On the main Japanese island of Honshu, Tokyo is a dynamic city that plays a number of vital roles within the country and the world. The bustling population, well over nine million people, are everyday witnesses to the city’s effortless ability to blend modernity with tradition, and this extends beyond popular tourist traps. If you head into the snowy foothills and mountains rising just outside the capital, you will find an array of incredible freeride skiing and ski touring adventures, even if just for a day!
Tokyo’s location makes it ideal for easy travel to high-profile resorts and destinations. The Shinkansen, the high-speed train connecting greater Japan, has brought the towns and prefectures even closer to the capital. Now visiting the Meiji Shinto Shrine and its breathtaking forested backdrop can be combined with a trip up to the summit of Mt. Fuji – and down! Even busy itineraries can squeeze in exciting ski expeditions from Tokyo, making it a go-to ski touring mecca for all.
The location of Japan ensures that there is world-renowned snow – and lots of it! Cold air coming across the Sea of Japan from China and Russia picks up moisture before dumping it on Hokkaido and Honshu. And this isn’t just any type of snow – it is the light, fluffy stuff that powder hounds love, and it can be found all across Japan. Temperatures are low in Japan, which ensures the snowpack is uncompromised. Annual snowfall ranges between 10 to 18 meters, and can sometimes be more.
Locations at the heart of the Japan Alps sometimes close themselves off because they are buried in deep snow. When the snow is fresh, you can expect mind-boggling powder that you just can’t find anywhere else.
Finally, an especially intriguing perk of skiing near Tokyo is the culture. Onsen, which are natural hot springs, sprout up throughout the ski communities, making for a delightful and relaxing evening off the slopes. The mountains, which are steep and rugged, have helped cultivate alpine communities – like Hakuba – around the sport. The most visited areas are capable of handling visiting athletes while maintaining local traditions.
Contrasting well with Tokyo, intrepid tourists can compare the hustle of the capital with the snow-blanketed villages a train-ride away. Family-run resorts are common, giving you a first-hand look at how skiing and ski touring have developed through the years. Some of the oldest ski spots in the country can be found in the Japan Alps beyond Tokyo.
So grab your gear and lock in your guide! Head to Tokyo and the snow-sure paradise just outside the city for a memorable and manageable ski touring extravaganza!
Here is a quick list of the must-see destinations that have made Tokyo an industry favorite among ski athletes and professionals. The best part is, all of these spots are close enough to the capital for a day trip or three-day jaunt. It also means you don’t have to travel too far to get there. No need to interrupt your business itinerary – Tokyo can cater to your schedule and give you a wild skiing adventure in just a few hours from the city.
Located just a couple hours to the northwest of Tokyo, Gunma has a perfect mix of onsen and ski destinations. The mountainous prefecture has northern delights like Kusatsu near the Nagano border and Tanigawa near the Niigata border. Minakami, Katashina, and some of the northern resorts have steep runs around 40 degrees, boasting incredible chutes and adrenaline-pumping tree-lined routes in the backcountry.
Getting there: By train, you can hop on the Joetsu Shinkansen up to Jomokogen Station to access Minakami. For Kusatsu, the Hokuriku Shinkansen takes you to Karuizawa Station, where you can transfer to a bus directly to town. Driving is fairly straightforward, too. Take Route 5 to E17 North, peeling off at Kusatsu (35), Tanigawa, and Hotaku as necessary.
One of the more well-known ski regions of the Japan Alps, the coast-kissing Niigata prefecture has stunning inland parks that are a treasure trove of powder. This area has known skiing for over 100 years, and the best resorts and areas are located in the south of the prefecture. Yuzawa is full of great resorts, leading to Tokamach and Minamiuonuma further north. The snow is dry and plentiful across the southern regions of Niigata. Pro tip: try the sake and don’t miss out on Hakkai Area ski touring near Mt. Echigo!
Getting there: take the Joetsu Shinaknsen straight to Yuzawa at the Echigoyuzawa Station and you will be there in an hour and a half. The E17 also heads straight to and through snow country, so driving is feasible. If you wanted the Hakkaisan experience, follow the Joetsu bullet train to Itsukamachi or straight up the E17.
A prized ski touring and backcountry destination in the Nagano Prefecture, Hakuba Valley sits to the east in the dry and light snow of the Hida Mountains. The massive area is great for backcountry beginners, but don’t be fooled. It has some of the biggest terrain and biggest snowfall on Honshu and is a playground for the professionals. As the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Hakuba Valley is home to great off-piste challenges with unencumbered access to them. Mt. Shirouma.
Getting there: Just over three hours away from Tokyo, take the Hokuriku Shinkansen to the Nagano Station and transfer to the Nagano bus line. Once you reach the Hakuba Station, you’ll be in the heart of the Hida Mountains. For drivers and buses, take E17 to Fujioka, E18 to Chikuma, and follow the highways (31/33) up to Hakuba.
Outside of Hakuba, Nagano has a heavy dose of other great spots. The northeastern tip of the prefecture is home to Iizuna and Yakebitai. The former hosted freestyle events in the Olympics, so it remains a popular spot for freeriders. The Shiga Hoken reaches about 2,300 meters in height from roughly 1,300, so long runs of all levels hold appeal.
Getting there: The Hokuriku Shinkansen heads right to Nagano proper, so take that from Tokyo and get off at the Nagano Station. If you go by road, the E17 and E18 will get you there in a jiffy. As a regional hub, flying into Nagano might also be an option. Depending on your itinerary and desired location, you can be in the best ski spots well within four hours.
Arguably the best ski conditions on Honshu, Myoko is a Niigata gem on the coastal side of the mountains. The mountain of the same name is in a national park to the south west of the town, providing scenic runs for all. Myoko is home to the longest ski run in the country (8.5 kilometers, give or take, at Suginohara), but its premiere powder is found in the backcountry. It is a cultural icon, as well, and the onsen are particularly spectacular, too. The heavy dry snow makes it a mouth-watering destination for experts who want an uncrowded adventure.
The Tokyo to Myoko route follows the same Hokuriku Shinkansen as the other locations. Once you reach the Joetsumyoko Station, transfer to the Myoko-Haneuma bus line and head south to your destination (Sekiyama, Myokokogen, etc.) Driving is no trouble, as it follows the E17 and E18 North. You can reach the slopes within three hours by train, and four by car. It is easily accessible from the larger resort neighbors to the south and east.
The symbol of Japan, Mt. Fuji is easily one of the most alluring objectives for ski touring and freeriding. Skinning up its elusive peaks is just half the fun, because it boasts challenging terrain. You have your pick from steep drop-ins, tree-lined runs, and more gentle glades. At 3,776 meters, its an exciting choice for icon skiers as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can find a great 1,300 descent if the conditions are just right, but you should be a proficient backcountry skier and physically fit to take on this behemoth.
Getting there: of all locations near Tokyo, Mt. Fuji is geographically the closest. Take the Tokaido Line to the Gotemba Line to reach the base of the mountain in about two and a half hours. You can take the Chuo Line to Otsuki Station, then transfer to the Fujikyu Railway and take it to Kawaguchiko Station. If you happen to be driving, follow the 3 and E1 to the west to reach the southern side of the mountain.
Even if you only have a couple of days, Tokyo makes a ski touring trip fun and easy! Within four hours and three days, you can get your fill of snow-sure slopes and take back unparalleled mountain memories. Dust off your skins and break out your skis – take your freeriding talents to the powdery paradises near Tokyo!
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