By Contributor Mike Humphrey 

Intrepid travelers, are you looking to find unknown wintery Japan Ski destinations? Japan’s powder, vast expanses, and friendly locals make it a favorite destination for international skiers. Most end up heading to Niseko, Hakuba Valley, Nozawa Onsen, or Shiga Kogen. But Japan has over 500 other resorts offering unique Japanese ski experiences.

The following list is different from what you find on most sites. For those adventurous few we’ll have you clicking into your bindings away from the crowds. Not for the faint of heart, this list will require you to brush up on your Japanese and get out of your comfort zone. We scoured Japan’s renowned alpine resorts to bring you a list of 11 Japanese Ski Resorts you have never heard of.

Japan Ski Destinations

  1. Zao Onsen Ski Resort
  2. Alts Bandai Ski Resort
  3. Hakkoda Ski Resort
  4. Appi Kogen Ski Resort
  5. Tateyama Sanroku Ski Resort
  6. Naeba/Kagura Ski Resorts
  7. Karuizawa Prince Ski Resort
  8. Gassan Ski Resort
  9. Yeti Ski Area
  10. Charmant Huichi Ski Resort
  11. Biwako Valley Ski Resort

1) Zao Onsen Ski Resort

  • Number of Runs: 25
  • Number of Lifts: 34
  • Vertical: 880m

Zao Onsen in Yamagata prefecture is a stunning destination with one of Japan’s most iconic natural features – the snow monsters. These eerie ice formations are created by a combination of freezing temperatures, heavy winds, and moisture-laden clouds. They make for an incredible sight, especially lit up at night after the closed resort.

The hot springs at Zao Onsen have a 1900-year history, and their skin-beautifying and rejuvenating effects are legendary. The town is a popular destination in Japan for winter sports enthusiasts, as it boasts an impressive 25 ski slopes for skiers to enjoy. 

Relax in some of the country’s most renowned hot springs and enjoy this unique Japanese ski adventure. 

2) Alts Bandai Ski Resort

  • Number of Runs: 22
  • Number of Lifts: 7
  • Vertical: 580m

Located in Fukushima prefecture, Alts Bandai is a popular Japanese ski destination. It is the largest resort on Mount Bandai and is known for its exceptional snow. With a variety of beginner slopes, expert courses, and stunning views of Lake Inawashiro, this resort is the perfect choice for winter sports enthusiasts. On the weekends, get a taste of pure untracked powder with the in-resort cat tours.

Mount Bandai is home to many resorts, and the whole area is a Japanese ski destination. The family-run pensions offer a unique Japanese cultural experience for those willing to navigate the language barriers.

3) Hakkoda Ski Resort

  • Number of Runs: 5
  • Number of Lifts: 3
  • Vertical: 666m

Hakkoda is one of Japan’s must-visit destinations for adventurers who love powder! Beginners and advanced skiers will find plenty to explore at Hakkoda. The snow conditions here are some of Japan’s best. The resort has a single Gondola that provides access to the peak. Once at the top, take one of the easy groomed runs to the base, or put on your skins and begin exploring the off-piste skiing. The road around the base is a great spot to drop a vehicle if you want to do multiple laps of the gondola.

4) Appi Kogen Ski Resort

  • Number of Runs: 21
  • Number of Lifts: 6
  • Vertical: 708

Appi Kogen is one of Japan’s most prestigious ski resorts, located in the stunning mountain region of Tohoku. With 21 different courses, Appi Kogen is perfect for experienced skiers looking for a challenging adventure. Appi Kogen boasts some of the finest powder snow Japan has, thanks to its low humidity. In addition, six tree run zones are available on the slopes, providing plenty of opportunities for skiers to let loose and enjoy the fresh, powdery snow.

Three hotels next to the slopes offer some excellent ski-in/ski-out accommodations within walking distance of the lifts.

5) Tateyama Sanroku Ski Resort

  • Number of Runs: 11
  • Number of Lifts: 7
  • Vertical: 708m

Tateyama Sanroku is one of Japan’s hidden gems. The two ski areas, Raicho Valley and Gokurakuzaka, connect at the base and share a lift ticket. Tateyama Sanroku has something for everyone, from wide gentle runs suitable for novices to the more challenging black diamond runs that test even the most experienced snowboarders and skiers. Get away from the crowds and enjoy a more serene ski experience, and you’ll love the ungroomed trails scattered throughout Sanroku’s slopes.

6) Naeba/Kagura Ski Resorts

In the southern region of Yuzawa Town in Niigata Prefecture, Naeba and Kagura make up one of Japan’s most famous ski areas. The Dragondola that connects the two resorts is Japan’s longest gondola at more than 4km in length and carries up to 3,000 people per hour.

In the summer, Naeba hosts the famous Fuji Rock Festival. The Yuzawa area is known for its hot springs and was the inspiration for the famous Nobel prize-winning novel Yukiguni (snow country).

Naeba Ski Resort

  • Number of Runs: 22
  • Number of Lifts: 12
  • Vertical: 889m

Naeba has long been one of Japan’s most popular ski destinations, thanks to its easy access, convenient location, and abundant snowfall. With 12 lifts, including three gondolas and four quad lifts, Naeba is an excellent choice for skiers of all abilities.

If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path Japan ski experience, then Naeba is the place to go. The town has a rich history and is steeped in culture, making for an exciting and unique experience. Plus, with its location close to the border of Gunma Prefecture and its proximity to other popular ski areas like Tashiro and Kagura, there’s plenty to explore in the surrounding area as well.

Kagura Ski Resort

  • Number of Runs: 23
  • Number of Lifts: 19
  • Vertical: 1225m

If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path ski adventure in Japan, then Kagura is the perfect destination. With its reliable snowfall, long season, and exciting backcountry ski terrain, this lesser-known ski area is the ideal choice for adventurous skiers and snowboarders looking to hit the slopes in Japan.

7) Karuizawa Prince Ski Resort

  • Number of Runs: 16
  • Number of Lifts: 9
  • Vertical: 215m

While Karuizawa may be lacking in vertical compared to many other ski resorts on this list, it’s here for a reason. Karuizawa is one of Japan’s earliest-opening ski resorts, regularly opening in early November. They use an extensive snow-making system to ensure they have snow even during the lowest snow years. Meaning you can get your first turns in before everyone else. While they may not have the most vertical, they have 16 runs, making it a great place to get your turns early in Japan.

Getting to Karuizawa is a breeze; the resort has a stop on the Hokuriku bullet train. That, combined with the outlet mall, means that your significant other can shop to their heart’s content while you hit the slopes.

8) Gassan Ski Resort

  • Number of Runs: 4
  • Number of Lifts: 3
  • Vertical: 900m

Gassan gets so much snow it doesn’t open during the winter. This resort starts running its lifts in April. The area is known for its wide open area and backcountry tours. Found on Mt. Ubagatake, the resort has one 1 km pair lift and two T-bar lifts that move around depending on where the snow is best. If you’re looking to scratch that skiing itch mid-summer, Gassan is your best bet. Be aware you will be one of many skiers searching for elusive summer snow. The weekends can get quite busy at Gassan.

9) Snow Park Yeti

  • Number of Runs: 4
  • Number of Lifts: 3
  • Vertical: 150m

Mt. Fuji as a backdrop, what else could you ask for in a Japan ski experience? Other than a little more vertical, of course. But that’s not why you come to ski here. Snow Park Yeti is more about the location than the actual runs. Snow Park Yeti has held the record for Japan’s earliest open winter sports destination every year for the last 24 years.

10) Charmant Huichi Ski Resort

  • Number of Runs: 16
  • Number of Lifts: 3
  • Vertical: 508m

Found North of Hakuba Valley and Myoko Kogen, Charmant Hiuchi is a hidden gem with abundant powder stashes. The resort enjoys heavy snowfall and long seasons with 16 runs, 508m of vertical, and three lifts. Over 65% of the diverse terrain is ungroomed. Charmont is off the beaten path for most international skiers compared to larger resorts, so expect to use your Japanese. You may also have to wake up the local lifty at the bottom to get the chair running.

11) Biwako Valley Ski Resort

  • Number of Runs: 8
  • Number of Lifts: 6
  • Vertical: 224m

A mere 40km from central Kyoto, Biwako is a quaint ski resort nestled among the mountains of Japan. Offering a choice of 8 runs and 6 lifts, Biwako is excellent for skiers of all skill levels. With the Ropeway taking you to the top elevation of 1,174m and offering fantastic views of Lake Biwa and the surrounding regions, this ski resort is sure to provide an unforgettable experience. Lake Biwa is Japan’s largest freshwater lake and a popular tourist destination. The resort is on the West side of the lake and is open for skiing from December to March.

FAQ

Where do people go skiing in Japan?

There are several popular ski destinations in Japan, including Niseko, Hakuba Valley, Nozawa, and others. Japan has over 500 resorts and the most ski resorts per capita in the world.

Does Japan have good ski resorts?

Yes, Japan has good ski resorts. Japan is known for some of the best powder snow in the world, with many areas receiving more than 10 meters of snow a year. In Addition, Japan’s mountain landscapes offer stunning views and a unique skiing experience. Whether a beginner or an experienced skier, Japan has something for everyone.

What is the best month to ski in Japan?

Japan’s ski season usually starts in November and runs until the first week of May. However, the best months to ski in Japan for consistent snow conditions are Jan, Feb, and March. For good powder snow, plan your ski trip between mid-Jan to mid-Feb.

Final Thoughts

Japan is the place to be if you are looking for an unforgettable ski experience. With its abundant powder snow and stunning mountain landscapes, Japan offers some of the best skiing in the world. With over 500 resorts, Japan has some exciting and unique ski destinations that most international visitors rarely hear about. Whether you’re looking for traditional Japanese charm or great skiing, there is always more for an avid adventurer to explore. Use the list above and plan your next off-the-beaten-path ski holiday.