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


JAPAN REPORT Just as we published last week's report, winter returned with a little more force than expected with lots of fresh snow, including 45cm (18") of waiting for lucky skiers arriving at Nozawa Onsen (85/280cm / 34/112") which is celebrating its centenary this winter. Up in Hokkaido, snow depths are also up a little, with Niseko (100/320cm / 40/128") reporting nearly 90% of its slopes still open, and Rusutsu (110/160cm / 44/64") is at 98%.

Summer ski area Gassan is gearing up to open for its 2024 season on April 12th.

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

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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

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)
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri

(25m — 205m)

snow report yesterday

5 cm
2 days ago
1.0
1.0
light snow cloud cloud mod rain clear
Mid station 115 m
450m 750m 2100m 2400m 2150m

(500m — 1200m)

snow report 27 days ago

1.0 cm
27 days ago
light rain light rain mod rain clear cloud
Mid station 850 m
3450m 3300m 3500m 3200m 3350m

(850m — 1220m)

snow report 26 days ago

35 cm
27 days ago
cloud cloud mod rain clear part cloud
Mid station 1035 m
2950m 2800m 3350m 3250m 3500m

(210m — 340m)

snow report 26 days ago

8 cm
27 days ago
part cloud cloud mod rain cloud part cloud
Mid station 275 m
3000m 2850m 3400m 3000m 3500m

(838m — 1200m)

snow report 13 days ago

2.0 cm
13 days ago
cloud light rain light rain cloud cloud
Mid station 1019 m
3100m 2900m 3350m 3150m 3550m

(510m — 1000m)

snow report 13 days ago

1.0 cm
13 days ago
cloud light rain light rain light rain cloud
Mid station 755 m
3050m 2900m 3350m 3150m 3500m

(720m — 1240m)

snow report 13 days ago

1.0 cm
13 days ago
cloud light rain light rain rain showers cloud
Mid station 980 m
3150m 2950m 3350m 3100m 3500m

(943m — 1650m)

snow report 13 days ago

8 cm
13 days ago
cloud light rain light rain part cloud cloud
Mid station 1296 m
3100m 2950m 3350m 3100m 3550m

(535m — 620m)

snow report 22 days ago

2.0 cm
23 days ago
part cloud cloud light rain rain showers part cloud
Mid station 578 m
2800m 2700m 3200m 3000m 3400m

(96m — 369m)

snow report 13 days ago

3.0 cm
13 days ago
part cloud cloud cloud mod rain clear
Mid station 232 m
1100m 1450m 2800m 2050m 2100m

(1350m — 1400m)

snow report 26 days ago

18 cm
27 days ago
cloud cloud light rain clear cloud
Mid station 1375 m
3200m 3150m 3400m 3150m 3600m

(740m — 1500m)

snow report 13 days ago

10 cm
13 days ago
cloud part cloud light rain light rain cloud
Mid station 1120 m
3250m 2950m 3400m 3050m 3500m

(660m — 1511m)

snow report 13 days ago

9 cm
13 days ago
cloud part cloud light rain light rain cloud
Mid station 1086 m
3250m 2950m 3400m 3050m 3500m

(700m — 1000m)

snow report 13 days ago

1.0 cm
13 days ago
cloud part cloud light rain light rain cloud
Mid station 850 m
3250m 2950m 3400m 3050m 3500m

(800m — 1050m)

snow report 13 days ago

1.0 cm
13 days ago
cloud light rain light rain cloud cloud
Mid station 925 m
3200m 3100m 3350m 3100m 3600m

(950m — 1200m)

snow report 13 days ago

13 cm
13 days ago
cloud part cloud light rain light rain clear
Mid station 1075 m
2850m 2950m 3250m 2600m 3300m

(700m — 1280m)

snow report 13 days ago

2.0 cm
13 days ago
cloud cloud mod rain cloud part cloud
Mid station 990 m
2950m 2850m 3400m 3150m 3500m

(640m — 1350m)

snow report 13 days ago

6 cm
13 days ago
part cloud part cloud light rain light rain clear
Mid station 995 m
2850m 2950m 3150m 2700m 3350m
Ani

(537m — 1200m)

snow report 13 days ago

4 cm
13 days ago
part cloud cloud light rain light rain clear
Mid station 868 m
2850m 2950m 3200m 2500m 3300m

(396m — 921m)

snow report 13 days ago

2.0 cm
13 days ago
part cloud clear cloud light rain clear
Mid station 658 m
2950m 3000m 3200m 2300m 3250m

(550m — 650m)

snow report 32 days ago

1.0 cm
32 days ago
light rain light rain light rain clear cloud
Mid station 600 m
3700m 3750m 3700m 3550m 3350m

(523m — 1328m)

snow report 2 days ago

150
60
Wet
Spring
12 cm
13 days ago
part cloud cloud light rain light rain clear
Mid station 926 m
2850m 2950m 3300m 2700m 3300m

(300m — 460m)

snow report 31 days ago

2.0 cm
32 days ago
cloud cloud light rain clear cloud
Mid station 380 m
3500m 3350m 3550m 3300m 3350m

(81m — 162m)

snow report 31 days ago

4 cm
32 days ago
cloud part cloud light rain light rain cloud
Mid station 122 m
3300m 2900m 3350m 3000m 3500m

(1140m — 1320m)

snow report 30 days ago

9 cm
30 days ago
light rain light rain light rain clear cloud
Mid station 1230 m
3500m 3350m 3450m 3500m 3400m

(97m — 221m)

snow report 13 days ago

4 cm
13 days ago
part cloud part cloud cloud light rain clear
Mid station 159 m
1000m 1550m 2700m 2100m 2050m

(900m — 1100m)

snow report 26 days ago

1.0 cm
27 days ago
light rain rain showers mod rain clear cloud
Mid station 1000 m
3350m 3250m 3350m 3200m 3400m

(450m — 760m)

snow report 26 days ago

20 cm
27 days ago
cloud cloud mod rain cloud part cloud
Mid station 605 m
2900m 2750m 3200m 2800m 3450m

(550m — 1080m)

snow report 32 days ago

2.0 cm
32 days ago
light rain cloud light rain clear part cloud
Mid station 815 m
3550m 3800m 3650m 3400m 3450m

(1100m — 1600m)

snow report 12 days ago

Asahidake webcam
1.0 cm
12 days ago
cloud part cloud cloud light rain clear
Mid station 1350 m
1100m 1450m 2600m 2100m 2050m

(150m — 650m)

snow report 26 days ago

3.0 cm
27 days ago
part cloud part cloud mod rain light rain part cloud
Mid station 400 m
2900m 2850m 3350m 2650m 3400m

(1880m — 2050m)

snow report 13 days ago

7 cm
13 days ago
cloud light rain light rain clear cloud
Mid station 1965 m
3300m 3150m 3450m 3250m 3550m

(120m — 450m)

snow report 20 days ago

1.0 cm
21 days ago
cloud part cloud cloud light rain clear
Mid station 285 m
1450m 2150m 3100m 1950m 2300m

(120m — 270m)

snow report 13 days ago

5 cm
13 days ago
part cloud cloud cloud mod rain clear
Mid station 195 m
1050m 1400m 2750m 2050m 2000m

(425m — 602m)

snow report 26 days ago

10 cm
27 days ago
light rain light rain light rain clear cloud
Mid station 514 m
3250m 3150m 3350m 2950m 3500m

(1050m — 1100m)

1.0 cm
34 days ago
mod rain light rain rain showers clear light rain
Mid station 1075 m
3800m 3900m 3750m 4000m 3200m

(520m — 1188m)

snow report 26 days ago

9 cm
27 days ago
light rain light rain light rain clear cloud
Mid station 854 m
3250m 3150m 3350m 2900m 3500m

(800m — 1350m)

snow report 13 days ago

3.0 cm
13 days ago
cloud cloud heavy rain cloud part cloud
Mid station 1075 m
3000m 2750m 3350m 3200m 3450m