Choosing the best ski resorts in Japan for powder snow is a bit like choosing the best square on a bar of milk chocolate. That said, the Ski Asia team dug their collective brains to narrow down our selection to five favourites.
So, wax your biggest skis or board, get the snorkel ready, line up for the first chair, and enjoy. We are the ones who will hoot from the chairlift.
In 2020, Lotte Arai was awarded Japan’s Best Powder Ski Resort at the Ski Asia Awards for the second year in a row, making it an obvious first inclusion on this list. The resort, which reopened in 2017 after 11 years of abandonment, is known for its powder-friendly approach to grooming (84% ungroomed) and its eight avalanche-controlled “free ride zones”.
When you add over 18 meters of annual snowfall to the mix, it’s not hard to see why Lotte Arai is now considered a must-visit destination for powder hunters in Japan.
Hakkoda was called the The holy grail of powder skiing in Japan, and for good reason. The resort – if you can call it that – is served by a single cable car, which gives skiers access to large areas of ungroomed terrain and a handful of marked runs (which are far less appealing).
The resort’s climate is infamous, and locals know the mountain for the 1902 blizzard that killed a group of Imperial Japanese Army soldiers. Low visibility, high winds and massive snowfall (~17 meters per year) are completely normal for the course, so if the sun is your thing, you better stay away. This is not a family resort.
Even experienced skiers should treat Hakkoda with caution and should ideally ski the area with a guide who knows the terrain well. Avalanche awareness and rescue skills are a must.
Kiroro has become increasingly well known to the crowds who have skied Niseko and Rusutsu for years, but it’s fair to say that the resort still benefits from living in the shadow of its two larger and more popular neighbours.
US Freestyle Ski Team’s Tom Rowley gets closer to our snow. Photo: Garrett Russell / @funkygrussell
Claims of up to 21 meters per season place it among the snowiest resorts in Japan, thanks to a favorable aspect and location in a mountain valley. Better yet, much of the fun can be done within the confines, with 10 high-speed lifts and plenty of terrain to explore around the resort’s 22 designated runs. Kiroro tree skiing is superb.
Asahidake, like Hakkoda, blurs the lines between resort and hinterland. It is served by the Asahidake Ropeway which gives skiers access to four marked trails – a walkway from which to explore its vast off-piste terrain. Skiers willing to hike will be rewarded, with fantastic terrain above the upper station.
Asahidake’s location in central Hokkaido means that the snow is not only deep, but also light and dry.
Tanigawadake Tenjindaira or simply “Tenjin” if you’re a local, is a hardcore resort for serious runners, with the elusive mix of powder buckets and steep terrain (the latter being the least common ingredient in Japan). Peruse the comments in any ski forum and you’ll be treated to stories of riders who all claim to have been the first to “discover” the place (whatever that means), and while the resort has definitely embedded in the conversation about skiing in Japan, the harsh, avalanche-prone nature of the terrain means it’s unlikely to ever be prone to the kind of crowds commonly found in places like Niseko or Hakuba.
Last year, Snowaction Magazine named Tenjindaira’s tree skiing in its compilation of the best ski slopes in Japan, while commenting that “Tenjidaira is love at first sight for all good skiers and snowboarders”.
The resorts you’ve never heard of
Perhaps the best powder of all? It’s at the station you’ve never heard of, on the run with no one. Japan has more than 500 active ski resorts, many of which are in places that receive very heavy snowfall.
So pop into a small resort, or better yet, hit the road and explore. Trust us.
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