It’s not well known outside Japan, but the country is one of the world’s leading ski nations with more than 500 resorts including many world class resorts. Twice a Winter Olympic host, most recently in 1998. The best ski holidays Japan has to offer are at world famous resorts like Niseko, but there’s been skiing here for over a century, and ski areas have spread right across the country.
Skiing really boomed in Japan in the 1980s when resorts had to operate nearly 24 hours to cope with demand, but after the country’s economic stagnation in the early 1990s the number of regular skiers dropped by around two thirds from its 20m+ peak. It was the Australians who ‘discovered’ Japanese skiing ‘en masse’ a little over a decade ago and then the secret was out and skiers started to arrive in Japan, once a fairly closed destination in practical terms to outsiders, from all over the world.
Although it’s the remarkably abundant light powder snow that’s Japanese skiing’s best known asset, making fans feel the long journey is well worth the trip, there are plenty of other unique selling points to the best ski holidays Japan offers.
It’s a unique cultural experience for one with the eternally friendly, polite and efficient Japanese and their superb sushi to eat and enriching onsen hot springs for an après ski soak.
If you have any concerns about earthquakes and radiation from Fukushima, rest assured radiation levels in the country outside the immediate zone are reported to be lower than in the UK, and all Japanese buildings are built to high earthquake proof standards.
Although Niseko is the best known Japanese ski resort, like any top skiing nation there are dozens more to choose from.
Hokkaido, Japan’s most northerly and least developed major island which claims its best sushi as well as best snow is not only home to Niseko but other Famous name areas like Furano.
Nozawa Onsen is another famous Japanese ski area with a wintersports heritage dating back to 1924 when Austrian ski pioneer from St Anton and Lech, Hannes Schneider, arrived to help teach skiing. Still known as an unspoilt village, it is also famous for the snow monkeys that bathe in its natural hot springs.
The ski town of Yazawa is home to several world-class ski area including Naeba, which among its claims to fame is home to one of the world’s largest ski hotels, the 4,000 room Prince Hotel, and being home to one of the world’s longest gondolas at 5.4km in length.
Shiga Kogen, a giant ski region with more than 20 separate areas and a host of many of the 1998 winter Olympic events is another of Japan’s most famous resorts, and Appi Kogen, with its 18 chair and gondola lifts has rapidly risen to become one of the country’s most popular resorts despite only opening at the height of the ski boom in the early 1980s so is only a little over 30 years old.
Without wheels, the best ski resort to head to from Tokyo is Gala Yuzawa. With a Shinkansen (Bullet Train) station Gala Yuzawa can be reached in just 90 minutes from Tokyo.
Most people choose Niseko for their first ski holiday in Japan and certainly for the best ski holidays Japan can offer its hard to beat. Indeed some globe trotting skiers who have scoured the world decide they’ve found their Nirvana there and never go anywhere else, but Japan does have a vast choice of skiing if you do decide to eventually venture further afield.