Japan Skiing Characteristics

Japan Skiing Characteristics

Japan Skiing Characteristics

There are some distinct characteristics about Japan skiing and snowboarding. Of the hundreds of ski resorts in Japan, some of them are unique whilst many of the non-westernised Japanese ski resorts are rather cookie cutter. In addition to the famous Japan snow, here are some of the elements you can expect with Japan skiing at many of the smaller traditional resorts.

The Typical Ski Resort

Japan Skiing Terrain

Excluding the major Japanese ski resorts that have been taken over by westerners or the Chinese, if we were to describe a quintessential Japanese ski resort, this would be it (some gross generalisations have clearly been made!).

The ski resort sits below the treeline on a small volcano where the black runs are near the top and the gradient tapers down to green runs at the base. The ski resort is not very big and it has a similar number of lifts to courses (ie runs) because for some reason they didn’t think to cut 7 runs off the one lift.

The terrain statistics offer an equal spread of trails for the ability levels. Japan skiing can be typically categorised as deep not steep, and the black runs are definitely not very steep even though the trail name includes the word “expert” or “champion”. The black runs are not groomed so the main challenge comes from the size of the moguls that the old school Japanese dudes have carved into the slope. There are no double black diamond runs – that would be too risky!

Any steep lines in-bounds can be found in the trees where they drop into a gully, and the trees are mostly deciduous with the odd smattering of evergreens. Off-piste skiing is officially banned, except maybe for a little area that’s been deemed the “powder zone”, and elsewhere the ski patrollers turn a blind eye to it because they’re so over battling with powder fiends.

If it hasn’t snowed in a while, advanced skiers and riders will find the ski resort rather boring.

If it wasn’t for the school kids swarming around on the beginner runs, the place would feel deserted.


Even though the chair lifts may not have a safety bar on it, don’t be fooled because the resort is actually really anal about safety, which is why they officially don’t want you having fun in the trees.

If a run has one stick poking out of it, the run will be closed because the snow cover isn’t perfect. As the black run has been closed early season due to the one stick and it’s not groomed, a glide crack may develop in the run. Rather than avalanche controlling it with blasting or the like, the run remains closed. (NB only a few resorts use explosives or gasiks).


The resort has been in a bad financial situation since the bubble era burst, and the debts still haven’t been paid off. The old lifts are clunky and need repairs and haven’t had a lick of paint in decades, but there’s no money for it. If it gets really bad, the resort will just cease to run the top lift.

Some ski resorts may have single chair lifts aka “pizza box lift”, where you sit on a wooden square and hang onto the metal pole for dear lift.

Loudspeakers are likely to be hanging off the lift towers, with J-pop music blaring to disturb your peaceful day in the mountains. Chances are the playlist will be very limited, so expect to hear the same songs over and over.

Base Area

Even though the ski area is small, the building at the base is huge and has been painted with grey paint. If you have cash, you can buy the most amazing katsu curry or ramen at the cafeteria, or you can a crepe at the crepe stand (you also need cash for that). If you’re a bit tired, you can have a nap at the table and enjoy the waft of smoking emanating from the smoking room.

The one hotel at the base is also painted grey and looking a bit tired. The guest rooms have 2 single beds and there is a pre-fabricated bathroom that is tiny, but you don’t mind because it has a Toto washlet toilet, and you can bathe in the onsen onsite. After your onsen soak you get a beer from the vending machine, and then head to the restaurant for your buffet dinner. There is no nightlife, so after dinner you retreat to your room to watch game shows on the TV.

Snow in Japan

The snow in Japan is world famous for its quality, with light dry powder that results from cold storms from the northwest. Hokkaido, particularly Central Hokkaido, has some of the best quality powder in the world. The Iwate Prefecture is also renowned for lovely powder, as is the Gunma Prefecture.

A classic Japan skiing characteristic is also the volume of snow that falls. You’ve probably seen photos of the ridiculously high walls of snow in Japan when roads reopen in Golden Week in May. Many of the Japanese ski resorts don’t even measure or cite their average snow accumulations, possibly because unlike North American ski resorts, they don’t feel the need to boast about it. For snow in Japan, deep is normal. There are even a handful of ski resorts that are so snowy that they close in the middle of the season because clearing the road to get there is untenable.

On the Japan snow page, we've outlined more detail about snow quality and quantity, including statistics for volume, elevation, aspect, and latitude.

What Else to Expect from a Japan Trip?

Our Loves

  • The mysterious yet delicious Japanese food
  • 7-Eleven and the snack options on offer, along with Chu-His
  • The rail networks are impressive, as are the roads and the many expressways, tunnels and bridges
  • The onsen – wish we had one at home
  • You don’t have to tip (although some North Americans are trying to spread their culture in the ski industry)
  • The culture and people
  • We absolutely love the snow in Japan – of course!

Things That Make Us Scratch Our Heads

  • A strict following of all rules and a dobber culture are prevalent, but it’s OK to drive your car way over the speed limit
  • There is limited luggage space on trains even though not everyone has a couple of spare days to get their luggage delivered
  • Excessive plastic wrapping of many products is rife and they give out plastic bags willy nilly, but the Japanese are very anal about recycling
  • What’s with the stupid doona covers that only cover half of the top side of the doona, and then by the morning it doesn’t cover the doona at all?