Chasing Winter Magic: Ski Holiday in Japan
Let’s face it, we all have winter coats stuffed somewhere in our closets that never get used.
As December approaches and we only have balmy monsoon weather to look forward to here in Singapore, how about jetting off this time and trading in high-rise buildings for snow-capped peaks; the humdrum of everyday life for the thrill of a snowy escapade?
It may seem like the perfect ski holiday is somewhat out of reach, located on the far flung slopes of Whistler Mountain in Canada, or the Matterhorn in Switzerland. But ah, your dreams of a snowy winter can actually lie a lot closer to home than you’d think.
In this article, we’ll share with you just how you can plan an enchanting winter wonderland ski holiday in Japan, paying keen attention to ski resorts that are ideal (and idyllic!) even if you’re a first-time skier, or plan to ski with the little ones.
Get ready for crisp mountain air, glistening slopes, cosy hearths, hot matcha, and let’s plan the perfect Japan ski holiday right now!
Japan Ski Season
The typical Japanese ski season begins in December all the way through to April. Hokkaido is usually the first recipient of the amazing wintery gift of snow, which is why most ski resorts open earlier in Hokkaido than in Honshu, another popular ski area in Japan.
For this reason, it will make more sense to look at Hokkaido as a ski destination if you’re looking to plan your family ski trip during the December school holidays.
Do take note that not all ski resorts in Japan open at the same time. Some may open as early as 2 December, while others only on 16 December. Always make sure to check this first when planning your vacation days!
The good news about travelling in the earlier part of December is that it’s just the start of the snow season and not yet as crowded. With fewer people on the slopes, you’ll be able to enjoy more space and time for your ski and snowboard lessons with the instructors. Going before the peak season hits may also help you to find discounted deals on things like ski lift passes, rentals or accommodation.
3 of the Best Ski Resorts in Hokkaido, Japan
Niseko, located at Mount Niseko Annupuri (1,308m), is without a doubt the most popular ski destination in Hokkaido, and famous for deep powder snow. And when we say deep, we mean deep — 10-18 metres of soft, fine, powdery snowfall per season — perfect for soft beginner landings.
Made up of four ski resorts — Annupuri, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village and Hanazono — getting here is an easy 2.5-hour ski bus ride from Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport. There are a few ski schools available, each with their own advantages. Niseko International Snowsports School (NISS) and GoSnow Niseko offer lessons to kids as young as 3, while Niseko Village Snow School offers family private lessons, as well as snowboarding lessons for kids from 5 years old.
There are also a plethora of fun activities such as tubing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, snow rafting, and winter horse riding. Kids will also love the indoor climbing fun at Galaxy of Kids at Hanazono. If you’re a more experienced skier, leave the kids with the childcare services available and check out the night skiing, backcountry wilderness skiing, and volcano crater skiing the summit of Mt Annupuri.
A 2-hour journey via train or taxi from New Chitose Airport, Rusutsu shares much of Niseko’s climate, so it is graced by an average of 14m of powder snow each winter. You can find plenty of beginner trails spread across three mountains here: West Mountain (715m), East Mountain (868m) and Mt Isola (994m). The Rusutsu ski school offers family lessons and ski and snowboard lessons for kids from age 4.
Rusutsu Resort is most known as the Disneyland of all ski resorts for kids and families. Here, you’ll get to experience fun winter activities like ice fishing, dog sledding, snow rafting, and facilities like a heated indoor wave pool, 84m-long warm water slide, kids arcade and a 300m Stardust Avenue of magical lights.
Rusutsu also boasts an extremely well interconnected layout that makes getting around remarkably easy. Take a monorail directly from your accommodation to the restaurant of your choice; book your lift tickets, rent your ski gear and arrange your ski lessons all from one central location; and access over 1,000 acres of tree skiing with the incredibly well-developed high-speed lift infrastructure with minimal traversing.
The best thing about Rusutsu is that their ski season begins as early as 27 November 2023, so you can even plan an early December ski trip. They also reward early bookers with a 10% discount!
Tomamu is almost a whispered secret skiing spot in the heart of central Hokkaido. Easily accessible from three different airports — New Chitose, Asahikawa and Obihiro — the Tomamu ski area is an isolated inland location surrounded by the gorgeous mountainous interior Hokkaido has to offer.
Because of the ultra-low temperatures and high elevation of Mt Tomamu (1240m), the light powder snow remains fresh and relatively untouched all day long.
Unlike some of the bigger ski resorts sprawling with folks, Tomamu only caters to stay-in ski resort guests (either at Hoshino Resort or the more expensive but all-inclusive Club Med Tomamu), so it can sometimes feel like you have the whole mountain to yourself!
Kids from 4 years old can start learning to ski and snowboard, and the waist-deep powder guarantees soft landings for the little ones.
The main highlight of Tomamu is definitely the Ice Village, where everything is made out of ice. We’re talking about an ice bar (drinks served in ice glasses of course), ice hotel (yes, with ice beds), ice ramen shop (yes, ramen served in ice bowls!), ice zipline, outdoor ice skating rink… and a giant ice slide to even get to the village! How’s that for an absolutely magical (and frozen) winter wonderland!
When the kids need to thaw out a little, there’s Mina-Mina Beach, Japan’s largest indoor beach, with an 80m heated wave pool with stand-up paddle boarding.
Visiting the Terrace of Frost Tree is also a must to witness rime ice, the phenomenon of supercooled water droplets forming ice crystals on the trees, and the dazzling sparkle of “diamond dust” snow.
3 Things to Consider when Planning a Family Ski Holiday
Choosing Where to Go
Picking a ski resort is probably going to be the most important decision that will impact your family ski holiday. Here are some things to consider when making that choice:
- Decide if you want a more popular ski destination, or if you’d rather avoid the crowds.
- Make sure that the Japanese ski schools cater to your kids’ ages and that the instructors are able to conduct lessons in English.
- Ensure that there are magic carpets on the beginner slopes to make it easier for the kids when they’re just learning.
- Check if there are good childcare options available for you to tackle the serious slopes on your own.
- Explore what off-slope winter activities your family can also enjoy, such as dog sledding or snow rafting.
- Think about whether you’d prefer a more modern, resort feel, versus a more authentic, traditional Japanese town kind of atmosphere.
- Consider budget versus convenience. Ski-in/ski-out access is amazing but will definitely cost more. Keep in mind that kids never want to schlepp their own stuff, so you’ll be the one hauling equipment for the whole family.
Costs Add Up
It doesn’t matter how much you budget for your ski vacation, chances are, you’ll spend more. Costs tend to add up quickly on a ski holiday, so here are some things to keep in mind:
- Choosing slopeside accommodation is convenient but pricey, but cheaper accommodation may mean dealing with transfers with little kids in tow.
- Don’t forget to factor in the costs of ski lift passes, gondola tickets, gear rental, ski outfits, ski lessons, dining options, and other winter activities you may want to engage in.
- When looking into lift passes, think about express passes to minimise queue times (especially with little kids), unlimited lift passes, or package deals that include ski lifts, gear and lessons.
- You may spend more on private lessons for yourself, your kids, or as a family.
- You can’t grasp skiing in one lesson so you’re probably looking at at least two days of ski school costs before you truly start enjoying yourself.
- Check out if there are any early bird specials for skiers and snowboarders taking advantage of the early season beginning in December.
If skiing isn’t a regular hobby for you, there’s probably no reason to purchase your own ski equipment, so renting from the ski resort is going to be the best option. Even if you have your own stuff, it may be wiser to simply pack your own helmet and ski boots, but rent the skis and poles from the ski resort instead of paying extra airline costs.
It also makes the most sense to rent equipment and ski clothes for kids, especially if you’re not going skiing again within the same year, and they’ll just outgrow everything as they always do!
Winter Travel Packing Checklist
The key to surviving winter travel is layer, layer, layer! Never underestimate the cold!
Here’s a checklist for essential items you’ll need for your family ski trip:
Thermal underwear (tops and bottoms)
Long-sleeved (turtleneck) tops
Warm, insulated pants
Neck warmer (better than scarves!)
Face mask or balaclava (especially for the kids)
Gloves or mittens
Thick woollen socks
Ski hats or beanies to cover your ears
Ski jacket and ski pants (waterproof, wind proof, and insulated)
Ski goggles or sports sunglasses
Ski boots and après ski boots
Swimwear (for heated pools)
Lip balm, moisturiser and sunscreen
Staying Warm on Winter Trips
Have you ever experienced this: Walking out of the airport, experiencing that first blast of chilly winter air, getting all giggly excited, and blowing winter mist with your breath?
Well, that’s common for us folks who live on the Equator. But it also means that we’re not always used to the cold, and while it may be exciting at first, it can start to wear down on us after a few straight days of cold in a row.
To battle the cold on your winter ski trip, follow these tips:
- Take regular breaks out of the cold and warm up indoors. Take advantage of heated lodges, cafes or restaurants that can bring your body temperature back up to a cosy level.
- Order hot drinks such as tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, and eat warm, soupy meals to warm up from inside.
- Bundle up — always be prepared with extra clothing on hand, because you won’t be able to enjoy your Japan ski experience if you’re shivering with cold.
- Keep moving if you’re still feeling cold. Staying stationary will only make it worse. Even a walk can help generate more body heat.
- Your accommodation will most likely be heated, but if you’re really scared of the cold, you can look into getting an electric blanket. These are relatively common in Japan and you can even find them in supermarkets.
- Pack some hand warming packs in your suitcase. You can easily put them in your jacket pockets to keep your hands toasty and warm.
- Take advantage of the heated pools and onsen (hot springs) available in Japan!
So, are you ready for your winter wonderland family ski vacation yet?
With Hokkaido as a destination, the best Japan ski resorts in mind, and tips on how to plan the best ski trip ever, the only thing left to do is make sure you book your travel insurance early. Especially with a ski trip, it’s good to think about staying protected against any medical situations, emergency evacuations, or extreme weather cancellations that may arise.
Enjoy your family ski trip and bring some snow back to Singapore for the rest of us, please!