There’s a lot of hype flying around these days in regard to the quality of the skiing in Japan, and for good reason. Japan is known internationally for its incredible snow. The snowfall there isn’t just amazingly light and powdery but also abundant and consistent. In the face of a changing climate, skiers and snowboarders are saving up their nickels and dimes in the hope of someday achieving this ultimate powder pilgrimage. That’s why we’ve got the best ski resorts near Tokyo below, so you can grab the info you need and get to gettin’!
Getting to Japan from the United States isn’t cheap and once you are there, you don’t want to waste your time (or your money) searching for the best ski resorts. That is why we have done some of the research for you. Although the island of Hokkaido is probably the most famous region for Japanese-style powder turns, chances are high that you will fly in and out of Tokyo on your way there. That’s why we focused our search on the best ski resorts near Tokyo.
For the ultimate Japanese experience, choosing one of the best ski resorts near Tokyo allows the traveler time to enjoy the excitement and culture of a world-class city without giving up the pure moments that come from a day of ripping big turns in great snow. That’s what we call a win-win.
The Japanese Ski Experience: Small Resorts and Lots of Them!
Unlike the sprawling ski areas of the Western US (Think Whistler Blackcomb or The Canyons of Utah), Japan has an abundance of small micro-resorts. Most of the terrain on Japan’s main island falls into the category of beginner to intermediate. There are very few options for finding steep and deep lines near or around Tokyo. However, most of these smaller resorts make for a good distraction on your way either to or from Hokkaido and all allow some great opportunities for a cultural exchange with the locals (You are in Japan after all…take advantage of it!).
If possible, avoid weekends to avoid the big crowds. This was listed as the number one deterrent in regard to finding a great ski resort near Tokyo. By choosing a weekday or night skiing option, the odds of having a great day on the mountain are sure to be stacked in your favor.
The Search Criteria
When researching the best ski resorts near Tokyo we took into account a variety of factors that can make the difference between a difficult trip and an easy one. Yes, of course, you want to find the best terrain possible on your ski adventure. But there’s more to a great trip than just the terrain. Below are some other criteria that ranked high on the list for choosing the best ski resorts near Tokyo.
Public Transportation and Travel Time
Many of the best ski resorts near Tokyo can be accessed via public transportation. Most resorts can be accessed by public bus or bullet train from multiple locations throughout the city, making it incredibly convenient for visitors looking to take a one-day trip out to the country for some time on the slopes. In our search for the best ski resorts near Tokyo we looked at the fastest and easiest public transportation options to and from the city.
The Language Barrier
Japan has a highly educated population. Around Tokyo, you will often be able to find someone willing to speak some English (especially if you are looking particularly lost or bewildered). In our research for the best ski resorts near Tokyo, one of our evaluation criteria was the ease of communication for those folks who have little or no knowledge of the Japanese language.
With that being said, expect that for the most part all signage and directions will be in Japanese. Embrace this opportunity to enjoy a different culture and try and stay relaxed and friendly while you travel. When in doubt, laugh and smile. You are sure to make a new friend or two in the process.
Traveling with Children
So you are on a family-style vacation and are looking for a resort that can accommodate a variety of skill levels. Not to fear. Most of the best ski resorts near Tokyo are designed with families in mind. Many resorts provide skills courses geared toward the younger set alongside longer runs aimed at satisfying the adult population. We’ve included this evaluation in our search as well.
One of the best parts about traveling to a different country is experiencing the food. Some Japanese ski resorts offer a meal ticket as part of the purchase price for entry. As part of our search we explored on-mountain food options ranging from American-Style Pizza to luscious noodle bowls.
We all operate under different travel budgets. Part of our search for the best ski resorts near Tokyo included a comparison of ticket prices and hours of operation. Lodging costs for multi-day trips were also considered.
The Results for the Best Ski Resorts Near Tokyo
Located approximately 1.5 hours to the North of Tokyo, Norn Minakami hosts a large enough variety of terrain to satisfy all user groups. Approximately 20% of the runs at Norn Minakami are geared toward advanced riders, 50% toward intermediate users and 30% are suitable for beginners.
Transportation to and from Tokyo is available via the Joetsu bullet train. Skiers will depart the train at Kamimoku Station and proceed to the mountain via a 20 minute free shuttle bus (advanced reservations required). On mountain rentals are available for skis, snowboards and winter clothing.
There are a large variety of options when it comes to purchasing a lift ticket. Options range from 5 hour tickets (3900 Yen or approximately $34.45 USD, all day tickets (4500 Yen or approximately $39.45 USD), and various early morning, twilight, and night ski options. Norn Minakami hosts 2 terrain parks plus a kid-friendly area for beginners. There are even snowmobile and sled rentals available on-site.
Norn Minakami’s website is available in an English version, making trip planning easy. Menus and trail maps are also available in English. Both Western-style and Japanses-style lodging options exist in the nearby vicinity with the most affordable being Tenjin Lodge Minikami (as low as 5000 Yen or $44.17 USD per night per person). For all of the above reasons, Norn Minakami ranked very high in our search for the best ski resorts near Tokyo.
Located 1 hour outside of Tokyo via train, Karuizawa has hosted both summer and winter Olympic games. This is a resort town with a number of little ski areas all nestles together. The Karuizawa Prince Hotel Ski Area is the largest hill in the region with a total of 10 ski runs (20% Advanced, 30% Intermediate and 50% Beginner terrain) all serviced by their own chair lifts.
The snow is drier here than other areas near Tokyo and lift tickets range in price from 5300 Yen ($46.82 USD) for a full day pass to 1800 Yen ($15.90 USD) for night skiing. Multiple day tickets are available on discount. Service from Tokyo to Karuizawa is via the Nagano bullet train and the Prince Hotel is located approximately 1 minute by taxi or 10 minutes by foot from the Karuizawa Station.
The mountain features rentals for both ski gear and outwear, hosts a terrain park. Deluxe lodging options abound in this small little resort village, guests can choose from individual cabins or hotel rooms (starting at 20,127 Yen or $177.80 USD).
Fine dining options are numerous and information and menus are available in English throughout Karuizawa. There’s even a shopping mall, bowling, tubing and sledding and several hot springs available nearby. For all of these reasons, Karuizawa Prince Ski Area ranked as one of the best ski resorts near Tokyo.
Okay, this one is really stretching the limits of the best ski resorts near Tokyo but it really needs to be included on the list. Getting to Hakuba from Tokyo will take a little bit of time (at least 3 hours) and a little extra leg-work but it is worth the journey.
To reach Hakuba, you will depart from the Tokyo Train Station (Ueno). You will want to travel first to Nagano on the Nagano bullet train (Asama Shinkasen). From Nagano you will either take a bus, taxi or train to Hakuba. Once you reach Hakuba, you will want to spend at least one overnight before heading back to Tokyo. However, the terrain at Hakuba and the snow quality (think P-O-W-D-E-R) allow for visitors to enjoy anywhere from 3-5 days of good, solid exploration.
For those who enjoy off-piste freedom, this is the place for you. The off-piste policy at Hakuba Cortina is very relaxed, the tree skiing is of good quality and the terrain is varied and complex. Guided back country tours are available as well although they don’t come cheap (9 nights, 8 days for $2542 USD). Day ticket prices for Hakuba Cortina start at 3300 Yen ($29.15 USD). Multi-resort tickets that include Hakuba Cortina are also available for purchase (With prices including a 1000 Yen lunch ticket).
Ski in and out lodging is available at the Hakuba Cortina Hotel and Green Plaza Hotel. The Green Plaza Hotel offers several restaurants, equipment rentals, a ski school and locker rentals. It also hosts massage services, a large arcade and an excellent karaoke bar!
Hakuba Cortina is more of a full Japanese experience than the other areas on our list. This is less of a village and more of a destination. English will be harder to come by but the crowds are fewer compared to other resorts located closer to Tokyo. The terrain and snowfall make this the best option for more advanced skiers and snowboarders who will be traveling to and from Tokyo.
So there you have it, three different options to suit a variety of needs and budgets when searching for the best ski resorts near Tokyo. There are literally tens if not hundreds of resort options located within a few hours of Tokyo. These three ranked highest based on our search criteria and the feedback we found from other visitors. Whether you are traveling on a family ski vacation or are looking for a solo powder pilgrimage, Japan delivers on all its promises and will send you back home wishing for more.