The Best Skiing and Snowboarding Destinations in Japan For Pros and Rookies Alike
Get the most out of Japan's famous winter sports regions, both on and off the slopes.
December 13, 2022
Japan's skiing and snowboarding season is coming. Each year from December to March, people hit to the slopes in search of some of the lightest and deepest powder in the world.
But you don't only come to these mountain ranges to speed down the pistes. The best of Japanese culture is at every turn up around these regions. Your après ski activities will include soaking in onsen spas, sushi tastings and omakase experiences as well as seeing local art, fashion and snow monkeys.
Head to any of these resorts and mountaintop villages for the ultimate winter escape — or better yet book now.
You will find some of the deepest snow in the world up in Rusutsu. It's on Japan's northern island where most of the famous resorts are found, but it remains a bit less hectic than most — a big win for those who want a little more space on the slopes.
As this is a quieter region, you won't find much nightlife here — those wanting to party should look elsewhere. Instead, this is for those who want to ski and ride hard during the day, and chill at night. This resort also boasts some of the most luxurious natural hot spring baths, so stay an extra day to soak your sore muscles and fully relax surrounded by stunning views.
This terrain is great for every kind of snow sport enthusiast. You'll find super steep runs, a series of jumps, tons of dry powder, half pipes, terrain parks and a few beginner pistes — whatever your snow-loving heart so desires. And if you really can't get enough mountain action, nighttime skiing is also an option at the Goryu Snow Resort.
Hakuba is also close to the famous Snow Monkey Park, where you can watch these entertaining creatures hang out in hot thermal pools like furry little mountain kings. You can also find a whole series of onsen pools around here (which are thankfully monkey-free).
Editor's tip: right now, you can book the ultimate Hakuba ski and snowboarding getaway here (including a 5-day Hakuba lift pass with full access to 9 mountains in the region).
Niseko has got to be the most popular ski resort in all of Japan. And this title brings both the good and the bad with it. First off, the good. Getting here is super easy thanks to the great transport connections and it's the most English-speaking-friendly place to ski and snowboard in Japan. The slopes are also immaculately maintained (made for skiers and snowboarders at all experience levels).
But the increasing fame and popularity has, inevitably, brought crowds in huge numbers. And catering to Western travellers has meant the resort has lost some of its distinct Japanese culture and charm. Affordable accommodation is also challenging to come by — you'll need to book way in advance if you want to find a budget-friendly place to stay.
If you do like to balance your mountain action during the day with proper partying after dark, the nightlife here is booming. Restaurants and bars will cater to most of your tastes — from udon shops to high-end dining and bars — and you can find parties taking place every night of the week.
Located just one hour out of Nagano City, Madarao is known for punching above its weight. It's a smaller resort but has a great reputation among those in the know. It's a battler. One of the most appealing features is that this resort actively encourages people going off-piste. It is banned at most skiing and snowboarding resorts in Japan, so Madarao is made for the true powder hounds.
Another popular winter activity is snowmobiling in the Yakebitaiyama ski fields (known colloquially as ' Yakebi'). You'll feel like James Bond in a chase scene when cruising around on your own snowmobile. It' also one of the best ways to see the incredible scenery of area.
From Madarao it's easy to head down into Nagano City and Toyama (known for having some of the best seafood in Japan). Trains will even take you into Tokyo in a few hours.
Editor's tip: book a week-long skiing adventure up in Madarao and Hakuna here (including all transfers, accommodation and lift passes).
Kiroro is great for those wanting a really authentic Japanese skiing and snowboarding holiday. This smaller resort has huge snowfall but much smaller crowds throughout the season. This does mean that English speakers will need to crack open the phrase book to communicate with the locals — but that's what travelling abroad is all about.
Immerse yourself in Japanese ski culture up here, hitting the many long runs and traversing the stunning backcountry. It's also really well designed for those who want to ski right down the pistes and directly up to the local restaurants, bars and hotels. The non-skiing options also offer up big wins for the family, if you're taking a whole crew. They have heaps of space dedicated to tubing and the equal parts fun and terrifying activity of snow zorbing (rolling around in a Snow Bubble Ball).
Furano is another of the more famous ski and snowboarding resorts in Japan but has retained much of its unique charm. You will get spectacular views, very reliable snowfall and huge variety of slopes. It's also caters really well to English-speaking travellers.
And one of its best qualities is its proximity to the city of Furano. Take a 6km drive down the mountain to find locals and tourists kicking back at restaurants and bars, galleries and idyllic onsen spas. It's also a hugely popular region during spring and summer, when the rolling hills come alive with the colours of blooming lavender, poppies, lilies and sunflowers. This area is a nature-lover's paradise.
This spot is mostly unknown to the international snow sport world — which is actually one of its biggest drawcards. Come here for really honest skiing without a bunch of egos tearing up the slopes at breakneck speed. It also has some of the best backcountry for exploring and experiencing a powder-filled wilderness. Take your time going off-piste here, feeling as if you're the only person on the mountain.
Kagura is also a surprisingly budget-friendly to stay, with food and drinks priced quite a bit more affordably than other resorts in Japan. You'll also get more authentic dining experiences (they won't be changing their menus for Western pallets). But be prepared for super freezing temperatures as this resort is located at higher altitude. Pack your warmest ski gear and load up on the quality thermals when heading to Kagura.
Feeling inspired to book a getaway unlike anything else out there? Through Concrete Playground Trips, our new travel booking platform, can you now purchase holidays specially curated by our writers and editors. We've teamed up with all the best providers of flights, stays and experiences to bring you a series of unforgettable trips at destinations all over the world.
Top images: Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO).
Concrete Playground Trips
Book unique getaways and adventures dreamed up by our editors