Four Great Ski Resorts of Honshu
Japan has hundreds of resorts scattered throughout the country and most international snow lovers have heard the legends of the powder snow in Hokkaido’s popular resort of Niseko. Yet powder lovers need not travel to the northern island in order to get their dream Japan ski holiday. The following are 4 great ski experiences in Honshu, Japan’s main island.
The Hakuba Valley is Honshu’s largest and most famous ski area. The Valley consists of 10 distinct resorts all accessible with the same Hakuba Valley Lift Pass. Hakuba is the most developed of all the Honshu ski fields and receives tens of thousands of foreign visitors annually. The 200 runs across the Valley offer plenty of terrain for all abilities and those seeking Japanese powder will find it at every resort especially, Cortina.
Hakuba has the most vibrant village life with venues catering both to Japanese and Western travelers and to the budget conscience as well as the luxury seekers.
Special Event: Hakuba is hosting the inaugural Snow Machine Festival featuring the most popular electronic artists from Japan and Australia. The 4 day festival will have performances on the mountains, in the village, and in several of the venues.
Hakuba Accommodation: The Marillen Hotel is one of the few true ski-ski-out hotels in Hakuba and is a great option for your Hakuba Holiday.
Access: Bullet train from Tokyo to Nagano Station followed by a 1 hour bus.
Madarao Kogen is located within Iiyama City in snowy border of Nagano and Niigata. Iiyama was famously designated “Snow Country’s Little Kyoto” by Meiji period author, Toson Shimazaki, who observed a sense of spirituality and reverence for nature that was reminiscent of Kyoto. Couple this atmosphere with copious amounts of powder snow and we’re left with “Snow Country’s Little Kyoto”.
The locals today still promote the region’s nature and spirituality and there a several temples and shrines of great import. It’s a must visit for culture lovers looking to experience traditional Japan.
And the snow is first rate! It’s a medium sized resort by Japanese standards with terrain for the whole family (30% beginner, 40% intermediate, and 30% advanced). The resort has a liberal backcountry policy so those looking to chase powder in the trees are also in luck.
Madarao Accommodation: Madarao Kogen is about 40 minutes from both Nozawa Onsen and Myoko Kogen and can easily be done as a day trip. For those looking to stay in Madarao, however, Madarao Kogen Hotel is the main accommodation. It’s a ski-in ski-out hotel with both Western and Japanese rooms.
Special Event: The annual Iiyama Snow Festival is held on the second weekend of February and features live music, snow games, snow activities, great food, fireworks and more. The locals build a snow hut village illuminated by lanterns creating a stunning winter-wonderland atmosphere. The snow hut village is open from the end of January to the end of February.
Access from Tokyo: 110 minute shinkansen to Iiyama Station followed by a 30 minute bus ride to the resort.
Shiga Kogen is one of Japan’s biggest ski areas comprised of 21 interconnected resorts strung over 600 hectares of terrain. Shiga Kogen is Japan’s second highest resort with the tallest lift sitting 2,307 meters. The area hosted several events during the Nagano Olympics and today the village mainly caters to Japanese visitors. Shiga is only 30 minutes from the world famous Japanese Snow Monkeys, so any Shiga Kogen holiday should also include a visit to see the bathing primates.
Shiga Kogen Accommodation: Accommodation options predominately Japanese run ski-in-ski-out hotels and ryokan. There is a Prince Hotel which offers both western and Japanese style rooms.
Special Event: The Snow Monkey Beer Festival will be held on the weekend of March 15 and will feature the best craft beers from around the country. Guests can enjoy beer tasting, live music, and spring skiing.
Access: Shinkansen to Nagano Station followed by a bus to Shiga Kogen.
Steam rises up from the street while you walk past tiny Japanese shops selling Japanese sweets. This picturesque resort town is the perfect mix of Japanese culture and western convenience. Unlike Shiga Kogen, Nozawa Onsen is one large resort with 21 lifts of 300 hectares of terrain. The resort is great for families as the lower runs are mainly greens and more advanced riders can enjoy the upper resort or backcountry. The village also has fantastic restaurants and a fun nightlife with a mix of western bars, izakayas, and karaoke spots.
Special Event: The Nozawa Fire Festival is an amazing spectacle and sure to be unforgettable experience. The villagers build a 3 story wooden structure and then the 25-year-olds do battle with torch wielding 42-year-olds from the village ultimately culminating in the great fire. Thousands of people come to watch the spectacle annually and are given free sake to enjoy while watching this centuries old festival.
Nozawa Onsen Accommodation: Nozawa features a range of accommodation from ryokan to private chalet. One great option is the Japanese style, Seisenso which offers tatami rooms starting at JPY 5,000 per night.
Access: 110 minute Shinkansen to Iiyama station followed by a 20 minute bus ride.