If you’re after bottomless powder, incredible tree-skiing, food like nowhere else and a unique cultural experience, Japan ticks all the boxes. Whether you’re heading to Hokkaido and its near-constant snowfall, or the stunning (and almost as snowy!) Japanese Alps around Hakuba, you’ll be guaranteed great skiing and an incredible adventure.
For the best powder, the northerly island of Hokkaido and the likes of Niseko and Rusutsu has to be your destination. Between December and March the snow barely stops falling, refreshing your tracks throughout the day, let alone overnight. All of this snow does draw the crowds however and Niseko in particular is busy and westernised, but there are plenty of smaller, local resorts to explore – just be wary that there are strict rules preventing you from leaving the ski area boundaries without a guide.
Further south and only a few hours by train from Toyko lie the Japanese Alps and ski resorts such as Hakuba and Shiga Kogen. These tree-lined resorts offer up slick lift systems, great tree-lined runs and a less-westernised feel, plus a great opportunity to try lots of ski areas within a single trip. Don’t expect as much snowfall, but on their day, conditions are just as good as in Hokkaido.
Food and drink is a huge part of Japanese culture and make sure that you avoid the temptation to revert back to western food! Local izakayas serve fantastic regional specialities and there is nothing better after a long morning skiing deep Japanese powder than tucking in to a steaming hot bowl of ramen. Make sure you try the local sake as well, which is frequently served hot in the depths of winter – the Japanese equivalent of a vin chaud!
An equally important part of Japanese culture are the onsens, thermal baths heated naturally via hot springs and found everywhere across the country. Make sure you follow all the local rules (such as no visible tattoos) and be prepared to rid yourself of your British modesty – most of them operate a strict no bathing suit policy.
Getting to the Japanese Alps is easy, despite the long flight into Tokyo. The bullet train network is not only an incredibly easy way to get to the slopes, it’s also very comfortable and a fantastic way to see the country. Hokkaido is a bit further away however, so if you’re there for a shorter stay, consider catching a short domestic flight.
The language barrier can be a problem and although English is becoming a more widely spoken language (thanks in part to the Rugby World Cup and upcoming Tokyo Olympics), a few key phrases will go a very long way. Do also remember to observe and respect all local customs, as not only will you stay on the good side of the local population, but you’ll also experience the real, authentic side to Japan.