The Japan ski and snowboard season
A quick note before the general introduction... to get an idea of how things have happened in recent seasons in some of the most popular ski and snowboard regions of Japan, be sure to check out our detailed SnowJapan daily snow and weather reports here. Our exclusive reports are independent, unbiased and honest. We hope you like them!
For the majority of ski resorts in Japan, the season generally starts around mid-to-late December and goes through until late March or early April.
Opening of course depends on the level of snow that accumulates at a particular resort, and some resorts do actually open as early as late October, often helped along by snow-making machines. It’s always a race to make the national news as the first to open for the season - and often (always?) won by Snow Town Yeti in Shizuoka.
December is often an anxious wait for the snow, and a risk if you are visiting. But the risk can pay off because it can be excellent as well. The Niseko resorts in Hokkaido have enjoyed a few particularly great December’s, for example.
Resorts that open after the end of March usually go into a ‘spring skiing’ mode, and many offer slightly lower lift ticket prices. Some higher resorts open until mid to late May.
The strangest season undoubtedly goes to Gassan in Yamagata Prefecture. Due to inaccessibility because of heavy snowfall, the season doesn’t usually start until April and continues until late July. Another interesting season is at a resort in Niigata called Okutadami Maruyama. The ‘Silver Line’ road that approaches the resort gets blocked with snow in the peak season meaning that the resort opens for a month or two in December and January and then closes for a few months before re-opening in mid-March.
Excellent conditions have been known as early as December and as late as March, but most people would probably agree that the peak of the Japan season in terms of snow quality is from mid-January until late-February. If you don’t want to take a risk, this is the period to go for. It’s also the peak in terms of popularity and so busier slopes are to be expected.
Having said that, the image of Japanese slopes packed full of people with almost nowhere to ski without bumping into other people is somewhat outdated.
While the weekends and national holidays at popular resorts can get extremely busy, and probably best avoided if possible, on weekdays you will often find slopes very un-crowded - even at popular resorts. At less well-known resorts, you might find yourself one only a handful of people riding the lifts. You might even wish there were more people there!
A few periods that are particular busy - the New Year holiday; the 3 day weekend in mid-January; the 3 day weekend in mod February and Chinese New Year.
Weekdays - even in the middle of the season - do not get too busy, even at the most popular resorts, where you can sometimes find yourself nearly alone on the slopes. If it’s possible to get a Friday or Monday off to avoid leaving, or more importantly returning during rush hour traffic, that would also be advised.
On Sunday evenings after a good snow weekend, only the dedicated should brave some of the busier expressways at peak times!
Accommodation options and availability vary hugely depending on the location, but there is often a lot of choice. In recent years however, accommodation in some of the most popular regions has been filling up earlier each season and so it is a good idea to try and get that sorted, or at least checked-out. For help on that issue do check our Accommodation Spotlights, and also more 'all-Japan' booking options here.
Good luck with the planning!!