Hidden Gem Japanese Ski Resorts

Tenjindaira is the best Japan powder hound gem
Kurodake is an off the beaten track Japanese ski area
Tenjindaira offers amazing sidecountry and backcountry
Aomori Spring is one of the best powder gem ski resorts in Japan
Going under at Aomori Spring Ski Resort in Japan
Aomori Spring: a powder gem Japanese ski resort
Secret backcountry skiing spot in Japan
Reasonably short skins open up lots of nice BC terrain at Kagura
Dumping with snow at Aomori Spring
Sahoro is very family friendly but a powder gem as well
Lift accessed powder at Sahoro Ski Resort
Tazawako: include on a road trip of Iwate ski resorts
Oze Iwakura in Gunma Prefecture
Lotte Arai Onsen
Lotte Arai: a destination resort with good powder skiing
Secret Japanese Ski Resort

Hidden Gem Japanese Ski Resorts

Hidden Gem Japanese Ski Resorts

Whilst there are plenty of Japanese ski resorts that have become rather westernised due to an influx of international investment, there are still plenty of hidden gem ski resorts in Japan with good terrain where you can find the real Japan and have little, if any, competition for the fresh powder. These “secret” Japanese ski resorts are highly coveted.

Should Ski Resorts in Japan Be A Secret?

We’ve let the cat out of the bag on some “secret” resorts, so we sometimes receive hate email or cursing comments on social media because we’ve revealed these off the beaten path ski resorts in Japan. We had multiple people complain that we had revealed the secret of Lotte Arai, despite it being non-operational for a decade because it went financially awry (pun intended)! And we received an abusive email about revealing the hush-hush of Chisenupuri, which was just before the ski resort closed because they couldn’t afford to maintain the lift. In recent times we received a hate email because we promoted the secret of Niseko (that one took the cake!!)!

On the other hand, we’ve had locals thank us for helping to save their town, because without some promotion the place might have gone under. Myoko Kogen is a case in point where some locals are very appreciative. Myoko is quite bustling now, but not that long ago barely any westerners went there, and lots of hotels and shops were boarded up.

Being powder hounds, we completely get it that people want to keep the hidden gems a secret, so they can return there the following year and continue to have all the powder to themselves. The only limitation with that view is that if a Japanese ski resort is a secret then it’s difficult for it to remain financially viable, and when they return the next year, will the ski resort still be open? Will the top lift that accesses most of the good terrain still be operational? Will there be somewhere to stay, or will the mom and pop pension have closed its doors? Will it be another Japanese ski resort that bites the dust? (See below regarding classic examples of has-been ski resorts that remained too big a secret). We feel that powder hunters should support these ski resorts that fly under the radar.

Some exceptions to this are those rare old-school ski resorts in Japan that are absolutely teeming with local Japanese that only ride on-piste. These ski areas that don't look like they are in financial difficulty might be worth putting on the SSSL (Super Secret Stash List). And there are hundreds of unknown Japanese ski resorts that don’t make the grade for powder hounds, so obviously they don’t make it onto the SSSL.

Of course, when it comes to backcountry skiing spots in Japan that require no lift infrastructure or business to remain financially afloat, then absolutely, we should all keep those on the SSSL!

Best Powder Gem Ski Resorts in Japan

For the best ski resorts in Japan that fly under the radar of many skiers and snowboarders, we’ve sub-divided them into: backcountry skiing with some lift assistance; mostly lift accessed terrain; and destination resorts where you could take the family but also score some powder. Naturally this list isn’t exhaustive.

Some people think that it’s still the early 2,000s when there were Japanese ski resorts where you could slide off the lift and score powder all the way down. Today, in order to make the most of the gem ski resorts, you’ll generally have to put a little work in to get the rewards. You’ll also need some route-finding and other backcountry skills to make the most of the Japow, and/or have a guide to assist with this.

Mostly Backcountry Skiing With Some Lift Assistance

Tenjindaira is rated by us as the best Japan ski resort for powder hounds. The actual ski resort is tiny and it only provides about an hour of Japow fun, but the lifts provide access to some phenomenal sidecountry and backcountry. The terrain includes steep trees as well as open alpine bowls and chutes. Tanigawadake Tenjindaira is blessed (and cursed) with a lot of snow, and as to be expected for a big mountain that scores abundant snowfall, you need to work around the weather.

Kurodake is amazing but it has some pretty striking pros and cons. The main event is the ski touring above the ropeway and lift, where powder hounds can play in deep phenomenal powder. The terrain under the ropeway is super steep and burly, but it can be hard to hit it when the snow’s just right. Other than the oft foul weather, the other main limitation is that the ropeway is closed in the middle of the season (and the dates change each year depending on what mood they’re in).

Aomori Spring way up north in the Aomori Prefecture sort of fits into all three categories. You could take the family to Aomori Spring and there is some lift accessed tree skiing, but if you do even short skins above the lifts where the terrain gets a little steeper, the world is your oyster! And from Aomori Spring you could day trip to the famed Hakkoda. Hakkoda isn’t a secret anymore and queues can develop for the Hakkoda Ropeway, but short-ish skins away from the ropeway take you to fresh powder fields with egress via a car pick up.

Lift Accessed Skiing Powder Gems

These are not secrets, but they are definitely hidden gems relative to the high profile ski resorts in Japan. They are not destination resorts where you can park yourself for a week, but rather ski resorts that you include as part of a road trip or multi-resort tour.

Minowa is worth hitting up for a couple of days as part of an Aizu ski assault. Minowa has some good in-bounds tree skiing, and you don’t have to head too far out-of-bounds to score other tasty treats.

Oze Iwakura in Gunma requires wheels to get there, which helps to keep the gaijin numbers down. Oze Iwakura had a little financial difficulty after the tsunami and a key lift closed and some of the other lifts look like they need a major rehaul.

Charmant Hiuchi requires a car to get there and could be tacked onto a Hakuba or Myoko trip. The main joys are in the sidecountry and backcountry.

Tazawako is growing in popularity and definitely worth including on a road trip or tour of the Iwate ski resorts.

Kagura used to have problems with irregular operations of the top lift, but it's more reliable these days, and it provides access to some nice trees and backcountry.

Hakkaisan near Yuzawa has some marked pros and cons, but if you can hit it right, it’s mighty nice.

Other hidden gems include Piyashiri, Hakodate Nanae, Ani, Okunakayama Kogen and Tengendai, although you’ll need some major commitment to get to these. Check out the Freshies column of our Japanese ski resorts ratings which will give you an indication of other Japan ski resorts off the beaten path.

Destination Ski Resorts

The destination ski resorts that are below the radar (relative to Niseko and Hakuba etc), will suit the family whilst powder hounds can also sneak off to get some freshies.

Lotte Arai Ski Resort re-opened in Dec 2017, along with the super flashy hotels, onsen and restaurants at the base. Huge snowfalls and great terrain make it very attractive, but considering the terrain is very avalanche prone, there are times when the patrollers close parts of the ski area.

You’d think because Sahoro has a Club Med and we’ve rated it as a top family friendly ski resort in Japan, that you wouldn’t include it on a list of hidden gems. Most of the Japanese and Club Med folks stay on-piste, so generally fresh tracks are reasonably easy to come by.

Shiga Kogen has been well and truly discovered, but it has retained a lot of its Japanese culture, and it seems to attract a mostly piste skiing crowd, so it still has some lure for powder hounds.

No Longer a Secret Japanese Ski Resort

Lots of people wax lyrical about the good old days when powder skiing and snowboarding in Japan was easy, and most Japanese ski resorts were devoid of foreign powder hunters. Some of the jewels were Nozawa Onsen, Rusutsu, Furano, Kiroro, Asahidake (where you could get freshies under the ropeway with no hiking), Sapporo Teine, and Madarao, and Tomamu to a lesser degree.

Whilst the popularity of these places has grown, it’s all relative, and the growth is nothing in comparison to the massive increase in crowds at high profile US ski resorts. We’ve spoken to a lot of Euros and Americans who think that Niseko is very uncrowded! It’s a matter of perspective.

Ski Resorts That Have Closed Down or Partly Closed Down

As the economic bubble has progressively burst, there have been lots of Japanese ski resorts that have closed down. Some former ski resorts such as Chisenupuri and Kitataisetsu have now been converted into cat skiing operations, whilst others lie in ongoing decay.

There are also lots of ski resorts in Japan that have tried to minimise costs by closing key lifts that used to make them attractive for powder hounds, and now they are almost limping to a grinding halt. Nukabira, Kurohime, Niyama Kogen and Adatara Kogen are examples. Others such as Shizukuishi and Sapporo Teine sort of get by with the top lift closed, whilst some ski resorts have their top lift open so rarely (Kijimadaira, Kashimayari), that it feels like without a big cash injection that they’re at risk of becoming has-beens. And no, we’re not calling them “has-beens” just so that we can keep the secret to ourselves!