I’m a Ski Expert… Here Are the Lesser-Known Powder-Snow Spots You Need to Visit in Japan

Japan is quickly becoming one of the most popular locations for skiers to experience. From unique powder snow to onsen relaxation, there’s plenty on offer away from the traditional European and North American slopes.

With Aomori, Japan receiving 314 centimetres of snowfall alone as of January 2024, it does not disappoint. If you’re looking for somewhere with high records of snowfall, fresh powder, and something a bit different, the variety that Japan can offer is a must.

But where in Japan should you visit?

Gary Clark, Academy Director at global ski instructor course provider: SIA Austria says: “Whether you’re looking for a ski retreat or even ski courses in Japan, there’s plenty on offer for those adventurous enough to look for it. Fancy something off the beaten track? There are plenty of more remote slopes that can give you a thrill this ski season.”

Nozawa Onsen

Wanting something close enough to Tokyo so that you can enjoy the city life while away, but also want that quieter ski experience? Nozawa Onsen might be the one. This is the perfect starter location for those looking for something away from the traditional and well-known slopes, but without missing out on the all-important aprés-ski experience.

This resort has the little-known feel you’re looking for while still having the same great infrastructure to support all levels of skier – so you don’t have to worry about your friends or family feeling lost on the slopes. Add in the 13 natural hot springs at the end, and this is a recipe for a good time.

There are plenty of options when it comes to skiing here. Not only do you have the traditional slopes that you can explore, but there is also the option to go more off-piste by taking the back-mountain routes – however, a guide is recommended. There’s an elevation of 1,650km.

Looking to improve your ski skills? There are jumps, an eight-metre pipe, and rails around the park for you to explore and experience – so, you’ll never be bored.

About the area

Nozawa Onsen has 45km worth of slopes for you to explore. Considered the birthplace of skiing in Japan, this location is rich in history, and it is no wonder considering its snowfall. The snowiest week for this area is usually the second week of January, but that doesn’t mean you can’t expect snow whenever you travel there.

On average, during this week, they receive 5.9 snow days, with 71cm of snowfall. These days often range between bluebird powder days and powder days, which include fresh snow, and a range between sunny and windy conditions – depending on the day.

Outside of the slopes, this location is only 2.5 hours from Tokyo, depending on your transport. This offers great access for those flying into Tokyo or looking to spend some time in the city. Not only does it offer the onsens to relax in, but nearby is the Jigokudani Monkey Park baths which is a must-try for anyone wanting to experience a bit of the culture while they unwind.

Norn Minakami

Norn Minakami offers a chance to ski wide, tree-lined trails, as well as summer camping in the later months. But the big draw of Norn Minakami has to be the night skiing. If you’ve not tried night skiing yet, it is definitely an opportunity any night owl won’t want to pass up. Their long opening hours, which last until 10pm on a weekday and up to midnight on a weekend, make this the perfect ski location if you’re wanting a day trip, but not staying at the resort.

It is also a great destination for families looking for a ski trip, with “snow land” available to kids. This offers a space for some fun in the snow away from the slopes – with snowball fights a common occurrence.

About the area

Norn Minakami’s peak season for snow is between the final week of December and the final week of February. As with most locations, the second week of January is a snowy week, with an average of 5.3 snow days and 33cm of snowfall.

Norn Minakami might be a lesser-known slope location, but that doesn’t mean it is entirely remote. It only takes around 100 minutes to travel from here to Tokyo in a car or bus, with regular transport being available. This makes it a great choice for first-time visitors looking for a lesser-known ski resort with an easy journey.

Slope-side cuisine is no worry at this resort either, with five restaurants and cafes to choose from.

Tanigawadake Tenjindaira

Mount Tanigawa is highly regarded as one of the most hidden gems of the Japanese skiing locations, making Tanigawadake Tenjindaira a must-ski location. This high-altitude ski location is perfect for the experts looking for the next push and the powder snow makes this experience truly unique to Japan.

The beech forest adds another level of excitement for your ski trip, with dry and deep snow collected here so you can get all the powder you need during your time out on the slopes. However, if you’re not a fan of deep snow, this resort might not be the one for you.

For those who want to go during the off-season too, it offers exceptional hiking opportunities or stunning views across Mt Tanigawa from the Tanigawadake ropeway.

About the area

Snow is often best in the third week of December, with an average of 4.4 snow days and 46cm of snowfall. So, while it might snow for a lesser time, you definitely get your fill. Situated at the foothills of Mount Tanigawa, this location is perfect for the ultimate powder skiers among us.

This is another easily accessible resort from Tokyo; you’ll only have to head north-west for around 2 hours by car to reach it. There are also frequent buses to and from the resort for visitors who don’t want to commit to the drive.

Looking for something a bit different with your ski trip? Ditch the dry snow of your local slopes and try the deep, powder-fresh snow available in Japan. There are plenty of remote and rural locations which offer a quick getaway from Tokyo and have activities and trails on offer for every level of skier.