Skiing and winter sports adventures in Japan
Thanks to the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano and several occasions of the Winter Asian Games, Japan's top mountain resorts boast excellent infrastructure, buzzing nightlife and comprehensive tourist facilities. Not only this, but its snowfall is amongst the most reliable in the world, so although bad years do happen, you're unlikely to be left fretting over that all-important weather forecast before your holiday.
Japan in the winter is also a wonderful place for sightseeing, and as the crowds die back you'll have spectacular locations almost to yourself. Then, to cap it all off, the après-ski is gloriously Japanese: sit back in an outdoor hot spring bath surrounded by snow, with a cup of sake to ease away any aches and pains.
Recommended Skiing & Winter Sports Experiences
Skiing & Winter Sports itineraries
This is a simple little package that proves it needn't break the bank to go on a winter sports holiday in Japan.
Mix culture with snow sports on this deluxe trip, taking in several exciting destinations across Honshu and Hokkaido.
Skiing & Winter Sports accommodation across Japan
Keio Plaza Hotel Sapporo (Sapporo)
The Keio Plaza is a luxurious hotel in the centre of Hokkaido's capital city, just five minutes' walk from Sapporo Station.
The hotel has a range of room styles to choose from, including family rooms, triples, and suites. Amongst the services available to guests are a room service food menu, car park, laundry service, in-room massages, and a range of extra service for families – including childrens' nightwear, cots, and bed guards.
There is an in-house gym, a large swimming pool, a sauna, spa, and “high ultrasonic vibra-baths” – though don't ask us what those are. There is an extra fee to use the facilities, but if you're an early bird the gym is free to use between 5am and 9am. The hotel's excellent city-centre location means that you'll be spoilt for choice in terms of restaurants, bars and shops – but if you'd like to eat in, there are eight different cafés, restaurants and bars inside the hotel itself, including a patisserie and a Cantonese restaurant.
Unassuming and elegant, the Jinpyokaku Honten is a wonderful mountain retreat in the tiny hot spring town of Yudanaka Onsen.
Yudanaka itself is a quiet, wood-panelled town, surrounded by green mountains in summer and covered in a thick layer of snow during the winter. There is not much to do in the town itself besides take advantage of the local collection of bathhouses - but this a blessing when you're staying somewhere as lovely as the Jinpyokaku. At a ryokan this nice, why would you need any districtions?
The ryokan has six traditional-style rooms, each of which is spacious, elegantly decorated and set apart from the main building to ensure a sense of privacy. Every room has its own private hot spring bath, and there is a beautiful set of communal onsen – including indoor and outdoor baths segregated by sex, and a large, mixed-gender outdoor pool. The idea of mixed-gender bathing might put you off at first, but the small size of the ryokan means this bath is often deserted.
The Jinpyokaku Honten is just footsteps from the entrance to the Jigokudani Monkey Reserve, where a group of Japanese macaques have learned to stave off the cold by soaking in the natural hot springs.
Hakuba Springs (Hakuba)
The Hakuba Springs is a comfortable hotel in a very central location in Hakuba, just 5 minutes' walk from the Happo lifts.
Although it's not ski-in/ski-out, the hotel's position at the heart of Happo Village means that you'll be amply compensated for the slight inconvenience. Amongst its many advantages, there is a minimart and ski hire shop right by the hotel, plus a huge array of bar and restaurant options within walking distance.
The hotel has its own bistro, and owns the nearby Jacks Sports Bar – with live sport on HD screens, a resident DJ, and delicious food. There are also great communal hot spring baths, a mist sauna, and a Jacuzzi; perfect for a relaxing soak after a long day on the slopes. There is also a common room where you can hang out in the evenings and meet fellow skiers and boarders, and a range of books and games for you to use.
La Neige Higashi-kan (Hakuba)
Old-fashioned and faded yet endlessly charming, La Neige Higashi-kan offers some of the resort's cosiest ski accommodation.
If you are looking for sleek, modern design and state-of-the-art technology, you won't find it at La Neige Higashi-kan. Instead, expect large, comfortable rooms, a welcoming atmosphere, and eclectic décor that ranges in its inspiration from “farmhouse in Provence” to Art Deco. In addition to its Deluxe, Superior and Standard rooms, La Neige Higashi-kan has two Finnish-style log cottages set apart from the main building in the surrounding woodland.
The owners were inspired by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the hotel has been designed to make the most of its natural forest setting. In the lobby, a heterogeneous assortment of sofas (mostly sourced from Europe) cluster around a roaring fire, adding to the cosy and convivial atmosphere.
Breakfast is included and there is an in-house restaurant, which is known for its excellent wine list and the high quality of its French cuisine. The service throughout is impeccable, and the staff speak some English. It is a five-minute walk to the foot of the nearest ski slope, or the staff will be happy to drive you there on request.
Alpen Hotel (Niseko)
The Alpen Hotel is the premier hotel in the Niseko Hirafu ski area and features its own indoor swimming pool, hot spring baths (indoor and outdoor) and a true ski-in/ski-out location at the bottom of the main piste.
While the hotel is pretty seventies-looking from the outside, the guest rooms are smart, modern and relatively spacious. The hotel itself is not going to be the most memorable you've ever stayed in, but if you're serious about your skiing (or boarding), you won't find a better location. The nearest chairlifts are less than a minute from the doorstep, and the train station is a 15-minute taxi ride.
Each guest room has its own (very spacious) locker in the hotel dry room, and there is a convenience store on the ground floor. Breakfast includes a wide range of Japanese and Western-style foods, and there is an in-house restaurant – although with the Niseko Village shops and restaurants just a short walk away, you may wish to explore further afield instead. The hotel's hot spring baths are another highlight, offering both indoor and outdoor baths included in the price of your stay.
Green Leaf (Niseko)
The Green Leaf Niseko Village is a beautifully crafted hotel at the base of Mount Annupuri, offering ski-in, ski-out convenience, hot spring baths and spa treatments, fantastic food and great customer service.
Newly renovated in 2010, guest rooms are modern, well-sized, and very comfortable. Most have very pleasant views, whether they look out over the slopes on one side or Mount Yotei on the other, and there is free Wi-Fi available throughout the hotel. Ski and snowboard lessons, equipment hire, local tours and experiences such as snow rafting and snow shoe tours can all be easily arranged from the front desk, and for après-ski we recommend a cocktail at the convivial lounge bar. A great base from which to enjoy Japan's best winter sports in style!
The location of this hotel is perfect for those who have come for the snow and want to spend every possible moment on the slopes. There is a chairlift practically on the doorstep (the “Banzai”), and from the top of this it's a short ski down to the Niseko Gondola. Meanwhile, a free shuttle bus service links the hotel with all the other local ski areas.
The hotel's outdoor hot spring bath should be a highlight of your stay, giving you a chance to rest those muscles after a long day on the slopes. Be aware that the hotel is in a very quiet area with regard to restaurants and bars, so to access Niseko's nightlife you'll have to walk 20 minutes into town.