After a two-year hiatus, Japan has fully reopened to travellers this week, with only minimal pandemic travel requirements remaining. As of October 11th, 2022, Japan’s borders are open, and ski resorts eagerly await the return of international guests.
Powder-hungry adventurers looking to take advantage of cheap travel and snowy conditions may want to consider heading to the land of the rising sun. A trip skiing powder in Japan’s world-renowned resorts awaits those interested in beating the crowds.
Japan is one of the world’s leading ski nations and is home to more than 500 ski resorts spread across the country, ranging from famous international resorts like Niseko to numerous hidden gems. The ski season in Japan typically runs from late November to early May. The best powder conditions are usually found in January and February.
Of course most of us heading to Japan will buy our lift passes in resort, but the big American-based multi-resort seasonal lift passes like the Ikon, Mountian Collective and Epic passes each offer some inclusive days at one or more Japanese resorts, so if you have already bought one of these, you may be able to ski for no additional cost (after you’ve paid for travel and accommodation) in Japan!
So, where can you use your multi-resort pass in Japan?
Alterra Mountain Company introduced the Ikon pass in 2018, which offers access to 38 resorts worldwide. For the 2022/2023 season, the Ikon includes a 5-day pass at Japan’s internationally best known resort of Niseko United as well as the recently re-developed Lotte Arai Ski Resorts.
If you’ve ever thought about skiing in Japan, you have likely heard about Niseko United. Known as Asia’s ski capital, Niseko United is four connected resorts that offer skiers and riders access to over 50km of terrain and Backcountry. With an annual snowfall of a whopping 16m, it’s no wonder Niseko is an internationally renowned powder destination.
Lotte Arai is Japan’s newest resort, having opened its doors for the 2017/2018 season. The resort is located just 2 hours from Tokyo in the Niigata Prefecture. With state-of-the-art facilities, Lotte Arai is quickly becoming a popular destination for international skiers and riders. Lotte Arai boasts an annual snowfall of 11m and is a yearly stop on the Free Ride World Tour.
The Mountain Collective is an alliance of 22 global ski destinations that offer access to over 50 different resorts. For the 2022/2023 season, the Mountain Collective pass offers a 2-day lift pass at Niseko United and 50% off additional lift passes.
Niseko, located in Hokkaido, is one of Japan’s premier powder skiing destinations. The four connected resorts covered by the pass are Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village and Niseko Hanazono.
The Epic Pass by Vail Resorts has partnered with Hakuba Valley and Rusutsu in Japan. Epic pass holders have access to a 5-day Hakuba Valley pass and a 5-day lift pass at Rusutsu ski resort. There are no blackout dates at the member resorts.
The Hakuba Valley pass gives access to all 10 of Hakuba’s resorts and over 200+ runs. Located in Nagano, Hakuba receives over 11 meters of annual snowfall and offers some of the best powder skiing and boarding in Japan. Hakuba is a well-known backcountry destination and has been a host of the Free Ride World Tour.
Rusutsu receives a whopping 16m of snow a year. Found on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, the light dry powder here is world-renowned. Found a 90-minute car ride from Sapporo’s Chitose airport Ruutsu has 4 gondolas and 14 lifts, and 37 different runs. Rusutsu offers enough terrain to keep even the most advanced skiers, and riders entertained
Getting to Japan
The best way to get to Japan is by flying into one of the country’s international airports. The three main airports are Narita International Airport (NRT), Haneda Airport (HND), and Chitose Airport (CTS).
Public Transport in Japan
Japan has an extensive public transport system. Most people use the country’s extensive train network to get around. The Japan Rail Pass is an excellent option for travellers who plan on using the trains a lot during their trip. If you are taking public transport with ski gear, consider using busses or shipping your skis ahead using a service like Yamato or Sagawa.
Driving in Japan
Japan has an extensive network of highways and roads. Driving is a great way to get around if you rent a car or own a vehicle. Be aware that Japan drives on the left side of the road (good news for those coming from countries like the UK which also drive on the left), and you will need an international driver’s license or permit.