Whether your family are experts on
the snow or just starting out, Japan
offers a wintry experience unlike
any other, write Amelia Hungerford
and Natarsha Brown.
ith more than 70 per cent
of its landmass covered
in mountains, it’s hardly
surprising that Japan is a
winter wonderland with
an incredible array of steeps, glades, gentle
slopes and cosy villages that suit every
From the island of Hokkaido in the north,
to the southern mainland of Honshu, you’ll
find great snow, beautiful scenery, delicious
cuisine, and the quirks and traditions of a
rich culture, all topped off with omotenashi,
the Japanese spirit of hospitality that makes
guests feel honoured as well as welcomed.
Options for family-friendly ski resorts range
from multi-mountain Aussie favourites such
as Niseko and the Olympic facilities of the
Nagano region to quaint villages with a local
feel such as Nozawa Onsen. Choose your
experience, or visit a few to discover the
diversity Japan has to showcase.
For kids, they’ll get a firsthand cultural
encounter that only adds to the brilliant
memories they’ll make on the snow (on skis
or off). So brush up on your Nihongo
language skills, grab your winter woollies
and follow us to the ski fields of Japan.
United in Niseko
Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido is
where much of the snowy magic is
concentrated. Niseko United is the
epicentre of the nation’s ski culture, winning
all of Japan’s awards at the World Ski
Awards in 2015 and featuring highly in our
own awards each year. For families starting
out in Japan it’s the ideal spot, easily
accessed from Sapporo’s international
airport and offering diversity across four
linked resorts: Annupuri, Niseko Village,
Grand Hirafu and Hanazono. Add in the
world-class powder and great facilities that
cater for all ages, and you’re set for a snow
holiday to remember.
Little ones will feel right at home on the
mountain after a few days with Niseko
International Snowsports School. Its
locations in Grand Hirafu and around the
Hanazono 308 Ski Centre offer fun and
programmes for kids aged three to 14.
Sheltered magic carpets and learning areas
combine with new adventurous Strawberry
Bells trails, a beginner terrain park and the
Kamonohashi ride to zip up to more
advanced terrain in comfort and safety.
More advanced families can enjoy tree runs
at Strawberry Fields at Hanazono, live it up
with epic backcountry conditions and
volcanic steeps, and cruise the long,
thigh-burning runs of Niseko Village. New for
2016 will be two state-of-the-art lifts at
Niseko Village, part of owner YTL Hotels’
innovative master plan for the ultimate
all-season resort. When it comes to
accommodation, you’ll find the biggest
selection in Hirafu, from ski-in, ski-out hotels
to private rentals and cosy traditional digs.
Less than an hour’s drive from Niseko is
Rusutsu Resort. If it’s powder you seek,
you’ll find it in abundance here; the trio of
mountains – West, East and Isola – receive
12 to 14 metres of snow each season. Light,
dry and forgiving (without any white-knuckle
vertical drops), this is beginner-friendly
powder at its best. If your junior snow angels
aren’t quite up to that, they soon will be after
a few private lessons with an Englishspeaking
instructor and cruising the 37
wide, groomed trails. Rusutsu is also
renowned for its unbeatable tree skiing,
made all the better by being easily
accessible from much of the resort’s
state-of-the-art lift system.
Accommodation centres on two main
hotels – the four-star Rusutsu Resort Hotel
and The Westin Rusutsu Resort – with
cottages and pension-style options nearby.
Compared with its ever-popular neighbour,
Niseko, this powder-haven offers a more
intimate experience while still offering the
biggest single-resort domain on the island.
That means fewer lines, and a great
opportunity for the little ones to soak up
Japanese kitsch culture at its best. Think
singing trees, dancing bears and cutesy
souvenirs. When you need a day off the skis,
the Crayon Shinchan Kids’ Park is a perfect
escape, with tubing, snow biking and a
colourful array of activities.
This is how we Tomamu
Hoshino Resorts Tomamu is sure to please
all ages with its snow fun here, there and
everywhere... whether you’re strapped into
skis or out of them! Just a 90-minute drive
from New Chitose Airport in Sapporo, here
each individual family – and family member
– can discover their own way to play with
adventures such as Snow Rafting, Snow
Banana Boating and Snowshoe Walks.
Suspend reality and enter the otherworldly
Ice Village that lights up the night with its
very own bar, chapel, hotel, restaurant, ice
skating and warm-up house or take a dip at
Mina Mina Beach, one of Japan’s largest
indoor wave pools, and Kirin-no Yu, an
open-air bath facing the forests of Tomamu
and the starry skies.
If you can pull yourself away from the
resort’s abundance of off-the-slopes fun,
then it’s time to hit the mountains. On top of
six lifts that access various runs that cater for
all abilities, you’ll also find the GAO Outdoor
Centre and Nipo Town, a playground for
beginners and first-timers.
When your stomach is rumbling after a
day of winter adventure, the variety of dining
choices will have you clutching your belly in
delight. With more than 20 restaurants on
site, from Japanese fare to barbecued
plates in forest cabins, there is something to
tickle everyone’s tastebuds.
Hooked on Hakuba
The southern island of Honshu is Japan’s
largest and home to its biggest ski resorts.
Known for playing host to the 1998 Winter
Olympics, Nagano City is located about
223 kilometres northwest of Tokyo, near the
Alps and some of the highest mountains in
Japan. The temperature... the snow... the
people... it’s a page out of ‘Goldilocks’;
everything is just right. And getting there is
half the fun: the bullet train from Tokyo Narita
Airport to Nagano takes about 90 minutes
and leaves regularly.
Most of the games’ events were held on
the slopes of the 11 resorts – including
Happo One, Goryu – Hakuba 47, Iwatake
and Cortina – that make up Hakuba Valley,
guaranteeing access to world-class facilities
for all ages. With 138 lifts and 960 hectares
of skiable terrain, there’s plenty to keep
Of the four main resorts, Happo One is a
favourite for families. Here you’ll find the
expert staff of Evergreen Outdoor Center,
a one-stop destination for English-language
ski and snowboard lessons, backcountry
guides, a kids’ daycare service and tours to
soak up the white-blanketed beauty of the
valley. Glide along and discover life on
skinny skis with a cross-country tour or
make like Big Foot and go tramping through
the glades on a snowshoe excursion.
Advanced families can even undertake
Avalanche Skills Training for the ultimate in
on-mountain safety. At Evergreen
International Ski School, kids from three to
six can join the Yeti Club while Hakuba
Heroes are just right for snow monkeys from
seven to 14.
When you need a break from the slopes,
breathe in the fresh mountain air while
rejuvenating in the warmth of a bubbling
onsen. These hot springs aren’t just about
relaxation; they’re surrounded by cultural
rituals that kids are sure to find fascinating.
Get a taste for traditional Japan by dressing
up in a kimono and taking origami lessons;
although English-speaking services are
often easier to find in Hakuba than other
resorts in Japan, there’s still plenty of
opportunity to encounter the local customs.
Culture on snow
With its strong European feel, Shiga Kogen
is made up of 19 different ski resorts mostly
interlinked via the slopes and lift system,
allowing families to explore the different
villages with ease. With more than 80
kilometres of trails, 600 hectares of terrain
and 980 metres of vertical, Shiga Kogen is
cited as being the largest ski resort in
Honshu. The family skiing area, Paul Barn,
allows for little ones to get used to their snow
legs in a safe space. Ski lessons are available
for kids under 12, and for those 12-plus, there
are both ski and snowboard classes.
They say that you come to Nozawa
Onsen for the snow, but even more so for
the picturesque village of twisting laneways.
Boasting a total ski area of 297 hectares, the
variety of slopes guarantees snow fun for
families. The ski school welcomes skiers of
all abilities with lessons designed individually
by age and current skill levels. Private
lessons are also on offer, with a Kids' Room
babysitting service, or the family can enjoy
some snow time together at the Kids' Park.
Although largely known for its treed slopes,
off-piste riding and long vertical, Myoko
Kogen offers something for everyone,
including child care services and lessons in
English. The real drawcard of the resort is its
Japanese historic charm (it was once a
favourite mountain retreat of the imperial
family) and an abundance of hot springs.
The real pull of Madarao Mountain
Resort is the promise of lower ski traffic and,
with 60 per cent of the runs ungroomed,
fluffy and deep powder. With 30 different
runs and 15 lifts, the resort features a Tree
Run trail, Free Ride Park, Kids' Park and
wave courses. Still something of an
undiscovered gem, it's possible to visit the
park as a day trip from Myoko Kogen and
Happy in Appi
Appi Kogen promotes its resort as 'Don't
worry be Appi!', and the 'Aspen of Japan'
certainly lives up to its motto. With most of the
slopes facing north, snow conditions are a
powder-addict's mecca, open from
December until May (approximately 160 out of
365 days). The region's well-known 'Aspirin'
snow (light and fluffy snowflakes) is so light
you can't even make a snowball - “ perfect for
learners who will no doubt take a few tumbles!
There's something for all ages: bunny
slopes, a 5.5-kilometre cruiser, steep runs
for the adrenaline junkies, a mix of groomed
runs and deliberately unkempt slopes, 21
trails totalling 41 kilometres of total run
length and 18 lifts, all over 282 hectares.
Appi Family Park is the ultimate snow
playground with sleds, snow tubes, mini
courses for kids and a 72-metre snow
escalator, and is fenced off to keep