Best Ski Resorts in Japan

The Winter Olympics have been held in two different regions of Japan, Hokkaido/Sapporo and Nagano, yet for decades the island nation has remained off the radar of most Americans as a ski destination. There’s no good reason it’s been overlooked, given the amazing snow quality, singular culture, unbeatable cuisine, impeccable service, and unique lodging options for every taste.

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Trent Bona Photography

The biggest appeal is the prodigious powder, the Holy Grail of skiers. Japan routinely gets two to four times the annual totals for a very good season in Utah or Colorado, and even Alaska’s best winters wouldn’t raise an eyebrow here, where measurements far in excess of a thousand inches are possible. Japan holds the planetary record for the deepest snow cover ever recorded, and on Hokkaido, the northernmost island, locals expect full-blown powder days—the kind that shutter stores with “Gone Skiing” signs in the American West—four or five days a week. And that’s all season long.

The powder really is unbelievable, but so is range of terrain—Japan has hundreds of ski resorts, from mom and pop local areas to party villages that look like Whistler to side-country meccas like Silverton. On top of that, most Japanese skiers greatly prefer groomers, so the deep powder is often left—in vast quantities—for foreign visitors. Thigh-deep unbroken lines linger in full view of busy chairlifts into mid-afternoon, something that simply never happens at home.

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In addition to bottomless fresh tracks, Japanese ski towns and resorts serve up ultra-fresh sushi, tempura, tonkatsu, ramen, sake, beer, and some of the world’s best whiskies, along with a never-ending dose of mind-boggling hospitality, in lodgings from traditional ryokans to modern full-service luxury hotels, with muscle-soothing onsens (natural hot springs baths) at every turn. And it’s cheap: lift tickets and lodging run 40 to 60 percent less than equivalent spots in the U.S.

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Enthusiasm for Japan’s mountains among adventurous skiers and professional athletes is sure to bring the next wave of enthusiastic amateurs. “There’s a predictable cycle for ski destinations getting hot,” explained Dan Sherman, vice president of Ski.com, the nation’s largest specialty ski travel agency. “Ski…

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