Ski Japan - Hokkaido

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 - Hokkaido: latest snow conditions round-up


JAPAN INTRO Japan is currently enduring a heatwave which is seeing temperatures at their highest sustained levels since a freak summer of 1875. The one open area here though, Gassan, seems to be holding up fairly well with temperatures not a lot higher than normal here. That said it was a sunny weekend with temperatures of plus 25 at the mountain base and hitting +20C even on higher runs.

The bigger problem are the big crevasses opening in the diminishing snowpack which means there's just a small amount of hike-to terrain accessible from the top of the lift with the main ski runs closed.

Summary of forecast snowfall and ski conditions for resorts in Japan - Hokkaido. Fresh snow is forecast at 56 resorts. Powder is reported at 0 resorts and 0 are reporting good piste conditions.

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A–M

N–Z

Ski resorts in Japan - Hokkaido from A to M

Resort
snow depth
top and bottom

on-piste

off-piste

Last Snow

Next 9 Days
0–3 | 3–6 | 6–9
snow (cm)
Next 5 days weather forecast.
Freezing level (m)
Thu Fri Sat Sun Mon

(25m — 205m)

1 cm
64 days ago
clear clear part cloud light rain part cloud
Mid station 115 m
4600m 4700m 4600m 4500m 4350m

(96m — 369m)

1 cm
90 days ago
rain showers part cloud cloud light rain thunderstorm
Mid station 232 m
4700m 4800m 4650m 4450m 4300m

(97m — 221m)

1 cm
90 days ago
rain showers clear part cloud thunderstorm thunderstorm
Mid station 159 m
4700m 4800m 4600m 4500m 4300m

(1100m — 1600m)

snow report 53 days ago

Asahidake webcam
opens in 171 days 1 cm
39 days ago
light rain clear part cloud light rain mod rain
Mid station 1350 m
4650m 4800m 4650m 4450m 4350m

(120m — 450m)

1 cm
90 days ago
part cloud clear cloud rain showers thunderstorm
Mid station 285 m
4600m 4800m 4550m 4400m 4300m

(120m — 270m)

1 cm
90 days ago
part cloud clear part cloud light rain thunderstorm
Mid station 195 m
4700m 4800m 4650m 4450m 4300m

(130m — 315m)

1 cm
90 days ago
part cloud part cloud cloud light rain thunderstorm
Mid station 222 m
4650m 4750m 4600m 4450m 4300m

(240m — 300m)

1 cm
90 days ago
rain showers clear part cloud light rain thunderstorm
Mid station 270 m
4700m 4800m 4650m 4450m 4350m

(150m — 530m)

5 cm
66 days ago
part cloud part cloud part cloud light rain cloud
Mid station 340 m
4600m 4650m 4700m 4500m 4400m

(210m — 456m)

3 cm
65 days ago
rain showers clear part cloud rain showers thunderstorm
Mid station 333 m
4700m 4800m 4600m 4500m 4300m

(50m — 150m)

1 cm
90 days ago
clear part cloud cloud part cloud thunderstorm
Mid station 100 m
4600m 4750m 4600m 4450m 4300m

(144m — 409m)

3 cm
79 days ago
clear clear part cloud light rain thunderstorm
Mid station 276 m
4650m 4800m 4600m 4500m 4350m

(56m — 179m)

5 cm
64 days ago
part cloud part cloud part cloud light rain mod rain
Mid station 118 m
4700m 4850m 4700m 4550m 4300m

(280m — 540m)

1 cm
90 days ago
part cloud clear cloud rain showers thunderstorm
Mid station 410 m
4550m 4750m 4600m 4400m 4300m

(280m — 740m)

1 cm
65 days ago
rain showers clear part cloud rain showers thunderstorm
Mid station 510 m
4700m 4800m 4600m 4450m 4300m

(245m — 1209m)

opens in 142 days 5 cm
60 days ago
part cloud part cloud part cloud light rain thunderstorm
Mid station 727 m
4700m 4750m 4650m 4450m 4350m

(52m — 159m)

5 cm
on 22 Mar
part cloud clear cloud rain showers rain showers
Mid station 106 m
4650m 4850m 4500m 4400m 4300m

(182m — 442m)

5 cm
90 days ago
part cloud clear light rain rain showers thunderstorm
Mid station 312 m
4550m 4750m 4500m 4400m 4350m

(260m — 943m)

2 cm
66 days ago
part cloud part cloud light rain light rain thunderstorm
Mid station 602 m
4550m 4700m 4500m 4400m 4350m

(251m — 754m)

2 cm
65 days ago
cloud cloud cloud light rain thunderstorm
Mid station 502 m
4650m 4750m 4600m 4500m 4300m

(150m — 367m)

1 cm
65 days ago
rain showers clear part cloud thunderstorm mod rain
Mid station 258 m
4700m 4800m 4600m 4450m 4300m

(699m — 1239m)

opens in 149 days 5 cm
60 days ago
part cloud part cloud cloud mod rain thunderstorm
Mid station 969 m
4650m 4750m 4650m 4550m 4300m

(133m — 410m)

3 cm
90 days ago
part cloud part cloud cloud thunderstorm thunderstorm
Mid station 272 m
4600m 4800m 4400m 4350m 4300m

(20m — 126m)

1 cm
92 days ago
clear clear cloud rain showers thunderstorm
Mid station 73 m
4600m 4750m 4600m 4400m 4300m

(200m — 554m)

1 cm
79 days ago
rain showers part cloud cloud light rain thunderstorm
Mid station 377 m
4700m 4750m 4650m 4450m 4300m

(25m — 120m)

1 cm
64 days ago
clear clear part cloud light rain thunderstorm
Mid station 72 m
4650m 4800m 4600m 4500m 4350m

(216m — 467m)

1 cm
90 days ago
rain showers part cloud cloud light rain thunderstorm
Mid station 342 m
4700m 4750m 4650m 4450m 4300m

(150m — 751m)

opens in 163 days 3 cm
65 days ago
rain showers clear part cloud rain showers thunderstorm
Mid station 450 m
4700m 4800m 4600m 4500m 4300m

(140m — 247m)

1 cm
92 days ago
rain showers part cloud part cloud thunderstorm thunderstorm
Mid station 194 m
4700m 4800m 4600m 4450m 4300m

(570m — 1180m)

5 cm
60 days ago
part cloud clear cloud thunderstorm thunderstorm
Mid station 875 m
4550m 4800m 4550m 4400m 4300m

(70m — 350m)

1 cm
79 days ago
clear clear part cloud light rain part cloud
Mid station 210 m
4600m 4700m 4600m 4550m 4400m

(280m — 430m)

1 cm
90 days ago
part cloud clear cloud rain showers thunderstorm
Mid station 355 m
4550m 4750m 4600m 4400m 4300m

(170m — 270m)

1 cm
90 days ago
clear clear cloud light rain thunderstorm
Mid station 220 m
4550m 4750m 4600m 4400m 4300m

(38m — 110m)

1 cm
90 days ago
clear part cloud cloud rain showers thunderstorm
Mid station 74 m
4600m 4750m 4600m 4450m 4300m

(670m — 1550m)

snow report 53 days ago

opens in 142 days 1 cm
39 days ago
light rain part cloud part cloud mod rain thunderstorm
Mid station 1110 m
4650m 4750m 4650m 4500m 4350m

(237m — 460m)

1 cm
90 days ago
clear clear cloud rain showers thunderstorm
Mid station 348 m
4550m 4750m 4600m 4400m 4300m

(115m — 322m)

3 cm
92 days ago
rain showers clear part cloud rain showers thunderstorm
Mid station 218 m
4650m 4800m 4600m 4400m 4250m

(176m — 330m)

2 cm
90 days ago
cloud rain showers cloud heavy rain thunderstorm
Mid station 253 m
4600m 4700m 4600m 4400m 4400m

(380m — 780m)

2 cm
65 days ago
part cloud part cloud cloud light rain thunderstorm
Mid station 580 m
4650m 4750m 4650m 4500m 4350m

(294m — 702m)

2 cm
65 days ago
part cloud part cloud cloud light rain thunderstorm
Mid station 498 m
4650m 4750m 4600m 4400m 4300m

(171m — 531m)

1 cm
90 days ago
part cloud clear cloud rain showers thunderstorm
Mid station 351 m
4550m 4750m 4600m 4400m 4300m