It is not common knowledge that the shadow of Mount Fuji harbours some of the world’s most perfect snow conditions in terms of consistency and stability, caused by a clash between cloud systems arriving from Siberia and the humid currents of the Pacific. Just one click on www.snowjapan.com will show you how skiing in Japan is on the up and up. The country has twice hosted the Winter Olympics, the first time in 1972 at Sapporo and then again at Nagano in 1998.
There are 600 ski resorts in the Land of the Rising Sun, and the snow almost never fails. Most resorts are located in the Kyushu and Hokkaido regions, where the mountains reach a maximum altitude of 2,300 metres – although skiing is already possible at 400 metres. In all there are 2,132.8 km of slopes and 1,086 ski lifts. The skiing experience is very different from that of the Alps, starting with the morphology of the mountains. In Japan the snow is regarded as having cult status, which is why it’s a good idea to visit as many places as possible in freeriding mode.
Of the many ski stations to choose from we’ll focus on two:
Due to the coexistence of different climatic factors the island of Hokkaido has one of the highest levels of snowfall in the world. The snow falls regularly and, due to the prevailing temperatures, is perfect. Here the climate is caused by winds from Siberia, and the off-piste skiing is awesome. Niseko is 100 km from the New-Chitose international airport and English is widely spoken. Your skiing experience in the Land of the Rising Sun can begin here at the foot of Mount Yotei, which won the 2015 World Ski Awards title of best ski resort in Japan. Fifteen metres of snow fall each year in Japan’s largest cluster of interconnected ski areas. Another place much loved by skiers on the island of Hokkaido is Mount Teine at Sapporo. This was the location for the first Winter Olympics held outside Europe and North America, in 1972. The mountain is a 40-minute drive from the centre of Sapporo, and the two ski areas are interconnected by the Rainbow Course. February is the month of the Snow Festival in a huge celebration of snow sculptures, but with 2 million visitors a year you’ll have to book in advance if you want to see it.
Hakuba, on the island of Honsu, is very popular among Australian skiers. It has 11 ski resorts for a combined total of 200 interconnected pistes. Another resort on the island of Honshu is Shiga Kogen, the largest ski area in Japan: 21 interconnected ski areas, 71 ski lifts and 100 hotels, but also the ancient soul of Japan preserved in the surrounding villages. Here the snow lasts until May. And last but not least, an almost dreamlike place that you’ve just got to see. It’s called the Zao Onsen Ski Resort, again on Honshu, where you can ski among the juhyo: trees of ice, formed by heavy snowfall and icy winds that freeze the snow-covered plants into fascinating shapes. The area is also excellent for bathing in hot springs.