How to Prepare for a Ski Trip in Japan this Winter

From delicate and dry powder snow to excellent service, delicious cuisine, relaxing hot springs, and a beautiful landscape, a ski trip to Japan is a dream. But, if you want to make this dream come true, it will take some work. To properly prepare for a ski trip in Japan this winter, you’ll have to do a lot of research. We hope this guide will help you get started with that research. Spending the winter in Japan is a truly unique experience, so you should do what you can to get the most out of it.

The best places to go skiing in Japan

As it’s a predominantly mountainous country, you can find ski resorts all over Japan. Most are in Hokkaido, Nagano, Niigata, and Tohoku (the North-East region). As a foreign visitor, there are a few factors to consider before choosing where you’ll be going. Some of the essential things would be:

  1. The convenience of travel;
  2. The popularity of English in the region;
  3. The facilities offered;
  4. The scale of the resort area.

Aside from being on every hiker’s bucket list, during winter, Mount Fuji is one of the most popular choices for a ski trip in Japan. However, the fun isn’t limited to just this one mountain. Let’s go through a few equally (if not more) popular options for skiing in Japan.

Nagano

Nagano offers plenty of ski resorts suitable for all levels. The most popular ones would be Hakuba, Nozawa, and Shiga Kogen. Hakuba is an excellent choice for beginner and intermediate-level skiers. Nozawa is better suited for advanced skiers. Snowboarders can also enjoy Nagano. However, Shiga Kogen is better for skiing rather than snowboarding.

Hokkaido

Being one of the most popular choices for skiers, Hokkaido offers a lot of ski resorts. No matter what level of skier or snowboarder you are, there is a place for you in Hokkaido. The three most popular options are:

  1. Niseko – This is the largest ski resort area in Hokkaido. It’s easy to access. English is widely spoken here. There are great nightlife opportunities in neighboring Hirafu;
  2. Rusutsu – The second largest after Niseko, offers many hotels and facilities. It’s a very family-friendly area but with limited nightlife;
  3. Furano – A smaller resort. The nearby town of Furano is a great family-friendly location with lots to do off-piste.

The snow quality in Hokkaido is one of the best in Japan. And since the entire island is so well connected, it’s an attractive option for people who want to venture outside their resorts and explore the full range of what Japan offers. If you’re planning to move overseas to Japan with your family, this trip is a great chance to introduce the other members of it to the culture and beauty of Japan. It’s sure to help you get everyone on board for moving there.

Niigata

The two most popular resorts in this area are Naeba and Gala Yuzawa. Naeba is excellent for all levels. Gala Yuzawa might be boring for advanced skiers and snowboarders. Though it can not compare to Hokkaido, the snow quality is still amazing. While this place should be on your list if you want to prepare for a ski trip in Japan this winter properly, it’s better suited for travelers who wish to spend a few days skiing and the rest exploring Japanese culture.

When does ski season start in Japan?

The ski season in Japan typically lasts from early December to late April. However, it extends to early May in Hokkaido. However, if you prefer skiing during peak season when the snow is perfect and all facilities are active, you should plan to be here between mid-January and late February. To avoid large crowds and slopes full of skiers, you should take advantage of the shoulder season.

Choosing suitable accommodation is crucial

If your goal is to prepare for a ski trip in Japan this winter properly, you must choose a suitable accommodation for your needs. Here are a few things to consider while making this choice:

  1. Choose a hotel with beds if it’s your first time – Most homes and hotels in Japan have futons rather than beds. Remember that you’ll probably be exhausted after a day of skiing, and if you’re not used to futons, a mattress will probably be a lot more comfortable;
  2. Ski-in ski-out is the best choice, but not the only one – While there are a lot of options for ski-in ski-out resorts, they can be pretty expensive. Many hotels offer shuttle bus services, so don’t be exclusive.
  3. Choose a hotel with loads of facilities – The weather during ski season can get nasty from time to time. Having something to do without leaving the hotel can mean a lot during those days.

What equipment should you bring and what should you rent

Most resorts will have all the clothing and equipment you need for rent. You don’t have to worry if you don’t have any of your own. However, some resorts will only have the essentials like boards and skis. So, if you have your helmets and glasses, it’s better not to risk them. The most brilliant move is to call and check in advance.

Eating out in Japan

Japanese food is famous worldwide, and for a good reason. It’s fantastic, and if you plan well, dining out usually doesn’t have to be expensive. The cheapest meal option is to visit a ramen shop. Here you can get a warm bowl of delicious noodles for as low as ¥1000 ($9). Many restaurants offer meal sets at lunchtime. These usually go from ¥1000 to ¥2500 ($9-$20) per person. Tip culture isn’t widespread in Japan, so you shouldn’t leave one unless you see a sign saying the restaurant welcomes tips. There are so many foods to try in Japan that you should not skip. Information is your best tool, so make sure you’re smart about your choices.

Money-saving tips

Japan is relatively inexpensive compared to other popular destinations for skiing. Most all-inclusive ski passes cost around ¥4200 ($40) per day. And you can expect to pay around ¥4500 – ¥6500 ($40 – $60) for ski rentals. Remember that you’re not the only one excited about the affordability of ski trips in Japan. If you plan on visiting more popular sites, always book in advance.

Let’s go through a few tips that are sure to help you enjoy Japan without going broke:

  1. Early bird tickets – Booking early in Japan makes a real difference. You can save over 30% by getting an early bird ticket.
  2. Japan skiing packages – You can, for example, ask your accommodation or resort shuttle bus for a package discount.
  3. Make good use of the JR Rail Pass – This is an excellent way to go on day trips outside your accommodation area.
  4. Japanese-style family rooms are usually enough for four to five people; you probably don’t need more.
  5. If you are traveling with a larger group, it’s cheaper to drive – Public transport is paid per person. When you count it all up, it may be cheaper to rent a car.

Final thoughts

While this is old news to some people, it’s still common for travelers to be surprised that Japan is one of the world’s premier ski destinations. While Japan’s cities, culture, and food, are lovely on their own, their popularity usually leads people to neglect its beautiful nature and outdoor activities. If you take your time and adequately prepare for a ski trip in Japan this winter, you will find out just how many sides there are to this beautiful country.

4 Tips For Skiing Over 50

This Post Was Originally Published on the Liftopia Blog on March 14, 2016 by Mark Crone; updated March 5, 2020

I started skiing at the age of 6 and I’m now well above 50. My first boots had laces; my skis had screw-in edges and ski straps; my poles had leather strap baskets. A lot has changed since then – and thankfully.

If you are well under 50, you may be thinking, “this has nothing to do with me,” but it will at some point. You will hit the magical age of 50.

If you are indeed over 50, the fork in the road may be “you do ski” or “you would like to ski”. Either way, read on. Here are my 4 tips for skiing over 50:

A skier starting a turn
Photo by Mati Mango on Pexels.com

1. Get Modern

Above, I described my first set of ski gear. When I’m at the hill, I still see people in purple ski suits (from the 70s), rear-entry boots and 200 cm. skis. Now “Throwback Thursdays” are one thing, but… modern ski clothing provides warmth, durability and weather resistance.

Ski technology makes skiing easier (if you are old enough, think “before parabolic skis”). Get into your local ski equipment shop and talk to an experienced professional. They’ll fit you for boots (literally) and set you up with the best pair of skis for you based on your ability, normal terrain and your budget.

2. Get Fit

Skiing is tough work and you need to be in some kind of “ski fit” condition to really enjoy yourself. I’ve talked about it in another post for Liftopia – “How To Get Ready For The First Day Of The Ski Season”.

As a Ski Patroller, and someone who is over 50, I ski all day. It’s a given that I’ll be tired the next day (as I am today) but you need to have enough stamina during the ski day to enjoy your time on the slopes (be it a half day, full day or ski vacation).

Skiing is great exercise and requires at least some strength and flexibility. As you get older, it gets much tougher to get up if you fall. But it’s tougher still to get up if you aren’t in shape.

3. Get Lessons

It’s never too late to learn to ski. Lessons are an absolute necessity if you are learning to ski at any age. A professional ski instructor will make learning to ski fun and help you to master the basics and stay safe. You’ll enjoy yourself and look forward to a good time on the slopes.

Even if you have skied for a while, or are coming back to skiing, a “tune up” lesson, clinic or program is a great way to re-start and improve your skills.

4. Get Out There

The “over 50” market is a big one and a growing one for the ski industry. Websites, equipment, clothing, lessons and more are all geared to “north of 50”. There are “over 50” ski clubs and groups (regular clubs, clubs for singles, seniors clubs) to ski in a group and socialize afterwards. There are “over 50” ski holidays offered by some ski clubs and ski tour operators. Liftopia has you covered for great deals on lift tickets when you buy in advance and if you are over 65, they have senior prices too. There are no excuses!

Above all…

Ski at your own pace and on the terrain that you feel most comfortable on. If you skied when you were young, the exhilarating mogul runs and double black diamonds may now be a thing of the past. But you can still have a great day of fresh winter air, physical exercise and great skiing. When you get tired, simply call it a day. Go back to the ski lodge, get a hot drink and sit by the fireplace to warm up. There’s always tomorrow…

How to Avoid Common Mistakes On The Mountain

A great day of skiing
Photo by Melvin Wahlin on Pexels.com

As a ski patroller and veteran skier, I’ve seen more than my share of mistakes on the mountain. And there is a theme with common mistakes – not being prepared and/or not skiing smart. Here’s how to avoid those common mistakes on the mountain:

1. Be prepared for a Workout

Skiing and snowboarding are great workouts. A day on the slopes requires stamina, a strong core and leg muscles. If you plan on hitting a big mountain with long runs, skiing will be harder still. If you have a decent fitness level, you’ll have a good base for your day on the slopes and adjust easier to the demands of skiing and boarding. A regular fitness routine will help you to ski or snowboard better and longer.

2. Avoid heading straight to the Black Diamonds

A skier on a black diamond run
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Start out easy at the beginning of the day. Experienced skiers always take it easy for, at least, the first few runs before heading off to the diamond runs. Warm up and get your focus on movement, turns and technique before you crank it up on more challenging stuff. Gain confidence with easier runs before moving to diamond runs. Work your way up to the more serious, advanced, narrow, thrill rides.

3. Use common sense

There is something called the Alpine Responsibility Code which many skiers know, and many don’t. It’s typically posted on a yellow sign at the bottom of most lifts. It’s a combination of safety rules and common sense for skiers and snowboarders. For example, always stay in control; do not stop where you obstruct a trail, before starting downhill or merging onto a trail, look uphill and yield to others, etc. Follow these rules (ski smart) and you’ll stay safe and avoid the common mistakes of others.

4. Pay attention to lifts

Walking back to the chalet after a great day of snowboarding
Photo by Visit Almaty on Pexels.com

Getting on and off lifts is prime for accidents. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll quickly find that the chairlift is unforgiving. High speed chairs pick you up slowly, but then move fast. Be ready, line up with skis pointed forward and poles in hand. Getting off a chairlift can be a challenge for novice skiers and boarders. At the offloading area, simply stand up and let the chair push you. T-bars or other vintage lifts are completely unknown to new or young skiers, so ask for help from the lift operator or ski patrol if you need it.

5. Don’t think you can ski all day (with no break)

If you only ski while on a ski vacation, you’ll need to pace yourself for a full day on the slopes. As a Canadian Ski Patroller, I’m on shift all day and break the day into parts: a few hours of skiing and then take a break. Back out again for a few more hours then take a lunch break. After lunch, I’m back out again with a break in the afternoon. Don’t over do it and your last run will be as good as your first run.

6. Avoid borrowing your Dad’s old equipment

2 skiers taking a break from skiing
Photo by julie aagaard on Pexels.com

Chances are your Dad’s equipment is old, worn out and/or doesn’t fit. Take a pass. If you don’t have your own equipment, rent from a ski shop where they will provide decent equipment based on your skill level. Boots need to be comfortable. Bindings should be set so that they will release your skis when needed. Tuned up skis make it easier to hold an edge and get down the hill. Helmets are very much in style and should be mandatory for their obvious protection. A helmet can’t prevent a concussion, but it could reduce the severity of one. Use quality equipment that fits you and your level of ability.

7. Not Layering Up

I’ve become a bit of an expert at dressing for winter. Wearing the wrong type of clothes can result in a not-so-happy ski day. For example, don’t wear cotton socks and a cotton shirt as your base layer. You will not be warm. The best way to layer up for skiing is to have three high-quality layers: a thin base layer (long johns); an insulating mid-layer (fleece or ski sweater) and then ski pants/ski jacket. Keep active, take rest breaks and keep nourished (your body stays warmer with fuel intake). If your clothes get wet, change them.

Get ready for a great day on the slopes! If you are going on a ski vacation, check out my TuGo post – What to Pack for a Ski or Snowboard Trip. And don’t forget your travel insurance if you travel outside your home province or Canada. Have fun, stay safe and enjoy the great outdoors!