During winter, Japan’s stunning mountains are decked with snow, and wherever you go, the conditions are ideal for exhilarating activities. And with Christmas approaching, this is the perfect time to enjoy the season with friends and family. And although Hokkaido and northern Honshu have secured an illustrious reputation for winter sports, there’s plenty to enjoy that’s not far from Tokyo’s cosmopolitan borders. Here are five places to check out over the holidays!
Operating since 1988, Kamui Misaka is a ski area located in Yamanashi Prefecture that can be enjoyed year round thanks to its snowmaking machines. The courses are intended for beginners and lower-level intermediates, and the ski area is definitely the perfect place to start out if you have a hankering to learn. Snowboarders are also welcome on almost all courses aside from the family course. Also, offering excitement for the entire family is a sledding course called Kid’s Town, which costs ¥700 for elementary school students and is free for adults. With the air growing crisper and colder, now’s the perfect time for winter activities at Kamui Misaka.
As one of the most well-known and largest resorts in Japan, Hakuba Valley draws skiers and snowboarders from around the world to enjoy its powder snow. Located within the northern area of Nagano Prefecture, at the base of the Northern Japanese Alps, it boasts 10 ski resorts with more than 200 runs, with Happo One and Shiga Koen being the most popular. From gentle runs to eight-kilometer-long cruising courses, Hakuba Valley offers an exciting experience for both novice and experienced skiers and snowboarders. And the resort is exceptionally foreigner-friendly, being staffed by many English speakers. This is a winter wonderland that you don’t want to miss, and its landscape is reminiscent of the ski lodges found amidst the European Alps.
Nestled at an altitude of 300 meters above sea level in the northern section of Nagano Prefecture, Nozawa Onsen is reputed for its lengthy history as a center for hot spring-goers as well as one of the first ski resorts in Japan. A scenic portrait of rugged mountains sprinkled with traditional Japanese inns, some of which date back to the Edo era, the resort is also noted to be less touristy than other nearby hotspots. Nozawa has more than 50 kilometers of perfect snow, ideal for skiers and snowboarders of all capabilities. Furthermore, for amateur skiers hoping to improve their skills, there is also a ski school led by knowledgeable English-speaking instructors. Make sure to stop by the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park just nearby, where monkeys huddle together in the onsen for warmth during the cold winter months.
Zao Onsen Ski Resort
Zao Onsen Ski Resort, an esteemed ski resort hidden away in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture, offers activities for both skiers and snowboarders with beginner-friendly courses as well as multiple ski and snowboarding schools. The snow quality reminds one of Niseko in Hokkaido, but is closer to Tokyo. On the upper slopes, visitors can bask in the panoramic view of snow-covered trees that can be found on the sky-scraping mountains. These trees are the mainstay of the resort, and are known as “snow monsters,” as they look like strange creatures. For those wishing to sightsee, the resort also offers tour guides to visit these snowy spectacles. Also, there will be illumination events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights between December 23 and February 25.
Snow Town Yeti
On the southern slopes of Mt. Fuji, you will find a small ski resort with wooden chalets set against the backdrop of the famed mountain coated in pure white. Snow Town Yeti is one of the first resorts to open each ski season, with pistes designed for beginner and advanced skiers; the resort features four runs and two lifts. It’s also very family-friendly, offering other activities for children, such as a snow playground and sledding. With its own ski and snowboarding school for both adults and children, Snow Town Yeti is the perfect place for beginners to quickly improve their skills, thanks to its focus on doing rather than learning based on spoken word. A visit to Snow Town Yeti is an unforgettable and exhilarating experience complemented by splendid views!
Updated: December 12, 2023
Originally Published: December 16, 2021