Japan is well known for its distinctive seasons, and when winter rolls along, many parts of the country turn into white wonderlands, buried under meters of snow. This has resulted in some of the best ski resorts in Asia, with people travelling from all over the world to sample Japan’s famous powder. While the frigid temperatures and Siberian winds might make for great skiing conditions, it can be bitterly cold during the depths of winter, but Japan’s geothermal nature means that many ski resorts are home to onsen (or hot springs), which are the perfect place to soak weary limbs after a long day on the slopes.
What follows are some of the best places to enjoy great skiing and soothing hot springs all in the same trip!
1. Niseko, Hokkaido – Japan’s most famous and one of the most popular ski resorts, Niseko comprises of four linked villages which offer some of the finest powder snow in the country. With over 15m of snow per season, noted for its high quality and consistency, the extensive runs, plentiful English, and abundant accommodation options make Niseko a great choice for everyone, from inexperienced beginners to seasoned pros. Many of the best onsen are to be found in the Hirafu area.
2. Zao Onsen, Yamagata – Sitting on the lower slopes of Mt. Zao in the middle of Tohoku, Zao Onsen is a charming hot spring town with an abundance of ski slopes right on its doorstep. If skiing is not your thing then it is possible to ride a cablecar up the mountain to see the famous ‘snow monsters’ (trees caked in snow creating monster-like forms) before enjoying an outdoor hotbath in the evening.
3. Nozawa Onsen, Nagano – A traditional onsen town in northern Nagano Prefecture, it offers incredible and extensive skiing alongside its many enticing and steamy hot springs. There are a number of hot spring baths dotted around the resort which can be used for free, and the whole place has a sense of history and charm which makes for a totally unique stay. One of the most popular resorts in Japan.
4. Myoko Kogen, Niigata – Another traditional hot spring town, Myoko Kogen is slightly less well-known to foreigners, but it has some fantastic onsen, world-class powder (with some of Japan’s best vertical and long runs) and is great for off-piste skiing. The winters here are long and cold, with bucketloads of snow, making for very reliable conditions.
5. Togari Onsen, Nagano – Located near the ever-popular Nozawa Onsen, Tongari is a much smaller and quieter resort, and as yet, remains relatively undiscovered by westerners. Due to its slightly lower elevation and south-facing aspect, the season runs a little shorter than other resorts (usually until the end of March), but when conditions are good it makes for a great getaway.
6. Kinosaki Onsen, Hyogo – This small, pretty and traditional onsen town in northern Kansai has been attracting visitors for centuries, but there is also good skiing to be had in the nearby Kannabe Highlands between New Year and mid-March. A direct shuttle bus runs between the town and the ski resorts during the winter season; ask at the Kinosaki tourist office for more details.