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8 Reasons to Ski in Japan This Winter

In the Land of the Rising Sun, the snow and culture are like no other. But there are more reasons to put Japan on your bucket list.

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Skiing in Japan. We know you’ve thought about it. You’ve seen the videos, the photos, heard people talk about it at the bar after a day of skiing. “Deepest powder of my life!” “Beer Vending Machines!” “Unbelievable Sushi!” “Onsens!”

There has never been a better time to buy that plane ticket and check off skiing in Japan off your bucket list. Need to convince yourself more? Read on…

No. 1: Deep, Deep Powder

Gordy Megroz in Japan
Coming up for air in Rusutsu.Photo credit: Keri Bascetta

With an average of over 600 inches of snow a year in the mountainous regions of Hokkaido (and just a little less in the Japanese Alps), Japan is home to some of the best powder skiing in the world. The legendary, deep snowfall Japan receives each season has even earned the nickname “Japow.”

In December, January, and February, the snow stays cold with frigid winds blowing from Siberia mixing with the moisture from the sea of Japan, making powder a nearly guaranteed experience for skiers.

No. 2: Unique Japanese Culture

Hakuba dumplings
Dumplings, anyone?Photo courtesy of Ski.com / Jackson Lebsack

The Japanese culture is known for being extremely friendly and their cuisine unmatched. With ramen, sushi, and sake on every corner, Japan is the place to learn about the culture by trying as many new foods as possible. The hospitality extends past the dining to the slopes: Lift attendants wait at the bottom with smiles on their faces, greeting every skier on every lift bump.

No. 3: Après for All

Snow monkeys run rampant at the onsens. “They just cruise around in the water all day,” says Long.
You never know who you’ll bump into in an Onsen.Photo credit Bruno Long

Après in Japan is different than most. Sure, you can grab a beer from a vending machine or belly up at a whiskey bar, but for those who want to experience something more than a beverage after skiing, there are numerous, awesome options.

Because of the many volcanoes throughout the country, thermal pools—called onsens—are an abundant staple in the Japanese après tradition. After a long day on the mountain, relax in one of the many onsens found in resort towns to soothe your muscles. You may even spot one of the famous snow monkeys taking a dip in the hot pools alongside you.

If you are looking to party, head to a Karaoke bar where you can belt it out to your heart’s desire while trying some regional beers, whiskeys, and sake with the locals. Better yet, sign up for a guided trip, like one offered by Ski.com, and let the organizers do the groundwork for you.

No. 4: Ski Resorts Big and Small

Japan has more ski resorts than any country in the world. Crowds are dispersed on the 500+ resorts, keeping lift lines short, and stoke high. Japan’s terrain caters to all abilities. From beginner slopes that are great for kids to the legendary backcountry and tree skiing available to experts, everyone will find a slope suited for their ability.

Watch: Michelle Parker and Mark Abma Explore a Small Japanese Ski Area

No. 5: Skiing, All-Night-Long

Jon Jay night ski Rusutsu Japan
Face shots are better at night.Photo credit: Keri Bascetta

If you are one of those people who can never seem to get enough skiing in, Japan is the place for you. Most resorts in Japan offer night skiing until closing around 9 p.m. This gives skiers ample time to explore the world-famous Japow!

No. 6: Crazy Cool Architecture and More

Architectural details in Sapporo
Photo credit: Keri Bascetta

Sightseeing is a reason to visit Japan in itself. Tradition blends with modernism in a unique way not found anywhere else in the world. Temples and shrines are just a few of the sights you will find close to the ski towns and are definitely worth checking out.

No. 7: Skiing is Cheap Compared to North America

The price of getting to Japan can be expensive but the buck stops there. Once you arrive, skiing in Japan is affordable with lift tickets costing about half of what we have come to expect for resorts in the US. Dining in Japan is reasonable as well with colorful plates ranging from about $10-20.

Better yet, if you have an Ikon Pass, Mountain Collective Pass, or Epic Pass, than you can ski for free at a number of resorts near Niseko and Hakuba. Some guided operations, including Ski.com, factor this into the trip, too.

No. 8: Fire Festivals, Ice Festivals

Sapporo Snow Festival Ice Dragon Battle
A light show at the Sapporo Ice FestivalPhoto credit: Keri Bascetta

Winter Festivals draw in tourists from around the world to view the dazzling displays. Featuring ice sculptures as big as buildings and local music ranging from string quartets to famous Japanese pop stars, these festivals are making a name for themselves in the Japanese ski culture. To stay warm, a large selection of local liquors can be tasted in one of the warming huts peppered throughout the festivals.

Emy Reznick contributed to reporting for this article.