, many ski resorts stay open through spring and there is still plenty of snow to plow through. Can’t decide on a location? Here are some of the top ski resorts and mountain villages you should check out around the country.

RECOMMENDED: The most beautiful winter destinations in Japan

Winter wonderlands

Niseko, Hokkaido
Photo: Chung Jin Mac/Dreamstime

Niseko, Hokkaido

Sometimes called the powder capital of the world, Niseko is probably the most well-known ski spot in all of Japan. Regularly frequented by locals and tourists alike, the entire Niseko area is extremely English-friendly. Niseko Ski Resort is ideal for skiers and snowboarders of all levels and is home to a variety of groomed trails as well as off-piste trails where you can take advantage of fresh powder. Après-skiing, Hirafu Village offers plenty of activities, shopping, restaurants and a solid nightlife scene, which you don’t often find at other ski villages around Japan.

Niseko is roughly two hours’ drive southwest from Sapporo, but there are plenty of shuttle buses and trains to get you to the area from the city or New Chitose International Airport. 

Rusutsu, Hokkaido
Photo: Kristopher Bason/Dreamstime

Rusutsu, Hokkaido

Blessed with heavy snowfall, Rusutsu is a great option for a snowy Hokkaido getaway that’s a little less crowded than Niseko. The snow resort is only about 30-minutes from Niseko by car, so it makes a good day trip if you’d like to try out different trails for a day or two. Rusutsu offers well-groomed ski terrain ideal for beginners and intermediate riders while powderhounds will appreciate the untouched trails and tree paths full of freshly fallen snow. 

Whether you're coming from New Chitose Airport or Sapporo, the drive to Rusutsu is just 90 minutes. There are also shuttle buses between the resort and the city as well as the resort and the airport.

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Nozawa Onsen, Nagano
Photo: Kamzoh/Pixta

Nozawa Onsen, Nagano

As you can guess by its name, Nozawa Onsen was a hot spring town before it became a renowned ski destination. That means the best way to wind down after a day on the slopes is at one of the 13 free public bathhouses in town. The snow resort is extremely family-friendly and offers diverse terrain. There's just one main ski area in Nozawa, but it's quite large, offering tree trails, groomed runs and plenty of moguls. The village itself is full of Japanese charm and the accommodation options are mainly Japanese guesthouses, but it’s all very English-friendly. 

Nozawa Onsen is in the northern part of Nagano prefecture and is within easy reach from central Tokyo. A two-hour shinkansen ride will get you to Iiyama Station, where you can transfer to a shuttle bus that will take you directly to Nozawa Onsen in just 20 to 25 minutes.

Shiga Kogen, Nagano
Photo: Norikazu/Dreamstime

Shiga Kogen, Nagano

There are few places in Japan where you can ski and enjoy sakura all in one trip. Shiga Kogen has a shockingly long ski season, usually open from the middle of November until the end of May. Even better, Shiga Kogen is also one of the largest resorts in the entire country, encompassing 19 different ski areas, which can all be accessed with one convenient lift pass. 

Covering such a large area, the resort offers trails for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities. While the resort lacks luxury accommodation, Shiga Kogen offers the best range of traditional Japanese ryokan guesthouses, where you can experience Japan’s friendly hospitality. It’s also close to popular destinations such as Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. 

Shiga Kogen is part of Joshinetsu National Park in Nagano prefecture and is accessible from Tokyo by shinkansen and bus. The shinkansen ride from central Tokyo to Nagano takes roughly an hour and a half followed by a 70-minute bus ride.

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Hakuba Valley, Nagano
Photo: M_blue_surgeon/Shutterstock

Hakuba Valley, Nagano

Hakuba Valley is an expansive ski area in the Japanese Alps comprising ten different snow resorts. Plenty of snow and stunning scenery make for an enjoyable getaway where you can easily shuttle between the various resorts to make the most of the diverse area. Numerous hot springs are dotted around the valley and are a great place to relax after a day of riding the trails. Hakuba is also very English-friendly and is a popular spot for international travellers. 

Hakuba Valley is accessible in under three hours from central Tokyo via shinkansen and bus. An hour-and-a-half shinkansen ride will get you to Nagano Station, then an hour-long bus ride will take you directly into Hakuba.

Appi Kogen, Iwate
Photo: ガイム/PhotoAC

Appi Kogen, Iwate

While many people tend to frequent either Hokkaido or the Nagano region, there’s plenty more great skiing in between the two, including Appi Kogen in Iwate prefecture. As the largest ski resort in the Tohoku region, Appi Kogen offers deep powder skiing, groomed trails and a range of facilities to keep you entertained after you're finished shredding the slopes. Appi Kogen Ski Resort features a total of 21 courses, with a welcoming range for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. Compared to other popular snow resorts around the country, Appi Kogen is still fairly under-the-radar, so you’ll see a lot more locals here. Don’t worry, though – it’s still English-friendly and easy to get around. 

To get to the resort, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour shinkansen ride from central Tokyo to Morioka Station. From there, you can take a shuttle bus or local train up to Appi Kogen.

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Naeba, Niigata
Photo: Benoist/Shutterstock

Naeba, Niigata

Beautiful Naeba is tucked in the southern area of Yuzawa, Niigata prefecture and may ring a bell to music fans as it’s also the home of the Fuji Rock festival. The area has over 20 individual snow resorts, including the popular Naeba Ski Resort where you’ll find the ski-in, ski-out Naeba Prince Hotel. Naeba is connected to Kagura Ski Resort via the Dragondola, Japan's longest gondola lift, giving you the option to ski and snowboard through both areas. There are trails fit for riders of all levels, including beginner slopes and challenging paths for advanced skiers. There are also terrain parks for those who want to show off a few tricks.

The shinkansen from Tokyo to Echigo-Yuzawa station takes 70 to 90 minutes, then a complimentary Naeba Prince Hotel bus takes you up to the ski resort in under an hour.

Myoko Kogen, Niigata
Photo: Michellemealing/Dreamstime

Myoko Kogen, Niigata

Myoko Kogen is made up of nine main ski resorts, all interconnected with Akakura village as the central point for the resort area. Each snow resort boasts ample snowfall and caters to everyone from newbies to advanced riders looking for an adrenaline rush. The Akakura Kanko Hotel is a must-visit spot as it was one of the very first European-style ski resorts in Japan. It's also located right on the Akakura ski hill, making it easy to ski in and ski out. After a day in the snow, wind down with a warm dip at one of the seven renowned natural hot springs in Myoko.

Myoko is an hour and a half by shinkansen from central Tokyo to Nagano, with shuttle buses or local trains to take you further into the Myoko region.

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