Five Japanese ski resorts you haven’t heard of

Hakkoda Ropeway

If you’ve ever looked into skiing in Japan, you probably know all about Niseko, Hakuba and Nozawa – some of the more popular resorts that are a big part of the ski Japan vernacular these days.

But with 600 ski resorts scattered across Japan, there’s more than a few that are worth talking about.

We’ve rounded up five of the best that you probably haven’t heard of, so that you can throw them into the running for your next ski holiday.

1. Asahidake

Play: Welcome to powder heaven. Asahidake is authentic and gnarly – and in the best possible way. Did we mention it’s an active volcano?  Located in Central Hokkaido, it’s the highest mountain in the area and gets about 14 metres of snowfall each season, all of which is serviced by a cable car.

Explore the tree skiing on offer here, or hike a little to get to the alpine areas, where there are endless freshies to be found. This spot is for the true powder hound, with the cheap lift tickets and minimal lift lines making up for the limited food options and little nightlife.

Stay: You can find a spot to rest your head in the village of Asahidake Onsen – they have hotels and a youth hostel. Stay a couple of nights or incorporate a trip to Asahidake while skiing at nearby Furano.

Getting there: Take a car or bus from Asahikawa or Furano, both of which are about an hour away.

2. Madarao Kogen Ski Resort

Play: Popular with local Japanese, this resort is perfect for those looking to get off the beaten track and away from the more Westernised resorts. With 15 lifts and a variety of runs available for beginner to intermediate skiers and boarders.

For those looking for something more advanced, there’s some great tree skiing to be found and some steep off-piste sections. From the top of the mountain, you can also get access to Tangram Ski Circus, an interconnected ski resort (yep, it is still a ski resort, despite the name).

Stay: The village offers up a number of hotels, apartments or houses available for rent, and pensions. Try the Snowball Chalet if you want some Aussie hospitality with a Japanese twist.

Getting there: Madarao is 38km from the town of Nagano and 23km from Nozawa Onsen, yet another ski resort. Try a day trip from Nozawa Onsen via the bus.

3. Kiroro Ski Resort, Hokkaido

Play: This resort, located just an hour away from the ever-popular Niseko, is perfect for families looking for a quiet resort that still gets a whole lot of snow. Best suited to beginner and intermediate skiers, there are still some opportunities for the powder-obsessed to head into the trees and the backcountry, where you’ll find a lot of untouched snow. While the nightlife is mellow, you can find a ski school, day care and kid-friendly activities here such as onsens, sledding and tubing.

Stay: The resort offers a number of hotels.

Getting there: Head over as a day trip from Niseko, or get a bus there from Sapporo.

4. Naeba, Niigata

Play: This purpose-built ski resort has one of the longest snow seasons in Japan, with chairlifts running into May. It’s most-loved for the groomers on offer, as well as the terrain parks, snowcross course, kids’ snow park, kids’ indoor ski area and – as if everything else in that list wasn’t enough – a family snowland.

In addition to all of that, lifts can spin as late as 10pm, giving you plenty of time to explore the slopes on offer, as well as the runs over at Kagura resort, connected to Naeba. When you’re done with skiing, enjoy the hot springs and local sake.

Stay: The ski-in, ski-out Naeba Prince Hotel is the most famous option in Naeba and incudes some great facilities – including karaoke, an onsen, game centre, Mahjong room (if that’s your thing) and kids’ recreation room.

Getting there: Naeba is only 184km from Tokyo – by train, you can get there within 90 minutes.

5. Hakkoda, Honshu Island

Play: Hakkoda is known amongst the most dedicated of backcountry skiers as a must-try experience. They get a whole lot of powder – up to 20m in a season – and have great terrain for those who have the equipment and the skill to go off-piste.

If not, you can hire a guide to show you around this mountain, which is mostly undiscovered by Westerners. There’s one cable car to transport people up the mountain, so be sure to get there early if it’s a powder day (which it tends to be just about every day throughout the season). While you’re there, keep an eye out for the “snow monsters” – frozen evergreens that create amazing shapes across the landscape. 

Getting there: Get the bullet train from Tokyo to the town of Aomori, which takes about three hours – then catch a taxi or a bus to Hakkoda. Find their website here.

Where have you skiied in Japan?

Natalia is an Australian writer, content creator and communications specialist who's spent the last few years in Canada and Japan. Equally obsessed with the sea and the snow, you can usually find her dreaming - and writing - about one of the two.



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