Having hosted the 1972 and 1998 Winter Olympic Games, Japan has increasingly established its reputation as one of the world's top winter sports wonderlands. With the country now home to more than 500 ski resorts, there’s no shortage of alpine domains primed for skiing and snowboarding, whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned veteran.
Japan’s mountain resorts are renowned for their abundance of light and powdery snow, considered by many to be the best in the world. Adorning almost every destination, visitors will discover well-groomed ski slopes and off-track powder snow. Meanwhile, bountiful natural hot springs and tasty restaurants showcase each region's distinctive food and culture.
Best of all, these world-class ski areas are easy to reach from almost anywhere in the country. Whether you choose to explore the Central Alps or the mountaintops of Hokkaido – the northernmost island of Japan – nearby local airports are well-served by domestic JAL flights from locations like Tokyo and Osaka.
Ski Niseko’s interlinked mountain resorts
Situated around 100 kilometers from Sapporo, Niseko is considered the top skiing destination in Hokkaido. Across four world-class resorts – Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village, and An'nupuri – these interlinked slopes combine for over 2000 acres of skiing bliss. Attracting around 18 meters of fresh snowfall annually, thousands of dedicated alpine enthusiasts pilgrimage to Niseko every year.
Here, the season stretches from November to May, ensuring visitors are presented with months of powdery snow every day. With these conditions perfect for beginners and expert skiers alike, clamp on your skis and explore the 47 kilometers of groomed trails and endless off-piste slopes that extend deep into the mountains.
Each of the four ski resorts has its own personality to explore, with the Niseko region noted for being particularly international. Hirafu Village features top-notch après-ski nightlife, with the Niseko Taproom and Toshiro’s Bar serving as great places to soak up the mountainside atmosphere. Nearby, the town of Kutchan offers a more traditional Japanese lifestyle, presenting charming restaurants and izakayas with delightful local cuisine.
The easiest way to reach Niseko is to fly into Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport. From here, bus services operate directly to the ski resort. During peak season, book your bus tickets in advance to avoid delays.
Find out why Furano hosts the world’s best skiers
As a result of Siberian storm systems that sweep across the Sea of Japan, the Furano ski resort receives the lightest and driest snow of any Hokkaido ski resort. However, the area's sleepier reputation and extensive beginner runs make it especially popular amongst families seeking the ideal alpine getaway.
Although Furano has a stellar standing within Japan, it remains somewhat underrated by international visitors. Despite its large beginner-friendly sections, Furano's slopes are also recognized by the professional circuit, with the ski resort having hosted 16 FIS Alpine Ski World Cups over the years.
Connecting the two alpine peaks known as the Furano Zone and the Kitanomine Zone, 11 conveniently placed gondola lifts make it painless to get around. Alongside a vertical drop of 950 meters and 30 kilometers of spotless runs, there's never a problem filling your day with alpine fun.
At the base of the Furano Ropeway, several eateries serve soothing comfort food, while the Shin Furano Prince Hotel is where you can rest your weary legs inside a natural hot spring.
Regular flights take passengers from Tokyo Haneda Airport to Asahikawa Airport. As the easiest way to get to Furano, simply ride the Lavender Go Bus for approximately one hour to the ski resort. JAL's vacation package offers transportation options from the airport to the ski resort with optional services.
Experience the snowboarding paradise of Sahoro
The stellar Sahoro ski resort awaits about an hour’s drive southeast of Furano. Here, the eastern slopes of Mount Sahoro are where much of the action occurs, with 21 runs catering to skiers and snowboarders of every skill level. If you’re still finding your feet on a board, tackle the slow, continuous 2,700-meter run that carries you from the mountain peak to base.
There are also 10 runs for advanced riders, ensuring that even the most talented riders experience a tough challenge. In addition, unbounded off-piste locations enable accomplished boarders to carve out their own runs between the trees. With eight lifts making it easy to see the entire resort, don’t forget to catch some spectacular highlights at the summit.
Here, you’re presented with panoramic views of the surrounding Tokachi Plains and the distant Hidaka Mountains. Once you’ve finished gliding through the slopes for the day, take a short journey into the nearby town of Shintoku to find great ramen and kaiseki restaurants. Meanwhile, there’s a selection of bars and pubs where you can meet locals and international travelers.
Sahoro ski resort is easily reached from Obihiro Airport. Once you land, take the airport shuttle bus to Obihiro Station and ride the JR Ozara line to Shintoki Station. From here, it's a short journey to the ski slopes via a local bus or taxi service. JAL's vacation package offers transportation options from the airport to the ski resort with optional services.
Relish Japanese culture at Zao Onsen Ski Resort
Back on Japan’s main island of Honshu, plan your visit to the Zao Onsen Ski Resort – a historic hot spring village and winter sports landmark. Situated in Yamagata Prefecture, the first ski lifts were opened in 1951, making it one of the oldest skiing destinations in Japan. However, its tucked-away location means the ski slopes remain relatively quiet even during peak season.
Dotting the Zao Onsen Ski Resort are 30 lifts and ropeways. With much of the terrain suited to beginners and intermediate riders, this peaceful place provides a great escape from the wintertime crowds. Plus, you have to see how the so-called ‘snow monsters’ emerge on the slopes every season, with trees taking on fascinating forms due to heavy snow and frigid winds.
The Zao Onsen Ski Resort also has great access to some of Japan’s most admired cultural pastimes. For instance, you’ll find numerous traditional guesthouses and public bathhouses with calming open-air hot springs that look out upon the landscape. For something a little more upbeat, the dining and nightlife scene of Yamagata City is just a 30-minute drive away.
There are several easy ways to reach Zao Onsen Ski Resort from Tokyo. You can take a domestic JAL flight to Sendai Airport or Yamagata Airport, then catch an express bus service to the mountain. If you want to travel by train, take the Shinkansen Tsubasa from Tokyo Station to Yamagata Station. Then transfer to a bus bound for Zao Onsen Ski Resort.
Traverse the backcountry runs of Hakkoda
If you consider yourself a masterful skier or snowboarder, taking a trip to the Hakkoda ski area is bound to be a satisfying experience. With this wide-open terrain situated on Honshu in the Aomori Prefecture, this is the best place to test your off-piste skills. However, Hakkoda isn’t for the faint-hearted.
While there is a small selection of courses aimed at intermediate riders, including the Forest Course and Direct Course, the premier sections are largely unmarked. Alongside first-rate japow and sprawling views, large outback sections run right through the middle of dense alpine forest, with escarpments and crevasses offering tricky obstacles to overcome.
But with no ski patrols in Hokkoda, hiring a local guide and backcountry ski equipment ensures you have everything you need to visit safely. During your stay, head to the Sukayu onsen to find some of the region’s most stunning traditional onsens. Meanwhile, there are also enchanting snow monsters on display, especially throughout January and February.
Visitors to Hokkoda can fly from Haneda Tokyo Airport to Aomori Airport in around 75 minutes. Then, catch a local bus from Aomori or Shin-Aomori train stations to the ski area. You can also ride the shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori in around three hours.
Take the wintertime vacation of your dreams
Spend your holiday exploring the world’s ultimate ski destination. Whether you prefer an alpine region with wonderfully groomed runs and facilities or an unforgettable off-piste experience, all this and more is made possible across Japan's slopes.
If you’re looking for a hassle-free experience, Japan Airline’s Vacation Package ensures you enjoy everything Japan's best ski resorts have to offer alongside outstanding airfare. Check out the itinerary page for Niseko and prepare yourself for the perfect wintertime break.