Japan is steeped in legend and myth, yet actually very easy to get to know. With more people expected to book a Japan ski holiday this winter than ever before, we want to know why?
Everybody loves a top ten…. So here are 10 reasons to book a Japan ski holiday this winter.
Snow – or ‘Yuki’ in Japanese – is perhaps the main attraction for many powder hungry skiers and snowboarders. Resorts in Japan regularly receive the highest annual snowfall worldwide, with only Mt Baker in the US regularly receiving more of the white stuff.
But it is not just the quantity but the quality that makes it special. Extremely dry winds coming from the Asian continent hit the Sea of Japan and hungrily suck up as moisture. As the air hits the coastal mountains of Japan it’s forced up into colder altitude meaning it dumps it’s recently acquired moisture as snow.
Because the air is so dry, and the crossing of the Sea of Japan so short, it forms very dry and very light snowflakes that do not stick together. The result is the driest, lightest powder on earth, that is only rivaled by some inland west coast resorts of North America, but they don’t get nearly as much snow.
So for guaranteed, epic powder conditions no other country comes close. For the lightest, driest powder book a Japan ski holiday this winter to the northern Island of Hokkaido, where Niseko – the most famous Japanese ski resort – is located. Check out our guide to Niseko skiing holidays for more info.
Japanese people have a reputation for being friendly and it’s a well deserved. A trip to Japan, whether it’s to ride the deep snow or just to soak up the culture, will leave you with a smile on your face. This friendliness is contagious, and soon enough you’ll be striking up a conversation on the chairlift in spite of the language barrier.
Japanese people also pride themselves on giving great service, so wherever you go you’ll be treated to a smile. Many foreigners – or ‘Gaijin’ – also work in the ski resorts as an opportunity to make some money, experience the culture, and of course enjoy the epic snow.
In our experience the westerners in Japan ski resorts are a great source of advice. They are always willing to help you out and are far more friendly than most seasonaires in European resorts – which is probably down to the Japanese approach rubbing off on them.
Japan, undeniably, has a high population for a relatively small country. However, skiing and snowboarding is a lot less crowded than popular European or American resorts. It is very uncommon to have to wait more than a few minutes in a lift line, and even this is classed as busy.
Yes, holidays such as Chinese New Year can bring a relatively high number of people to resorts and weekends can get slightly more crowded. But plan around these times and you will have the slopes to yourself. Also if you venture off-piste you will often have an entire powder covered mountainside to play in with no scrum for first tracks.
Don’t worry that a lack of people on the slopes suggests a lack of nightlife. Strangely enough, find the right bar and you’ll be surrounded by like-minded party-goers willing to dance the night away.
It’s a little known fact that Japan has the most ski resorts of any country – around 500, down from 600 in the 1990s. This is a much argued point, as many publications list the US first (around 420) and Japan second (around 300). However Japan has many small ski areas that for various reasons are not counted.
But for a small country Japan clearly has a huge amount of ski resorts. Those that are not ‘officially counted’ are quite small, with just one or two surface lifts and tiny vertical in comparison to their North American European counterparts. However, there are still hundreds of proper sized ski resorts in Japan.
For example Hakuba, situated in the main island of Honshu, is probably the most accessible. It hosted the 1998 winter Olympics and there are around 20 other ski areas nearby. Each resort has its own individual merits and they are all connected by a reliable and easy to use bus service.
On the northern island of Hokkaido, Niseko is the most famous resort. Such is the appeal of the epic snow here that many westerners have chosen to live here permanently and started their own businesses. Making Niseko the most western of Japanese ski resorts.
Compared to what many people believe Japan is not that expensive. Lift passes and rental equipment are actually cheaper than major western resorts. For those wanting to improve their technique, lessons are also competitively priced, and most of the big resorts have native English speaking instructors.
Food and accommodation vary from place to place with the big name resorts more expensive than less well known ski areas. But on the whole the more you spend the better quality you receive, so the cost to book a Japan ski holiday this winter is down to your preferences.
European-style chalet accommodation is uncommon in Japan, but a wide range of hotels and inns make up for this. Five-star luxury hotels offering haute cuisine and a choice of Japanese or Western-style rooms sit alongside more moderate, family friendly fares.
For those with unlimited budget looking for an entirely Japanese experience, a stay in a traditional Ryokan is a must – the private ‘onsen’ is often worth the cost alone. For those on a tighter budget, there are also numerous backpacker style lodges and homely guest houses.
The Onsen alone are a good enough reason to book a Japan ski holiday this winter. At first the idea of sharing an over-sized bath with several other people, all entirely naked, might not sound all that appealing. But when you get over your self consciousness, you’ll find there is nothing more relaxing after a long day on the mountain.
Most Onsen in ski resort towns channel the water from the natural, volcanic hot springs in the earth. The water in one is never the same as another, and each is believed to have it’s own unique healing or restorative power.
Trying several different Onsen during a stay can be part of the fun. And what better way to unwind than soaking in these mineral enriched waters as the snow falls around you, gazing back up at the mountains you have just skied down.
A feast for the eyes as well as the stomach, Japanese food is as exquisite in appearance as it is in flavour. Sushi and sashimi don’t taste half as good anywhere else, and the varieties are endless.
Not a raw fish fan? Then try Japan’s answer to the pizza, okonomiyaki. More of a savoury pancake in reality, it literally means ‘add what you like’. Often the ingredients are served and then it’s up to you to cook over a hotplate built into the table. Great for sharing, it is a very sociable way to eat – and as filling as any fondue.
Other Japanese options include incredible noodles and yummy gyoza (dumplings) plus so much more. There are also pizza restaurants and Mexican establishments aplenty, but if you’ve made the effort to get here, don’t leave without sampling Japan’s wonderful cuisine.
Japan has suffered a series of tragedies in recent years. One way to help is by visiting this magical land and not be put off by false rumours or naivety. The recovery has been slow by Japanese standards, but they expect more foreign tourists to book a Japan ski holiday this winter that ever before.
The last reason to book a Japan ski holiday this winter is to try something different. But be warned you’ll probably fall in love with the country, its food, it’s generous people, and epic powder, returning each year for a skiing or snowboarding holiday.
And even if it ends up being a one off visit, you’ll have enjoyed some extraordinary experiences to talk about for years to come. So really, you owe it to your future self to give skiing or snowboarding in Japan a go this winter.
If these 10 reasons to book a Japan ski holiday this winter have you itching to know more then check out our guide to Japan skiing holidays to find out more about the different ski areas.