When one thinks of Japan words such as sushi and samurai may typically come to mind. However in recent years Japan has begun to gain acknowledgment for something completely different and unexpected: skiing. While the words skiing and Japan may not have an immediate and direct connection for most, in reality Japan is a utopia for avid skiers, with over 500 ski resorts scattered from the south of Kyushu to the north of Hokkaido. Ski fanatics from all over the world flock to Japan because they know that they will find pristine powder snow in perfect condition. The geographical location of Japan allows for the weather systems to work its magic, providing just the right amount of moisture and low temperatures. This results in an ideal environment where ski resorts overflow with champagne powder throughout the months of January to March. In fact, central and northern regions of Japan average a snowfall of 12 meters (39 ft) to 15 meters (49 ft) yearly.
Another word that may not have an immediate connection to Japan is “cheap.” While many seem to have the perception that Japan has an expensive cost of living, transportation, and pretty much everything else, this is not necessarily true. In fact, ski resorts in Japan can be enjoyed at reasonable prices compared with other countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and even Europe. So what do powder snow, slopes and courses to match skiers of all levels, and unbelievably reasonable prices add up to? A definite must-go for those who love cruising the snow. However choosing the right resort to venture out to from the possible 500 something may be a bit overwhelming, so below is a summary of a few of the most well-known.
HOKKAIDO – Prince Snow Resorts
The star of the north, Hokkaido is perhaps most famous for its fresh seafood and vast lands of never ending green. On the other hand, the region of Furano is surrounded by towering mountains on all sides, creating a patch of encased land. This creates an ideal location for skiing as the land is unaffected by the gushing ocean winds which can greatly influence the daily condition of the snow. Furano as a whole greatly appreciate and welcome foreign tourists, and locals who speak English often offer tours of the area for free. As of 2012 the percentage of foreign skiers is 20%, but Furano hopes to increase this to 50% within 10 years. The largest ski resort in Furano is the Prince Snow Resorts, which although major enough to host international competitions at times, is still priced at a third of ski resorts worldwide. With the unmatched hospitality and great prices, Furano may indeed be the next most popular skiing destination for foreigners.
YAMAGATA – Zao Ski Resort
Zao boasts a total of 14 slopes and 12 courses, meaning skiers would find the perfect match no matter what level they are. Dynamic courses weaving throughout the mountains are the favorites of experienced skiers. At the peak of the mountain awaits a stone statue of the guardian of the mountains. Zao is home to a truly unique sight – the silver thaws, or snow monsters. Snow monsters are actually pine trees covered completely in ice, making it seem as if there are towering creatures emerging from the snow. A number of strict conditions must be met for this natural phenomenon to occur, making it extremely rare to come by. Most tourists indulge in the set combination of skiing, snow monsters, and hot springs when visiting Zao.
SHIZUOKA – Mt. Fuji Snowtown Yeti
Shizuoka is one of the only two prefectures in Japan that shares the famous Mt. Fuji. And as if to confirm this fact, on days when the skies are clear Mt. Fuji can be seen from the slopes of Yeti as well. The grandiose view can be enjoyed by skiers of all levels as Yeti consists of slopes catering to any level. Yeti is not only beginner friendly but also family friendly as well, with a designated snow playground allowing for anyone who desires to create snowmen, have snowball fights, and even make snow angels. There is also a slope set aside for exclusively for sliding down on sleds (sled rental JPY 700 as of Sep 2012). Yeti provides an environment in which the young and old, beginners and advanced can all deeply enjoy.
NIIGATA – GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort
Gala is an unfalteringly popular ski destination even for citizens outside of Niigata for two main reasons: its ease of access and convenient rental service. Gala’s closest station, Gala Yuzawa Station is only one bullet train ride away from Tokyo Station, taking only 96 minutes. Gala even rents out everything from boots, sleds, trendy ski wear, to all the newest models of skis and snowboards, all maintained daily with great attention and care with the future visitors in mind. Travelers who are overwhelmed with the sudden urge to ski can find relief at Gala without bringing a single piece of ski equipment, and after a couple intensive hours of skiing, relax in the resting area completely free of charge.