Best skiing and snowboarding resorts in Japan by rail

Estación de esquí en Japón
Posted on Categories Destinations

Japan’s mountain scenery and excellent powder make for a once in a lifetime ski trip. The Japanese Alps have some of the top ski resorts in the world. Want to know the secret of how to see them all during your journey? One of the quickest and most comfortable ways to visit and get around Japan is by riding the bullet train. This guide will show you how the Japan Rail Pass will help get you to all of the top resorts for the snow season.

Where to ski in Japan

Japan’s hidden treasure is its snow-packed mountains. The Japan Rail Pass and travel packages that include lift tickets make planning your next ski adventure a breeze.

Japan’s mountains quaint towns range from accommodating families with little ones learning to ski for the first time, to the extreme board riders looking to fly down expert trails. These resorts are just something you have to see for yourself.

The snow season in Japan

Most ski resorts in Japan open around mid-December, and the season goes through until late March. Please make sure to check the snow reports before traveling at the beginning or the end of the season. However, being in the north, Niseko resorts in Hokkaido are the safest bet for December.

After the end of March, resorts often offer ‘spring skiing’ packages, with lower lift prices. Some higher resorts are open even until late May.

Hakuba ski resorts

Hakuba is in Japan’s Northern Alps and is home to 11 resorts. It also offers more than 200 courses. The variety of Hakuba’s resorts gained international attention when it hosted several competitions in the 1998 Winter Olympics. Getting here by train makes it even easier to visit all the awesome ski spots and resorts.

The Hokkaido shinkansen accommodates first-time tourists to Japan, who go there to ski or snowboard. Departing from Tokyo Station, you can ride all the way to Nagano Station, then take a local bus., and you can start you off on your journey up the mountains. The towering peaks are over 3,000 meters high (over 9,842 feet!) Resorts are family friendly, and first-time skiers and snowboarders can learn from instructors who speak fluent English.

Nozowa Onsen 

Pick up any Japan guide, and you will see advertisements for Nozawa. It is the oldest and largest resort in all of Japan. For the skiers and snowboarders who love showing off their skills on the half-pipe, this is the place to be. Not only is this charming town tailor-made for the experts, but the resort also offers gentle slopes for the little ones who are eager to race down the slopes.

To get there with the JR Pass, you can also pick up get on the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Ilyama Station, or a private bus shuttle form Narita Airport.

Slopes in Nozowa Onsen
Slopes in Nozowa Onsen

Hokkaido ski resorts

If you are a skier or snowboarder who prefers back-country trails, then you’ll want to go to Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island. It is the second largest island in Japan and gets a ton of snow each year. Tourists rant and rave about the mountain because of the 5 different resorts to choose from, including the famous Niseko ski resort.

The JR Hakodate line can get you from Sapporo to Niseko in roughly an hour, or if you come from Tokyo, you can take the Tohoku Shinkansen, then the JR Hokuto line, and then connect with the Hakodate line. Quick enough to get you on the slopes and start shredding on a snow packed mountain.

Mount Yotei, Niseko
The Mount Yotei overlooking Niseko

Another resort on the mountain is Kiroro, a medium sized resort spread over two mountain peaks which is closer to Sapporo. It has 21 courses, a couple of mogul courses, and a basic terrain park. Kiroro’s slopes offer an equal spread of green, blue and black rated trails. The terrain is mostly suited for beginners, but that isn’t to say that expert skiers and snowboarders won’t enjoy the resort. If you are up to it, the backcountry has the best powder around.

Gala Yuzawa ski resort

Japan’s most unique resort has its own bullet train station. The Joetsu shinkansen, included in the JR Pass, takes you directly from Tokyo to this location on the Niigata prefecture, in just two hours. Perfect for a day trip and for avid skiers who can’t wait to get their lift ticket right away!

The mountain has 17 courses and 11 lifts. Its gentle trails are more appealing to beginners, as the trail stats are 38% beginners and 45% intermediate.

Gala Yuzawa ski resort
GALA Yuzawa is the only ski and snowboard resort with its own Shinkansen bullet train station

The bullet train runs along the Japanese countryside and gives you a glimpse into areas of Japan that you may not get to see should you decide on another mode of transportation. Besides, Japan Rail Pass offers inexpensive package deals for both a train ticket and a lift pass to Gala Yuzawa. It is a modern resort where you can find many people who speak English.


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4 thoughts on “Best skiing and snowboarding resorts in Japan by rail”
  1. Hello, I am planning our trip to Japan. We are traveling from mid-January to the first week in February.
    I plan on four nights in Tokyo then three nights in the Shiga-Kogen area to do some skiing, onsen stay, and
    of cours-visit the snow monkeys. We plan on taking the shinkansen to Nagano then a bus shuttle to Shiga-Kogen.
    Does our JR pass give us a discount on the bus shuttle to and from Nagano? Or is there another train we can
    take instead of a bus?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Phyllis!

      To get to Nagano, take the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station or Ueno Station. The fastest train is called Kagayaki and operates at 260 km/h and the trip lasts approximately one and half hours. This train is included in the Japan Rail Pass.

      We hope you have an awesome trip!

  2. Hello, we are a family of 4 going to Sapporo for 3 days in January. We would like to make a day trip to go and ski in Niseko, what would be the easiest and quickest way to get there using the JR Pass from Sapporo Station? Or do you a recommend a closer ski resort from there? Thank you so much

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