Japan as a ski destination is now becoming world recognised, and particularly for Australians wishing to gain a ski destination during their off season period that is in a similar time zone and with easy access. Japan’s exotic culture, unique landscape and practically guaranteed powder make it the perfect place.
Nagano Prefecture is arguably the go-to region for visitors wishing to enjoy winter sports in Japan. From the 1998 Winter Olympic Games venue Hakuba Happo-one Snow Resort to the family-friendly Karuizawa Prince Hotel Ski Resort, a wide choice of accommodation option.
With close to 80 powder-topped ski fields to choose from in Nagano, deciding what ski run is best for you can be tricker than learning the snow plough turn. Which region gets the best snow? That depends on the weather patterns of each particular season. It is also depending on what you are looking for. I’ve listed a few of the top resorts that are seen as the best for different segments of the ski market.
Where to go if you’re an advanced skier
Location: Situated on Honshu, it’s best accessed via a bullet train from Tokyo to Nagano (100 minutes), followed by a one-hour drive to the resort.
Vertical drop: 1,071m
Top elevation: 1,831m
Longest run: 8km
Why advanced skiers love it: Hakuba spoils you for choice. There are 11 resorts that call Hakuba Valley home, but you only need one lift pass to cover it all. Offering steep terrain and incredible back country touring options, Hakuba offers a vast 960 hectares of skiable terrain to explore.
Hot tip: Hakuba have a strict approach to off-piste skiing with it being heavily policed in some resorts. Sign up for a backcountry tour where a guide will take you to some of the best backcountry terrain in the area.
Where to go if you’re a snowboarder
Location: 40-minute drive from Hakuba Ski Resort in Nagano Prefecture
Vertical drop: 500m
Top elevation: 1,400m
Longest run: 3.5km
Steepest run: 42 degrees
Why snowboarders love it: Being a good-sized resort with plenty of varied terrain, Hakuba Cortina is home to only one main hotel – meaning crowds are minimal. Expect lots of good tree runs with steeper pitch – ideal for those deep powder days. Or for those feeling adventurous, there’s some very good side country easily accessible from the lifts.
Hot tip: If you fancy doing a day trip from Hakuba, buy the lift pass-onsen-lunch deal that allows you to ride hard all day, feast on a healthy lunch then wrap up the day by relaxing in the Hotel Green Plaza onsen. It’s worth it!
Where to go if you’re Japanese cultural lover
Ski field: Nozawa Onsen
Location: In Nagano prefecture on Honshu, it’s best accessed via a one-hour and 45-minute bullet train ride from Tokyo, followed by a 20-minute drive to the resort.
Vertical drop: 1,085m
Top elevation: 1,650m
Longest run: 10km
Why Japanese cultural lovers love it: Nozawa Onsen offers some delightful Japanese culture. The town is authentic and endearing, and there are lots of onsens (hot springs) to soak in after a hard day on the slopes. The skiing and snowboarding are also very impressive.
Hot tip: Visit Jigokudani Monkey Park to see the snow monkeys relaxing in a hot spring onsen. There are a number of operators offering day tours from Nozawa Onsen and surrounding resorts.
About Central Japan
The area encompassing the nine prefectures of Aichi, Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui, Nagano, Gifu, Shizuoka, Mie and Shiga, which includes the three major metropolitan areas of Nagoya, Shizuoka and Hamamatsu. Situated between Tokyo and Kyoto, it occupies the centre of Japan’s main island, Honshu.