JSnow – The Rise of Japan’s International Resorts
The 1998 Nagano Olympics was the worlds introduction to skiing in Japan, and since then the interest in Japanese snow has grown from a cult following to an international obsession. These days, some of the most well known ski areas are Hakuba valley in Nagano, and Niseko in Hokkaido.
Hakuba, of course, become widely known because of the Olympics, but the Niseko area unexpectedly became one of the most popular ski destinations for international skiers. 20+ years ago Niseko was hardly known to anyone except for locals and skiers from the city of Sapporo. After the success of the 1998 Winter Olympics, skiing in Japan was finally on the map and travel pioneers looked to share Japanese resorts with the world.
Just over 20 years ago, powder-hound Peter Murphy visited Niseko and realised he’d discovered a powder paradise, he founded SkiJapan.com and started bringing skiers and snowboarders over to Japan. At that time just about everything at ski resorts was in Japanese only, and it was almost a necessity to have a guide or Japanese speaker with you. Since then most resorts have greatly improved the facilities and services due to the rising number of riders from around the world, and travel companies like SkiJapan.com are sharing the powder with everyone, not just in Niseko, but all across Japan.
Niseko rose to popularity for a few main reasons. It gets some of the most consistent snowfall in all of Japan, and the quality of that snow is said to be the best in the world. On average the resort receives about 14 to 15 meters of light, dry snow, and for the 2017/18 it received over 17 meters. Secondly, the resort has long allowed riders to access off piste areas and backcountry, where the best and deepest snow can be found. The Niseko rules were very innovative when they were introduced, and other resorts around Japan have looked to Niseko for guidance for their own rules and access. The area is now known as the powder capital of the world, and for good reason, and now has the facilities to match.
The Nagano area still has all the facilities that it did back in 1998 and has enjoyed steady success as an international resort since then. The main resorts, mostly located in the Hakuba Valley, host to some of the best terrain in Japan with great lift access to on and off piste areas. While Hakuba doesn’t get the same quantity of snow as Niseko, it does make up for it with steep runs and a huge selection of resorts. Because the resorts are spread throughout the Hakuba Valley, there are a few village areas, rather than one main area. The largest of these areas is at the base of the Happo-One ski resort, and hosts a number of hotels, restaurants and shops. The popular Square Hotel is located here, and will be refurbished and reopen for next season under the new name of “Hakuba Gateway Hotel”. It will be refurbished and managed by the experienced SkiJapan.com who seek to improve hotel and transport services in the area, and enhance the experience of skiing in Japan.
While Niseko continues to pump out the best snow in the world, the Hakuba area never disappoints with its higher elevations and steep runs as well as deep powder snow. The two areas will continue to lead the way for other resorts in Japan for facilities and services over the coming years and show no signs of slowing down.
See what it’s like to ride the best snow in the world through ski photography.