Where To Ski In Japan? Honshu’s Best Resorts
Honshu is the largest and most popular island of Japan with an abundance of different ski resorts to choose from. Whether you’re after a family holiday, backcountry riding or it’s your first time skiing, it has got something to please. And because that world-famous ‘Japow’ can be found at all of its resorts, it makes it pretty hard to know where to choose. That’s where we come in. Keep reading to discover our guide to Honshu’s best resorts.
Hakuba receives an average of 11+ metres of snowfall each season, so there’s no shortage of snow across its 10 resorts. The largest resort is Happo-One which is in the centre of the valley and is within walking distance of most accommodations. All other ski resorts are conveniently located between a five and 30 minute shuttle away. Hakuba boasts a variety of terrain with mellow beginner runs, long wide groomers for intermediates and some of the best tree skiing in the country at resorts like Cortina and Iwatake for the more advanced. The best part? You can access all resorts, including 135 lifts and more than 200 runs on the one lift pass.
Hakuba has a good balance of Japanese culture and western influence. The main villages of Happo, Wadano and Echoland are at the base of Happo-One and have a vast selection of bars and restaurants. Whether you’re after a traditional Japanese Izakaya, fine dining fare or feel like partying all night long, Hakuba has something to please. Most restaurants and hotels have English-speaking staff so you can get by without knowing a word of Japanese.
It’s also a great destination for families and those who are after western facilities (while still having traditional options available). With world class English-speaking ski schools offering lessons, daycare services and kids clubs, the kids will be kept well entertained.
Getting there: Hakuba can be accessed via a direct coach transfer or the bullet train to Nagano followed by a shuttle bus to your accommodation.
Myoko is closer to Japan’s west coast. What does this mean? Essentially it gets some of the best, lightest and driest powder in the country. Powder chasers among us will be happy with the average snowfall – more than 17+ metres each year! Another destination that’s great for everyone, Myoko has plenty of terrain with the choice of both large and small resorts. Akakura Kanko and Onsen are two interconnected ski resorts within walking distance of the main village of Akakura. Suginohara is popular for its long, steep runs and is great on a powder day. Ikenotaira is smaller with mellower slopes, but has some gentle tree skiing (and doesn’t get very crowded). The list doesn’t stop there, you can use your Snow Chaser Pass to access nine resorts in the area!
Most accommodations, bars and restaurants are centred around Akakura Onsen as it allows access to the main ski resorts. The best thing is nearly all of the restaurants are still owned by the local Japanese people so you’ll find the Izakayas and restaurants offering Japanese dishes like ramen, udon, and soba everywhere.
Getting there: Myoko is easily accessible by train from both Narita and Haneda airports.Take the airport train to the Toyo station, transfer to the bullet train and then the Shinano Railway.
Nozawa Onsen is famous for one thing, you guessed it, its onsen hot springs. You’ll find a range of public and private onsens scattered throughout. These are used mainly for washing food and for bathing. You won’t be disappointed by the snow quality in Nozawa either. Made up of one large ski resort, Nozawa offers 300 hectares of terrain. With everything from mellow green runs for families and beginners to steep skiing with its 1,085m vertical drop. If you’re after backcountry and the park, there are plenty of options here too. Or at the other end of the spectrum, there’s also has a good quality ski school offering lessons in English.
Nozawa Onsen’s village is beautifully traditional. Make the most of the onsens scattered throughout and soak away after a big day on the slopes. When you’re ready for aprés there are plenty of Japanese bars, restaurants and even karaoke ready and waiting – as well as plenty of western options. Due to Nozawa’s popularity you’ll need to book as soon as possible – each season it’s the resort that books out the fastest. This is especially important if you want to travel over the peak periods.
Getting there: like all of these resorts, Nozawa is easy to get to from the airport with a direct shuttle bus.
Shiga Kogen is another of Honshu’s best resorts and for good reason. It is the largest interconnected ski area in Japan – made up of 21 ski areas! Famous for hosting various events at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, try the terrain for yourself, there’s no shortage. Like most other resorts, there are runs suited for all abilities from beginners to intermediates and advanced riders chasing powder. One of the biggest draw cards to Shiga Kogen is the fact that it’s one of the best value resorts if you book early. You can score free nights and free lift passes when you book your travel early – saving up to 30%.
Shiga Kogen is a very small village, which means it is limited in its nightlife options. Most facilities are contained within the hotels themselves. So. if you’re wanting to ski all day and relax in the hotel at night, Shiga Kogen is a great option. It also offers some great ski-in and ski-out hotels, such as the Prince Hotels at the base of Mt Yakebitaiyama. The region offers plenty of off-slope activities too, including the famous snow monkeys at the Jogokudani Monkey Park.
Getting there: Shiga Kogen can be accessed via a direct coach transfer. Or catch the bullet train to Nagano followed by a direct bus to the resort.
So, which resort to choose?
You can’t go wrong with any of these resorts, but here’s some guidance. If you’re wanting something for everyone, you’re travelling with a family or you’re after an active nightlife then Hakuba is the best option. However, if you want deep powder and lots of it (with minimal lift lines) then Myoko is the place to be. If traditional is your calling, Nozawa’s beautiful village, large mountain and Japanese nightlife is for you. Lastly, Shiga Kogen is the best option if you’re after a great value package and all you really want to do is ski or snowboard.