This is a guest post by Aleisha Ray with additional material by Andy Higgs
You may be familiar with Japan as a cultural hub with stunning temples, delicious food, and a rich history, but the land of the rising sun has so much more to offer. When the days get shorter and the air gets cooler, Japan’s northern region is the perfect place to escape to for a winter holiday.
With an eclectic range of ski resorts to suit any traveller, Japan offers one of the best winter wonderlands in the world. If you’re looking to liven up your winter travel itinerary, add these resorts onto your list and beat the winter blues, Japanese-style.
Image obtained from Flickr.com under Creative Commons (c) Edz’sta
With world-class ski slopes located a short while away, Furano is the ideal place to stay if you want to test your winter sport abilities. The resort is situated in the ‘powder belt’ area in the centre of Hokkaido and enjoys an impressive annual snowfall of nine metres with some of the driest powder snow anywhere in the world. There are 10 lifts – one of which is the fastest cable car in Japan – and more than 20 trails. The town offers an authentic traditional Japanese experience – thankfully, the locals are used to visitors so the resort is incredibly tourist-friendly. Furano has a small-town appeal too and all staff, guides, and instructors are residents of the town and can share their local knowledge and well as their skiing expertise. It’s a good choice for families and has an English speaking ski and snowboard school as well as day care facilities for guests. Furano is also an excellent base from which to explore other resorts in the central Hokkaido area; Kamui, Tomamu and Asahidake are all easy day trips and multi-resort ski lift tickets are available. Furano itself is just an hour on the bus from Asahikawa airport and all accommodation is close the lifts and the town centre is an easy walk from the ski resort.
Image obtained from Flickr.com under Creative Commons (c) double-h
For a luxurious experience while skiing in Japan, Niseko is unparalleled. One of Hokkaido’s lesser-known ski resorts, Niseko has beautiful, deep powder – plus, if you ever want to relax at the end of the a long day, the resort has open-air hot springs that you can literally sink into and bathe your worries away. Perfect. Slowly, word is getting out - in March 2008, Niseko was voted one of the world’s top 10 ski resorts. It was the highest new entry at number 6. There are four main ski areas which are interconnected (Annupuri, Higashiyama, Hirafu, and Hanazono) and can be accessed using a single ski pass. For off-piste lovers Niseko has plenty of back country areas with high quality skiing but make sure you check the current conditions as some areas are prone to avalanches. Niseko has also begun to offer a range of summer activities including golf, tennis, fishing, horseriding, sea kayaking, white water rafting, trekking and biking.
Myoko Kogen Ski Resort, Nigata
Image obtained from Flickr.com under Creative Commons (c) debudayo
Ever the family-friendly ski resort, Myoko Kogen has nine different mountains to cater for any skill set. If you’re bringing the little ones along, there’s even a kids park to keep them entertained. Myoko Kogen is also privileged enough to be situated near historical monuments and museums, so you can get a cultural experience as well as a winter snow experience. Myoko is not the place to come for wild nightlife – here it’s all about the skiing. The resort is renowned for some of the best conditions in all of Asia with an average snow base of four metres and yet Myoko is just a train ride from Tokyo. To relax in the evening try one of the traditional bars and restaurants and make sure you make use of the wonderful hot springs.
Nozawa Onsen, Nagano
Image obtained from Flickr.com under Creative Commons (c) mookE
Another charming and traditional experience, Nozawa Onsen is a snow resort with slopes to be envied. As you’re skiing or snowboarding down, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of a beautiful white expanse and like Niseko, Nozawa Onsen also offers hot springs so you can reward your muscles after a hard day’s skiing. The town is traditional and beautifully quaint – in addition to the skiing there is plenty of cultural and historical interest. But most come for the white stuff – there is a huge area to explore and something for everyone: family friendly wide open ‘motorways’, knee-rattling mogul fields and excellent powder runs. The village itself is situated at the foot of the ski resort, which spans three main areas.
Image obtained from Flickr.com under Creative Commons (c) Janne Moren
Hokkaido’s third biggest resort, Rusutsu, has beginner, intermediate, and advanced slopes and caters to all skiiers. With restaurants, cafes, and an entertainment complex, Rusutsu is a hub for all travellers who want to ski and explore and is Hokkaido’s top ski resort and just 90 minutes from New Chitose Airport. The resort offers 37 different runs for beginners to experts. For different ways of enjoying the wonderful landscape try dog sledding or riding a snowmobile.
Image obtained from Flickr.com under Creative Commons (c) Warren Miller Entertainment
Hakuba is a valley located near Nagano which contains ten ski resorts catering primarily to on-piste skiers and snowboarders of all levels – off-piste skiing is not permitted in Hakuba and this ban is strictly enforced. You can also find plenty of nightlife options and English-speaking are well catered for. Hakuba is very popular with international visitors; there is a wide range of accommodation including self-catering apartments which are rare in Japanese ski resorts. Child care and children’s ski lessons are offered by English-speaking staff but the resort retains its Japanese culture and has a nice village feel. Only two of the ski areas are interconnected but shuttle buses transport skiers between them and a single ski pass is used. Hakuba hosted the Winter Olympics in 1998 and the resort of Happo-One was the venue for the downhill, slalom and ski jumping and is a favourite for speed freaks. Hakuba is easily reached from Tokyo or the Tokyo International Airport (Narita) on the bullet train and bus.
About our guest author:
Aleisha Ray is a traveller and writer who loves skiing in Japan. She is currently saving up for her next trip overseas – she’s going to visit Japan, Indonesia, and Korea.