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Have Fun Skiing in Japan! A Guide to Better Enjoy Ski Slopes, Even for Beginners

Japan is a place where you can enjoy skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports starting in December. In some areas, skiing season even lasts until early May! For those who want to try skiing in Japan, here is a user’s guide to ski slopes that will help everybody, even beginners, navigate them without worries.

Japan is a Ski Country!

Japan is home to about 500 to 600 ski areas. Most of these ski resorts are located north of the Kanto-Koshinetsu region, and Nagano Prefecture, host of the Winter Olympics in 1998, has the largest number of ski resorts in the country. Next to Nagano Prefecture in terms of number of ski resorts is Hokkaido and the heavy-snow zone of Niigata Prefecture, places that are famous for heaps of JAPOW – Japan’s unique kind of powder snow that is also widely known overseas. There has been a growing number of ski resorts in Japan where you can enjoy skiing and various other activities, such as snowboarding, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling, and then soak in an onsen (hot spring) and engage in other activities after a day of skiing.

Advance Preparation

Things to Bring

Ski resorts and hotels will generally allow you to rent skis, snowboards and winter sports apparel. However, what you wear underneath the ski clothes cannot be rented, so you need to take care of it yourself. Inner-wear for skiing, fleece, warm underclothes, and other Western-style clothes that are easy to move in and can regulate your body temperature are highly recommended for the job. You also need to have a neck warmer, earmuffs, and a woolen hat to cover your ears and neck, as well as goggles to protect your eyes from the sun. There are places where you cannot rent accessories and other small items, so it would be best to bring your own. Skiing on snowy mountains makes you more prone to sunburn than you think. Make sure to take measures against sunburn, so you won’t have goggle marks left on your face. Note that small articles, accessories, and sunscreen can be expensive when bought at ski resorts, so it would be better to prepare them in advance.

How to Read Ski Slope Maps

A ski slope map shows the entire slope, so you can use it to check the courses, chairlift locations, toilets, restaurants, and other facilities. Trails at ski resorts are set up according to difficulty levels that include advanced, intermediate and beginnes, and they are color-coded on the map. The colors may be different in each ski resort, but don’t worry because they are quite easy to understand at a glance. These maps are given at the ticket counter, restaurants, and other establishments at ski resorts, so make sure to take one!

Upon Arrival at the Ski Resort

First Off, Buy Chairlift Tickets at the Ski Center!

You need chairlift tickets to enjoy skiing and snowboarding. There are usually several types of chairlift tickets, including one-day, half-day, night, and multiple-ride tickets. Their prices vary depending on the ski resort, but there are some ski resorts that sell discounted tickets such as those that come with lunch. Buy tickets according to your plan, so get the half-day ticket if you just want to enjoy the activities, and the multiple-ride tickets if you are a beginner and you want to share the tickets with your friends. You will have to show your lift ticket to the staff every time you ride, so it would be convenient to put it in a case so it won’t get lost. Buy your tickets at the ticket counters and shops.

Go to the Rental Counter!

Decide on what you want to rent. The standard items for skiing and snowboarding include:
Ski set (skis, ski poles, boots)
Snowboarding set (snowboard, boots)
Accessories (such as goggles and gloves; note, though, that there are places where these are not available for rent)

Once you have decided on what to borrow, give your height and shoe size (in centimeters in Japan) to the staff (some shops will have you fill out a rental form). Try them on and if they do not fit, replace them. Get insurance (around 500 JPY) that will cover theft and damage of rental articles.
※You need a passport or some other form of identification to rent skiing equipment.

Change Clothes in the Dressing Room!

When you are done at the rental station, go to the dressing room and change your clothes right away. Put the stuff you don’t need into the locker before you head out.

Leave for the Ski Slopes

Finally, it’s time to head to the slopes! If the slopes are not directly linked to the ski resort, then check the time of the transfer service and bus. Some ski resorts also offer skiing lessons, so if you are new at skiing, then it might be a good idea to take a skiing lesson. Attend the class for half of the day and then have fun skiing by yourself in the afternoon.

How to Get On and Off the Chairlift

When you are signaled by the lift staff, proceed to the boarding area. Hold your ski poles together with one hand, or lay down the high-back of the snowboard, and prepare to ride the chairlift. Check the chairlift, which will be coming from behind, and when it stops, calmly sit back. Once you are seated, gently lift your ski poles and skis so that their tips won’t get caught in the ground. Lower the safety bar when the chairlift starts moving and enjoy the view until you get off. When you get close to the unloading area, pull up the safety bar and then hold your ski poles with both hands, lift the poles and the board tip, gently lower your board to the unloading point, and stand up. It would be dangerous to build momentum at this point, so calmly stand up and proceed slowly. For those with snowboards, go to a place where you will not collide with other skiers getting off after you, and then secure the bindings.


In Case of Emergency

If you dropped something from the chairlift, remember the markers of where you dropped it, such as the post number of the nearby chairlift, and then inform the staff when you get off. Get the emergency contact numbers of the ski slopes, too, in case you become unable to move due to injury or illness. The emergency contact numbers should be shown on the ski slope map. If they’re not indicated on the map, then make sure to ask when you buy the lift tickets.

Pointers for Having Fun

How would you feel when you are happily skiing and then all of a sudden, you realize that you got separated from your friends? While it would be all right if you get to contact your friends using a cell phone, remember that ski resorts have high elevation and they have areas where cell signal is quite weak. So before you go skiing or snowboarding, try to decide on a meeting place where you can meet up if you or your friends get lost. Further, the weather at ski resorts changes easily, and when you are hit with a snowstorm, visibility could deteriorate to just a few meters ahead. While you probably won’t stray off course from inside the ski resort, the inviolable rule is still to not push it. Ski resorts are well-maintained and safe areas, but your safety will not be guaranteed if you enter areas where skiing is prohibited. Follow the rules so that your skiing trip will become a great memory!

Japan has many ski resorts where you can come and enjoy skiing without having to bring your own gear. There are also places where you can ski on a day trip, so if you get a chance to visit Japan in winter, then try to go skiing or snowboarding.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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