Ski in Japan: All you must know to organize your trip

Tomas IchasoAugust 30, 2016

Thinking of Japan as a destination for your next ski trip? We already told you our 5 top reasons to ski in Japan. So if you are now convinced, it’s time to start planning! When to go, which destination to choose, what to do, which kind of trip… The number of questions to deal with can be a bit overwhelming. So our idea with this article is to give you all the information and necessary elements for you to decide and organize your trip. Then, just get on that plane and make real your dream of skiing in Japan!

Powder Skiing in Hokkaido
Powder Skiing in Hokkaido

Japan offers a unique experience, which is a combination of high standards of service, very unique culture (onsen –hot thermal springs-, the food, people, etc.), beautiful landscape and high quality powder snow (and great ski terrains, of course)!

And to make the best out of it, we recommend you to take a certified local guide. With him or her you can get all of the experiences listed above, rather than just one! The local guides also know the best terrain and hidden spots, in order to enjoy safely the best quality snow.

So it’s not just about skiing in Japan; there are many reasons that will make your experience memorable. Depending on what you want to experience, you can pick among a variety of destinations and trips.

The story of Cedric and Stéphanie, who spent 10 days skiing around Hokkaido with Daisuke, shows it very clearly. This is what they said about their guide: ‘Daisuke directly understood very well what we were looking for: a full immersion in the Japanese culture, the discovery of a fine cuisine, the rituals of the onsens after every skiing day and above all, the best “untouched skiing spots”, looking constantly for the best quality snow!

Cedric and Stéphanie with Daisuke in Hokkaido
Cedric and Stéphanie with Daisuke in Hokkaido

When to ski in Japan?

The season to ski in Japan goes from January to the beginning of May. But depending on what type of skiing you do, some months can be better than others. So let’s have a closer look:

  • From January to early March: During this time it snows heavily. So basically, for freeriding January and February are good. For example, in Hokkaido, you will have on average, 25 days of snowfalls in a month! If you stay for 9 days you will have on average 7-8 days of snowy days, and a bad week may mean 6 days of snowy days. And it is very cold due to the Siberian wind, so come well equipped!
  • Mid and end of March: Days start getting longer, with weather conditions more stable. Temperature is slightly warmer so you get to enjoy longer ski touring routes. There is still more than plenty of snow and powder. If you stay for 5 days you will likely get at least one snowy day. Guides can still quite easily find untracked powder runs. This period is suitable for free riding and ski touring as well as more adventurous routes.
  • April: Days are now longer, and snow is getting heavier, but you still can find untracked terrains in spring powder that skis very well and fast in the mornings. April is suitable for example, for ski touring with camping.
  • Early May: Ski touring goes on until the beginning of May (10 May or so) in general, and continues on higher peaks like Mt Fuji and Tateyama (North Japan Alps), which are only suitable for skiing in spring and autumn.

    Great weather and snow conditions in Hakuba
    Great weather and snow conditions in Hakuba

Where to ski in Japan?

There are mainly three areas in Japan that receive a lot of snowfalls. Some are more famous and some are waiting to be explored…

Japan Ski Area Map
Ski Areas in north half of Japan. Source: Google Map
  • Tohoku (with green circles): It is the northern part of the main island, Honshu. This region is notorious for deep snow in the winter which inconveniences the locals a lot but makes it worthwhile for you to explore.
  • Western Honshu (with red circles): A lot of snow falls in this very mountainous region, containing mountain ranges such as the North Japan Alps, as the moisture from the Sea of Japan hits the mountain ranges at high altitude and dumped onto the underlying areas in the form of snow. Here, you have freeriding / backcountry skiing options in HakubaNozawa Onsen and Tateyama in Nagano, Gunma and Niigata, and Shirakawa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And of course in eastern side of Honshu, you have the highest mountain in Japan, Mt Fuji.

It’s not the end of the world, if you want to explore multiple ski areas. The local guides can customise the itinerary to suit your needs and travel with you, in a Road Trip style, to different ski areas within the same region, or even across regions.

What type of guiding service are you after?

  • Guiding only: You’ll meet your guide at a designated meeting point, and after a day of skiing / snowboarding you will finish at the same point. You will arrange your own accommodation, make your own way from the airport to accommodation, and get on your own to the meeting points.
  • Full Service: The guide will meet you at the airport and transport to the hotel that he arranged for you. He’ll then drive you to all necessary ski / snowboarding places, take care of the meals, and he can recommend you on restaurants and other useful information.

Of course just ask if you want Guiding only but want to add certain services. There’s no problem in combining both kind of services.

Ski trip to Japan - Fine cuisine
You can enjoy the best japanese cuisine during your ski trip!

What type of trip are you interested in?

From north to south, there are many possible destinations where to ski in Japan. Some people prefer to move around, exploring different spots, while others choose to stick and fully explore one.

  • Single base: You’re based in the same accommodation for the duration of your stay and the guide will drive you around to the best destination for the day that is accessible from the base.
  • Road Trip: You’ll be moving your base to explore new locations. The guide can drive you each time, and therefore the cost of this option will include Guide’s transportation expenses. For example, you could start in Niseko, then relocate to ski Mt Yotei, then relocate to Asahikawa to ski Mt Asahidake, then relocate to Furano to ski backcountry there, etc.

Aubrey and Marie, a couple from Canada, would be an example of the first kind of trip. Guided by Toshiya, they went backcountry skiing in Rishiri. And they absolutely loved it: “The terrain in Rishiri can satisfy the whole specter of riders. The options go from loaded snow fields to steep chutes: this place is the ultimate playground.

Aubrey and Marie with Toshiya in Rishiri
Aubrey and Marie with Toshiya in Rishiri

Safety first

When planning a backcountry skiing trip or any off piste skiing (even just by the side of resort) in Japan, you should read this flyer made by the Japan Avalanche Network. It covers dangers very relevant to skiing in Japan:

And you should also check this avalanche bulletin for some areas in Japan, including Hakuba (very limited at the moment in terms of area coverage but info quality is good).

So, know that you have all the information, it’s time to go and ski in Japan! You can check the different options listed in Explore-Share, or write to us, and we’ll help you find the ideal certified guide to make your dream trip come true.

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