Snowboarding : Japan

Let's get straight to the point - Japan offers some of the most amazing skiing and snowboarding in the world. 

Why?  The reason is a combination of many things - huge amounts of (reliable) snowfall; often excellent powder conditions; varied & challenging terrain; literally hundreds of resorts (many easily accessible by car & train); natural 'onsen' hot springs to soak in after a day on the slopes..... the reasons go on. 

It is only in recent years that the slopes have started to be recognized internationally as a prime destination for skiers and snowboarder.  These pages will give you a bit of a background to the Japanese winter sports scene and hopefully give you a flavor of what to expect.

Many of these "resorts" are small operations with just a few lifts and runs, but Japan is home to a large number of large-scale world class ski and snowboard resorts.

The incredible deep powder of Niseko (Hokkaido)...

The huge Shiga Kogen resort area of Nagano...

The quaint traditional villages of Nozawa Onsen (Nagano) and Zao Onsen (Yamagata)...

The "Olympic village" of Hakuba with it's superb selection of resorts and facilities...

The popular Yuzawa Onsen resort region in southern Niigata Prefecture, offering over twenty resorts within a short train ride of Tokyo...

...The variety and depth of choice open to snow-lovers in Japan is breathtaking and difficult to match anywhere else on earth.

The Nagano Winter Olympics of 1998 brought winter sports in Japan under the international spotlight and word started to spread.  As each year passes more foreigners are travelling to Japan in search of powder and the Japan experience - many coming back again and again. But it wasn't always this way...

History

At the beginning of the 20th Century, people living in the mountainous regions of the prefectures on the Japan Sea coast were already using primitive "skis" to get around. They were instinctively using long pine skis to move around on and bamboo poles used for balance. Enjoyment and sport was far from these people's minds as they tried to survive in areas where accumulated snow of up to five or six meters was not uncommon.

The thought that this form of transportation could actually be a leisure activity (and big business) arrived here when an Austrian gentleman named Hannes Schneider introduced more developed skis (which were lighter and complete with primitive bindings) to Japan in the 1930's. Mr. Schneider, complete with his expensive three-piece suit (worn at all times - even coming down the slopes), impressed all around him. This marked the beginning of the first "skiing boom" in Japan.

Japan has no shortage of mountains, which account for over 80% of the land, providing what must have seemed like endless opportunities to enjoy this new "sport". Business soon took hold of the ideas and began to develop some of the slopes in the snowy mountain regions of Honshu and Hokkaido. Ski resorts suddenly appeared all over Japan, and some of today's best resorts had their beginnings around that time. The World War halted the popularity of the sport, but skiing started to develop again in the 1950’s when foreigners from Tokyo would head out to visit the resorts concentrated on the island of Honshu. It was in 1956 that one of the great heroes of Japanese skiing to this day, Chiharu "Chick" Igaya won the first Winter Olympics medal by finishing second in the slalom at the 1956 games in Cortina, Italy.

Although the sport developed slowly, in 1972 the Winter Olympics were held in Sapporo at the Teine Olympia and Teine Highland resorts. Twenty-six years later, the Olympics returned to Japan - for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics - and were a huge success.

Japan is now on the winter sports map and every year host world-class events such as World Cup ski jumping, alpine, Nordic, freestyle and snowboarding events.

Skiing had gained in popularity, but it was still seen primarily as a foreigner’s pastime. That quickly changed in the 1980’s. The eighties arrived and brought with it dramatic winter (and some would say "over the top") resort development. Attractive new resorts appeared at an astonishing rate, and many of the existing resorts were either rebuilt or expanded. Modern high-speed quad lifts, gondolas and ropeways were built, leaving Japan with some of the finest and most modern facilities in the world. With all this development and a carefully cultivated image, skiing became very fashionable and the thing to be seen doing. Designer outfits with bright colors and fur-lined hoods were flying off the shelves. A romantic weekend at one of the more fashionable resorts was something others dreamed of - the fact that the resorts were frustratingly busy, leaving little time for actually skiing, was not the point - being there and part of it was.

The late 1980's "ski boom" meant that the popular resorts became almost unbearably busy, with long queues waiting for lifts and bottlenecks on the slopes. The craze went as far as some businessmen taking the first train out of Tokyo in a morning, skiing for a few hours and then taking the train back to Tokyo in time for work. In the early 1990’s skiing was the most popular sport in Japan among young people.

But as the economic bubble burst, the number of people trekking out to the mountains every weekend started to decrease, and many of the resorts started to get nervous about their huge investments.

Then snowboarding appeared.

Snowboaring Appears

During the early 90's when snowboarding first appeared in Japan, the few boarders taking to the slopes were looked on at with amusement by the skiers.

What a difference a few years can make.

At first, resorts where you could snowboard were few and far between, but that situation has now been almost completely reversed, and there are presently only a minority of resorts remaining that do not allow snowboarders on their slopes. These resorts now use their "skiers-only" policy to try to attract families and those traditionalist skiers who may have not yet accepted snowboarding. The fact is, however, that every year a few more of the remaining "no snowboarders" resorts relax their policies.

The number of snowboarders in Japan is probably that of skiers and at some resorts snowboards outnumber skies.  Many resorts now prepare special Snowboard Parks complete with halfpipes, quarter pipes and other facilities for snowboarders.

The Gaijin Arrive

The other thing that has changed in recent years and a trend that is set to continue is the number of foreigners on the slopes.  10 years ago it might have been uncommon to come across another non-Japanese on skis, but now at the major resorts you will almost definitely be bumping into other foreigners.

One resort that probably benefited the most up until now is the Niseko region of Hokkaido.  Almost unrecognizable to someone who has not been there for 10 years, a large number of foreigners - many Australian - have worked hard to successfully develop the Niseko scene to the Australian market.  A large amount of development is continuing up there as "Niseko Powder" becomes well-known to skiers and snowboarders in many parts of the world. 

Another region that has seen a dramatic increase in interest from overseas over the last few years is the Hakuba region of Nagano Prefecture which is seeing a dramatic increase in the number of resident foreigners developing businesses there to try and bring Hakuba to the attention of the world.

Other resort areas in Japan are seeing this success with the overseas interest and are also taking steps to try and appeal to the foreign market.  Until now that market has been predominantly Australian and east Asian, but it is now taking in places further afield such as Europe and the US.

While snowboarding and the foreigner market has to some extent revived interest in the winter sports scene, the total number of skiers/snowboarders has still in fact decreased each year over the last few years.   As resorts try in new ways to attract people to their facilities, it will be interesting to see how the 2007/08 season develops....

The Regions

Find one snow resort in Japan and you'll undoubtedly find others nearby - they always seem to come in groups.  In the following pages we'll take a closer look at some of the most popular regions. 

Hokkaido Home to the famous resorts in Niseko, Furano, Rusutsu, Kiroro, Sahoro amongst others.
Tohoku Region The Tohoku region stretches from Aomori in the north to Fukushima.
Niigata The two main resort areas of Niigata are Yuzawa and Myoko.
Nagano Nagano is home to the resorts in Hakuba, Shiga Kogen, Nozawa Onsen and Sugadaira.

 

Hokkaido Region

Powder hunters invariably flock to the northern island of Hokkaido in search of spectacular deep powder, off-piste runs and challenging terrain. Hokkaido is the coldest and most northern Japanese island and arguably gets the best snow.

The main resorts are to the west and east of the main city of Sapporo. With Niseko, Furano and Rusutsu amongst others, there's a lot to choose from.

Niseko is especially popular for it's excellent snow conditions, lots of terrain to explore, backcountry powder runs and lots of tree runs.  Niseko is actually made up of a number of resorts - Hirafu, Higashiyama, Annupuri - that are connected.  There are many places to stay and also a lively nightlife.  Check our Niseko Town Guide for more information.

Furano is becoming increasingly popular with the foreign skier and boarder.  This picturesque area is always one of the first ski resorts Japanese people think of when they think about winter sports in Hokkaido. Located further inland to the east of Sapporo, it is known for it’s light powder and is one of the foremost ski areas in Japan and a regular host of World Cup events.

Kiroro, opening in 1992, is another popular resort and often one of the first to open each season. The view from the top of the gondola is breathtaking, with the Japan Sea on one side and the white snow-covered peaks on the other. 

Rusutsu is a modern resort and a popular place for families as there are many of things to do for the whole family and those that aren’t interested in strapping on a pair of skis.

Tomamu and Sahoro are also large recreational winter playgrounds that are geared towards families on vacation.

The airport near Sapporo (New Chitose) is a 90-minute flight from Tokyo and there are frequent flights and package deals available.

Tokoku Region

Tohoku is the northern part of the main island of Honshu and has a number of resort regions that offer great snow condition. Tohoku basically stretches from Fukushima and Yamagata all the way up to the northern tip of Aomori Prefecture. The main snow regions here include Hakkoda in Aomori, resorts to the west of Morioka City, including Shizukuishi, Appi Kogen and Hachimantai, the area around Zao in Yamagata, and the Bandai/Inawashiro region of Fukushima. Although the Tohoku area is often maybe too often thought of as being too far from Tokyo to be convenient, the Shinkansen and expressways make it a good alternative, especially for those interested in better snow conditions and less crowds.  There are some excellent places to see in Tohoku and the region is worth exploring.

Yamagata Zao Onsen's ski lifts have been running since the 1920’s, making it one of Japan’s oldest resort areas. Unlike some of the built-up newer ski areas around the country, Zao is refreshingly devoid of the modern hotels and has a much warmer old-style feel to it not unlike Nozawa Onsen in Nagano Prefecture. Home to the famous "Snow Monsters" (created from frost and snow built-up on the sturdy evergreens around the mountain), Zao has a good variety of courses to choose from – it can get extremely cold in mid season.

For those really looking to get away from the crowds, Tazawa-ko in Akita Prefecture is a good place to check out. Hardly ever crowded, this picturesque ski resort area is located above the deepest lake in Japan – Tazawa-ko – and there are three different resorts to choose from. Appi Kogen is a testament to the lavish spending of the bubble era. It is one of the newer resorts in Japan and has modern facilities, few lift lines and a lot of territory to ski or snowboard.

Of the less well known areas in Tohoku, two are standouts. Onikobe in Miyagi prefecture is another product of the bubble era. Purpose built by Mitsubishi, the main hotel is ski-in ski-out. The lower slopes are extensive and well serviced by lifts. The upper slopes comprise a ridge and powder bowl, the two being connected by an ungroomed steep section, with extensive tree runs. Jangle Jungle (Yamagata) is geared towards boarders, and draws from all over Tohoku. The terrain is not particularly challenging, but if you want jumps, humps, bumps, rails and a halfpipe, it is well worth a visit.

Hunter Mountain, although technically in Tochigi (not Tohoku), is the closest to these northern resorts to Tokyo. The best way to get to Hunter Mountain is by car and it makes a good day trip from Tokyo. It is a beautiful drive unless you happen to get stuck in traffic on a busy weekend. Although the resort is not especially big and it doesn't have much advanced terrain, it is a well-run comfortable resort with an American-style feel complete with signs in English.

Nigata

Yuzawa Town was the setting for Kawabata’s famous novel "Snow Country", and for convenience this region of southern Niigata Prefecture is hard to be beat. The Gunma region of Minakami is on the other side of the long tunnel going through the Tanigawadake mountain range between Gunma and Niigata, and is a bit closer to Tokyo. However, if it’s proximity and convenience you are after it doesn’t get any easier than Yuzawa. The mountain range stretches all the way to the Sea of Japan and the area usually gets enormous amounts of snow. If you take the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo Station, you can be at Echigo Yuzawa Station in as little as 80 minutes.

Today, this old rural village has been transformed into a resort town complete with literally hundreds of hotels, tower buildings and vacation condos. Near the main (Echigo Yuzawa) train station some of the old charm still exists, and it’s worth taking a quiet stroll and visiting some of the small restaurants in the area. Yuzawa can act as a base for over 20 nearby resorts in the town and surrounding area, including Naeba, Kagura, GALA Yuzawa, Iwappara and Ishiuchi Maruyama. GALA Yuzawa is the ultimate in convenience as it has it's own Shinkansen bullet train station and you can literally step off the platform and onto the gondola that whisks you up the mountain. Other notable resorts in the area include Iwappara, Pine Ridge Resorts Kandatsu and Joetsu Kokusai, which are all less than 15 minutes from the station by free shuttle bus.

Naeba is arguably the most well known (and fashionably) resort in all of Japan. Naeba was the first of the many Prince Hotel ski resorts and has been the site of several World Cup and national ski races for years. Naeba is a huge resort that attracts millions of visitors every year. In 2001 a new 8-person gondola called "Dragondola" was opened that connects the Naeba resort area with the Tashiro part of Kagura resort. This new gondola is the longest of its kind in the world and takes 15 minutes from one station to the other.

The other main resort region of Niigata is centered around beautiful Mt Myoko.  This region is in Niigata Prefecture, but can easily reached from Nagano City.

Although not as well known as the Yuzawa area, Myoko Kogen has some excellent ski resorts that include Akakura, Myoko Suginohara and Ikenotaira. Myoko doesn’t seem to get the attention of some of the other big resort areas, and that might be a good thing as it is one of the most beautiful winter sports areas in Japan. The three main ski and snowboard areas join together under one lift ticket commonly known as Myoko Kogen, which makes up one of the largest ski areas in Japan.

Nagano

Nagano Prefecture is the heart of mountainous central Honshu and home to the famous Northern Japan Alps. Nagano Prefecture has some world-class winter sports resorts within its boundaries, some of which were used for the main events of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.  Nagano has some excellent skiing and resorts areas spread throughout most areas of the prefecture. The main regions are Hakuba Village, Shiga Kogen and the Nozawa Onsen area – all of which hosted Olympic events.

Hakuba is arguably the most popular winter sports region on Honshu and has a collection of resorts and some truly spectacular mountainous scenery. There are more than a dozen ski & snowboard resorts lined up along a 30-kilometer stretch of mountains. Within the Hakuba village area are found resorts the likes of Happo-one, Hakuba Goryu, Hakuba 47, Hakuba Iwatake, Tsugaike Kogen, Sun Alpina.  Over the last few years interest in Hakuba from overseas has seen a dramatic increase and so it will be interesting to see how that develops over the coming few seasons.

Hakuba maybe be the heart of Japanese skiing, but Shiga Kogen is the giant of the Japanese resort areas and is actually one of the largest ski resort areas in the world. There are around resorts in all that make "Shiga Kogen" and you'll need at least a few days to ski every course. Shiga Kogen boasts some excellent facilities and good skiing late in the season.  Special mention to the monkeys of Jigokudani that live close-by.... to read more about them view this Feature).

Nearby Nozawa Onsen is the place to go if you want the feel of an old-time Japanese village, while experiencing one of the best single ski & snowboard resorts in Japan.  The little village also offers a great selection of onsen hot springs that should be experienced.  Nozawa, although a large resort in its own right, has somehow retained a friendly atmosphere that visitors really enjoy. If you are wondering why one of the runs is called the Schneider slope, it is in honor of the Austrian ski pioneer, Hannes Schneider, who came to Japan 80 years ago. Nozawa calls itself "the birthplace of Japanese skiing", and the Schneider course ends up at the door of the Japan Ski Museum where you can learn about the rich alpine history in the area.

Other popular regions of Nagano include Sugadaira just to the south of Nagano City and Madarao/Tangram resorts which are to the north of Nagano and also reachable from the Myoko region of Niigata. 

The Experience

Some parts of the "ski Japan" experience are very different from what people might be used to at other resorts in other countries.

On the slopes, a feature of resorts here in Japan that may take some getting used to is the constant bombardment of J-Pop (or sometimes 80's rock & pop) coming from speakers all over the mountain - even from the top. Ever wanted to get away from the latest "Kinki Kids" song or Wham's "Last Christmas"? Unfortunately this isn't the place to do that!  (One more reason to head into the backcountry perhaps!)  Some people don’t mind the music, as it is generally light and energetic, however others consider it nothing more than irritating noise that detracts from the experience. Try and think of it as part of the uniqueness of skiing and snowboarding in Japan.

Off the slopes, onsen (natural hot springs) are popular and should be a part of any ski day. Onsen are a feature of most ski resort towns in Japan, and apparent in the naming of many famous ski towns including places such as Nozawa Onsen and Yamagata Zao Onsen, along with countless others. Onsen are a way of life for many Japanese people, who like nothing better to take away the stresses of everyday life by soaking in a hot steaming bath at the end of a day - something which many foreign residents and visitors to Japan grow to love. Even better than just taking an onsen is the magic experience of refreshing the tired and aching body in a picturesque snow-surrounded rotenburo (outdoor onsen) with a small towel on your head, sipping on a glass of beer or a cup of warmed sake, and looking up at the bright night sky after a hard day pounding the slopes. Taking in the unique feeling of the onsen while on a ski trip is a must for people visiting Japan.

For some Japanese, the skiing or boarding weekend trip is not just about riding the snow - it's also about eating, drinking, having fun with friends or family and the singing karaoke part.... all part of the package, and interesting to watch and take part in.

Having said that, many overseas visitors may be disappointed in the relative lack of apres-ski scene that they are used to in other countries.  While this is gradually changing, especially with resort areas that are popular with foreigners, apres-ski is generally not a part of the experience as much as it is elsewhere.  If you are looking for apres-ski, stick to the most popular and lively resorts.

Most Japanese people don’t have very long or frequent holidays, so when they do get away they try and pack as much into it as possible. It is often easy to communicate with Japanese people enjoying themselves at a resort - in a hotel, lift, gondola or restaurant, and can be part of the fun of the ski Japan experience. Often, Japanese people are keen to try out the English they have learned and will invite you to join them. Just don't be shocked seeing people drinking multiple cans of beer at 11am and then going straight back out onto the slopes!  (Just watch out for them when you go back on the slopes, probably best to avoid them!)

One of many people’s favorite things about visiting Japan is the food. If you are on a ski holiday it is no different.   Before, during and after spending time on the hill, you can explore the area to find interesting little restaurants and cafés. In a lot of ski areas they have regional specialties such as soba (buckwheat noodles), tempura, udon (ride noodles), oyaki (filled steamed rice cakes) and more. Standard ski resort fare on the mountain is curry and rice, ramen, soba and of course Asahi or Sapporo draft.

The SnowJapanForums (www.snowjapanforums.com) are a great place to find out more information about the ski japan experience.  If you have a question and post it on there, more often than not people will respond.  Click here to go there and join in the fun.

The Expense

Skiing and snowboarding are not the cheapest of pastimes anywhere in the world. Japan is no exception, but at times surprisingly inexpensive compared to other countries. Transportation costs, equipment rental and accommodation can all add to the expense of a weekend in the mountains. However, taking part in winter sports in Japan is not as expensive as you may imagine.

Each resort has it's own lift ticket pricing strategy, but most are fairly predictable. The main choice at most places being:
 

1 day ticket
Usually 8am - 5pm
3600 yen – 4600 yen
Half day ticket
Usually AM or PM
Around 2500 yen
Night
Usually 5-6pm > 9pm
Around 1500 yen

There are often a selection of other tickets on offer at each resort - each resort will have their own policies and so check before you choose which ticket to buy.  The Resort listings on SnowJapan show the main lift tickets prices for each resort.  Some resorts offer one-ride tickets (or packages of one ride tickets) and others have tickets that include or exclude gondola lifts or parts of the resort. Some others may even include access to adjacent or nearby resorts.

Recently, with the numbers of skiers and boarders decreasing year on year, some of the smaller resorts have brought down their prices to attract customers to their slopes. Some have also began offering reasonable package deals that include transportation, hotel charges and lift tickets. For people living in Japan, some resorts offer season passes, which can be a great deal if you plan on hitting the slopes often. Check each resort for more detailed information.

Most rental gear you will find in Japan is of great quality and well maintained.  It can easily become expensive though - you could find yourself paying 4000 yen a day to get kitted out.  If you plan on staying for more than a day or two, it is definitely worth bringing your own gear with you. Sizes used to be a big problem, but nowadays most resorts have a large enough variety of gear to fit most people. That being said, if you do need overly large sized equipment or ski-ware, it would be much easier to bring your own stuff.

Night skiing is usually limited to a few floodlit runs (not all of the resort) and in some cases just one run. It can be great fun, but after a particularly sunny day, the conditions can resemble an ice rink. Another good thing about a "nighter" is it is a good way to avoid any crowds.

In the past many resorts restricted access to snowboarders.  Times have changed though and now most Japanese resorts welcome snowboarders unconditionally. There are still a few resorts remaining that are "skiers only" but they are the tiny minority.

If you are arriving by train, many of the popular resorts have shuttle buses running from the major stations.  Many of these are free but some resorts will charge you for the bus service (usually a few hundred yen).

Most resorts have car parks which traditionally were 1000 yen for the day, but over the last few years many resorts are offering the car parks for free on weekdays.  It will still often be 1000 yen on weekends and holidays though....

Some snow resorts are now also offering other new facilities to attract more visitors. Families with children will be pleased to know that some resorts offer childcare facilities and ski lessons in English. Snow Tubing is also becoming more popular at some resorts. Other resorts offer snowmobile rides.

There are also companies that specialize in backcountry ski and snowboard tours, snowshoeing and even snow rafting. Many of these companies specialize in white water rafting and other adventure sports in the warmer months and have recently begun expanding their services year round.  Check the SnowJapan Services page for some more information.

One way to cut down on expenses is to join one of the many packaged ski tours. It’s impossible to miss all the colorful brochures that appear in huge racks outside travel agencies and train stations each fall. Most travel agencies offer ski and snowboard packages to popular resort areas. Although foreigners generally scorn package tours in Japan because are restrictive and pricey, most package ski tours are fairly unobtrusive and normally just include transportation, accommodation and lift tickets. Meals are often included as well, so if you don’t want to eat at the hotel all weekend, it may be worth asking about. If you don’t feel comfortable making travel plans in Japanese, some agencies have English-speaking staff, and there are smaller agencies that specialize in foreign customers as well.

The Season

For most resorts, the ski and snowboard season in Japan generally starts around mid-December and goes through until around early April. Opening of course depends on the level of snow that accumulates at a particular resort, and some resorts do actually open as early as late October ("early skiing") and can continue to operate until mid-May (for "spring skiing"), usually with the help of snowmaking machines.

Tenjindaira in Gunma is usually on of the first resorts to open for the year with natural snow with its lifts usually firing up by Culture Day in early December.  Other early resorts to open can be found in Hokkaido and Nagano.  Keep an eye on the Daily Reports Center as well as the Forums for the latest information.

The strangest season undoubtedly goes to Gassan in Yamagata Prefecture. Due to inaccessibility because of heavy snowfall, the season doesn’t usually start until April and continues until late July.  Another interesting season is at a resort in Niigata called Okutadami.  The road that approaches the resort gets blocked with snow in the peak season meaning that the resort opens for a month or two in December and January and then closes for a few months before re-opening in mid-March.

The peak of the season is from mid-January until the end of February.  Images of slopes packed full of people with almost nowhere to ski without bumping into other people are outdated.  While the weekends and national holidays at popular resorts can get extremely busy, on weekdays you will often find slopes very uncrowded - even at popular resorts.

The busiest weekend is the three-day weekend in mid-February when most resorts are at their busiest. Weekdays - even in the middle of the season - do not get too busy, even at the most popular resorts, where you can sometimes find yourself nearly alone on the slopes. If it’s possible to get a Friday or Monday off to avoid leaving, or more importantly returning during rush hour traffic, that would also be advised. On Sunday evenings after a good snow weekend, only the dedicated (or mad!) should brave the expressways at peak times.

Resort Facilities

Thanks to the huge investment in the 1980's, the large ski and snowboard resorts in Japan tend to have fairly modern lift systems with high-speed quad lifts, gondolas and ropeways. Slow single lifts and t-bars in Japan are rare. Large resorts have modern lodges and other facilities. Smaller resorts, on the other hand, some of which are family owned and operated, may not have the latest equipment. However, the reason people often visit these smaller resorts, is more for the atmosphere and to get away from the crowds than the amenities.

It’s important to note that not all ski areas offer a wide range of ski slopes to please everyone, and so it is worth finding out about what each area offers before choosing where to go. Course classifications in Japan are something that experienced skiers and snowboarder may notice is different from in their own country as the classifications used in Japan are not the international standard. This means that beginners will have no difficulty tackling some "intermediate" runs in Japan and intermediate skier may be able to negotiate an "advanced" course without too many problems. This is not always the case, however, and there are some long, steep and difficult runs at many resorts in Japan for even the most advanced riders.

Most Japanese resorts offer a good selection of slopes for beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders with mogul runs popular on steeper slopes. The percentage of more challenging slopes at an average Japanese resort may be smaller than in other countries, but this is by no means the case at all resorts.

Ski patrol at some resorts in Japan have also tightened the reins as there have been several highly publicized accident, some of which have involved non-Japanese skiers and boarders who have strayed off-piste and "out of bounds". Although enforcement varies from resort to resort, skiers and boarders should stay within the boundaries or risk getting their lift ticket taken – at the very least.

An increasing number of resorts now feature snowboard parks, fun ski parks, halfpipes, quarterpipes, one-makes, snow tubing, and other facilities to add to the experience. Most resorts also have a selection of restaurants and cafes on the slopes - usually a mix of Japanese and Western style food is available, as well as rental facilities (expect to pay anywhere between 2000 and 4000 yen for a rental ski or board set), child-care (less common) and countless souvenir shops.

Opening & Closing

Generally, snow resorts open at 8am and close at 5pm. Anything before or after this is usually classified as "Morning Skiing" or "Night Skiing". 

For some people, the best part of a ski or snowboard weekend is what you do after a day at the mountain. Snuggling up to a fire at the lodge, going out to dinner and a night on town are all popular activities – if you’re not too sore from all that skiing or snowboarding. Skiing and snowboarding in Japan offers a unique chance to get some new experiences that you can only gain in Japan. You won’t usually find the thumping nightlife like you do in resort areas in Europe or North America, and it may be difficult to finds good Italian or western restaurants - but there is often things to do to choose from with an unique Japanese flavor.

What you will find (in most places, not everywhere!) are Japanese restaurants, karaoke clubs and Japanese pubs. If you see pubs with the word ‘snack’ written on the outside, it may be a good idea to send somebody in to find out what kind of a place it is. Some are hostess bars that can be quite expensive and include a hefty table charge just for sitting down. Izakayas (Japanese pubs) are a lively and fun place to get some food and have a few drinks with friends, but they can often be smoky and loud, so if you’re looking for a quiet place, you may want to go elsewhere. For a more exciting après ski scene, one of the larger and livelier resorts areas is recommended.

Another great thing about skiing in Japan is the hot springs. Many of the resorts in Japan are located in volcanic areas and hot spring towns and hotels often have there own onsen, and if not can usually tell you where the nearest one is. Onsen are a good way to relax before trying out the après ski. Wherever you go, find some Japanese friends and enjoy!


"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."    — Robert A. Heinlein

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