The Ultimate Guide to Ski in Japan for Beginners
Maybe you’re from the tropics and haven’t even seen snow in real life. Or, perhaps you just never went to the mountains. Either way, Japan is the perfect place to try skiing and/or snowboarding for the first time! In fact, Japan is where I began skiing (it’s the only place I’ve skied). I’ve recently picked up the sport and have gone from doing the pizza down greens to comfortably skiing on reds within a short amount of time. Now, part of this is because I have an amazing partner who is an advanced skier and doesn’t ditch me and puts up with my attitude (I can be a terrible student). But, it’s also because Japan has great options for beginners. And honestly, I’m quickly becoming obsessed. We went to Rusutsu in Hokkaido just the other week. So, how can you have a great first time on the slopes? With everything from the snow to a list of places to go, here’s your ultimate guide to ski in Japan for beginners!
the types of courses
Similar to elsewhere in the world, ski resorts in Japan rank courses according to difficulty. These levels are distinguished by color. But unlike other places that have four levels (green, blue, red, black), Japan has just three — green, red, and black. What would be a blue course in other places is usually red in Japan. So, stick to the greens when you’re starting out and you’ll be fine.
Also, the slopes in Japan aren’t as steep on average. This is great if you are like me and are worried about falling off the side of the mountain. What? You never know!
The snow in Japan is dry and fluffy. What’s this mean for you? Dry snow is much easier to maneuver in as a beginner compared to snow that is more icy. You have better control of your skis, which is important when you are learning the basics. And fluffy snow is much more forgiving on your rear end when you take a tumble. And you will tumble.
The infrastructure at ski resorts in Japan is on par with those of other countries. You’ll find ropeways and gondolas much like anywhere else. The life tickets, however, are a bit different. In Hokkaido, you will find lift tickets like those used in Europe that work much like a Suica card. But in Honshu, most ski resorts use basic paper passes that you need to show to staff each time you take a lift. This isn’t too annoying; just get one of the lift ticket armbands and you’re good to go.
On average, ski resorts in Japan are also smaller than the ones in Europe. A week-long trip may feel a bit too long. But if you want some time to get the feel of things, you’re best going for a few days.
If you’re looking for things to do after a day of skiing, research well before you book anything. Not many Japanese ski resorts have a lot of things to do after dark. Or, you can enjoy après-ski in Japan like the locals by relaxing in a public bath or onsen. A dip in one of these baths and you’ll be relieved of all the soreness from a day on the slopes.
The food options at ski resorts in Japan are bare bones. While you might have a selection of cute little restaurants when skiing in the French Alps, in Japan you are more likely to see a small food court. The options are few and are typically comprised of Japanese curry and ramen. Bring a snack. You can usually find more food options at the hotels or in town.
You don’t need to bring much to go skiing in Japan. In many ski resorts, you can rent just about everything. Think skis, snowboards, boots, ski wear — even gloves and goggles! If not, there is usually a shop or two that sells the basic gear. Likewise, if you already have your own gear, you can ship your things from the city to the ski resort and avoid having to carry everything!
And if you’re wondering what to wear off the slopes, check out this packing list for Japan in winter.
Skiing in Japan costs roughly the same as in other places. To give you an idea, here’s a rough breakdown of the costs for one day (costs will vary depending on the resort and the equipment available):
- 1-Day Lift Ticket: about JPY 5,000 for adults or about JPY 2,500 for children
- Ski Gear (skis, poles, and booths or snowboard and boots): about JPY 5,000 for adults or about JPY 3,000 for children
- Ski Wear (jacket, pants, goggles, and gloves): about JPY 4,000 for adults or about JPY 2,500 for children
Of course, you also have to take into account the cost to get to the resort and any accommodations you book, but overall, the prices are reasonable.
ski resorts in japan for beginners
If you’re just starting out or don’t have much experience, Japan has plenty of ski resorts you can try. Here are a few for you to consider:
Located in Nagano Prefecture, Karuizawa is one of the top ski resorts near Tokyo that are perfect for a day trip. The ski resort is right by the station and has plenty of beginner courses as well as English-language classes! The area also has shopping and restaurants so you can enjoy some time off the slopes, as well. And, this resort has an extensive play area that is perfect for families.
Also on the list of top ski resorts accessible from Tokyo, Yuzawa is one of the most popular ski towns in the area. The town has multiple ski resorts with plenty of courses to try. Since it’s so popular, you can easily find English-language classes and foreign language assistance.
Niseko is known internationally as *the* ski resort of Japan. Technically a region, Niseko is made up of multiple ski resorts and is known as one of the largest ski areas in the country. Niseko is very accommodating to foreign visitors, with English-language classes, foreign language assistance, and more. This resort also has more nightlife options than most.