Japan is home to some of the world’s best skiing destinations, including famous resorts Niseko and Hakuba. Combine this with fresh sushi, steaming hot springs and unparalleled views of Mount Fuji, and you have the ultimate ski and snowboarding holiday.
If chest-deep snow and bubbling natural onsens (hot springs) make up your idea of a top winter holiday, then Japan should be on the cards. With about 600 ski resorts, including acres of backcountry terrain to explore, the hardest decision you’ll have to make is where to stay. Luckily, there are plenty of luxury hotels to make that decision easier and you can book some of the best right here on Culture Trip.
Appi Kogen’s carefully groomed runs cater to an upmarket crowd. The resort encompasses 43km (27mi) of pistes; most are on Mount Maemori, along with two nearby on Mount Nishimori. The resort is known for its wide, long runs, with more than half stretching for longer than 2km (1mi). Although there’s no village or town around Appi, a trip here offers the chance to visit an authentically Japanese resort with few international tourists. It also has a family park with mini-courses, sledging and snow tubes for children. The resort is in the Iwate Prefecture in the Appi Highlands, about 50km (31mi) north of Morioka and 580km (360mi) north of Tokyo.
With powdery snow as good as Hokkaido, just without the crowds, Appi Kogen is a perfect alternative. While there, it’s best to check into the Hotel Appi Grand. Behind its lemon-hued façade, there’s a variety of restaurants (the Japanese option is our pick) that use local ingredients, and the Shirakaba-no-Yu onsen offers a maze of natural hot springs to sink into as well.
Asahidake is an excellent spot for advanced skiers and snowboarders, offering a variety of alpine terrain and glade skiing. Explore the backcountry in Daisetsuzan National Park on Mount Asahi in central Hokkaido, about one hour east of Asahikawa. You’ll have access to 500m (1,640ft) of vertical terrain and four groomed trails. Asahidake is officially a national park rather than a resort, so facilities are quite limited, which is part of the area’s appeal for skiers looking to escape the crowds. There are also a handful of cross-country ski trails, and a number of the hotels have onsens.
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Nestled at the foot of Mount Asahi, the highest summit in Hokkaido, Hotel Bearmonte is ideal for those who intend to spend maximum time on the slopes. When you’re not lounging in the hotel’s natural hot springs or cosying up with a book in the traditional loft-style rooms, be sure to sample the local ales and sake available with dinner each night.
Furano is a popular ski resort in Hokkaido, with 25km (16mi) of groomed ski runs. It’s ideal for families, with varied beginner trails and an attraction called Family Snowland, offering other winter activities such as snowmobiling and dog sledging. On top of this, there are many runs to challenge advanced skiers. With a vertical drop of around 950m (3,117ft), Furano is one of the steepest mountains in Hokkaido. The ski area comprises two zones: the Kitanomine zone (open mid-December to late March) and the Furano zone (open late November to early May). They’re both accessible from the town of Furano by shuttle.
A wine lover’s haven, Hotel Hitohana prides itself on being a “winery hotel”. Regular tours of the nearby Domaine Raison vineyard are available, where you can sample Japanese wine and goods made from local goat’s milk. The Prince Snow Resort in Furano is just down the road, and its hotel has a dedicated locker room to store all of your ski equipment, too.
A favourite with international tourists, Hakuba Valley comprises 10 different ski resorts. Bordered by 3,000m (9,843ft) peaks, Hakuba lies in Japan’s Northern Alps, 44km (27mi) west of Nagano. The area gained international attention in 1998 when it hosted several events during the Winter Olympic Games. With 137km (85mi) of pistes and more than 200 courses, Hakuba’s resorts offer an incredible variety with runs suited to skiers and snowboarders of all levels. The main village, Happo, is home to some excellent izakayas and restaurants. There are also quieter villages in the area for those who want to stay away from the crowds.
With the Japanese Alps on your doorstep, Courtyard by Marriott Hakuba is the ideal base for exploring the treasures of Nagano. Rooms are slick, with dark wood details and views of snow-covered trees. Opt for a room with a black-tiled hot-spring tub if you can. When peckish, head to the on-site restaurant for Japanese surf and turf and excellent snowy panoramas.
Hotel Taigakukan sits next to Hakuba Happo-One, Japan’s most famous ski resort, so you know you’ll have a good day on the slopes. When you’re not deciding which run to take or sipping on sake in the restaurant, head to the hotel’s in-house onsen for a good, long soak – there are indoor and outdoor options.
Approximately 100km (62mi) southwest of Sapporo, Niseko is one of Japan’s most famous ski resorts, featuring 47km (29mi) of groomed terrain and often receiving more snowfall than any other ski resort in the world. Its trails are ideal for skiers and snowboarders of all levels, with plenty of pistes geared towards families and beginners. It also offers extensive off-trail skiing, accessible through special gates or by participating in a guided tour. Niseko actually comprises four different resorts, the largest of which is the Grand Hirafu. Hirafu Village is known for its excellent après-ski scene, with many lively bars, restaurants and karaoke spots.
Forget climbing the nearly 400 steps up to the Chureito Pagoda for prime views of Mt Fuji; stay at Aya Niseko instead. For the best view of the famed peak, book one of the sprawling penthouses, with its wrap-around balcony, floor-to-ceiling windows and private rooftop onsen. There are in-house yoga classes, too, to give you a good stretch after a long day of skiing in Niseko.
Nozawa Onsen lies in northern Nagano Prefecture, 46km (28mi) northeast of the city of Nagano. Opened in 1924, it’s one of Japan’s oldest, largest and most popular ski resorts, featuring more than 50km (31mi) of pistes, including a half-pipe, moguls, a 39-degree incline and gentler slopes for beginners. The resort is also ideal for families, with English-speaking instructors available for children’s ski lessons. The village itself is particularly charming and traditional, with narrow cobbled streets and more than 13 public onsens.
Deep in the mountains, Kawaichiya Ryokan offers plenty of omotenashi hospitality. Expect tatami floors and 12 different types of rooms to choose from – most with low beds and private, open-air onsen-style baths. Kimono-style yukata robes are also provided, and there’s a Japanese tea set in the room to truly help you feel a sense of place.
Offering 42km (29mi) of groomed slopes, Rusutsu is one of Hokkaido’s top ski resorts. The ski area is spread across three mountains, offering a variety of groomed trails for beginners. The highlight for advanced skiers is the resort’s convenient tree runs and lift-accessed backcountry. The hotels in the area offer a great selection of restaurants, and there are a few smaller dining establishments found near the base of the mountain. Kids can enjoy dog sledging, tubing and snowmobiling, while the resort is also home to pool facilities and an onsen. Rusutsu is 90 minutes southwest of Sapporo.
The fact that Rusutsu Resort has an amusement park, complete with a rollercoaster, may give you an indication of the size of this hotel. While the park is best enjoyed in the summer, as the weather cools, check into the on-site log house or the traditional-styled Japanese room. Make a beeline to the outdoor onsen overlooking the snow-clad mountains.
Tomamu is an upscale ski resort in central Hokkaido, 150km (94mi) east of Sapporo. This modern, swanky resort includes a large indoor wave pool, sophisticated restaurants and hot-spring facilities. It also has 21km (13mi) of slopes, with runs for beginner and intermediate-level skiers, expert courses and sanctioned off-piste skiing areas. Other activities include cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snow rafting and heli-skiing. For kids, it has a snow playground and snow boat rides. In the evening, check out the resort’s Ice Village, with a restaurant, bar, shop and wedding chapel housed in domes made of snow and ice.
A hotel you should definitely judge by its façade is Tomamu the Tower, comprising two multicoloured towers that offer magnificent views across the surrounding snowscape. They sit at the base of the Tomamu ski field – a great spot for both novices and the more seasoned skier. When you’re not exploring off-piste tracks, book a room on one of the higher floors to feel like you’re sleeping among the clouds.
Yuzawa is one of the easiest ski areas to access from Tokyo, located 200km (125mi) away from the city and reachable within two hours by train. In the Niigata Prefecture, the area encompasses about 20 resorts, all of which are accessible by public transportation. A number of them offer combination lift tickets and connections that make it possible to ski or snowboard between them. You will generally find beginner slopes near the centre of town and more challenging runs around the Mount Naeba resorts. The area also features excellent onsens, with baths available at resorts, hotels and shinkansen stations.
In the small, snowy town of Yuzawa – famed for its hot springs – the Yuzawa Grand Hotel is just a two-minute walk away from the Ipponsugi ski resort. To soothe your ski-tired muscles, take advantage of the hotel’s in-house hot springs when you can. Both indoor and outdoor options are available in a tranquil setting of birdsong, leafy trees and snow-covered grounds in winter.