Ja Ski Japan

When you ski Japan you’re on the slopes of one of the world’s leading ski nations and the main ski country in Asia. There are more than 500 Japanese ski resorts spread across the country – a number only matched by Austria, Germany and the United States.

The ski centres stretch across the country and have a reputation of excellent snowfalls, particularly on the northern island of Hokkaido where annual snow accumulations are normally among the deepest in the world, officially only beaten by Mt Baker in Washington State just across the Pacific in the USA.

Skiing in Japan also has the longest history of downhill winter sports in the continent, with the sport introduced by famous Austrian pioneer Hannes Schneider from the Arlberg who popularised skiing in early films and books all over the world and is now commemorated in a dedicated ski museum in Nozawa Onsen, one of the country’s best known resorts where Schneider taught skiing in the early 1920s.

Most of the resorts are comparatively small in extent but in some cases up to a dozen small areas are inter-linked or at least very close together, such as the many sectors of 1998 Winter Olympic venue Nagano – one of two Olympics staged in Japan, the only country outside Europe, the US and Russia to stage a winter games.

The evolution of wintersports in Japan is a unique one and reflects both economic and consumer trends.

While in most first world countries with a long history of skiing the sport gradually grew and matured and has remained relatively stable for two or three decades now, interest in skiing among the Japanese population peaked in the 1980s and then dramatically dropped at the start of the 1990s after a collapse of the Japanese economy coincided with growth in interest in other activities, particularly computer gaming. Skier numbers declined from 20 million a year to around a third of that number, although they have now recovered to about 10 million.

During the boom years Japan was known for having very crowded slopes – there are almost no drag lifts in the country and multiple chairlifts deposited Japanese skiers en masse at the top of slopes. As Japan is a very polite and respectful society, this rarely caused the kind of bad temper, pushing and shoving it might in Europe or North America and instead everyone made space. Many ski areas were efficiently accessed by rail from the country’s cities too and skiers would arrive in the early hours of the morning to ski through the small hours as ski areas operated nearly 24 hours a day to cope with demand.

Another consequence of the 1980s popularity of skiing was that in its early years, snowboarding was largely banned on the country’s slopes, with resort managers seeing no reason why they should complicate matters by allowing boarders on their ski runs. There was also little of the Western model of diversification in activities and resort facilities. There were basic hotels, ski runs only, childcare facilities were rare and while most skiing nations have a mix of nationalities on their slopes, non-Japanese skiers very rare too. This was partly due to the lack of any languages being spoken or signage other than Japanese and partly as the Yen was riding high making skiing very expensive.

The ski boom also led to Japan being a pioneer of indoor skiing with one of the world’s earliest centres opened in the 1950s and in the modern era a dozen indoor centres opening in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including what is still the biggest ever built – the SSAWS dome in Tokyo harbour with a 500m long, 100m wide slope built on earthquake absorbing piles to save the centre from the potential danger of an indoor avalanche. This centre was eventually demolished to make way for Japan’s first IKEA store, having never repaid its construction costs.

Indeed the 1990s saw many Japanese ski areas mothballed. Japanese business ownership rules meant it was generally better to close a ski centre down and leave it potentially operational rather than dismantle it.

Seeking to re-invent itself, the country’s major ski areas have, particularly in the last decade, followed Western business models far more, diversifying their resort activity range, dining and accommodation options.

None has been more successful in doing so than Niseko which has risen to worldwide fame as a cult free riding resort attracting powder hounds from around the world and particularly Australia, as Aussies have realised they have a shorter trip and no jet lag travelling to Japan than their traditional choices of Canada and to a lesser extent the US and the Alps. This has allowed Niseko to have far more English language information than other resorts, making the resort instantly more attractive to the global market.

A main attraction is the remarkable snow conditions, but visitors have also found that modern Japan also offers great food in its restaurants and relatively affordable prices. Service standards are also very high and the local population friendly and respectful in their welcome. Japan also has several unique attractions including the hot spring onsen baths found at many resorts and eternally popular karaoke bars for après ski.

It comes as a surprise to many freeriders that much of Japan’s extensive off piste terrain often buried metres deep is off limits as well as off piste and if skied or boarded can result in prosecution and certainly loss of lift ticket. Some resorts, including Niseko do have off piste zones available however.

Another point to be kept in mind is that Japanese snowfall can be unremitting. Photos of snow banks towering above tour buses can only result from periods where snowfall has lasted for weeks when a cycle of dry air sweeping in from across the vast Siberian plains sucks up moisture as it passes out over the Sea of Japan, depositing it all once it hits the mountains.

Japan’s ski areas are also frequently subject to earthquakes and resort facilities and buildings are designed to cope with this. Fukushima, where the nuclear power plant was damaged by the 2011 Tsunami, is a popular ski region where radiation level reports are now posted along side snow conditions.
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Japan: latest snow conditions round-up

Summary of forecast snowfall and ski conditions for resorts in Japan. Fresh snow is forecast at 2resorts. Powder is reported at 0 resorts and 0 are reporting good piste conditions.

Recent Eyeball Snow Reports for Japan

A–A

B–E F–G H–H I–J K–K L–L M–M N–N O–R S–S T–T U–X Y–Z

Ski resorts in Japan from A to A

Bottom Mid Top
Resort Webcam Top
snow depth
top and bottom
Good piste
on-piste
Powder
off-piste
Fresh snow depth
last snow
Fresh snow depth
next 9 days
0–3 | 3–6 | 6–9
snow (cm)
Weather Next 5 days weather forecast.
Freezing level (m)
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu

(25m — 205m)

2
10
1
clear
moderate rain
light snow
snow showers
light snow
Mid station 115 m
1550m 1050m 550m 0m 0m

(500m — 1200m)

2
1
light rain
rain showers
snow showers
clear
clear
Mid station 850 m
2350m 2150m 1200m 900m 1450m

(850m — 1220m)

4
2
3
partly cloudy
rain showers
snow showers
clear
snow showers
Mid station 1035 m
2450m 2200m 1200m 1000m 1100m

(210m — 340m)

2
1
partly cloudy
rain showers
light snow
clear
rain showers
Mid station 275 m
2400m 2050m 1150m 900m 1050m

(838m — 1200m)

7
5
4
partly cloudy
clear
light snow
clear
snow showers
Mid station 1019 m
2500m 2250m 1300m 1050m 1150m

(510m — 1000m)

9
5
6
partly cloudy
clear
light snow
clear
snow showers
Mid station 755 m
2450m 2150m 1200m 1000m 1100m

(720m — 1240m)

9
7
6
partly cloudy
clear
light snow
clear
snow showers
Mid station 980 m
2500m 2150m 1250m 950m 1050m

(943m — 1650m)

8
5
4
partly cloudy
clear
snow showers
clear
snow showers
Mid station 1296 m
2500m 2350m 1300m 1050m 1200m

(535m — 620m)

3
partly cloudy
partly cloudy
snow showers
partly cloudy
clear
Mid station 578 m
2100m 1850m 900m 650m 800m

(96m — 369m)

10
8
20
partly cloudy
rain showers
moderate snow
light snow
light snow
Mid station 232 m
1050m 1150m 600m 0m 0m

(1350m — 1400m)

partly cloudy
clear
snow showers
clear
clear
Mid station 1375 m
2600m 2550m 1500m 1150m 1350m

(740m — 1500m)

16
14
10
partly cloudy
clear
snow showers
clear
snow showers
Mid station 1120 m
2450m 2150m 1300m 1000m 1250m

(660m — 1511m)

15
14
9
partly cloudy
clear
snow showers
clear
snow showers
Mid station 1086 m
2450m 2200m 1300m 1000m 1250m

(700m — 1000m)

9
10
8
partly cloudy
clear
snow showers
clear
snow showers
Mid station 850 m
2450m 2150m 1300m 1050m 1250m

(800m — 1050m)

7
4
5
partly cloudy
partly cloudy
light snow
clear
snow showers
Mid station 925 m
2500m 2150m 1200m 1000m 1050m

(950m — 1200m)

32
43
36
partly cloudy
light rain
light snow
light snow
snow showers
Mid station 1075 m
1800m 1650m 850m 350m 500m

(700m — 1280m)

6
4
8
partly cloudy
rain showers
light snow
clear
snow showers
Mid station 990 m
2450m 2100m 1150m 950m 1050m

(640m — 1350m)

19
17
15
partly cloudy
rain showers
light snow
snow showers
snow showers
Mid station 995 m
1800m 1700m 850m 400m 600m
Ani

(537m — 1200m)

18
40
19
partly cloudy
rain showers
light snow
snow showers
light snow
Mid station 868 m
1750m 1700m 850m 500m 700m

(396m — 921m)

10
33
10
light rain
rain showers
light snow
moderate snow
light snow
Mid station 658 m
1750m 1550m 800m 550m 600m

(550m — 650m)

heavy rain
rain showers
rain showers
rain showers
clear
Mid station 600 m
2550m 2250m 1100m 1500m 1500m

(523m — 1328m)

Appi Kogen webcam
23
20
20
partly cloudy
rain showers
light snow
snow showers
snow showers
Mid station 926 m
1800m 1650m 850m 400m 450m

(300m — 460m)

heavy rain
rain showers
light rain
clear
rain showers
Mid station 380 m
2500m 2200m 1350m 1200m 1500m

(81m — 162m)

partly cloudy
clear
light rain
clear
rain showers
Mid station 122 m
2450m 2100m 1300m 1050m 1200m

(329m — 1280m)

11
8
10
partly cloudy
clear
light snow
clear
snow showers
Mid station 804 m
2450m 2100m 1300m 1050m 1200m

(1140m — 1320m)

3
partly cloudy
clear
snow showers
clear
clear
Mid station 1230 m
2650m 2600m 1400m 1450m 1650m

(97m — 221m)

17
10
15
partly cloudy
light rain
moderate snow
light snow
light snow
Mid station 159 m
950m 1100m 450m 0m 0m

(900m — 1100m)

3
partly cloudy
clear
snow showers
clear
clear
Mid station 1000 m
2450m 2250m 1150m 1050m 1400m

(450m — 760m)

15
9
10
partly cloudy
rain showers
light snow
rain showers
snow showers
Mid station 605 m
2300m 1950m 1050m 800m 750m

(550m — 1080m)

1
heavy rain
rain showers
light rain
rain showers
partly cloudy
Mid station 815 m
2500m 2200m 1150m 1400m 1500m

(1100m — 1600m)

32
25
44
light snow
light snow
moderate snow
light snow
light snow
Mid station 1350 m
1100m 1100m 450m 0m 0m

(150m — 650m)

2
1
6
partly cloudy
rain showers
light snow
partly cloudy
rain showers
Mid station 400 m
2250m 1850m 1050m 800m 950m

(1880m — 2050m)

10
1
partly cloudy
partly cloudy
snow showers
clear
snow showers
Mid station 1965 m
2500m 2150m 1050m 800m 1100m

(1880m — 2050m)

10
1
partly cloudy
partly cloudy
snow showers
clear
snow showers
Mid station 1965 m
2500m 2150m 1050m 800m 1100m

(120m — 450m)

19
13
28
partly cloudy
rain showers
moderate snow
light snow
light snow
Mid station 285 m
1350m 1200m 550m 0m 0m

(120m — 270m)

12
11
25
partly cloudy
light rain
moderate snow
light snow
light snow
Mid station 195 m
1150m 1150m 600m 0m 0m

(425m — 602m)

3
partly cloudy
clear
light snow
clear
clear
Mid station 514 m
2450m 2050m 1100m 950m 1100m

(1050m — 1100m)

light rain
rain showers
clear
clear
clear
Mid station 1075 m
2900m 2800m 1650m 1950m 1850m

(520m — 1188m)

11
8
4
partly cloudy
clear
light snow
clear
clear
Mid station 854 m
2450m 2050m 1050m 900m 1000m

(800m — 1350m)

8
5
8
partly cloudy
rain showers
snow showers
partly cloudy
snow showers
Mid station 1075 m
2400m 2150m 1200m 950m 1050m