• Richard

Ultimate Japan Ski Guide: How to Ski and Snowboard Japan in 2023

Wanting to score deep powder in Japan in 2023? This is your comprehensive beginners on how to ski and snowboard in Japan. Learn where to ski in Japan, when to ski in Japan, and where to stay.



After a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, Japan recently announced it is finally planning on re-opening its borders to tourism. The last two winters in Japan have been EPIC which many resorts seeing their highest snowfall totals in a decade. We are hoping the weather patterns continue for next winter when Japan welcomes back tourists so we can all enjoy the deep powder Japan in known for.


Follow our ultimate Japan ski guide below and then send us a message to book your campervan trip to Hokkaido!

Snowy trees and untracked powder near Niseko on the island of Hokkaido, Japan.
Endless untracked powder awaits you in 2023!

Vandura Japan was built on years of traveling Japan's snowy roads by RV and camper van. We have snowboarded more places in Japan than most locals visit in their lifetime! With that knowledge and expertise, we want to share what we have learned with you all to ensure you have the best trip possible. We tell you where to go, where to eat, and where to sleep based on our personal recommendations.


We are excited to get back to Japan, so read on to learn the basics of skiing and snowboarding in Japan.


Where do I begin?


When you start research your ski tip to Japan you will undoubtedly ask yourself: "Where is the best place to ski in Japan?" "Which ski resort gets the most snow in Japan?" "Should I ski in Hokkaido or Honshu?" "When should I ski in Japan?" "What is the best snowboard for Japan?"


Don't worry. We have the basics broken down for you below.


Hokkaido or Honshu: Where to ski and snowboard in Japan?

Where Do I Stay in Japan?

When Should I Ski or Snowboard in Japan?


 

Hokkaido or Honshu: Where to ski and snowboard in Japan?


Japanese snowboard and camper van parked in the snow outside of Niseko on the island of Hokkaido, Japan.
Camper vans and RVs are the best way to ride the deepest snow.

This is the number 1 question. Where should I ski or snowboard in Japan? Fortunately, you cannot go wrong with either destination. You can find epic Japanese snow in both locations. However, it is important to consider what you want out of your trip to Japan and what type of terrain you like to ride.


Hakuba is the most popular place to ski on Honshu, the main island, while Niseko is the most popular place to ski on Hokkaido, the North island. The main differences between Honshu and Hokkaido are the snow, terrain, and accessibility.


Snow - What is the difference between Hokkaido or Honshu?

We get this question a lot at Vandura. Hokkaido on average gets slightly more snow than Honshu, but not by much. Both areas see 500"+ seasons quite regularly. The difference is Hokkaido snow is generally a bit colder and lighter (think as cold as below zero), while Honshu still gets cold and light powder, but it is slightly warmer on average due to being South of Hokkaido


Hokkaido snowfall is very consistent, but in general lower quantities. Think 5-10" every day for a week straight with occasional dumps over 16". Honshu may not get snow every day, but they get massive dumps, sometimes over 36" overnight!


If you are visiting later in the season (Late February or March), we typically recommend Hokkaido if you want powder. Spring can bring occasional rain to lower elevations in Honshu.


Skier riding through fresh powder snow in Niseko on the island of Hokkaido, Japan.
Skiing untouched powder on a tree run in Niseko.

Terrain - Where to find the best ski terrain in Japan?

It depends! Honshu is home to the Japanese alps. These mountains stretch the entire western flank of Japan. Reaching up to 9,000ft, Honshu is home to steep and deep mountains. Many lines here resemble famous Alaska lines at higher elevations. Anyone who told you Japan is not steep is wrong!


Hokkaido is much lower in elevation, maxing out around 7,000ft. Don't let the low elevation fool you. Hokkaido stays cold and the snow is deep all the way to sea level. The mountains here are generally less steep than Honshu, but you will find plenty of perfect 25-35 degree slopes with a deep, safe snowpack.


Regardless of where you choose, both Hokkaido and Honshu will have fun and exciting terrain for everyone with plenty of powder to go around.


Accessibility - How do I get to Japan?

When travelling to either Hokkaido or Honshu, you will likely travel through one of Tokyo's two airports -- either Tokyo Narita (NRT) or Tokyo Haneda (HND). If you are travelling to Hokkaido, you will likely connect in Tokyo and fly up to Sapporo New Chitose (CTS). There are dozens of daily flights to Sapporo, so it won't be hard to find a suitable connecting flight.


Public transport is excellent in Japan. You can take a high-speed bullet train directly from Tokyo to many ski destinations in Honshu. Hokkaido does not have a high speed train, but there are still plenty of bus and train options to get around.


While it is possible to only use public transportation to ski Japan, we recommend booking a camper van or RV. With over 500 ski areas, Japan has plenty to offer. Renting a camper van is the best way to ski and snowboard in Japan hands down to take full advantage of all the ski areas Japan has to offer and ensure you find the powder. One day it snowed only 4cm in Niseko, but only 40 minutes away Kiroro got DUMPED on with 45cm overnight! We were glad we had the RV to make sure we got to ride powder that day.


Explore Hokkaido and Honshu by looking at our Japanese Alps and Hokkaido Classics road trips.

 

Where Do I Stay in Japan?


We may be a little bit biased, but the best place to stay in Japan is a camper van or RV! We are going to lay out the basic types of lodging in Japan.


RV camper van rental in Japan driving through the snow.
Home is where you park it. Always on the road finding the best powder.

Rent a Camper Van or RV in Japan

Grab a couple friends (or go solo!) and book an RV trip! Camper vans and RVs are hands-down the BEST way to ski and snowboard in Japan.


Japanese RV rentals are spacious, modern, and extremely comfortable. They generally fit between 2-4 people with gear and come with 4WD and snow tires so you can safely and comfortable navigate Japan's snowy roads. There is a parking heater at night to ensure that your RV stays nice and warm even if it's below zero outside.


Japan is one of the easiest and safest countries to do an RV trip. There are 24-hour rest stops all across the country, and it is easy (and relaxing) to shower by visiting one of the thousands of onsens (hot-spring bath houses with showers) across the country. Japan is one of the safest countries in the world with almost zero crime, especially outside of major cities. You will never feel unsafe parked overnight.


Traveling Japan by RV is the best way to connect with local cultures, meet new people, and see Japan outside of the tourist resort destinations. With 500 ski areas, there is a lot to explore besides Niseko and Hakuba that is much cheaper with few to no crowds. Many of these places are only accessible if you have a car or RV.


Do not be afraid to reach out if you have any questions! Vandura Japan are the experts.


Stay in a Traditional Ryokan

Ryokans are traditional Japanese lodges that are fully catered. Your room will usually feature bamboo flooring and a traditional Japanese futon floor mattress. All of your meals are cooked at the ryokan, and they are very traditional and different than you will find at a restaurant. The best part? There is always on onsen on site!


Ryokan's vary greatly. There are many basic options for those on a budget, but there are also many luxury options that feature world-class cuisine combined with luxurious rooms and amenities.


Japanese ryokan traditional dinner.
A luxurious ryokan feast!


Ryokans are not typically catered towards ski and snowboard guests, but we always recommend people try and stay in one if you have the opportunity. It's a traditional Japanese experience not to be missed.


Japanese ryokan with traditional oil lamps.
A traditional ryokan on Honshu that is unique for using oil lamps for lighting.

Hotel or Lodge

The final option is a classic hotel or lodge. Outside of large cities and tourist areas, Japan does not have many modern options like AirBnb. Your best option is to book a hotel or lodge.


A traditional Japanese style capsule hotel in Hakodate on the island of Hokkaido, Japan.
A Japanese capsule hotel. Source: Hakodate Capsule Hotel

Some hotels and lodges will feature on-site onsens and restaurants much like ryokans. Hotels and lodges may also feature "Western-style" rooms with a traditional bed instead of a futon floor mattress.


Many hotels in Japan are still very old-school and may only take reservations on their own website or by phone. If you do not find any suitable options on a traditional hotel booking site, be sure to look at Google Maps or do a Google Search to see if you can find any of these old-school options!


Did you know Vandura Japan can book your hotel or ryokan too? We are happy to build you a custom trip with traditional lodging instead of an RV. Send us a message!


 

When Should I Ski or Snowboard in Japan?

This is the big question. You're flying all the way to Japan, so you want to know when you can guarantee you will get to experience that famous Japanese powder.


The simple answer: January or February.

Contrary to popular belief, December is usually the snowiest month across many parts of Japan, but at that point a deep base has not been built yet, so you might be skiing through sasa (bamboo).


Powder snowboarding in Japan near Niseko.
Early season snowboarding in Japan.

To ensure a solid snowpack and consistent snowfall, most skiers and snowboarders visit Japan between January and February. Crowds are typically highest around Chinese New Year and until the end of Australian school holidays at the end of January.


Below are a snow trends for Furano, a ski resort in Central Hokkaido and Hakuba One, a ski resort in the famous Hakuba Valley on the main island of Honshu.


Furano Snowfall

snowfall graph of furano ski resort in hokkaido
Annual snowfall at Furano (Hokkaido).

Hakuba One Snowfall


annual snowfall graph of happo one in Japan
Annual snowfall in Happo One

Snowfall graphs from snow-forecast.com


Notice some key differences here. Furano, in Hokkaido, averages a higher number of snowy days over a longer period (Dec. - Early Mar.) but averages about 15-20 inches per week with no rainfall.


Now look at the graph for Hakuba One on the island of Honshu. Hakuba One's consistent snowfall is over a shorter period of time (Late Dec. - Mid-Feb.), but the average weekly snowfall is upwards of 20-35 inches per week with occasional rain.


With that being said, you can feel good booking a trip in January or February. January is snowier for both islands, but also the most crowded. February is less crowded and marginally less snowy, but with a deep snowpack. March is not crowded at all, but the snow is less consistent. With that being said, I have still had incredible powder days late into March!


 

What Next?

So, now you know when to ski Japan, where to go skiing in Japan, and where to stay in Japan. What's next? We invite you to reach out to Vandura Japan with any questions, do some research of your own, and get ready to plan your dream trip!


Do not let your trip to Japan go to waste! For many, a ski or snowboard trip to Japan is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Don't get stuck making mistakes and missing the powder. Let Vandura Japan plan and book your vacation from start to finish!


We know exactly where to go and when, and we cater our trips to your skill level and desires! Whether you want to get off the beaten path, eat the best food, or soak in the best onsens, we have all the knowledge to build you the perfect trip.


We will set you up with a comfortable RV or book traditional lodging for you based on your preferences. Our custom itinerary booklets, custom maps, and digital beta packages show you where to go and how to get there in an easy, convenient way. We want to ensure you are spending your time enjoying Japan instead of wasting time on the logistics.


Stay tuned to our blog for more tips, hints, and guides for your next Japanese powderchaser trip!


backcountry snowboard in deep powder snow in Niseko, Japan
Deep snow in the backcountry outside of Niseko.


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