Japan Snow

Japan Snow

Snow in Japan – Quantity & Quality

If you’re a powder hound, one of the factors in deciding where to go skiing or snowboarding is to look at which ski areas or regions have the best snow in Japan. The current conditions and the snow forecast are important, but in planning ahead, here’s some information about which ski resorts usually have the best snow in Japan so you can increase your chances of scoring the famed Japow (Japan powder). It includes statistics on Japan snow at the ski resorts with respect to volume, latitude, elevation, and the primary aspect which can impact on the quality of the Japow:

Japan Snow: Top 10 Snowiest Ski Resorts in Japan

Only some of the Japanese ski resorts report the average snowfall per season, so it’s not possible to compare the volume of snow across all the resorts, and the Japan snow statistics that are reported don’t necessarily use a consistent methodology.

Japan Snow Volumes - Average Snowfall Per Season (m)
 Ski Area  Prefecture  Snow (m)
 Gassan  Yamagata  30
 Sapporo Kokusai  Hokkaido  18
 Kiroro  Hokkaido  18
 Niseko  Hokkaido  17
 Hakkoda  Aomori   17
 Tenjindaira  Gunma  16.5
 Lotte Arai  Niigata  16
 Seki Onsen  Niigata  16
 Geto Kogen  Iwate  15
 Iwanai  Hokkaido  15
Proximity to the Sea of Japan plays a large part in snow volumes, and you can look at the map above to see the vicinity of ski resorts to the “lake” that is responsible for the “lake effect”. Storms from the NW often bring the biggest snowfalls, and depending on local mountain terrain profiles and aspect, some mountains do better out of northerlies or NNW storms, whilst others do well out of westerly storms.

The number one snowiest ski resort in Japan is Gassan, with approximately 30 metres of snow per year, although it’s not known if this is for the top of Mt Gassan or at the ski resort elevation. Either way, it’s very snowy! It’s so snowy that the Gassan ski resort doesn’t open until April because there’s too much snow, and during winter there is only snowcat skiing and backcountry touring.

Various ski resorts in SW Hokkaido near the Sea of Japan receive abundant snowfall including Kiroro, Sapporo Kokusai, Niseko and Iwanai. The cold weather systems that move across the Sea of Japan from Siberia are responsible for the deep dry powder. Nearby Rusutsu also receives abundant snowfall (14 metres), as does Asahidake (14 metres).

At Hakkoda in Aomori Prefecture, there are no buffering mountains between Hakkoda and the Sea of Japan, so Hakkoda cops the weather and snow in full force. Nearby Sukayu Onsen is supposedly the snowiest inhabited place on Earth, with an average yearly snowfall of 17.6 metres and it has a winter season record of 23.7 metres of snow.

The Akita ski resorts of Ani and Tazawako are also buffeted by raging storms that bring huge amounts of snow along with howling winds.

Some of the Niigata ski resorts also receive large volumes of Japow. Lotte Arai and Seki Onsen (Myoko) get lots of snow, as do the other Myoko ski resorts. Charmant Hiuchi is even closer to the coast and probably gets more snow, although it’s generally not dry powder snow. Okutadami Maruyama, also in Niigata, is famous for receiving a huge amount of snow, so much so that during the peak of winter it closes because it’s not feasible to keep the access road open.

Conversely there are some ski areas with little natural snowfall that rely on artificial snow such as Karuizawa, which is better known for its proximity to Tokyo. There are also plenty of other Japanese ski resorts that we don’t mention on Powderhounds.com because they’re not renowned for their Japow.

Japan Snow Quality Considerations

As to be expected, there are lots of factors that play a part with respect to Japan snow quality, both in terms of the dryness of the powder that falls and how well the snow is retained. As outlined above, areas close to the west coast of Japan gets large volumes of snow and have a maritime snowpack. Conversely, ski areas further east tend to get less snow, but it’s drier. Gun powder (ie Gunma powder) is one example.

Naturally temperature and latitude also play a part. The latitude for the Hokkaido ski areas ranges from about 42 to 44 degrees N (see the Japan snow statistics below). This doesn’t sound particularly northerly, as it puts Hokkaido in line with northern USA (the lower 48). Nagano ski resorts sit about 36 to 37 degrees north, which is about the equivalent of Central California, yet the elevations of equivalent latitude USA ski resorts are much higher, whilst the Japan snow quality is often much better.

The Hokkaido ski resorts in particular are not at high elevations, yet the quality of the snow is often superb due to cold temperatures in the height of winter. Even ski areas near the coast such as Kiroro have high quality powder which is far far superior to Sierra Cement or Cascade Concrete. This is because of ocean currents. The Oya-shio or Kuril current and the Siberian high results in cold winds being drawn down across the Sea of Japan in a southeastward direction. The cold air masses from Siberia brings freezing temperatures, and moisture is picked up across the Sea of Japan, resulting in heavy snowfalls on the mountain ranges near the Sea of Japan.

Slope aspect in Hokkaido isn’t as critical as it is elsewhere in the world. In the middle of winter, it can be common not to see the sun for days and ski resorts such as Niseko often have amazing Japow despite having some solar aspects. As to be expected, aspect plays heavily on the quality of the snow in Japan during spring and also at lower elevation and more southerly ski areas. See the snow Japan statistics below for the primary aspect of the main ski resorts.

As with anywhere in the northern hemisphere, south facing slopes get baked when the sun comes out and don’t retain snow well. West facing slopes can also get affected by the afternoon sun when temps are a bit warmer, whilst slopes with an easterly aspect may fare OK in winter because the sun hits in the morning when temperatures tend to be the coldest. 

The Japan snow season isn't as long as many areas in North America or Europe. When spring hits in Japan (ie 1st March) it can hit with vengeance. See the when to ski in Japan page, but essentially if you're wanting to chase classic Japow, you'll want to head to Japan in winter. Or if you're wanting good snow in spring, you'll want high elevation and good aspects.

Best Snow in Japan

So where’s the best snow in Japan when taking into account quantity and quality? Lots of spots in Hokkaido have the best Japan snow and on our best skiing in Japan awards we’ve ranked Niseko, Rusutsu, Kiroro, Asahidake, Kurodake, and Piyashiri as having the best. There are various other ski areas in Japan we’ve rated as 5/5 for snow, and plenty of others that we’ve also marked highly (see our Japan ski resorts ratings for snow). Keep in mind that we can’t ski all areas in all possible conditions so you can also check out the readers awards for the ski resort with the best snow in Japan

It's worth noting that dry snow feels amazing to ski, it’s ego snow, and it certainly makes for impressive photos of over-the-head blower turns, but it requires big dumps to fully reset such that you can’t feel any tracks underneath. Sometimes slightly heavier powder is nice to ride and you don’t need as much snow for a powder reset.

Japan Snow Statistics

Hokkaido, the north island of Japan, is ideally located in the path of consistent weather systems that bring the cold air across the Sea of Japan from Siberia. Many of the Hokkaido ski resorts get dumped on with powder that is renowned for being incredibly dry.

Hokkaido Snow
 Ski Area  Snow Per
Season (m)
 Primary
Aspect
Latitude
°N
Top
Alt (m)
Base
Alt (m)
 Piyashiri  *  SSE  44.40  673 193
 Hinata  *  E  44.27 405 178
 Wassamu  * SW 44.03 347 154 
 Kokusetsu Horotachi SE  44.02 367 161
 Pippu  *  WSW 43.93  550  250
 Canmore *  W 43.73  456 210
 Kurodake  *  NNE to NE  43.72  1,520  670
 Kamui  8  NW  43.70  751  150
 Asahidake  14  SW  43.65  1,600  1,100
 Kamoidake * E  43.53  467  216
 Nukabira  *  N  43.36  850  570
 Furano  9  E  43.32  1,074  252
 Tenguyama  *  NNE  43.18  532  122
 Sahoro   8.7  E to NE  43.17  1,030  420
 Minamifurano  *  NE 43.16  600 380
    *  NE  43.14  680  140
 Sapporo Teine  10.6  N to NE  43.08  1,023  340
 Sapporo Kokusai  18  ENE to SE  43.07  1,100  630
 Kiroro  18  NW to W  43.07  1,180  570
 Tomamu  8  SE to S  43.06  1,171  586
 Mount Racey   8.1  NW  43.05  702  298
 Iwanai  15  N  42.95  390  220
 Fu's  *  NNE  42.95  540 260
 Hidaka Kokusai  * NW  42.89  754  254
 Niseko Hanazono   17  NE  42.89  1,040  308
 Niseko Hirafu  17  E to SE  42.86  1,200  260
 Niseko Village  18  SE to SSE  42.85  1,170  280
 Niseko Annupuri  17  SW  42.85  1,156  400
 Niseko Moiwa  12  SSW  42.85  800  330
 Rusutsu  14  N to E  42.75  994  400
 Sunlaiva  *  E  42.52  540  350
 Pirika  *  N  42.47  410  133
 Hakodate Nanae  *  NW  41.98  943  245
 Niyama Kogen  *  SE  41.93  630  110
* information not available

Aomori Prefecture is the most northern prefecture on the main island (Honshu). The Aomori ski resorts boast some big snowfalls due to being directly in the path of big weather systems.
 
Aomori Snow
 Ski Area  Snow Per
Season (m)
 Primary
Aspect
Latitude
°N
Top
Alt (m)
Base
Alt (m)
 Aomori Spring  N  40.693  921  376
 Hakkoda 17   NW 40.680   1,324  658
 Iwakisan Hyakuzawa  * SE  40.629  784   356
 Owani Onsen  N 40.507   533 100 
Iwate is growing in popularity as a powder chasing destination, in part due to the dry snow that falls in respectable volumes, and the lack of crowds.

Iwate Snow
 Ski Area  Snow Per
Season (m)
 Primary
Aspect
Latitude
°N
Top
Alt (m)
Base
Alt (m)
 Tayama  NE to N 40.13   660  310
 Okunakayama Kogen  *  E 40.083   1,018  650
 Appi 8 NNE  40.001  1,304  620 
 Shimokura NE  39.899  1,130  580 
 Panorama  * 39.894  1,000  540 
 Amihari Onsen  * S  39.821 1,350  640 
 Iwate Kogen S 39.814   1,213 630 
 Shizukuishi  6.6  E to SE 39.774  1,150  426 
 Geto Kogen  15 39.237  1,070   640
Akita faces the Sea of Japan and it’s exposed to big storms that drop the motherlode of snow on the Akita ski resorts.

Akita Snow
 Ski Area  Snow Per
Season (m)
 Primary
Aspect
Latitude
°N
Top
Alt (m)
Base
Alt (m)
 Akita Hachimantai   NW 39.98  1,200 980 
 Ani SW  39.956  1,200  537 
 Tazawako  WNW 39.762  1,186  578 
 Jeunesse Kurokoma * N to NW  39.158  770  395 
Yamagata is potentially the snowiest prefecture in Japan, largely due to its position next to the Sea of Japan. When cold air from the northwest passes over the sea and then hits the mountains, it dumps massive amounts of snow, in a similar fashion to the other westerly prefectures of Niigata and Akita.

Yamagata Snow
 Ski Area  Snow Per
Season (m)
 Primary
Aspect
Latitude
°N
Top
Alt (m)
Base
Alt (m)
 Akakura Onsen  * 38.71  602 300 
 Yudonosan * NW  38.57 700 530
 Gassan 30  SW  38.53   1,600  700
 Jangle Jungle  NW  38.439  1,030  700
 Asahi Shizenkan  SE 38.305  760 440
 Zao Onsen W, varied  38.170   1,661  780
 Zao Sarukura NW  38.128   885  705
 Zao Liza World  * 38.124  1,446  1,060 
Tengendai Kogen  37.775  1,820  920
The Miyagi ski resorts typically receive modest amounts of dry snow compared to that of Yamagata Prefecture to the west. Most of the moisture has petered out by the time a storm gets to Miyagi. See the Miyagi ski resorts page for elevation and aspect stats.

The Aizu ski resorts in Fukushima have reasonably good snow by international standards, but in can be somewhat variable.

Fukushima Snow
 Ski Area  Snow Per
Season (m)
 Primary
Aspect
Latitude
°N
Top
Alt (m)
Base
Alt (m)
 Grandeco  * 37.697  1,590  1,010 
 Minowa  *  W to NW 37.652   1,500  1,050
 Nekoma (north)  *  NE to N  37.627  1,338 1,027 
 Adatara Kogen NE  37.622  1,160  950 
 Nekoma (south)  37.587 1,280  700 
 Inawashiro *  SE 37.576  1,255   700
 Takatsue *  SW 37.110  1,650   955

The Niigata Prefecture border semi-encircles the northern tip of the Nagano Prefecture and there are some ski resorts very close to the Sea of Japan that get dumped on with coastal snow, and others near Yuzawa (snow country) that get slightly less snow but of better quality.

Niigata Snow
 Ski Area  Snow Per
Season (m)
 Primary
Aspect
Latitude
°N
Top
Alt (m)
Base
Alt (m)
 Hakkaisan 10  SW  37.109  1,147   355
 Cupid Valley  * NW  37.054  960   430
 Joetsu Kokusai SE to E  37.034  1,017  200 
 Charmant Hiuchi  NNW 37.003  1,009  501 
 Arai  16  36.990 1,280  329 
 Maiko  *  NNW  36.982 920  260 
 Ishiuchi  * NE   36.976  920 256 
 Gala Yuzawa  *  E 36.951  1,181  358
 Iwappara  *  SSE  36.940  985  400
 Yuzawa Kogen N to NE  36.939   1,170 330 
 Kandatsu  11  36.911  1,000  460
 Myoko Seki  16  E 36.907  1,210  900 
 Myoko Akakura Onsen 13   SE 36.897  1,200  650 
 Kagura 10  NE  36.890   1,845 620 
 Myoko Akakura Kanko  13  SE 36.887  1,599  839 
 Myoko Ikenotaira  13 SE  36.873   1,500 760 
 Myoko Suginohara 13   SE  36.855 1,855   731
 Naeba  E 36.791   1,789 900 
There are so many ski resorts in Nagano, and they are somewhat geographically dispersed so snow patterns vary significantly. Elevation stats for the Shiga areas can be found at the base of the Shiga Kogen terrain page.

Nagano Snow
 Ski Area  Snow Per
Season (m)
 Primary
Aspect
Latitude
°N
Top
Elevation
(m)
Base
Elevation 
(m)
 Togari  SE 36.93  1,050  400 
 Nozawa Onsen 10   N to W 36.924  1,650  565 
 Tangram NNW  36.853  1,320  800 
 Madarao  13  NNE 36.852  1,350   910
 Kurohime  * 36.826  1,200   770
 Kijimadaira 36.818  1,271   475
 Ryuoo  8.4  W to NW 36.788  1,930  850 
 Hakuba Cortina 13  SE  36.777  1,402  872 
 Hakuba Norikura 11  SE   36.765  1,598 850 
 Togakushi  7.6 N to W  36.754  1,750   1,200
 Hakuba Tsugaike 13   SE 36.750  1,704  800 
 Iizuna  *  ESE 36.739  1,500  900 
 Shiga Kogen  10 varied  36.738  2,307  1,325 
 Hakuba Iwatake 11  SE  36.716  1,289  750
 Hakuba Happo  11.7  ENE 36.702  1,831  760 
 Hakuba 47  12 NE  36.684  1,614  820 
 Yamaboku  * SW  36.668   1,774  1,500
 Hakuba Goryu  12 36.663  1,676  750 
 Hakuba Sanosaka  10 NE  36.629  1,200  740 
 Hakuba Kashimayari 9.5  SW  36.598  1,335  830 
 Sugadaira  * varied  36.540  1,650  1,250 
 Karuizawa N to NW  36.340  1,155   940
 Mt Norikura NE   36.112 2,000  1,490 
 Nomugi Toge W to NW  36.048  2,130  1,400 
Gun powder (Gunma powder) is generally pretty dry compared to Niigata and Nagano because it is located further from the coast, and as to be expected, this is associated with lower snow volumes. Many of the Gunma ski resorts sit in the snow shadows of big mountains around Yuzawa including Tanigawa-dake (where Tenjindaira is located), and much of the moisture is sucked out of the storms before they hit Gunma.

Gunma Snow
 Ski Area  Snow Per
Season (m)
 Primary
Aspect
Latitude
°N
Top
Alt (m)
Base
Alt (m)
 Oze Tokura  W to SW 36.851   1,420 1,080 
 Houdaigi  * NW to N  36.837  1,400  830 
 Tenjindaira 16.5  NE  36.836  1,500  750 
  Iwakura  *  SW to NE 36.816  1,703  1,006 
 Marunuma Kogen  * WNW  36.816  2,000   1,390
 Oguna Hotaka  * SE   36.778  1,828 1,200 
 Kawaba * S to SW  36.769   1,870 1,290 
 Manza Onsen 36.636  1,994  1,646 
 Kusatsu Onsen SE  36.629  1,600   1,245
 Palcall Tsumagoi  * E  36.555 2,100  1,370 
The jury is out on the Gifu snow. Like anywhere, a Gifu ski resort can be great on its day, but it’s probably not the spot that has good consistent Japow.

Gifu Snow
 Ski Area  Snow Per
Season (m)
 Primary
Aspect
Latitude
°N
Top
Alt (m)
Base
Alt (m)
 Hirayu Onsen 36.184  1,860  1,310 
 Honoki Daira  *  N 36.176  1,550  1,200 
 Takasu  *  NE to SE 35.999  1,550  950 
 Dynaland  * SE 35.989  1,431 984
 Meiho  * SE 35.942  1,602 902
Notes about definitions:
  • Primary aspect is for the piste, which doesn’t necessarily represent the off-piste that drops off the sides of piste, or the sidecountry slopes
  • Top elevation is lifted elevation, assuming that all lifts are operating which is never a given in Japan!
  • Snow volumes – there’s no standard way of measuring this across the world and Japan is no different