As the summer sun begins to melt the Aussie snow into a sad, watery puddle, the winter freeze begins to drop fresh powder on Japan, transforming it into a winter wonderland.
You may have heard the rumours that the powder there is the softest in the world or that you can ski the slopes for cheaper than you can in Australia.
From someone who’s explored (read, barrelled down) Japan’s mountain ranges several times, I can tell you it’s all true.
I can also tell you a few more things you should know before making the trip. Here’s my list:
The season is long
It starts mid-December and ends late-March, though you can get in a little earlier for the shoulder season and nab some snowfall if you’re lucky.
Even if you arrive in February or March, the snow in Japan still remains heavenly and you’re likely to catch fresh flurries, particularly on the north island of Hokkaido at resorts like Niseko and Furano.
It’s cheaper than you think
No, seriously. A day lift pass at Zao Onsen in Yamagata, for example, costs ¥5,000 for an adult. Converted, that’s around $60 per day.
Compared to even a less popular ski field in Australia like Mount Baw Baw, which sells passes for $35 per day on weekdays and $80 on weekends, that’s heaps cheap. Especially seeing as that one-day pass in Japan can be used on weekends and on all of its 27 runs.
Accommodation throughout the country often features a range of dorm rooms to 5-star hotels, allowing you to keep to your budget. Some of the cheapest stays in Zao Onsen are just $136 per night, based on a twin room during shoulder season.
This makes the real killer the flights.
This doesn’t have to be too much of an out-of-pocket expense with budget airlines like Jetstar and AirAsia flying into Tokyo and Sapporo for under $400 return – and you get an overseas holiday out of that, too.
There are more ski resorts than you can throw a stick at
Let’s face it: Australian snow resorts are few and far between. Japan, on the other hand, is home to over 500.
These are scattered across the country, with many concentrated near enough to each other to hop from one to the other on a longer trip/expedition.
There’s an internal equipment transfer service
The Japanese think of everything and for those considering resort-hopping or mixing sport with sightseeing, you can utilise one of the many ski and snowboard delivery services to carry your equipment between airports and snow resorts for you.
Yamato Transport is one of the most popular and widespread and can deliver gear as early as the next business day.
You can do a one-day ski trip from Tokyo
Short on time? No sweat. While some of the best powder lies in the north, you can still hit decent slopes within two hours from Tokyo via the Shinkansen train.
These include Gala Yuzawa (75 minutes), Karuizawa Prince Hotel (60-09 minutes), Naeba (2-3 hours) and Hakuba (2 hours).
It’s an Aussie favourite
You’re not breaking any new ground by hitting the slopes of Japan, but like Bali, you’re discovering a tried and true Aussie fave.
For anyone who’d prefer to ski or board and not explore the cultural aspects, resorts like Niseko will make you feel at home with its wealth of Aussie tourists as well as expats working the slopes, ski schools and hotels.
- But you can escape if you want to
Local ski resorts like Gala Yuzawa are much less frequented by tourists and offer a more local experience with rooms fitted with traditional tatami mats for beds and slopes that you can hog all to yourself at the best of times. The downside is that few people speak English in areas like these.
- You need to let your travel insurance know you’re partaking in snow sports
Japan is snow heaven. In fact, in 2015, Hakuba welcomed 600 inches of the white stuff within 10 weeks, which is bliss to fall into whether you’re a beginner or seasoned skier.
Despite this powdery safety net, typical travel insurance policies don’t cover you for ski and snowboard activities.
You’ll need to check the “snow sports” box on your policy to cover yourself in case you’re forced to cancel your trip due to extreme weather conditions; your equipment is lost, stolen or damaged; you fall ill or you wind up in an accident on the fields. If in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
This article was written by Stephanie Yip, editor at Finder.com.au.