THE JAPAN SKI SEASON 2022-2023
2022-23 may have been the most anticipated Japan ski season ever. The country closed its borders early in the pandemic bringing an abrupt end to the 2019-20 season and it remained fully closed to international tourism throughout the winters of 2020-21 and 2021-22. Reopening was widely expected for the Japan ski season 2022-23, but it was a little close for comfort as we were kept waiting until October 2022 for Japan border opening, just over one month before the big ski resorts were scheduled to open. Consequently this winter has been a wonder to behold for anyone interested in skiing in Japan, brining a smooth return of international visitors and incredible snowfall. The stage is now set for the Japan ski season 2023-24 to be the biggest and best yet! As trusted Japan ski specialists for the past 15 years with team members based locally in both mainland and Hokkaido ski areas, Japan Ski Experience is here to answer all your questions. Now that the 2023-24 early bird booking season has opened, we are here to help you find the best deals, and bundle accommodation with guest services to create the perfect Japan ski package. Read on to find out when you can ski in Japan, the pros and cons of visiting over various stages of the Japan ski season, and our top tips on when is best to best to visit for you!
WHEN IS THE JAPAN SKI SEASON?
Located in the northern hemisphere, Japan ski season dates fall between November and May, with main dates being December to March. The northernmost ski areas are usually the first to open with the Niseko ski season usually starting in the last week of November. Because Hokkaido receives abundant snowfall even at sea level, when winter arrives the ski season starts with a vengeance, with just a couple of dumps typically being all that is needed for whole resorts to open. On the mainland, the start of the Hakuba ski season is often more gradual, with top lifts opening from around late November, and full opening perhaps not taking place until around mid-December. For this reason, Hokkaido is often the best bet early season.
We are often asked how long the ski season in Japan lasts. While in major ski areas, the season usually lasts in some form until May, the question of when it is worth visiting depends on what you are looking for from your skiing holiday in Japan. For the likelihood of powder snow conditions, it is really best to stick to the peak season. If you are happy to trade powder for bluebird days, empty runs and warmer weather, then usually we would recommend visiting up until early to mid-April when you can also benefit from great deals on accommodation, together with lower lift pass prices and empty runs. We will review each stage of the Japan ski season in more detail below, and hope to provide you with the information you need to decide when is the best time to visit for you.
THE JAPAN SKI SEASON BROKEN DOWN
Dates: End of November to Mid December
The first phase of the Japan snow season, when resorts open, is a tempting time to visit with there being nothing quite like the magic of the first tracks of the winter. Being among the first on the mountain has several draws including fewer crowds and typically lower prices for accommodation and lift passes. But the lower prices are not without reason as snow cover can be less reliable with start dates occasionally being pushed back, or limited lift operation (in 2022 Niseko Grand Hirafu opened 1 day later than planned on 4th December). There will also be little depth to the snow base meaning skiing and snowboarding may be limited to the groomers with the attraction of deep backcountry powder to follow later in the Japan ski season.
|Best for:||If you’re lucky enough to be nearby and can take advantage of the chance to ride fresh tracks on empty groomers!|
|Worst for:||Booking in advance, only to find opening has been delayed or limited runs are available.|
GET AN EARLY SEASON QUOTE
Christmas & New Year
Dates: End of December to Early January
Skiing over Christmas and New Year is for many the perfect way to spend the festive season. In most European and North American the holiday season risks lack of snow, but at major Japanese ski resorts this is far less likely. The snow base may still not be deep enough for backcountry with an abundance of undergrowth still peeking through, but with the Japan ski season having begun around a month beforehand, most major ski areas will have accumulated a decent amount of snow. Christmas is celebrated in its own way, and Japan can be a magical place to spend the holidays. New Year is one of its most celebrated times of year throughout the country. With festive dates being more expensive than other times of the Japan snow season, book early and our experienced team will be able to advise you of the best deals on offer. But don’t wait long – from summer, it may be hard to find anywhere that’s not already fully booked!
|Best for:||Treasured time with family and friends doing what you love most!|
|Worst for:||Prices are at their highest and deals can be hard to find.|
Peak Powder Season
Dates: Early January to Mid February
Coined, ‘Japanuary’, this is the time of the Japan snow season known for its unbelievably consistent peak powder snow conditions. Snowfall tends to be immense and the accumulated snow base allows riders to maximise experiences off-piste as well as the groomers. If you haven’t experienced skiing in Japan before you will be in awe of the relentless snowfall. The feeling of sitting back in the evening watching snow falling outside your window provides a feeling of exhilaration for the day on the mountain that lies ahead. While weather can’t be guaranteed anywhere, ever, there is probably no greater likelihood of experiencing truly awesome snow conditions than at this stage of the Japan ski season. If you are not restricted to travelling over Chinese New Year, try to avoid these dates as they are generally the busiest and most expensive.
|Best for:||Every likelihood of experiencing the best powder snow conditions anywhere in the world!|
|Worst for:||Books up fast so get in early and secure a good deal!|
END OF PEAK SEASON
Dates: Late February to Early March
This phase of the Japan ski season is still pretty much peak, with snowfall abundant and conditions are usually great. We have classified it differently because some years, warmer weather starts to creep in and pristine powder conditions are not quite what they were, whereas other years this stage of the season can be just as good as a few weeks beforehand. Some Niseko accommodation and Hakuba accommodation offer better rates during this period, and, an even greater snow base will have accumulated. A few bluebird days is often not a bad thing either!
|Best for:||Every chance of great snow at a better price, with serious sub-zero conditions less likely.|
|Worst for:||Some years spring arrives a bit earlier bringing an early end to pristine powder.|
Spring Skiing in Japan
Dates: Mid March to Early April
When spring skiing starts in Japan differs from one ski season to the next. Some years temperatures start to warm up at the end of February, but usually the change in season becomes noticeable in March. Incredible spring powder dumps are not infrequent, and this time of the year usually means plentiful bluebird days with picture perfect views, from the big mountain peaks of Hakuba to the lake Toya view from Rusutsu and of course, the unbelievable Mount Youtei. When conditions really warm up ‘spring skiing’ can be fun and fast, and on mainland Japan can often coincide with the opportunity to view cherry blossoms or enjoy some warmer weather in Tokyo or Kyoto. Prices in resort come down in the spring, so if soaking up Japanese culture, onsens, cuisine and travel is for you, it may be the perfect time to visit. The Japan ski season 2022-2023 is planned to last until May 7th at Niseko Hirafu, but we probably wouldn’t recommend visiting after the second weekend in April. In Hakuba higher slopes tend to offer great spring skiing well into April with more going on in the surrounding area than you would find in Hokkaido. Hakuba is also a year round town with lots of shops and restaurants staying open outside of the ski season. Whatever ski area you visit it is important to be aware that in spring ski shuttle buses, lift operation and village amenities start to wind down. When you book our specialist team can advise you how to ensure you get the most out of your holiday during the off-peak months.
|Best for:||Spring skiing, bluebird days and combining Hakuba with snow monkeys and Matsumoto cherry blossoms.|
|Worst for:||Powderhounds! You may still get fresh snow dumps, but better to keep expectations in check.|
TOP TIPS ON WHEN TO SKI IN JAPAN
When is the best time of the Japan ski season to plan your trip will depend on what you are looking. Here are our top tips…
If you want to stack the odds of bottomless powder with every turn in your favour, head to Niseko or Rusutsu between early January and mid February.
FOR PISTE LOVERS
Piste lovers might want to head to Hakuba where heavenly groomers and great snow cover can be expected into April, well beyond peak Japan ski season dates.
FOR LAST MINUTE BOOKERS
If you can book last minute, take advantage of early December or spring snow dumps that create amazing conditions with empty runs and low prices.
JAPAN SKI SEASON REGIONAL VARIATIONS
Typically the Japan ski season starts earlier in Hokkaido than it does on Japan’s mainland of Honshu due to its northern location. In Hokkaido it is common for snowfall to begin in October with ski areas being fully open by late November and staying open until May. Although some people may be put off by the longer journey from Tokyo to Niseko which requires an internal flight, compared with the overland journey to Hakuba, if you are visiting early in the season you may be more likely to experience good snow conditions. It is also true to say that during peak Japan ski season Niseko weather conditions are amongst the most reliable in the world making western Hokkaido the true powder mecca. We say Western Hokkaido, because it is the winds from Siberia that cross the Sea of Japan which dump the huge quantities of light powder snow, and they do so in much higher quantity when they hit the land in the West than they do once they’ve ventured further East. Therefore more central resorts such as Furano may experience the same cold conditions and renowned Hokkaido snow quality, but with a lower quantity of snowfall.
Japan’s mainland of Honshu unsurprisingly experiences more varied weather conditions. Even in the winter much of Honshu, including Tokyo, is bright and sunny with a moderate climate and absence of snow. In the mountains however, especially towards the Western side of the island where Hakuba is located, weather is characterised by abundant snowfall and temperatures cold enough to create excellent conditions for skiing and snowboarding. With higher elevation of mainland ski areas such as Hakuba creating a bigger difference in temperature from the top of the mountain to the bottom, the Japan ski season can take longer to transition, meaning the season starts and ends more gradually. It can take longer for resorts to fully open, but can can also last longer into spring, with Hakuba Valley offering wonderful spring skiing until around mid-April, when you can combine skiing with wonders such as snow monkey visits and cherry blossoms viewing! With spring also offering great value for money, we recommend treating yourself to a luxury ski in ski out experience and enjoying blue skis and ski views from your balcony.
For more advice on when in the Japan ski season is best to visit for you, get in touch with our dedicated team! And of course, spring is the time of year when Niseko early bird and Hakuba early bird offers first become available, which is the best chance to book great Japan ski deals for the following winter! If you’re not yet sure which resort you want to visit, we’ve provided provided a head to head comparison of Japan’s best resorts for you!
2023-24 EARLY BIRDS OPEN
Niseko and Hakuba bookings have now opened for next season, with discounts of up to 30% for a limited time only!