best places to snowboard in japan

15 Best Places To Snowboard In Japan

by Fraser

I think we’ve established by now that snowboarding is pretty awesome. But what makes snowboarding even better? Bottomless Japanese powder of course. Let’s discuss the best snowboard resorts in Japan and which one to book this year. 

Here is a list of the 15 best places to snowboard in Japan:

  1. Niseko
  2. Rusutsu
  3. Nozawa Onsen
  4. Sahoro
  5. Asahidake
  6. Kiroro
  7. Kurodake
  8. Zao Onsen
  9. Kandatsu Kogen
  10. Ani
  11. Happo One
  12. Lotte Arai
  13. Aomori Spring
  14. Tengendai Kogen
  15. Hakkaisan

Let’s go into more detail about why these are my go-to snowboarding destinations in Japan.

Best Places To Snowboard In Japan

Let’s get this out of the way, if you’re lucky enough to be snowboarding in Japan, then you’re already winning! 

Even the smaller, lesser known resorts benefit from some of the finest quality powder in the world. 

This makes it extremely difficult to narrow down the best places to snowboard in Japan.

I’ve had to be extremely picky, selecting only the ones I enjoyed the most or that provided something unique. If you’ve booked a resort that’s not on the list, don’t be disheartened. I”m sure it will be epic! 

It’s also worth noting that for many (myself included), snowboarding in Japan is all about riding powder!

Many of the resorts selected are biased towards access to slackcountry, backcountry and ja-powder heaven. 

This isn’t always ideal for beginners and you may be better honing your snowboarding skills before heading over to Japan. Alternatively, a couple on the list are more beginner friendly – take a look!

1. Niseko

Top Choice
1. Niseko
9.5/10 Our Score
  • Unrivalled powder quality.
  • Over 15 metres snowfall per season!
  • Varied terrain includes bowls and tree runs.
  • Beginner friendly groomed runs.
  • Great nightlife (for a Japanese Ski Resort) 
  • One of the best snow parks in Japan. 
  • Night-skiing (night snowboarding!)
  • Ever-expanding accommodation options.
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Niseko is one of the most popular ski and snowboard resorts in Japan, and for good reason. With near-bottomless powder and a vibrant social scene, what’s not to love?

Whether you just started your snowboarding journey or consider yourself a veritable pro, I’m pretty sure Niseko has the perfect trail (and snow) for you. 

Niseko’s popularity has also led to its accessibility. After flying in to the New Chitose Airport, you can now conveniently hop on one of the buses leading directly to one of the resorts. 

Niseko is actually comprised of four separate resorts:

  • Grand Hirafu
  • Niseko Village
  • Hanazono
  • An’nupuri.

They are all on the same mountain, with great access links. 

A Niseko United pass actually grants access to all 4 resorts, giving you a huge amount of terrain to go after!

Niseko Piste Map

Here are the details of snowboarding at Niseko:

  • 50.8km of slopes 
  • 32 Ski Lifts
  • Peak: 1,188m 
  • Snowparks: 2 
  • Nightskiing: Grand Hirafu has the largest night-skiing area in Japan!

Snowboarding Day’s Insider Info:

Niseko is certainly the highlight of my Japanese snowboarding adventures. It has so much to offer that I have no problem recommending it to just about anyone. 

Can you tell how stoked I was here?

The beauty of Niseko (and Japanese snowboarding resorts in general) is that runs like these are so accessible.

Niseko has backcountry “gates” which allow access to ungroomed sidecountry runs straight off the lift. These are also monitored and avalanche controlled (but be sure to still take appropriate personal safety measures).

The Drawbacks Of Snowboarding In Niseko:

✖️ An expanding nightlife means more noise. There are quieter resorts on the list.

✖️ As the word spreads about Niseko, the crowds are likely to grow. 

✖️ Some argue Niseko has become less “authentically” Japanese. There are now Italian restaurants and American bars. Those looking for the immersive local experience could try another place on the list

2. Rusutsu

Runner Up
2. Rusutsu
9.2/10 Our Score
  • Incredible tree runs 
  • Access to nearby Heli-Skiing 
  • Beginner friendly 
  • Snowboard through an abandoned theme park 
  • Great accessibility 
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Rusutsu is deservedly one of the best places to snowboard in Japan.

The Rusutsu village is quickly becoming a premier destination for skiing and snowboarding.

It has gained so much popularity that the main Rusutsu resort has invested massive amounts into expanding lift access and facilities. 

Rusutsu is not quite as big as Niseko but it’s also much quieter. It’s still possible to spend an entire day riding trees without bumping into anyone!

Here are the details of snowboarding in Rusutsu:

  • 42km of slopes 
  • 18 Ski Lifts
  • Peak: 994m 
  • Snowparks: 2 (1 being “Freedom park”, a park made from fallen trees and natural features)
  • Nightskiing: Yes, though not as extensive as Niseko

Snowboarding Day’s Insider Info:

Rusutsu is definitely one of the best places to snowboard in Japan.

Still easily accessible from New Chitose airport and yet relatively undiscovered by the masses. This means less queues and a higher chance of untouched powder. Yippee!

A perfect sunny day in Rusutsu

Rusutsu has many quirky features, such as a trippy merry-go-round in the main resort lobby and an abandoned theme park that you can snowboard past/through. 

The Drawbacks Of Rusutsu: 

✖️ A much smaller resort than Niseko with less infrastructure. 

✖️ There is not much to do in the evenings and less choice of food. 

Consider staying at a larger resort and heading to Rusutsu on a day trip (I highly recommend this if you have enough time). 

3. Nozawa Onsen

Best All-Rounder
3. Nozawa Onsen
9.1/10 Our Score
  • Amazing variety of terrain for all abilities.
  • Great accommodation options.
  • Access to some steeper terrain (rare in Japan)
  • As per the name... great onsens!
  • Close to Nagano resorts, allowing day trips for powder chasers.
  • Family friendly, caters to kids and beginners. 
  • One of the larger resorts, meaning better nightlife & food.
  • More traditionally Japanese than resorts like Niseko.
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Nozawa Onsen is centered around a traditional Japanese village with a number of wonderful bubbling hot springs (onsens). 

Building on humble origins, Nozawa Onsen has quickly expanded, becoming one of the most popular places to snowboard in Japan. 

Boasting broader terrain diversity than the average Japanese resort, there are even some steeper slopes available for expert riders. 

Here are the details of snowboarding in Nozawa Onsen:

  • 44.5km of slopes 
  • 17 Ski Lifts
  • Peak: 1650m 
  • Snowparks: 1 plus a separate halfpipe.
  • Nightskiing: Yes, though relatively small area. 

Snowboarding Day’s Insider Info:

Nozawa Onsen is an amazing place, steeped in history and Japanese culture. It also happens to offer incredible snowboarding terrain!

I loved the steeper backcountry areas (which are a real rarity in Japan) but there are also slopes for all abilities.

The Negatives Of Nozawa Onsen:

✖️ Unlike the first two resorts, Nozawa Onsen is on Honshu (the largest of the Japanese Islands) rather than Hokkaido

Some powder evangelists argue that the snow on Honshu is heavier than the perfect powder of Hokkaido.

If we’re being picky, then perhaps that’s true… but you’re still choosing between amazing powder and really amazing powder. You’ll probably be having too much fun to notice the difference!

✖️ Nozawa Onsen, like Niseko, is also rapidly gaining popularity. With this comes crowds and Westernisation. Visit whilst you still can!

4. Sahoro

#1 For Beginners
4. Sahoro
9/10 Our Score
  • Best beginner friendly terrain 
  • Some decent tree runs for more advanced riders
  • Modern hotels catering well for families
  • Mostly cheaper than Niseko 
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Beginners will love the snow and terrain at the Sahoro resort. 

There are plenty of smaller, less intimidating inclines where you can test your skills without getting out of your depth. 

It’s considered a medium-sized mountain, so even the more seasoned snowboarders in your group will still have fun without feeling too unchallenged. 

If you’re a family looking for a destination snowboard trip in Japan, Sahoro is one to consider.

Here are the details of snowboarding in Sahoro:

  • 25km of slopes 
  • 8 Ski Lifts
  • Peak: 1030m 
  • Snowparks: 1
  • Nightskiing: Yes, 2 runs available daily.

Snowboarding Day’s Insider Info: 

Saharo is great for beginners, for others… there are better places.

I had a great time at Sahoro but was glad to be visiting for the day and returning to bigger and harder terrain elsewhere.

Tip: For more experienced riders, head for the trees! As a beginner-intermediate focused resort, there’s often untouched powder stashes in the treeline. 

The Negatives Of Snowboarding In Sahoro:

✖️ There’s also notoriously less snow in Sahoro than in some other resorts.

This can actually be a bonus for beginners as heavy snowfall can be harder to learn in. However, if you’re looking for a true winter wonderland, you might have to manage your expectations a little.

5. Asahidake

Best Powder
5. Asahidake
9/10 Our Score
  • The ultimate destination for powder chasers
  • Minimal lift infrastructure but enough to access multiple incredible powder stashes
  • Minimal crowds - early birds are guaranteed fresh tracks
  • Maintains Japanese quirks and culture 
  • The highest mountain in Hokkaido, boasting some if the driest powder in the world!
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Being on the highest mountain peak in Hokkaido and further inland than other resorts, Asahidake produces some of the best powder in the world.

On the right day Asahidake is arguably the very best place to snowboard in Japan. 

So why didn’t I place it higher on the list?

Having just one ski lift, Asahidake is more of a gateway into some amazing backcountry. There isn’t much of a central hub and it lacks the facilities of other snowboarding venues. 

Asahidake is consequently more for the advanced off-piste rider in search of perfect powder.

Beginners and intermediates will have way more fun elsewhere. 

Here are the details of snowboarding in Asahidake:

  • 6.7km of slopes 
  • 1 Ski Lift
  • Peak: 1600m 
  • Snowparks: 0
  • Nightskiing: No

Snowboarding Day’s insider info: 

Asahidake is a bucket list destination for those chasing “the best powder in the world”. If you’re willing to earn your turns, Asahidake is worth it!

best places to snowboard in japan
A perfect powdery day in the Japanese backcountry

Drawbacks Of Asahidake:

✖️ It’s important to note that whilst there are some incredible traditional onsens in Asahidake, there is very little else.

I would highly recommend a day trip to Asahidake from a larger resort (like Niseko). 

With only 6.7km of accessible terrain and one lift, you’ll appreciate getting back to a larger lift network with less hiking involved. 

✖️ It’s also worth noting that with lots of snow… comes snowstorms.  

For best results in Asahidake, hire a backcountry guide and be flexible about which days you plan to ride there.

6. Kiroro

Largest Terrain
6. Kiroro
8.9/10 Our Score
  • Largest regulated off-piste terrain in Japan.
  • For those willing to hike there are powder rewards beyond your wildest dreams.
  • Not as busy as some of the other large, well serviced resorts.
  • One of the most advanced lift infrastructures in Japan. 
  • Family friendly with lots of available activities.
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Kiroro resorts offers a perfect mix of luxury and adventure.

With new accommodation and an excellent lift infrastructure, Kiroro is definitely one of the best places to snowboard in Japan.

Fortunately, the days of Kiroro confiscating your lift pass when caught out of bounds are long gone. Now backcountry riding is positively encouraged!

The lift access is excellent and those willing to hike will have access to a huge amount of side country/backcountry terrain. 

The lodgings are top-of-the-line and offer guests the chance to wind down in the spa after a long day cruising Japanese powder (it’s a hard life). 

Here are the details of snowboarding in Kiroro:

  • 30km of slopes 
  • 10 Ski Lifts
  • Peak: 1180m 
  • Snowparks: Previously had a halfpipe and small snow park but neither opened this year.
  • Nightskiing: Yes

Negatives of Kiroro:

✖️ Not as many groomed slopes for advanced riders. Head out of bounds. 

✖️ Kiroro is becoming busier each year.

✖️ Fewer lifts and groomed slopes than larger resorts like Niseko and Nozawa Onsen. 

7. Kurodake

Extreme Terrain
7. Kurodake
8.8/10 Our Score
  • Steep, gnarly terrain for the most advanced riders. 
  • Lack of crowds means fresh lines all day 
  • Incredible views over Hokkaido 
  • Not for the faint hearted!
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If there’s one criticism you could make of Japanese ski resorts, it’s the lack of steep pitches.

Kurodake is the exception!

Kurodake is the best place to snowboard in Japan for advanced riders who want it steep and deep. 

With just one main lift or “ropeway”, the best runs require some hiking from the top.

✖️ There is also little in the way of a resort, with the best accommodation being in nearby Sounkyo.

✖️ Beginners will have a better time elsewhere. 

Snowboarding In Kurodake:

  • 2.7km of slopes 
  • 2 Ski Lifts (the ropeway and a short chairlift at the bottom)
  • Peak: 1520m
  • Snowparks: No
  • Nightskiing: No

8. Zao Onsen

Most Traditional
8. Zao Onsen
8.8/10 Our Score
  • Experience Japanese culture at it's finest!
  • Amazing natural scenery with minimal infrastructure
  • Super quiet = lots of fresh pow!
  • Experience the "snow monsters!" 
  • Terrain for all abilities.
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Zao Onsen in Yamagata is certainly one of the more beautiful places to snowboard in Japan.

Boasting relatively untouched mountain scenery and traditional Japanese onsens, it’s easy to fall in love with this place. 

It also happens to be one of the best places to snowboard in Japan… 

Offering wide open piste and access to beginner-intermediate level side-country powder, it’s an excellent place to start your powder surfing journey. 

✖️ If you’re an advanced-expert rider you may be better off elsewhere. However, most people would have an incredible time at Zao Onsen. 

The Zao Onsen details:

  • 50km of slopes 
  • 38 Ski Lifts
  • Peak: 1661m
  • Snowparks: No
  • Nightskiing: No

9. Kandatsu Kogen

Steep Piste!
9. Kandatsu Kogen
8.8/10 Our Score
  • Some incredible, steep tree runs for advanced riders
  • Easy transport links from Tokyo 
  • Plenty of runs for beginners and intermediates. 
  • Runs more protected from the elements than other resorts

Kandatsu Kogen makes for a great day trip from Tokyo! It's smaller than many other resorts, but still has plenty of fresh powder to go after. 

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Kandatsu Kogen has some of the steepest piste runs in Japan. 

They won’t match some of more treacherous runs in Europe or Canada, but for Japan – they’re pretty gnarly!

Kandatsu is also one of the rare resorts providing some more sheltered groomed runs.

When the storms roll in, you’ll still be able to ride! 

Handy tip: Kandatsu is located near Tokyo, making it one of the most convenient resorts to access. 

✖️ One of the smaller resorts

The Kandatsu details:

  • 11.6km of slopes 
  • 5 Ski Lifts
  • Peak: 1000m
  • Snowparks: No
  • Nightskiing: Saturday nights until 4am!

10. Ani

Hidden Gem
10. Ani
8.7/10 Our Score
  • Relatively undiscovered so lots of fresh lines!
  • Amazing mountain views.
  • Much cheaper than other resorts 
  • Famous for insane snow dumps. 

The downside of Ani is that it takes a long time to reach. It's also much smaller than other resorts. That's the price you pay for solitude and untouched snow!

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Ani is one of the best places to snowboard if you’re looking to escape the crowds.

You won’t have to worry about fighting for your lines, even during peak season.

✖️ A potential downside is that Ani is a much smaller ski terrain.

You’ll get to know the terrain pretty quickly.

On the bright side, find your favorite spots and then session untouched tree lines to your hearts content!

The Kandatsu details:

  • 7.6km of slopes 
  • 3 Ski Lifts
  • Peak: 1210m
  • Snowparks: Yes
  • Nightskiing: No

11. Happo One

Family Friendly
11. Happo One
8.75/10 Our Score
  • Huge ski area with terrain for all abilities
  • Super family friendly including lessons for kids
  • Lively and exciting resort with lots going on
  • Incredible views of the mountains
  • A mostly english-speaking resort
  • Great option for your first japow experience
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Happo One has changed a lot over the years, but it’s still one of the best places to snowboard in Japan.

Yes, it can be busier.

But this brings with it a lively resort with plenty to do outside of snowboarding (not that you’ll need it).

✖️ Can be harder to score fresh lines than in the quieter resorts. 

✖️ Becoming more westernised, losing a little of it’s Japanese charm. 

Details of Snowboarding In Happo One:

  • 52km of slopes 
  • 22 Ski Lifts
  • Peak: 1831m
  • Snowparks: Yes, including a halfpipe
  • Nightskiing: Yes

12. Lotte Arai

Most Luxurious
12. Lotte Arai
8.7/10 Our Score
  • Massive powder dumps on the regular!
  • Big natural bowls allowing for huge powder turns.
  • Great facilities for kids, including english-speaking lessons
  • Less busy than some of the more well-known resorts

The downside? Consisting mainly of relatively new hotels, Lotte Arai can't quite match the authentic charm of resorts like Nozawa Onsen. However the hotels offer excellent facilities and are a great option for families.

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✖️ Can’t quite compete with the authentic Japanese charm of more natural snowboarding resorts like Nozawa Onsen.

Details of Snowboarding In Lotte Arai:

  • 16km of slopes 
  • 5 Ski Lifts
  • Peak: 1280m
  • Snowparks: No
  • Nightskiing: No

13. Aomori Spring

Best Park
13. Aomori Spring
8.7/10 Our Score
  • Minimal competition for some pretty tasty tree lines.
  • Aomori Spring's boasts one of the best snowparks in Japan.
  • The amazing Rockwell Hotel offers rare ski-in, ski-out facilities.
  • Great beginner, intermediate and advanced options.
  • Short hikes can yield amazing side-country results. 

 

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Easily one of the best places to snowboard in Japan

Incredible snowpark, halfpipe and tree runs. 

For those of you who don’t mind trekking the backcountry, Aomori Spring has some incredible terrain on offer. 

Aomori also happens to be home to the Rockwell Hotel, one of my favorite upper-market hotels (ski-in, ski-out which is a rarity in Japan). 

✖️ Very quiet in the evenings – which can also be a blessing. 

Details of Snowboarding In Aomori Spring:

  • 20km of slopes 
  • 5 Ski Lifts
  • Peak: 921m
  • Snowparks: Yes and a full size halfpipe!
  • Nightskiing: No

14. Tengendai Kogen

Snow Monkeys!
14. Tengendai Kogen
8.7/10 Our Score
  • The real, authentic Japanese experience. 
  • A chance to spot snow monkeys in their natural habitat! 
  • Fewer tourists means more fresh tracks for you!
  • Stay in the beautiful Takamiya Ryokan Yamanoki.

 

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Tengendai isn’t quite as polished as some of the other locations on this list, but that’s by design.

The place oozes with traditional Japanese culture and the Ryokan is an unforgettable experience (though an expensive one). 

✖️ Whilst there is some amazing side-country terrain, the ski area and lift infrastructure is a little outdated. 

Details of Snowboarding In Tengendai Kogen:

  • 10km of slopes 
  • 4 Ski Lifts
  • Peak: 1820m
  • Snowparks: Yes and a full size halfpipe!
  • Nightskiing: No

15. Hakkaisan

Best For Pros
15. Hakkaisan
8.6/10 Our Score
  • Phenomenal off-piste terrain, including steep pitches and tree lines. 
  • Minimal crowds means more powder for yourself!
  • Plenty of tricky terrain for the more advanced rider.

With minimal groomed terrain, Hakkaisan isn't the best choice for beginners. There are also a few mogul fields but they shouldn't bother you - you'll be out chasing pow. 

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For advanced riders, Hakkaisan is certainly one of the best places to snowboard in Japan

The steeps scare away the crowds, leaving fresh lines for the taking. 

✖️ Mogul fields! 

✖️ Previous reputation for only allowing side-country riding when with a guide company. Thankfully this appears to be changing.

Details of Snowboarding In Hakkaisan:

  • 12km of slopes 
  • 4 Ski Lifts
  • Peak: 1147m
  • Snowparks: A small kids area only.
  • Nightskiing: No

Final Thoughts

Congrats for reaching the end of my carefully selected list of the best places to snowboard in Japan

Needless to say, there were countless more resorts I could have chosen. 

Have I missed your absolute favorite Japanese resort?

What do you think is the best place to snowboard in Japan?

Let me know (comments are unlocked). 

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1 comment

Fraser 22/07/2022 - 3:33 pm Reply

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