How to navigate the emerging winter mecca.
For the past decade, Japan has been gaining traction with America’s snow obsessives. No wonder, with the dollar trouncing the yen and a maritime climate that drops insanely good powder for a full five months. The best conditions are on the northernmost island of Hokkaido, which gets 600 inches of snowfall annually, nearly twice that of Vail. Families love Rusutsu, in southern Hokkaido, for its gentle slopes. Niseko is the kingpin of Asian ski mountains thanks to its 30-mile network of trails, while experts swarm Mount Tokachi for its alpine bowls. Plus, there’s steaming ramen for lunch and soothing hot springs once the boots come off. Here’s what to know.
Prepare for a Long Day
With just ten days of vacation a year, the Japanese hit the slopes hard. Ski well after sunset at Niseko’s Grand Hirafu resort, which runs select lifts until 8:30 p.m.
Stock up on yen at the airport. While credit cards might get you a lift ticket, expect lots of cash-only amenities.
Do Better than a Hot Tub
Yes, there are mega-lodges like the Rusutsu Resort, but if you want authentic, opt for an onsen (hot springs) resort. We like Ryounkaku, which has incredible views on the top of Mount Tokachi.
Rent a Car
Mountain shuttles connect many of the resorts, but Hokkaido’s strong northerlies often shut these down. Niseko Auto has a stash of 4WDs and English GPS rental, with cars available at New Chitose Airport.