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Powder perfection

Is Japan the best place to ski in the world? For us, and for all those guests we've sent to Japan over the years, the answer is a resounding "yes". Most definitely. Let us explain exactly why...

Skiing in Japan

Why Japan?

The Japanese islands are affected by weather systems that skim the Sea of Japan on their way from the frozen land mass of Siberia – which results in some of the world’s most reliable and abundant snowfall, a predictable 12 to 18 metres every year that is kept chilled, crisp and fluffy by the cold temperatures. Therefore; lots of delicious powder, easy fresh tracks and the best gladed tree skiing you will ever experience.

The ski season - When is the best time to travel?

The fact is that Japan enjoys some of the most consistent powder conditions on the planet and in a usual season you can simply expect huge amounts of snow through from Christmas until late March, even early April. And that's across both Hokkaido (the northernmost island) and Honshu (the main, central island). 

The ski season is broadly similar to Europe's, though with one or two additional factors to take in consideration:

Pre-Christmas – the snow usually begins to fall in late November / early December, therefore it’s usually possible to get a good week’s skiing in before the festive period … and it’s amazing value to boot.

Christmas & New Year – assured powder snow in most ski resorts and it feels very festive. However, these are also major holidays in the region and it’s very popular to spend Christmas and New Year skiing - the major resorts experience huge demand. High season pricing and you will need to book many months in advance.

January – snow falls almost continuously throughout January, with almost every day a powder day! However, the Australian national (summer) holidays make it the busiest month in Japanese ski resorts.

Chinese New Year – whenever this falls in late January / early February (pesky lunar calendar!), it is the week to try to avoid. High prices and super-busy as most of Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, etc. head to the Japanese ski resorts. If these are your dates and there is no flexibility, then console yourself that conditions will be perfect … just book well in advance, accept lift queues and don’t expect any bargains.

February – post-Chinese New Year, the snow continues to fall … but the Asian hordes leave after Chinese New Year and the Aussie summer holidays are over. This is what they call ‘powder season’ and we love it. The ski resorts remain moderately busy, though few (if any) lift queues to contend with.

March – a lovely deep snowpack has developed, and it’s still building with reasonably frequent snowfall. But now the otherwise overcast skies are more frequently interspersed with bluebird days. For us, early March is our favourite time to be on the slopes in Japan – quieter, wonderful value and great skiing still.

Early/mid-April – Spring conditions, but usually plenty of snow around still. Elsewhere, beyond the ski resorts, the cherry blossom season grips Japan, a beautiful sight to behold … though it makes accommodation difficult to secure (if booking late) because this is when the mainstream tourists choose to visit Japan. For very good reasons, I should add.

where to ski - Hokkaido Island or Honshu Island?

...and following on is the obvious question; do they get more powder snow on Hokkaido (the northernmost island) or Honshu (the main island of Japan)?

And this is simply answered … the snow falls copiously across both islands. Japan will deliver the best powder skiing experience you will ever have, irrespective of which island you visit. Most of the ski resorts get dumped on with an average of 12 to 18 metres of snow per season. 

Actually, and to be statistically accurate, the historical snow records tell us that a few resorts close to the Western coast of Honshu Island get marginally more snow than even Hokkaido … yet we ski on both islands every season without fail, and have done for the past 20 years, and we rarely notice any difference. Sometimes Niseko has marginally more powder, though sometimes perhaps it's the Hakuba Valley, often it's Myoko Kogen and then other times it's Furano...etc. All we know - wherever you are, there's plenty of it.

Many of our tailor-made itineraries combine one ski resort on volcanic Hokkaido and then also one on alpine Honshu - the best of both, maximising your chances and offering two quite different experiences;

Hokkaido Island: On the whole, Hokkaido is agricultural, rural and remote – towns are smaller, as farmland and national parks dominate the landscape. And in winter, a vast, thick, white carpet envelops everything. This is where you’ll find the larger, more (internationally) famous ski resorts – most notable of which is Niseko.

Because of the volcanic topography, many of the ski slopes enjoy a steady pitch – not too steep, but similarly not too shallow. As it’s all at low altitude, tree skiing is like nowhere else on the planet.

If you choose a Hokkaido ski resort than an additional flight is required up to Sapporo airport and from there it will be a couple of hours transfer to your chosen resort, often by coach or private transfer.

Honshu Island: The majestic Japanese Alps form the backbone of the main island and this is where you’ll find most of Japan’s ski resorts. All are within easy striking distance of Tokyo and Kyoto using bullet-trains and / or road transfers, hence just the one flight to Japan required (i.e. no domestic flights).

Whereas the high-profile Hokkaido resorts get more international attention, the resorts in the Japanese Alps are every bit as impressive. Indeed, as skiing/riding terrain goes there is generally more varied topography on Honshu, being much more mountainous with higher and generally steeper peaks. And the ski resorts are older, often traditional villages with considerably more Japanese character.

Rental equipment - Should I bring my own kit?

Rental equipment in Japan can be mixed bag and it pays to have a plan, not leaving anything to chance once you get there. This is, once again, where Different Snow come in.

In both Niseko and Hakuba (and Arai) the rental equipment is brilliant and you’ll want for nothing. They have the latest model skis and boards, plenty of choice, the kit is well looked after and they can cater for the super-small, the super-large, the confident powder hounds, the nervous newbies, etc. It is also easy to rent  avi packs, skins, snow shoes, crampons, split boards, air bags...etc. Obviously, they have all the ski/boarding paraphernalia for sale also in both resorts.

Beyond these two resorts, it’s can be a bit patchier. The equipment available is okay, often very good – but that's only because we've done the research and know who to use. If you insist on the latest model powder skis or high-tech boots then we can sometimes struggle. Don't worry...it’s there, but it may not be available through the our regular supplier (who may simply be the best for regular kit), so we’ll have to hunt it down.

Otherwise, expect perfectly fine – though bog-standard – rental ski and snowboard gear. Decent … but not outstanding. If you are very tall or carry a bit of weight or have particularly large feet, then this can add to your woes outside of Niseko and Hakuba. But ask us, we’ve dealt with all the above successfully before and have suggestions and solid advice ready to dispense. 

For me, it's all about the off-piste / backcountry...

Backcountry in Japan is often described as “like the best heli-skiing in the world … but without the helicopter”. That’s about right. If you are travelling with a clear goal in mind - to find bottomless, untracked powder  - then with surprisingly minimal fuss we’ll find you a white canvas made of the deepest, driest snow on earth. This is what sets Japan apart.

Much of the off-piste terrain is accessed right off the resorts, therefore you simply use the top lift or top gondola and then turn left when everyone else turns right. The inbounds terrain at the most popular ski resorts, whilst enthralling, often gets tracked out reasonably quickly. But you can usually find untouched snow by heading into the slack-country surrounding the resort, which ordinarily involves going through a designated gate (which may close during times of high avalanche danger or bad weather).

Obviously knowing where to head is key and that’s why we work with the best ski and snowboarding guides; locally knowledgeable, fully qualified and super-experienced … with this experience garnered within Japan, most importantly.

Once we’ve secured your guide and settled on an itinerary, you can then make decisions locally to make the best of the prevailing snow conditions. As above, you may end up using the resort lifts to lap the slack-country terrain, which usually involves not much skinning up at all (or none) and then skiing out back to the base of the resort. Indeed, on deep powder days or days with poor visibility, higher winds, or higher avalanche hazard these off-piste days are the best option. Which is no problem, because its great skiing and riding.

On other days we may have based you on a remote mountain (or volcano) with a single ropeway to the top, but then with no groomed runs to speak of other than a few cat tracks - Asahidake, Arai, Hakkoda or Kuradake by way of example. These places have a reputation for perhaps the deepest snow in Japan so go prepared for some serious pow!

There are also a couple of National Parks on both Honshu and Hokkaido which have ample terrain for ski touring and splitboarding. Well away from the hustle of the established resorts, these are the places to head for some peaceful time in some insanely deep snow. They often set up short "yo's yo's", where they set an up-track then ski around the same area using the same up-track each time or you can also do longer skinning where you walk up for 2 ~ 3 hrs, then a get longer descent. 

There are a few cat ski operations, all up on Hokkaido Island. These tend to be on mountains that were once lift-accessed ski resorts during the booming 80's and 90's, but have since been abandoned by the operator (when the domestic bubble burst) and are now left deserted, filling with snow. Some are only so-so and simply not worth the money (short runs / benign terrain), others are so gentle they are best suited to improving-intermediates making their first forays in to the powder and then a few of the best are just dreamy for the average powder-seeking expert. It's Hokkaido, so it won't ever be steep, but it'll be a huge amount of fun with fresh tracks through the trees assured.  

Wherever you go and whichever kind of terrain we take you to, our guests safety is our #1 concern. We avoid areas that have high exposure, or no-fall zones. Our rule is that you only head to places that the group and the guide both feel comfortable on.

*truth be told there is one heli-skiing operation in Japan, up near Niseko. But it’s not really worth the money, because you simply don’t need it in Japan. Save your heli-dollars for Alaska, Canada or elsewhere, where the distances are vast. 

prices - How much will it cost?

The beauty of our tailor-made approach is that we can work to your budget. It is rare we can’t achieve something.

However, we are a luxury tour operator – unashamedly so – and if you are attempting to shoe-horn travel arrangements to Japan in to an unrealistically small budget, then we have no magic wand to wave to make the sums add up. Flights are flights, lift passes are lift passes...etc. Japan is not, and never will be, a cheap ski holiday…though it need not necessarily be expensive.

The following are some real examples of tailor-made holidays we have organised – it is our attempt to provide you with realistic expectations of likely costs. All of the following examples include international flights from the UK (economy class), and also include domestic flights within Japan if required.

£2,000 per person – this is the entry-level experience, perhaps a ten-day holiday, with one week skiing in Hakuba, and then a couple of days’ sightseeing in Tokyo. Decent, though modest, accommodation with lift passes, shared taxi transfers, and bullet train tickets included for travel during early or mid March.

£2,880 per person – a two-week holiday, with time skiing in two resorts (in Hokkaido and Honshu?) interspersed with several days in Tokyo & Kyoto. A good standard accommodation and Japan Rail pass included. Travel in the February ‘powder season’.

£4,250 per person – a two-week holiday over Christmas or Chinese New Year, with five-star luxury slope-side accommodation and opulent hotels in Tokyo, Kyoto and elsewhere in Japan. Premium ski equipment hire and backcountry guides included when in-resort. Private English-speaking guides in the cities and when touring Japan.

Different snow - Why you need us...

Okay. So you may be able to book a ski holiday to Europe, Canada or the USA by yourself – all you need is a flight, a transfer, some accommodation and you can take care of lift passes and ski hire when you get there, or simply book in advance over the internet.

However, good luck with doing that in Japan! You need us.

Every so often we hear from travellers claiming that they can independently organise the same trip for a similar price (though, very rarely lower). However, on investigation we invariably discover that what they are looking at will never be 'like-for-like' and then, in the rare instances they are brave enough to follow-through and book independently, these non-clients will find that they incur much more expense during their travels (government tax + tourist tax + onsen tax + service fees + no cheaper tickets left on the trains + you’ve gone and booked the wrong thing, so need to swap it out…etc). And then you need to factor in the exchange rate with the ¥en, which can swerve around terrifyingly, potentially making everything markedly more expensive when you actually need to pay. We take away all these risks, stresses and hassle.

But price is not the only issue in Japan – it’s the language and cultural barriers that would also be your undoing. You’ll never really know exactly what it is you are actually booking, or indeed if what you think you are booking will even be operating on the dates you want, or how to process the reservation with a deposit payment...etc. Japan is other-worldly, travel arrangements are rarely as straightforward as they seem and our years of relationship-building and operational experience count for much.

And, like anywhere else in the world, there are dependable, reliable and customer-orientated suppliers who excel and … well, cowboy operators and poor hotels (and in Japan, perhaps surprisingly, they can be pretty grotty!) out to make a quick ¥en. Many of the trusted and best Japanese suppliers Different Snow use will not take bookings direct from English-speaking guests – they know to depend on tour operators such as ourselves to bridge the communication and cultural gap.

When things go wrong – as they sometimes do in a country besieged by snow every winter – an independent traveller may find themselves putting in a good deal of time re-organising their plans, when you should really be simply enjoying the holiday. For example, if the flight that we've booked is delayed because of heavy snow storms, it's down to Different Snow to re-arrange your onward arrangements, liaise with the hotels, let guides know and just generally get things back on track with a minimum of fuss and expense. We know what we’re doing and rarely does a mishap phase us – we have a 24/7 emergency phone with us at all times and our local partners are on hand to support you in-country.

In summary, our clients like the independence that tailor-made travel brings, but with the reassurance of our professional planning, operational experience in Japan and back-up / support when travelling.

We are Japan specialists. No-one else in the UK knows Japan and its ski resorts as well as we do. We’ve been organising and selling travel arrangements in Japan for over 20 years. Trust us. Our promise to you is to never sugar-coat any aspect of the trip; instead we’ll provide an educated opinion, borne out of our considerable experience and un-paralleled local knowledge. If we don’t think a resort, on-mountain activity or excursion is right for you, then we’ll tell you so (and why) and suggest better-suited alternatives. We will never let you stay in a rubbish hotel, whatever the budget.

And remember we also provide our 'How To…' guides (right) – an invaluable resource for you when travelling in Japan, offering insider tips, self-guiding notes, pragmatic point-to-point travel instructions, restaurant recommendations and useful, sometimes irreverent, information.

Resorts

Ski Resorts in Japan

We go to the best-of-the-best of Japan's ski resorts; a unrivalled collection. For the best powder snow? We can offer vast quantities of the lightest, fluffiest snow known to humankind. Backcountry and off-piste? With volcanoes and mountains everywhere the options are limitless, with or without a chairlift.

Characterful and authentic ski villages? We know how, where and when to avoid the crowds, to discover an alternative and quirky Japan. On a shoestring or desiring of luxury? All the accommodation we suggest we've seen with our own eyes and know where to find the best value, whatever your budget.

Niseko - Resort
Resort

Niseko

On Hokkaido Island, Japan's most internationally renowned and beloved ski resort.

33
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Nozawa Onsen - Resort
Resort

Nozawa Onsen

Our favourite ski resort in Japan is an authentic hot spring village in the Japanese Alps.

21
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Hakuba Valley - Resort
Resort

Hakuba Valley

Ten stunning ski mountains in one valley, Japan’s most varied and diverse resort.

109
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Myoko Kogen - Resort
Resort

Myoko Kogen

Tons of powder snow, an authentic Japanese ski village & access to several resorts.

40
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Asahikawa - Resort
Resort

Asahikawa

Hokkaido's second city, with Japan's best skiing on its doorstep including the infamous Asahidake r...

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Arai - Resort
Resort

Arai

Japan's newest ski resort. An amazing ungroomed, freeride mountain and wonderful luxe hotel.

5
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Furano - Resort
Resort

Furano

An authentic Japanese ski town in the snowy centre of Hokkaido Island.

14
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Zao Onsen - Resort
Resort

Zao Onsen

For the snow monsters, the hot springs and a thoroughly authentic Japanese experience.

38
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Shiga Kogen - Resort
Resort

Shiga Kogen

Japan's largest and highest ski resort...and it's empty. Endless terrain and fresh tracks galore!

68
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Itinerary

Suggested Itineraries

Your private, tailor-made journey will offer you complete freedom of choice and there are no set departure dates or prices. Each itinerary is unique and you don't need to follow a set template - just allow our years of experience help to plan it with you.

 

Below are three of our most popular itineraries (there are more sample itineraries if you follow the link). They are suggested itineraries only, shown merely to give you a flavour of what is possible and each can be tailored to suit you. 

The Japan Ski Holiday - Itinerary
Itinerary

The Japan Ski Holiday

Powder snow, a bit of culture, snow monkeys, onsens and the capital! We can't improve on this.

two weeks
Niseko - Tokyo - Nozawa Onsen - Kyoto
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Japan Alps Explorer - Itinerary
Itinerary

Japan Alps Explorer

Bullet-trains, snow monkeys, atmospheric villages, shrines, neon cities and...snow.

16 days
Tokyo - Nozawa Onsen - Hakuba Valley - Kyoto
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Hokkaido Powder Unlimited - Itinerary
Itinerary

Hokkaido Powder Unlimited

An itinerary with a singular objective: to ride the finest, deepest powder snow in Hokkaido.

15 days
Niseko - Asahikawa - Furano
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What our customers say

4.5 star rating

Our customers rate us 'Excellent'

Every detail was taken care of

We love to travel and I love planning trips, but Japan was just a little bit out of my comfort zone. I appreciated Nick’s expertise and was willing to pay for it! It was worth every penny in my mind. We appreciated the “guides” and all the suggestions.

Meg  ·  TrustPilot (verified review)

Very happy honeymooners...

Wonderful experience from start to finish. The binder they send you is like your Bible when you are out there. It has everything in you will need, from hotel addresses to train times, to advice about what to do whilst you're there. Trust the binder! Definitely will be using them for my next Japan trip.

Ashleigh  ·  TrustPilot (verified review)

Please visit our TrustPilot page to read the full reviews.

Begin your journey
How to book

It's pretty straight forward. You simply need to take the first step by getting in contact with us...

Contact

Give us a call, or fill in the enquiry form, or send us an email. We’ll listen, give advice and make suggestions.

Itinerary

We create a tailor-made itinerary proposal and email this to you. Together, we then refine it until it is just as you want.

Deposit

A 20% deposit secures the booking. The balance payment is not due until 10 weeks before departure.

Travel Pack

We post out your comprehensive travel pack, which also includes all our local contacts and our invaluable ‘How To…’ guides.