If you’re an adrenaline junkie looking for some high-octane action on the slopes, look no further than Japan. Here, there are plenty of world-class skiing options for thrill seekers, even in the spring. With long ski seasons and powder-fine snow, here are five ski resorts in Japan where you can get your ski fix in April and May, and take in some breathtaking scenery while you’re at it.
1.Geto Kogen Snow Resort (Iwate)
Known for its abundant snowfall, Geto Kogen is a favourite among ski enthusiasts I know. It is located in the southwestern region of Iwate prefecture, which often registers Japan’s highest snow depth numbers and offers one of the country’s longest ski seasons. Open from early December to early May, Geto Kogen has 14 slopes, seven of which are groomed, while the others are off-piste. This means it is great for both beginners and more advanced skiers – beginners can improve on their ski techniques on the groomed courses (here, the snow has been packed either with a snowmobile or large groomer); while more advanced skiers can challenge themselves on the off-piste courses, where they ski over untouched snow in a more natural setting. The resort regularly adds new tree runs, which are a highlight for skiers looking for some challenging trail action beyond the tried-and-tested.
Getting there: Take the free shuttle bus from the East exit of Kitakami Station at 7:40am, 9:10am, 10:40am or 3:40pm. The shuttle only runs on Saturdays and Sundays.
2. Charmant Hiuchi (Niigata)
If you’re an advanced skier and want to try something new, here’s a suggestion: check out Charmant Hiuchi, a relatively small, compact resort with just three ski lifts. Designed by renowned snow park producer and professional snowboarder Nobuo Otake, Charmant Hiuchi enjoys abundant snowfall and a relatively long ski season. Though small, it is popular among intermediate-to-advanced skiers and snowboarders for its high vertical descent (510m) and challenging trails, with over half of its courses ungroomed. This is wonderful for more advanced skiers, who might be looking for a ski experience in the wild, and are hoping to avoid the crowds. It is open from mid-December to early May, which means you can plan a ski trip coinciding with the cherry blossom viewing season in Niigata prefecture. Among the best-loved viewing spots here are Takada Castle Park in Joetsu City, which is home to some 4,000 sakura trees and large lawns, where you can enjoy a picnic while admiring the cherry blossoms in full bloom.
Getting there: The area is relatively remote and is best accessed by car, and is a half-hour drive from the Nou IC exit of the Hokuriku expressway. Alternatively, you can take the free shuttle bus from the South exit of Itoigawa station at 9am on Saturdays and Sundays.
3. Hakuba Goryu (Nagano)
Better known as Goryu, this resort in Hakuba village has a variety of terrain for skiers of all levels to enjoy. Among the facilities is a ski school which conducts lessons in English, as well as one of the longest and steepest mogul runs in Japan – a must for advanced skiers who want to check off a bucket-list entry. You’ll be glad to find that a visit here offers great value for skiers! Goryu is connected to another resort, Hakuba 47 Winter Sports Park, with both resorts accessible with the same lift ticket. One of the resort’s ski areas, Alps-daira, enjoys a long ski season – it usually remains open till the end of Golden Week in early May. If you love nature walks like I do, a visit to Hakuba Goryu in the Spring offers some great options. You may take a hike to the picturesque Happo Pond, which sits atop Mount Happo. The hiking trail is accessible by gondola and provides a great workout with some truly stunning views as a reward.
Getting there: Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line and express bus from Tokyo, or the Tokai Shinkansen, limited express Shinano and limited express Azusa from Osaka.
4. Asahidake Ski Resort (Hokkaido)
In Japan, skiers often consider Asahidake Ski resort as one of the best. It has an abundance of high-quality powder snow, with an average of approximately 14m of snow each season. Located further inland and at a higher elevation than most other ski resorts, Asahidake is known for its top-notch powder snow (such snow is considered ideal for skiing, which give riders the sensation of gliding across a flawless surface), making it one of Hokkaido’s most popular ski destinations. This resort is also famous for its gondola which gives guests access to pristine powder bowls – with terrain varying from steep to gentle. The official ski season here runs from mid-December to early May, and even as the weather grows a little warmer in Spring, make it a point to go for a soak in the nearby Asahidake Onsen. It is such a treat after a long day on the slopes! If you are arriving by car, Asahikawa city is just an hour’s drive away – here, you’ll be able to get some shopping done, and visit the popular Asahiyama Zoo if you need somewhere to take your little ones to.
Getting here: Asahidake is a 60-minute drive from Asahikawa.
5. Marunuma Kogen Resort (Gunma)
If you are visiting Tokyo and hope to get away for just a day to ski, look no further than Marunuma Kogen. Located near the Gunma-Tochigi prefecture border, this resort is especially popular early and late into the ski season, due to early snowfall and a longer-than-average ski season. Though this is quite a small resort, the region enjoys long and abundant snowfall. Most skiers say the highlight of this resort is its gondola-accessible four-kilometre course which is good enough to keep them occupied for most of the day. If you enjoy the great outdoors, you can also look forward to some great scenic hikes in the region – a favourite destination is Oze, Japan’s largest highland marsh, which is known for its rare and prized plants and wildlife. The marshlands here are said to have been formed during the Ice Age, and due to favourable conditions here, some prehistoric vegetation has continued to flourish even today. If you visit in spring, be sure to look out for the marsh’s skunk cabbage in full bloom – it is a sight that will thrill all photography enthusiasts and nature lovers.
Getting here: Take the shuttle bus from Jomo Kogen Station.
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