The country that brought us the kids' favourites 'Hello Kitty' and 'Pokémon', forgot to tell the rest of the world about the fresh powder snow in their backyard. Although Nagano had the 1998 Winter Olympics, it's only been recently that Japan has really started to demand some attention from the International powder hunter, as a 'must-shred' destination.
For most Japanese resorts, the snow season generally starts around mid-December, peaking in January and February, and goes through until about the end of March. Whilst the weekends and national holidays at popular resorts can sometimes get pretty busy with the locals, on weekdays you will often find yourself riding solo on the slopes.
The huge investment into the Snow scene in Japan during the 1980's, means the large ski and snowboard resorts in Japan have fairly modern lift systems, with high-speed quad lifts, gondolas and ropeways. Many resorts now feature snowboard and ski parks, halfpipes, quarterpipes, snow tubing, and other facilities to add to your experience.
Japan has over 500 ski resorts, and two main ski areas, the Nagano prefecture, with The Hakuba Valley the most developed and popular ski area in the South Island. In the North Island, Hokkaido is the most developed ski area, with Niseko a more well-known resort location for many regulars.
The Hakuba valley incorporates 10 ski resorts, over 200 runs, 139 lifts, a local village, ski/snowboard shops, a combination of traditional and Western dining and apres ski entertainment. A popular option with all skiers and boarders of any ability is the multi-resort lift pass, giving you access to Happo One, Hakuba 47, Hakuba Goryu, Hakuba Highland, Sunalpina, Iwatake and Tsugaike ski resorts.
Niseko continues to grow at a fast pace and each year sees a larger number of foreigners on the slopes, meaning no language barrier problems. Niseko Annupuri the main mountain in Niseko, has 3 resorts, with slopes for all ages and abilities. The 'Niseko United' pass is a great option for flexibility, giving you access to 48km of groomed trails, 57 runs, and entry to the other 2 resorts, Niseko Grand Hirafu (Hirafu and Hanazono) and Niseko Village.
If you're into your 80s Rock & Pop you're in luck! The Japan 'ski experience' would not be complete without the sounds of J-Pop pumping through the speakers as you carve the slopes. Songs like Wham's "Last Christmas" will be pumping from 8am - 5pm, (the normal operating hours of the lifts), and may be a reason to make sure you pack the iPod before you leave, if hearing George Michaels' vocals aren't your thing!
Here's Our list of 5 things to entice you to come to the Land of the Rising Sun:
Japan's Power is the driest in the world, meaning the powder is light and fluffy for skiers and boarders, meaning premium snow conditions. The average snowfalls are upto 14 metres and is right up there with the big mountain resorts of North America, with tree line skiing possible in off-piste areas.
Hungry? The Fresh Japanese food is amazing, and every area has regional specialties, as well as the more traditional Japanese food we associate with the country (sushi, tempura, soba noodles etc.), just watch for 'horse' on the menu if you'd rather bet on the racing kind, than eat 'Mr Ed'! If the local grub isn't your thing, many ski villages also offer lots of Western and other ethnic dining options (from Mexican to Thai and everything in between).
Your experience will never be like your average North American or European destination. Here you can partake in 'Japan Only' experiences like a Japanese Tea Ceremony, Ride the Bullet Train, observe the fashions of the "Harajuku Girls", and if you're lucky, train with a Samurai. The influence of Buddhism is also clearly evident with the bronzed statues located around the country.
Onsens (Thermal Hot Springs)
Most traditional Japanese guest houses will have a private onsen that is often split between the two genders, as bathing in them requires you to be naked. There is no shortage of onsens in Japan, and each one has something different to offer, with options like crystal clear water, high levels of minerals (to refresh the body), indoor, outdoor (rotenburo) and stunning views, this is the perfect way to finish up a day of skiing or boarding.
Want to party? Places for nightlife, to play pool, foosball, darts, sing karaoke and dance the night away are dotted all around the ski resorts. Less lively ski resorts still have traditional Japanese pubs, (Izakaya), as well as hotel lounges and bars to relax and have a beer with friends and compare the days best runs. If you can manage a stopover in Tokyo, you'll see the neon lights, that make the city famous, and if you are from a Western country, it is not uncommon for you to be approached in the street and asked for a photo with the locals, and be treated like a D-grade celebrity!
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