With 466 resorts spread across 31 prefectures on two islands on the other side of the world, planning a ski trip to the land of the rising sun can be a daunting task. So let the UK's Japan ski specialists help with our guide to the best ski resorts in Japan.
Whether you want to experience the world-famous Japow or you're more interested in taking in new cultures, you want to tick off bucket-list resorts or ski ones that your friends have never heard of, you're in the right place.
We've been skiing and selling Japan since 2008 and have extensive experience across the best resorts in Hokkaido and Nagano. There are few destinations that make us more excited and we'd love to share that passion with you. Call us on 01273 224060 or enquire online and let's start making your Japan dreams come true.
As Ski Safari's Japan Product Manager, I've been lucky enough to visit this wonderful country myself on a number of occasions and Niseko, Japan's biggest and most famous resort, is where I had my first taste of legendary Japow back in March 2017.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so this probably gives you an idea of what I thought:
Niseko is most famous for its powder - an astonishing 14 metres of it falls every winter and it's super light and consistent. It's the perfect mix of quality, quantity and consistency, with snow falling almost every day from December to February, but rarely so much that you can't ski it.
January and February are the most popular times to visit, but I'd argue that March is just as good. Not only is it less crowded and less expensive, you'll also have more visibility. All the better for the incredible scenic views of Mt Yotei!
The mountain itself is made up of four distinct ski resorts each with its own base area, all linked by shuttle bus and by chairlifts at the top of the mountain. This means you can tackle a real variety of terrain, from exceptional tree skiing to vast ungroomed powder bowls to long, fast and wide groomers.
Off the mountain, Niseko is a great introduction to Japan as it's by far the most 'western' of the resorts due to the number of Australians, Brits and Canadians you'll find working there. This means that there's less of a language barrier, but you still get to enjoy all the things that make Japan great.
With the highest number of restaurants and bars of any of our Japanese resorts, eating and drinking is a big part of the experience. Personally, I love the traditional hot pots, but there are also simple izakayas (a bit like a Japanese pub), sushi counters where you can watch your dinner being made, modern fine dining restaurants and much more.
You'll also want to make a daily visit to an onsen (natural hot springs) of which there are many throughout Niseko Hirafu and in most of the hotels. You soon get used to bathing sans swimwear (men's and women's baths are separate) but there are private onsen available if you're feeling shy.
Where to stay in Niseko
The two main bases in Niseko are Hirafu and Niseko Village and where you choose to stay depends largely on your budget and preferred accommodation type.
In upper Hirafu, you'll find luxury 5* slopeside hotels and serviced suites, while lower Hirafu (the oldest part of Niseko) is home to a wide range of condos and townhouses to suit groups and larger families. As the largest base in Niseko, Hirafu has the most cafes, restaurants and bars, whether you're after traditional delicacies, Michelin-starred fine dining or grab-and-go fast food. For slopeside luxury, I would recommend the 4*+ Ki Niseko - right next to the Hirafu Gondola and featuring a great restaurant and on-site onsens (including a private bath for families or couples).
However, my main recommendation for where to stay in Niseko, and where most of our customers choose, is the brilliant ski-in ski-out 4* The Green Leaf in Niseko Village. The area is newer and more purpose-built, with more developments each year including seven new dining experiences for 2023/24! The Green Leaf has on-site rentals, my favourite buffet restaurant serving traditional hot pots and the most beautiful onsen in Niseko. Plus, breakfast is included so that's one less thing to think about in the morning.
What our customers say about Niseko
"Niseko is a great place to start your Japan ski or snowboard adventure. With one ticket, you can ski or ride four areas located around one volcanic peak. With a vehicle, you can travel beyond the Niseko areas and visit other nearby areas to chase the very best conditions of the day. Of course, the main reason to go to Japan is the opportunity to experience the nearly daily snowfall of light, fluffy snow on slopes that are just the right pitch for skiing and riding the lightest snow on earth!" - Dave Lucas
Read our Niseko Resort Guide for more tips on how to make the most of your Niseko Ski Holiday.
From my first Japan trip to my most recent, Hakuba was my final destination of winter 2022/23. With 135 lifts and more than 200 runs across 10 resorts, Hakuba Valley gives you the most skiing and the most variety on one lift pass.
Each area is unique and offers something different, but they all have one thing in common - beautiful alpine scenery. They're not called the Japanese Alps for no reason!
Most of our customers stay close to Happo-One (pronounced Happo On-ay) which, as the largest ski area, is where they spend most of their time on the slopes too. It's where the best ski school is and it's linked by shuttle bus to six more ski areas if you don't fancy driving.
The interlinked resorts of Goryu and Hakuba47 are where you'll likely head next as they're just 10 minutes away, offering long immaculate groomers and the aptly named 'Big Snow Park'.
Hakuba Cortina is the destination of choice for powder lovers. It receives the most snow (12 metres per year) and has the most liberal approach to off-piste in the area. It's particularly good for tree skiing, with perfectly placed mature trees and a steep pitch.
Off the slopes fun includes typical winter activities like snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cross-country, plus authentic Japanese experiences like onsen baths (including amazing rotenburos - smaller onsen baths with incredible mountain views) and sushi bars.
The number one thing you HAVE to do when in Hakuba is visit the Jigokudani Monkey Park, home to the famous Japanese macaques (aka snow monkeys) who spend the day relaxing and playing in the park's hot pools. Tours also include visits to a temple and sake brewery, a brilliant way to take a day off your skis or board.
Where to stay in Hakuba
As I mentioned above, Happo-One is the main accommodation hub with a variety of traditional ryokans (Japanese inns), self-catering apartments and luxurious hotels.
At the higher end, look no further than the modern 5* The Happo - new for 2023/24 and featuring a brilliant location, cool decor, comfortable rooms and fantastic facilities. The in-house onsen and Finnish Sauna are beautifully designed while for food you can choose between mouthwatering barbeque at The Grill or relaxed Aussie-style breakfasts at The Clubhouse. The central location in town provides easy access to the best bars and restaurants, but you're still just a 10 minute stroll from the gondola.
The most authentic option is the 3*+ Hotel Goryukan, a five minute walk from the lifts. Choose between a traditional Japanese tatami room or a standard double, unwind in the indoor/outdoor onsen and enjoy a good breakfast each morning. The owners and staff are very friendly and helpful and will make you feel at home from the moment you arrive.
What our customers say about Hakuba
"Hakuba is a great resort with so much terrain, don't be fooled by the small-looking piste maps - there are ample amounts to keep you going for two weeks and beyond. If you are an advanced rider, you will be in heaven with all the off-piste and backcountry riding on offer. We hardly rode on-piste as there was so much good stuff to be had out the back." - Mark Thewlis
Rusutsu is probably Japan's best resort for families and for tree skiing. It's where I first experienced the perfectly spaced trees that Hokkaido's famous for on a day trip back in 2017.
Just 45 minutes from Niseko, you can visit for the day, add on a couple of nights or even base yourself here and stay in the wonderfully weird and wacky Rusutsu Resort Hotel.
The ski area itself is divided into two completely separate mountains. West Mountain is best for beginners and kids, it's where the ski school meets (English-speaking lessons only available privately) and has a good series of green runs for progressing. There are also a few reds and blacks, plus some of the easier off-piste areas, so it's great for warming up in the morning before you head over to the East Mountain and Mt Isola.
This is where you'll find the longest and steepest runs and the best tree skiing. As long as you're within the ski area boundary, if you can see it you can ski it. This 'go anywhere' attitude is one of my favourite things about Rusutsu and why it's such a fun resort. You can still find fresh tracks days after a storm, although with a world-topping snowfall average of 14 metres, it's likely that your tracks will have been filled by the time you're back at the summit!
Most of the activities are based in the Rusutsu Resort Hotel (more on that below), but families are well catered for with a children's snow park, tubing and snow biking. For a more sedate experience, adults can enjoy dog sledding and relaxing in the indoor and outdoor onsen.
Where to stay in Rusutsu
There's a modern Westin Resort with a monorail and lift to the ski areas (also named 'Japan's Best Ski Hotel 2022'), but I would urge anyone staying in the resort to go for the totally unique 3*+ Rusutsu Resort Hotel.
It's the hub of the resort base, ski-in ski-out on the West Mountain, and it wouldn't be out of place in Disneyland. As you walk in you're met with a 10 ft singing tree and then a Bavarian-style village complete with a two-story antique merry-go-round and a modern shopping mall. These quirks continue as you stroll around the huge property - expect the unexpected and you'll still be surprised.
Facilities include 11 restaurants and bars, an indoor wave pool, a climbing wall and indoor and outdoor onsen.
What our customers say about Rusutsu
"A good range of terrain all with stunning views on a clear day. Great snow. Second time in this resort and would certainly return." - Sally Jones
Simply put, Nozawa Onsen is the most authentic ski resort in Japan, if not the world. First opened over 70 years ago, it retains plenty of traditional Japanese charm.
Once you arrive you soon realise where the town and resort gets its name. Natural hot springs run through the old streets, feeding thirteen public onsen (some of which are centuries old) and providing enough heat to cook the local speciality - onsen-tamago (aka onsen eggs!) - as well as vegetables.
With a focus on traditional guesthouses, the accommodation here is more authentic than in other resorts, and the food is too. Sushi, tempura, soba, yakitori, teppanyaki, sukiyaki, okonomiyaki - it's Japanese cuisine at its best.
It's an easy ski area to navigate - lots of fast pistes and long ridge runs including the famous 10km Sky Line. Off-piste is fairly restricted unless you head to the Yamabiko area at the top of the mountain. This is where you'll find the best powder and some classic tree runs.
Off the slopes, most of your time will be spent eating and bathing your way around Nozawa, but I'd also highly recommend visiting Zenkoji Temple in Nagano and nearby Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park (more about that under Hakuba above).
It's also one of the easier resorts to reach in Japan, just 90 minutes from Tokyo to Nagano by bullet train followed by a 20 minute taxi.
Where to stay in Nozawa Onsen
It's essential that you stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese guest house) when you're in Nozawa Onsen. There are options for all budgets from cheap and cheerful to all-your-needs-met luxury.
The 4* Tokiwaya Ryokan is my favourite. Dating all the way back to the 1600s it offers a slice of Nozawa history. All the rooms are 'tatami' style with futon beds which are tidied away during the day, the breakfast is delicious and there's an amazing onsen. One of our customers even said that the Tokiwaya was worth the fight to Japan alone!
For a touch more luxury, stay at the newly-built high-end 4*+ Kawamotoya. These apartments have the best views in Nozawa and are well-equipped with luxury facilities including a gym, theatre room, private soaking baths ("kashikiri") and a morning shuttle service to the gondola.
I had one of the best breakfasts I've ever had in a resort here at Harding's Café!
What our customers say about Nozawa Onsen
"Nozawa Onsen is a great ski resort. The onsens are a must to visit and immerse you in the culture of the village. We loved visiting the Buddhist temple and did not have a bad meal, everything was delicious. Onsen eggs were particularly good as well as the steamed Nikuman buns which I've had to learn to make since returning." - Robert Harrison
If you want to experience Hokkaido's famous powder but think Niseko might be too Westernised for you, Furano is a good alternative.
The resort is smaller than Niseko but has a relaxed view on off-piste. On a powder day a lot of the slopes are left ungroomed and there's almost always untouched snow in the trees between runs even days after a storm.
The backcountry is huge and can be accessed via four points in the resort (you'll need to register with ski patrol before going) or for the best and safest experience, spend a day or two with a local guide. They may even take you to one of the nearby mountains of Asahidake, Tomamu and Kamui.
Although I've not visited Furano myself, our team have had some of their best days of ski touring using Furano as a base. Two of my former sales colleagues loved it so much they moved there!
The powder is so dry, light and reliable that we used to use it as the base for our Japan Powder Camps with the Warren Smith Ski Academy:
There's lots to do off the mountain from family activities like snowmobiling and snowshoeing to relaxing onsen (of course). In the evenings head into Furano City for a big range of places to eat and drink including snow dome ice bars. Or stay in resort and hit the floodlit slopes every evening until 8pm.
Where to stay in Furano
Although you can stay in Furano City itself, you're here to ski so I recommend staying at either the Furano or Kitanomine base areas.
Opened for the 2023/24 winter season, the 4*+ Fenix Furano has perhaps the best location in resort, just steps from the Kitanomine Gondola and has a rental shop and ski lockers on-site for extra convenience. Rooms range from doubles to 3 bedroom penthouses, all beautifully furnished, and there's a shuttle bus for heading into town for groceries or to grab a bite to eat.
The 4* Winery Hotel & Condominium Hitohana is another popular choice on the Kitanomine side. A boutique hotel with just 37 rooms (all with Western bedding, many with a full kitchen), it's a short walk from the gondola terminal.
What our customers say about Furano
"Wonderful. Plenty to explore if you’re keen to go into the backcountry. Uncrowded, with a laid back vibe." - Ellie Jordan
Last but definitely not least is one of Hokkaido's newest and quietest resorts - Kiroro. Still fairly under-the-radar since opening in 2001, it's all about the deep powder and fantastic tree runs here.
Kiroro receives more consistent snowfall than both Niseko and Rusutsu, but far fewer skiers so fresh lines are up for grabs all day, every day.
In-bounds there are dedicated off-piste areas which I experienced in 2017 and absolutely loved despite only 10cm falling the night before. There's also a big hike-to backcountry area with three designated access points. Definitely hire a guide when heading out of the patrolled area.
It's easy to add Kiroro as a day trip from Niseko, although during powder season I'd happily stay here a week or more!
Where to stay in Kiroro
There's no real village in Kiroro, but the accommodation options provide everything you need for a comfortable stay.
I would recommend the relatively new 4*+ Yu Kiroro, a boutique hotel with spacious apartments and good facilities. The slopes are right outside and the gondola is a 30 metre slide away. There's an indoor and outdoor onsen for relaxing at the end of the day before you head to the Yukashi restaurant for dinner or the Whisky Lounge & Bar for a bespoke après cocktail.
What our customers say about Kiroro
"More powder than Niseko! Plenty of in bounds tree skiing areas." - Colin Weeks
Speak to the UK's Japan Ski Specialists
If you're heading as far away as Japan for a ski holiday then you want to make sure you're booking with a company that knows its stuff. We've been skiing and selling Japan for more than 15 years, so you know you'll be in safe hands.
We can advise on when to travel, where to stay and how to make the most of your trip. We'll take care of all the logistics and we're always a phone call away if you have any questions.
A number of our sales team have skied Japan and can provide personal advice. Call us on 01273 224060 or enquire online and we'll be in touch.