5 Must-Visit Ski Resorts To Visit Outside of Hokkaido: Exploring Japan's Best Slopes

5 Must-Visit Ski Resorts To Visit Outside of Hokkaido: Exploring Japan's Best Slopes

Have you ever gone skiing or snowboarding in Japan? In Japan, although skiing as a means of transportation had been around for centuries in communities living in high snowfall areas, it is said that modern skiing was first introduced to Japan in 1911, when a military major from the Austro-Hungarian army, Major Theodor Edler von Lerch came to Niigata Prefecture to teach mountain warfare and skiing to the Japanese army. It was also in this year that Japan's first private ski resort, Goshiki Onsen Ski Resort in Yamagata Prefecture, was opened. 

As of 2023, it is estimated that Japan has close to 500 ski resorts. Going for a skiing or snowboarding holiday in Japan is beloved not just by locals, but international tourists as well, mainly for the excellent powder snow conditions, which has been termed “Japow”, short for “Japan powder snow”.

 

Niseko, Home to the Best Japow

Ski resort in Niseko with a snowy Mount Yotei in the background
View of Mount Yotei from the slopes of Niseko | Photo by photoAC

As Japan’s northernmost region, Hokkaido (北海道 Hokkaidō) is often the first place that comes to mind when thinking of a winter holiday in Japan, with Niseko (ニセコ) being at the top of the list. With legendary, consistently high-quality powder snow and an extensive ski area, Niseko attracts winter sports enthusiasts from all over the world who seek a memorable and unparalleled Japow experience. 

Other than its exceptional snow, Niseko also boasts a vibrant après-ski scene, numerous restaurants and bars, relaxing hot springs, a lively atmosphere, and beautiful views of Mount Yotei (羊蹄山), also known as the Mount Fuji of Hokkaido. With a foreigner-friendly environment―many menus and services are available in foreign languages―Niseko has branded itself as a destination that is welcoming to an international audience.

Not just limited to Hokkaido, many parts of Japan are also renowned for their excellent skiing opportunities, with numerous world-class ski resorts scattered across the country, where you can enjoy high-quality powder snow, modern facilities, amazing scenery, and a fun and fantastic time. Curious to find out more? Starting from the north and heading southwards, here are five ski resorts to visit that are not in Hokkaido:

 

① Appi Kogen | Iwate Prefecture

Ski slopes on Appi Kogen
Appi Kogen is one the largest ski resorts in the Tohoku Region | Photo by 岩手観光協会

 First up is Appi Kogen (安比高原 Appi Kōgen), located in the snow-rich Iwate Prefecture (岩手県), one of the northernmost prefectures on mainland Japan. Home to a wide range of slopes, including long, groomed runs and challenging off-piste areas, Appi Kogen is of the Tohoku Region’s representative ski resorts, and also offers a variety of accommodations, restaurants, and other modern facilities.

 

Skiers at a snowy Appi Kogen
Appi Kogen offers 21 courses for skiers of varying levels | Photo by 岩手観光協会

Due to its high elevation and northern geographical location, Appi Kogen receives significant snowfall, resulting in beautiful powder snow and good skiing conditions. The resort caters to both avid skiing enthusiasts and families looking to start skiing. Other winter activities you can try out here include snowshoeing, snowmobiling, snow-rafting, and more.

Appi Kogen’s winter season usually lasts from early December to early May, but may change depending on snow conditions.

 

Appi Kogen (安比高原)
Winter Season: Early December to early May (Depending on snow conditions)
Access: Appi Kogen is a 60-minute bus ride from JR Morioka Station (盛岡駅), which is approximately a 2-hour-10-minute ride on the Tohoku Shinkansen or Akita Shinkansen from Tokyo Station (東京駅).

 

② Zao Onsen Ski Resort | Yamagata Prefecture

Zao Onsen ski resort and snow monsters
Snow monsters line the slopes of Zao Ski Resort | Photo by 山形県庁

Next up, also in the Tohoku Region, is Zao Onsen Ski Resort (蔵王スキー場) in Yamagata Prefecture (山形県). This resort offers a very special and mystical winter landscape for skiers and visitors: the stunning snow monsters (樹氷 juhyō). 

 

Snow monsters at nightSnow monsters illuminated at night | Photo by 山形県庁

Snow monsters are frozen trees covered in heavy layers of snow and frost, and are a spectacular sight to behold. The largest and most well-formed snow monsters are best seen between early to mid-February, and in the evenings, some areas even illuminate the snow monsters, creating a unique experience.


Skiers at Zao Onsen Ski Resort
Fantastic views at Zao Onsen Ski Resort | Photo by 山形県庁

Zao Onsen Ski Resort is a great choice if you’re looking for a blend of traditional Japanese culture, modern skiing amenities, and amazing scenery. As you might have guessed from its name, Zao Onsen Ski Resort is located in a hot spring area, with therapeutic hot springs abundantly available. After a long, tiring day of hitting the slopes, you can relax and unwind at a hot spring, and enjoy fantastic meals and hospitality at a Japanese-style inn (旅館 ryokan).

Zao Onsen Ski Resort’s winter season usually lasts from mid-December to early May, but may change depending on snow conditions.

 

Zao Onsen Ski Resort (蔵王温泉スキー場)
Winter Season: Mid-December to early May (Depending on snow conditions)
Access: Zao Onsen Ski Resort is a 40-minute bus ride from JR Yamagata Station (山形駅), which is approximately a 2-hour-45-minute ride on the Yamagata Shinkansen from Tokyo Station.

 

③ GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort | Niigata Prefecture

GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort in Yuzawa, Niigata
GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort is just a short ride away from Tokyo | Photo by GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort

 Moving over to Niigata Prefecture (新潟県), next up is the only ski resort in the world directly connected to its own bullet train (shinkansen) station: GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort (ガーラ湯沢). Located less than 75 minutes by the fastest direct bullet train from Tokyo, this resort is a convenient winter getaway from the capital, and offers 16 courses of varying levels of difficulties.

With such great accessibility, GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort is the perfect day trip if you’re looking to try out skiing and snowboarding for a few hours. The resort also offers a huge variety of rental gear and equipment, so you can come empty-handed without having to worry about bringing along extra clothes. Every year, GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort has new models of skis and snowboards for rental, and customers can rest assured that all equipment is in good condition.

 

Snow much fun in GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort
Having “snow” much fun at GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort | Photo by GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort

Foreign language ski lessons like English and Chinese are available, and for those who just want to enjoy the snow, GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort also offers an assortment of fun snow activities such as sledding, snowmobile sleigh tours, snowshoe tours, moon biking, a snow enjoyment area, and more. 

GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort’s winter season usually lasts from mid-December to early May, but may change depending on snow conditions.

 

Snow Country Niigata
Yuzawa Town | Photo by photoAC

GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort is located in Yuzawa Town, and the nearby Echigo Yuzawa is home to delicious sake (酒), relaxing hot springs, and beautiful snowy mountain views.

For information more about winter activities at GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort and Echigo Yuzawa, check out this virtual tour hosted by JAPAN RAIL CAFE from last season.

 

GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort (ガーラ湯沢)
Winter Season: Mid-December to early May (Depending on snow conditions)
Access: JR GALA Yuzawa Station (ガーラ湯沢駅) is approximately a 75-minute ride on the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo Station. 

 

④ Shiga Kogen | Nagano Prefecture

Slopes and chairlifts at Shiga Kogen Ski ResortShiga Kogen is Japan’s largest ski resort area | Photo by Meg1977 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Nestled in the heart of the mountainous Nagano Prefecture’s Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, Shiga Kogen (志賀高原) is the largest ski resort area in Japan, made up of a vast network of interconnected ski resorts offering over 40 lifts and around 80 courses. The resort hosted several events during the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, and comprises an expansive network of slopes catering to various skill levels, with diverse terrain ranging from groomed slopes to challenging backcountry areas. 

 

Panoramic view of the alps surrounding Shiga Kogen
Enjoy panoramic views from high above | Photo by photoAC

Shiga Kogen is also Japan’s highest elevation ski resort, with a peak elevation of 2,307m. The area receives high snowfall, and the high elevation contributes to excellent powder snow. With picturesque alpine scenery, diverse terrain, and incredible snow conditions, Shiga Kogen is popular amongst both international and domestic winter sports enthusiasts. Other than skiing and snowboarding, visitors can also enjoy panoramic snowy views from the viewing terrace, go sledding, go on a snow monster tour, and more.

Shiga Kogen’s winter season usually lasts from mid-November to early May, but may change depending on snow conditions.

 

Shiga Kogen (志賀高原)
Winter Season: Mid-November to early May (Depending on snow conditions)
Access: Shiga Kogen is a 70-minute bus ride from JR Nagano Station (長野駅), which is approximately a 90-minute ride on the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station.

 

Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani
Take a side trip to see the snow monkeys | Photo by Carissa Loh

For visitors to Shiga Kogen, a popular side trip is to see the snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑 Jigokudani Yaen Kо̄en). Located at an altitude of 850m, this is one of the few places in the world where you get up close to can see wild snow monkeys soaking in natural hot springs. It’s just a 20-minute express bus ride from Shiga Kogen to the Snow Monkey Park bus stop, where visitors will have to make a 35-minute walk through the forest to reach the actual park.

For information more about winter activities at Shiga Kogen, check out this virtual tour from last season.

 

⑤ Dynaland | Gifu Prefecture

Panoramic views and slopes of Dynaland
Dynaland offers a family-friendly environment | Photo by Alpsdake /
CC BY-SA 4.0

Heading over to Central Japan’s Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県), we have Dynaland (ダイナランド). Although not as well-known internationally as some of the other resorts in this article, Dynaland stands out for its welcoming and family-friendly environment, with various slopes suitable for beginners. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, Dynaland also offers activities such as snowshoeing and sledding, as well as snow play areas for children and families, so everyone can enjoy the snow. 

 

Dynaland in Gifu
Enjoy a relaxing winter getaway at Dynaland | Photo by fesek (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Whether you’re looking to introduce your children to the joy of skiing, or seeking a relaxing winter getaway, Dynaland’s combination of family-friendly amenities and diverse activities make it a compelling choice for families travelling to the Central Japan region.

Dynaland’s winter season usually lasts from mid-December to early April, but may change depending on snow conditions.


Dynaland (ダイナランド)
Winter Season: Mid-December to early April (Depending on snow conditions)
Access: Dynaland is a shuttle bus ride from Hirugano Kogen Bus Stop. Hirugano Kogen Bus Stop is a 1-hour-40-minute bus ride from JR Nagoya Station (名古屋駅), which is approximately a 1-hour-40-minute ride on the Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo Station.

 

Bonus: HAKUBA VALLEY | Nagano Prefecture

Hakuba Valley is surrounded by some of Japan's tallest peaks
Hakuba is home to some of Japan’s highest peaks | Photo by photoAC

We end off with a bonus sixth resort: HAKUBA VALLEY in Nagano Prefecture. Located at the foot of some of Japan’s tallest mountains, HAKUBA VALLEY consists of 10 resorts, and is commonly referred to as just Hakuba (白馬). Well-renowned as a premier winter destination due to its beautiful powder snow, Hakuba saw a massive surge in popularity as a winter destination for foreigners after hosting several events during the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.

This region is very easily accessible, with direct buses from Shinjuku and Narita Airport during the winter season. Hakuba sees numerous international visitors, and many businesses in the area cater to English speakers. The international atmosphere, along with English-speaking staff and signage, makes it easy for foreign visitors to navigate and enjoy their time in Hakuba. 

 

Panoramic view of Hakuba ValleyPhoto by photoAC

HAKUBA VALLEY is also well-known for its varied terrain that caters to all levels of expertise. From gentle slopes for beginners, to challenging backcountry skiing and off-piste adventures for advanced skiers, Hakuba is sure to ensure a diverse and exciting experience!

HAKUBA VALLEY’s winter season usually lasts from early December to early May, but may change depending on snow conditions.

 

HAKUBA VALLEY (白馬)
Winter Season: Early December to early May (Depending on snow conditions)
Access: Hakuba is a 60-minute bus ride from JR Nagano Station (長野駅), which is approximately a 90-minute ride on the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station.


Winter delicacies with JAPAN RAIL CLUB's "Merry Citrus" December Box!

Presenting JAPAN RAIL CLUB's Merry Citrus Omiyage Snack Box in December!

Now that you've got the lowdown on Japan's ski scene beyond Niseko, it's time to bundle up and hit the slopes for a winter adventure in Japan! Speaking of bundle, here’s a wintery selection of citrus and seafood snacks that will surely remind you of winter in Japan. 

JAPAN RAIL CLUB is proud to present a box of citrus wonders in December’s Omiyage Snack Box: Merry Citrus! Immerse yourself in the thrill of the slopes, then refresh your senses with the vibrant flavors of winter citruses like yuzu and mikan. Exclusively available in the month of December, gift your loved ones with the tantalising flavours of Japan’s winter with JAPAN RAIL CLUB’s Snack Subscription Plan—use promo code CITRUSOFF12 to unlock your subscription at a limited time only! Have a zesty ski season!

Meet the author

Carissa Loh

Having visited all 47 prefectures of Japan, Carissa's next goal in life is to ride all of Japan's sightseeing trains and climb all its 100 Famous Mountains. Sounds like a dream? Check back in 50 years.

Hungry for more?

Get on track with our monthly offerings of exclusive snacks from all over Japan!

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During the hot months of July and August, summer festivals (夏祭り natsu matsuri) are held all around Japan where celebrations take shape in the form of mesmerising dances (Awa Odori,...

Sue Lynn Festival

What your favourite Japanese summer festival fo...

During the hot months of July and August, summer festivals (夏祭り natsu matsuri) are held...

5 Exciting Fireworks Festivals in East Japan during Summer
Sue Lynn

5 Exciting Fireworks Festivals in East Japan du...

Summer in Japan is incomplete without a spectacle of fireworks! East Japan, where major cities like Tokyo, Sendai, Nagano, and Yokohama are located, is home to many exciting displays of...

Sue Lynn Summer

5 Exciting Fireworks Festivals in East Japan du...

Summer in Japan is incomplete without a spectacle of fireworks! East Japan, where major cities...

8 reasons why people are buying Japanese snacks
Sue Lynn

8 reasons why people are buying Japanese snacks

Visit Japan and you'll notice the wide array of Japanese snacks that make for the best souvenirs to bring home to your family and friends. From unique flavours to seasonal...

Sue Lynn Japanese Snacks

8 reasons why people are buying Japanese snacks

Visit Japan and you'll notice the wide array of Japanese snacks that make for the...

Marine Day: Exploring Umi no Hi and how it is celebrated in Japan
Sue Lynn

Marine Day: Exploring Umi no Hi and how it is c...

Marine Day, also known as "Umi no Hi" (海の日) in Japan, is a national holiday that celebrates Japan’s ocean and maritime activities. Unlike traditional festivals and holidays that are often...

Sue Lynn Culture

Marine Day: Exploring Umi no Hi and how it is c...

Marine Day, also known as "Umi no Hi" (海の日) in Japan, is a national holiday...