While the ski resorts of Hokkaido are currently the hot ticket with international visitors, and Niigata Prefecture is where skiing started in Japan in the early 20th century, Nagano Prefecture retains the title as Japan’s home for winter sports. That’s what happens when you host the Winter Olympics.
The mountainous prefecture of Nagano has 15 of Japan’s 21 major peaks that peek above 3,000 meters in height. Because of the prefecture’s proximity to the Sea of Japan, the average seasonal snowfall is 10 meters. Furthermore, the average winter temperature is just below -3 degrees Celsius.
The snow is often abundant and dry, making for great ski conditions. Add in the long winters that can go from late November to early May, depending on the resort, one can ski longer here than other parts of Japan.
Many of Nagano’s resorts also provide snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails, as well as snowmobiling, snow rafting and heli-skiing for the more adventurous. For children there are opportunities for sledding, English-language ski lessons and other fun activities. Don’t forget the hot springs and breathtaking mountain views.
It is no surprise then that the prefecture has 85 ski resorts. For those planning a ski trip to Nagano, these four resorts offer the best of all worlds.
Hakuba Valley Ski Resort
Only 2.5 hours from central Tokyo, Hakuba Valley ski area is known for big-scale slopes worthy of hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics and for its pristine family-friendly runs and accommodations. One can access the resort from Nagano city and the popular tourist city of Matsumoto. Hakuba Valley has 10 resorts combined and more than 200 runs for every level of skier from beginner to advance. Because of the Olympics, the venues are quite international and foreign-friendly, offering rental service and lessons in English.
Shiga Kogen Ski Resort
Japan’s largest ski resort, which also hosted several events of the 1998 Nagano Olympics, has 18 interlinked ski resorts and nearly 50 lifts and gondolas. The resorts range between 1,300 to 2,300 meters creating conditions for high-quality skiing. This is also one of the handful of ski resorts in Japan that has a ski and snowboard school offering group lessons in English. The panoramic views of the surrounding Joshin’etsu-kogen National Park are some of the best in Japan, and Shiga Kogen is the closest ski resort to Japan’s famous snow monkeys. Plus, before it was a ski destination, Shiga Kogen was best known for its rejuvenating hot springs.
Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort
This resort is famous throughout Japan for the quaint traditional village and renowned hot spring spas located at the best of Mount Kenashi (1,650m). As early as the 8th century visitors were seeking out the healing waters of the “hot spring mountain village.” Today several public baths maintained by the local community are free and open to the public. Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort boasts some of the largest amounts of snowfall in the country. It has 21 lifts and two gondolas and 50 kilometers of courses that will please any level of skier. There is also a school that offers ski and snowboarding instruction in foreign languages.
Myoko Kogen Ski Resort
Founded in the 1930s, Myoko Kogen is one of the oldest established ski areas in the world, and is Japan’s first international winter resort. This resort receives more than 14 meters of annual snowfall and has gentle to steep slopes – including Japan’s longest run as well as the steepest slope in central Japan. The resort is located at the base of Mount Myoko near Myoko-Togakushi Renzan National Park, and the picturesque environs make this one of the most beautiful ski resorts in Japan.
Access: From Tokyo Station take the Hokuriku shinkansen to Nagano Station, or from Shinjuku Bus Terminal take a bus to Nagano City. The shinkansen also stops at Iiyama Station where a bus goes to Nozawa Onsen. For the others, it is best to go from Nagano City. For Myoko from Nagano Station, take the local Shinano Train to Myoko-kogen Station. For Hakuba and Shiga Kogen, take buses from Nagano Station.