When To Ski In Japan


When To Ski In Japan

Best Time to Ski in Japan

The different parts of the Japan ski season have their pros and cons. In deciding when to ski in Japan, the best time for skiing and snowboarding is dependent on your priorities and whether you want to chase the best powder snow in Japan, want to score fresh tracks, avoid the crowds, enjoy fine weather, or benefit from discounted lift passes and lodging.

If you can't find the specific information you're looking for below with regards to the best time to ski in Japan, you can also ask the brains trust on our Japan Powder Hounds Forum on Facebook. 

Japan Ski Season

The typical Japan snow season is mid December through to early April, although there are some resorts with much longer seasons. The actual Japan ski season opening and closing times is dependent on snow conditions at each particular resort, but as a guide you can look at our Japan ski resort stats for an indication of the typical season for the major resorts.

Major outliers from the normal Japan snow season include Okutadami Maruyama which has a very long season, but it has to close from mid Jan to mid March because there’s too much snow to access the resort (in 2014-15 it received 19 metres of snow!). Kurodake also has a long season but it closes during parts of January and February for supposed maintenance, but it’s really because the weather’s too foul. And then there’s Gassan Ski Resort that gets phenomenal amounts of snow, so the ski season doesn’t start until April.

When to Ski in Japan

Skiing in Japan in November
Planning a ski trip to Japan in November is rather risky because there are no guarantees that there will be adequate snow. For beginners, a decent bet would be to go to Karuizawa in Nagano which is usually one of the first ski resorts in Japan to open each season (early November), due to extensive snow making facilities.

Ski Japan Pre-Xmas

The Japan ski season is underway! The Hokkaido ski season generally starts earlier than Honshu as Hokkaido tends to do much better for early season snow, particularly at resorts such as Kiroro and Niseko. There is generally enough snow on-piste for beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders. Off-piste areas are likely to have sasa bamboo and shrubbery poking through in places, and sidecountry egress can be heinous due to open creeks, but the upside is that there is generally very little competition for the fresh powder (and you get to escape all those boring Xmas parties back home!).

Of course there is no guarantee of an adequate snow base at any ski resort pre-Xmas, and whilst some of the Hokkaido ski areas are renowned for the cold December powder, there’s always the risk of not having enough snow.

Lift ticket prices are discounted at some of the ski resorts prior to mid December and accommodation deals can often be found. Note that some ancillary and transport services may not commence until just before Xmas.

There are not many Japan ski tours pre-Xmas, particularly chase-the-powder type trips, but there are beginner tours available that include tuition.

Japan Skiing Christmas to New Years
Well you can’t help it if this is the only time you can take a holiday or vacation. Otherwise, what the hell are you thinking??!!! Skiing in Japan at Xmas time is absolutely crazy. This is the most popular time for the Japanese to go skiing or snowboarding, and then there are all the international holiday-makers as well. Availability for accommodation at the big ski resorts sells out fast and you have to pay a massive premium for being there at the absolute peak time. Of course prices for flights are also hiked up.

It’s still early in the Japan snow season and there’s the risk that some off-piste areas may not have adequate cover.

Japan Ski Resorts in January (Japanuary)
The high profile westernised ski resorts are very busy. Australian school holidays go for all of January, and many Australians without kids also take holidays at this time. Early January is particularly hectic at resorts such as Niseko, Hakuba, and Nozawa Onsen.

The fire festival period at Nozawa Onsen (15th January) is super busy and Nozawa Onsen accommodation sells out way in advance.

The pros of snowboarding and skiing in Japan in January is that it pukes a lot of snow, temps are generally very cold, and the powder snow quality is at its best. Japanuary is what legends are made of! Downsides of January are that freshies may not last too long, and the weather can be foul which can result in lift closures particularly at some of the big snow (backcountry type) areas such as Asahidake, Tenjindaira and Hakkoda.

The non-westernised ski resorts that tend not to attract many Australians are generally not too busy, except for weekends (especially in Honshu). The long weekend in mid January is particularly busy with the locals.

Japan Skiing for Chinese New Years / Lunar New Year 
If you’re thinking of a trip to ski Japan in late January to mid February, it’s best to check the timing of Chinese New Year (the first day of the Chinese New Year falls on the new moon between 21 January and 20 February). Lots of folks from China and Singapore descend on Japan over the Chinese New Year period (which can extend a long way either side of the actual new year). They tend to visit the high profile large resorts and accommodation availability can be scarce, and accommodation prices higher. Chinese and other Asian skiers have more of a tendency to remain on-piste – it’s the ex-pats you’ll have to compete with for off-piste fresh powder.

Japan in February
In early February the weather patterns tend to be similar to that of January and it’s a great time for powder. The powder in late February is generally excellent too. With the exception of Chinese New Year’s, February is less busy than January, and in late February the crowds dissipate.

Early February is the best time to visit Hokkaido if you want to see the Sapporo Snow Festival.

Japan in March
March brings more fine weather days so it’s ideal for the backcountry type ski areas (Asahidake, Hakkoda, Tenjindaira), and it’s an enjoyable time for piste skiers and snowboarders to visit.

In March you ideally want to be at the resorts that have a northerly location, high elevation and/or northerly aspect (see the Japan snow statistics for info on this). There are still powder days but these are intermingled with some warmer temps, so snow quality can be completely variable. During March, there is very little competition for the fresh powder. There are some Japan backcountry ski tours available in March, but most of the chase-the-powder tours have finished up.

Lift ticket and accommodation discounts tend to apply from mid to late March (generally depending on the closing date of the resort).

Ski Japan April
The Japan skiing season is mostly nearing an end. Not all the resorts are open (check the Japan ski resort statistics for approx closing dates), and some lower elevation (or south facing) parts of the ski resorts start to close. Lift tickets and accommodation are cheap, but be mindful that some ski schools, equipment rental shops, tour operators, and restaurants may have shut up shop for the season.

However, April is the best time to visit if you want low costs, no crowds, and plenty of fine weather.

All the powder skiers and snowboarders have cleared out (unless they play golf) because there’s not much powder and lots of bluebird days. Whilst the off-piste skiing might have gone sour, the decent snow cover on the trails at some of the resorts is likely to remain, so it can be a good time for beginners and intermediates.

Specific Resort Information on When To Ski in Japan

See more information on the following pages: