Embracing Japan’s emerging powder snowboarding scene
Embracing Japan’s emerging powder snowboarding scene
With Japan attracting a record high of about 2.5 million overseas tourists per month in the winter season in 2019 right before the pandemic, it’s no longer a secret that the country has established some of the best snow resorts in the world. Seasoned snowboarders know that Japan’s powder is unique and makes for an unforgettable ride. With around 500 snow resorts scattered across Hokkaido and northern Honshu, there’s a great variety to choose from, with some just two hours away from Tokyo—ideal for a weekend trip.
Best snow resorts near Tokyo
Catering to groups of friends, families and snowboarders of all levels, Hakuba Valley is one of the most popular snow areas near Tokyo. With plenty of accommodation and dining out options, as well as 10 snow resorts, Hakuba is suitable for both short and long trips. From Tokyo, the quickest way is by Shinkansen to Nagano (1 hour 40 minutes) and from there a limited express bus (1 hour) for a total of ¥10,000. A cheaper way is taking the direct five-hour express bus which runs four times a day from Shinjuku Station for about ¥6,000. These are two of the best resorts in Hakuba:
- Ideal for intermediates and families
- 1 gondola, 21 chair lifts & 13 courses
- Up to 1,831m elevation
- 1 day pass for adults is ¥6,500
- Ideal for beginners & intermediates
- 1 gondola, 11 chair lifts & 17 courses to choose from
- Up to 1,676m elevation
- One-day pass for adults is ¥6,000
- Recommended snow school: Hakuba Snow Sports
Recommended rental shop (for Hakuba in general): Rhythm
Good to know: As accommodation, snow schools and resorts can be quite a distance from each other, most hotels and schools offer a free shuttle bus.
This quaint, historic onsen town in Nagano attracts snowboarders who want to have everything on their doorstep. It can easily be reached from Tokyo within 2.5 hours by shinkansen to Iiyama and a short local bus for ¥10,000 total. Being a small town with breathtaking slopes—albeit only a few—Nozawa Onsen is ideal for a day or weekend trip. The public onsen is free of charge, but be careful, they are extremely hot!
- Ideal for all levels
- Beginners can take the gondola up 2,000m for the Uenotaira course
- 2 gondolas, 15 lifts & 20 slopes
- One-day pass for adults is ¥5,200
- Recommended snow school with rental: Nozawa Holidays
Located in Niigata on the border to Nagano, this snow sports area is one of the biggest in Japan, with the most notable snow resorts being Akakura Onsen, Akakura Kanko, Ikenotaira Onsen and Myoko Suginohara. All of these are great for snowboarding, with Ikenotaira being the smallest yet most popular with its wide slopes and ungroomed areas. From Tokyo, you can reach Myoko by shinkansen to Nagano and local train to Myokokogen, which takes about 3 hours and costs around ¥10,000.
- Akakura Onsen & Kanko can be combined or explored individually (with Onsen being more suitable for beginners) and a combined day pass is ¥6,000
- Myoko Suginohara is ideal for intermediate snowboarders, rated highly for its views from the top and day passes are ¥4,500 for adults
- Ikenotaira is ideal for beginners & intermediates with day passes for adults for only ¥4,000
- Recommended snow school with rental: Myoko Snowsports
Comparing the three recommended areas, Hakuba and Myoko have more snow resorts and slopes on offer and Hakuba is especially great for large groups and a longer trip. Nozawa Onsen is the easiest and quickest to reach from Tokyo and is ideal for solo trips and couples without a car as you can reach everything on foot. Myoko’s snow resorts offer the cheapest day passes.
Choosing the right slopes for snowboarding in Japan
For snowboarding, when looking at slope maps and choosing where to go, make sure that you select slopes that are not too flat (or you’ll get stuck!), look for wide slopes and try out courses closest to the top for great views. While it’s about ¥10,000 to reach all nearby snow resorts by public transport, it’s a more convenient way of getting there as driving requires snow tires and can be dangerous during snowfall.
The best snow resorts in Hokkaido
If you’re lucky enough to spend a longer winter holiday in Japan, Hokkaido is the best place to go. In addition to the world-famous snow areas Niseko and Furano, you will find many small resorts, especially near Sapporo. Due to its unique weather conditions—warm currents off Hokkaido’s coast form steam which gets blown inland by cold winds from Siberia and forms clouds with heavy snowfall—Hokkaido is guaranteed deep powder snow. Snowfall can continue until early May, and January is known to have the best powder snow—a reason for many overseas tourists to come to Japan.
Renting vs buying snowboard gear
Two of the biggest advantages of going snowboarding in Japan are that most resorts have rental shops available where you can rent everything you need; and if you have your own gear, you can easily send it all off in advance by a Japanese delivery company called Kuroneko Yamato from most convenience stores directly to the resort or hotel. Prices start from about ¥1,500.
If you decide to buy your own gear, head over to Tokyo’s Kanda Ogawamachi for a huge variety of snow sports shops that sell new and secondhand gear. The most valuable items to have for snowboarders are wrist guards and helmets for safety, and goggles and mittens—all of which usually cannot be rented from the resorts. It’s also worth checking out the resorts’ rental shops as these can have good deals on gear. Local snowboarders in Hokkaido recommend going to secondhand shops like 2nd Street, as these have the best discounts, selling boots from ¥500 and boards from ¥1,000.
How to save money on your next snowboarding trip
Here are five money-saving tips for you:
- Book early bird tickets (e.g. available for Hakuba Happo One until November 10th) or season passes for the best value
- Buy rental gear and slope passes in advance online and get a multiple-day pass if you’re planning on going several days
- As skiing is still more popular than snowboarding in Japan, you can risk booking a snowboarding group class rather than paying for private classes because, if you’re lucky, you’ll be the only one on the course
- Check out tje website for the best package deals for snowboarding, especially for one or two-day trips
- Book your train tickets in advance online on ekinet for reduced prices
All ready for your next snowboarding trip? Don’t forget to check out the snow forecast here with detailed snow predictions on all snow resort slopes in Japan. See you there!
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