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Nov 2014

The Complete Guide To Skiing In Japan


It’s almost skiing season once again and one of the best skiing holiday destinations closest to Australia is Japan. The country has a number of superb ski resorts, where the snow is fantastically perfect for every type of snow-related activities. You’ll have plenty of chances to enjoy Japan’s champagne powder snow and there’s plenty of it especially in Honshu, Nagano and Hokkaido.

Japan has some of the best powder snow and ski resorts that cater to skiers in all skill levels. You’ll find groomed trails, tree runs and steep bowls in its mountains. You’ll also experience the diverse and intensely fascinating culture of the Japanese as you are enveloped in their friendly and warm hospitality. The surrounding scenery is breathtaking. The cuisine is very distinct. And the après ski relaxation at a nearby natural onsen could really take care of the day’s aches and pains. You’ll also enjoy their traditional tea ceremonies and ice sculpting festivals; have the freshest sushi and body-warming sake. There’s karaoke, too!

Skiddoo recommends bringing warm shoes with a good deal of grip as you will encounter 13- to 14-metre deep snow in Japanese ski resorts. Also make sure that you have thermals aside from warmer ski gear. Skiing in Japan not only gives you one heck of an experience but leaves you with plenty of memories to last you until next season and beyond. Here are our suggested ski resorts to set you off to a great skiing adventure in the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan.

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In Nagano Prefecture’s Northern Alps is Hakuba, one of the most popular ski areas in Japan where large ski resorts are located and the snow is always good. The area hosted some of the Olympic competitions in 1998 and it is still possible to see and use some of the former Olympic facilities. Hakuba is easily accessible from Tokyo, Kansai and Nagoya.
Snow depth in the Hakuba area averages more than 2.5 metres, and the terrain here ranges from beginner to expert slopes. Be aware though that some of the steepest slopes in Japan are found in Hakuba. It receives 14 metres of snow each season.

Hakuba valley is a self-contained ski area with 10 major ski resorts and offers 139 lifts, 200 runs and large and tall peaks, complemented by après ski entertainment, an variety of Western and traditional Japanese dining facilities, ski and snowboard shops and a local village. From the valley’s southern end you can stay at Sun Alpina where three ski areas link to the resorts of Happo-One, the Olympic ski resort, Goryu-Toomi and Hakuba 47. From the north the ski resorts include Cortina, Norikura, Tsugaike and Iwatake. All the resorts are very impressive and highly rated by boarders and skiers. The ski areas are easily reached by car or bus.

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A variety of accommodation options are available in Hakuba. You can choose from several five-star hotels, boutique and budget ski lodges, Japanese pension houses, condominiums and self-contained Western-style log houses. You do not have to go far for after ski dining and entertainment either, as there’s a selection of bars, pubs and fine restaurants catering to a variety of tastes. Several onsens (man-made or natural) are also located within the Hakuba valley, with several offering spectacular sceneries that will please your eyes as you take a long hot soak. You can also avail of a guided tour of the Olympic Ski Jumping Stadium.

If you are looking for ski lessons, most of the ski resorts offer lessons although some do not have instructors who speak English. Hakuba Happo-one, Hakuba Goryu-Toomi and Hakuba 47 claim that they have instructors who speak English but they are not permanent and may not be available at times. Your best bet if you want to learn from an English-speaking instructor is to go to the Evergreen International Ski School in Wadano-mori that is near Happo-one. There are several good accommodations in the area as well, such as Tokyu Hotel, Penke Panke, La Neige, Morino Lodge and Mominoki.

Fly me to Japan

It is said that Niseko, a ski resort in Hokkaido is famous for having the fluffiest, driest and lightest snow in the world, which blows in direct from Siberia. The area receives about 11 metres of this beautiful champagne powder snow each winter. Aside from its endless powder, Niseko has long ski runs as well as a variety of après-ski activities.

Only 10 hours away from Australia, Niseko has rapidly become a favorite haunt of Australians and other nationalities that have a great love for snowboarding and skiing. Niseko is considered as one of the top five ski resorts in Japan, with very efficient lift system consisting of covered chairlifts and gondolas. There’s good visibility in Niseko even during bad days and there are plenty of tree runs. The low altitude removes the possibility of real whiteout conditions that are prevalent in the ski resorts in Europe and North America. Niseko has varied terrain with spectacular tree runs such as Miharashi and Strawberry Fields. For the more daring, the huge powder fields at The Peak await you. The 900-metre vertical drops at Niseko are ranked alongside other top resorts in the world.

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The ski resort area consists of five resorts: Hanazono, Hirafu, Higashiyama and Annupuri, which are accessible via one lift pass. The smallest one is Moiwa. Popular among the five is Hirafu. All of these resorts are found on Mount Niseko-Annupuri, with the Annupuri, Niseko Village and Grand Hirafu located on its southeastern part. These three are joined together at the mountain top and skiers can ski between them. Shuttle buses connect the three resorts at their bases. You can get the Niseko All Mountain pass to gain access to all three.

One other thing that Niseko is proud of is their night skiing offer. Since the locals do not normally ski at night, this is your chance to have more free and open space. The whole (well, almost) mountain will be lit, which gives off a different look to the area and a different kind of atmosphere. The light penetrates the trees and offers a different kind of challenge. Lifts remain open until nine in the evening. For skiing instructions, all four major resorts operate their own ski school with international instructors, but it is always good to book an English-speaking instructor in advance.

Fly me to Japan

At the foot of Mount Kenashi-yama is Nozawa. The atmosphere here is traditional. It is only during the ski season that the village turns into an area bustling with activity. Otherwise the village is a tranquil one. The ski hill in Nozawa was established in 1924.

Located one hour away from the city of Nagano, the Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort is one of the oldest ski resorts in Japan. But do not let its age fool you. It has very modern facilities, including two gondolas and high speed lifts. The runs here are long and fast. The surrounding countryside, and scenes farther afield such as the Sea of Japan and the Northern Japan Alps could be seen from the mountain top on a clear day.Gentle slopes are available for beginners but expert skiers can be challenged by its 39-degree incline, moguls, half pipe and parks. There are about 50 kilometres of pistes in Nozawa starting at 1,085 metres from the base. The skiing area covers 297 hectares.

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The resort area is also widely known for its numerous onsens. Several Japanese inns (ryokan) and Japanese style bed and breakfasts (minshuku) have their own onsen facilities. However, there are 13 public hot spring baths (sotoyu) that you can enjoy for free. Bring your own soap and towel, though. Other accommodation facilities include several self-contained apartments, inns, hotels, pension and ski lodges. Nozawa has its own ski school for skiers of all abilities and ages. The resort and the town are very friendly to foreigners and maps, pamphlets and signs are available in English.

If you are coming to Nozawa in January, time it before the 15th of the month when the Nozawa Onsen Dosojin Festival (fire festival) takes place. It could be a very memorable experience. You get to experience more than exhilarating skiing at Nozawa. The little village has a handful of shrines and temples featuring traditional Japanese architecture, and free foot baths along its streets. During the season you not likely to go hungry as more than 100 restaurants and bars, big and small are open. Among its 30 onsens, remarkable are Ogama, which has the hottest water temperature at 90 °C (194 °F), hot enough to boil vegetables and eggs and Oyu, the architecture and atmosphere of which transport visitors to the Edo Period.

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Furano is one of the best ski resorts in Japan. It has world class facilities and regularly hosts national and international ski competitions. It is also famous for its wonderfully clear blue skies and its proximity to the magnificent Daisetsu-zan National Park.The trails in Furano are civilized, perfectly bounded by scenic views. It has high speed lifts and cable cars. On days were there is heavy powder, some of the areas are left ungroomed for some spectacular and thrilling skiing and snowboarding.

The mountain, which is divided into the Furano Zone and the Kitanomine Zone consists of 40 percent beginner terrain, 40 percent intermediate with parallel and groomed Blue and Red zones and 20 percent advanced area with ungroomed and groomed runs, moguls and steep Black. Its 950-metre vertical drop is one of the steepest in Hokkaido. Its downhill course is regularly used for the World Cup, so you know that you are facing some huge challenges in Furano.

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The Kitanomine Zone has a fast and comfortable gondola with plenty of smaller lifts so skiers can get to their favourite spots faster. On the other side of the mountain, the Furano Zone features a 101-person ropeway/cable car that brings skiers from the base to the mountain top in just four minutes. It is considered as one of Hokkaido’s and Japan’s fastest lifts. The peak of the mountain is reached by a single seat 571-metre lift. From there expert skiers will have the time of their lives in the deep powder.

Furano offers free tours of the ski area every morning from the cable car at Furano Zone and the gondola at the Kitanomine Zone. English-speaking volunteers will provide you with information about the resort, the layout of the ski area and answer your other questions.

Each ski zone in Furano offers a variety of options for accommodation. You can even stay in town if you wish as it is only six minutes away by shuttle from the Furano Zone and three minutes from the Kitanomine zone. Ski schools, one on each zone of the mountain is available for those wishing to have ski instructions. The ski instructors are certified and speak fluent English. If you are in need of a break, there are other snow-themed activities available. At the Family Snowland you can go hot air ballooning, dog sledding, air bouncing, snow shoeing, cross country skiing or enjoy some unique rides. There’s snow banana boat, snowmobiles and snow rafts, which all provide other options to enjoy the snow.

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