Skiing and snowboarding near Tokyo ain’t exactly ultra cheap, but there are lots of places within spitting distance of the metropolis where you can carve out a bit of snow. With careful planning, a few days of winter adventure can be had without leaving you with only lint remaining in your pockets. A bonus of a trip to Japan ski resorts is that many of them also have onsen nearby, perfect for a relaxing soak after a day of intense activity on the slopes.
Let’s begin with the basics. First up, the packing and logistics.
Ski and snowboarding gear
If you’re a somewhat avid skier or boarder, you can save a bundle on rentals by bringing your own gear (but you knew that). Recycle shops, especially the likes of Off House, have great deals on used gear for a fraction of the new price. Bargains can also sometimes be found on Tokyo Craigslist (though you’ll want to proceed with caution), and we’ve seen a few pairs of skis and some snowboard accoutrements at various flea markets, too.
But if you don’t have much time in Tokyo, renting at the resort is easiest and what we recommended (wherever you end up going).
Transport to ski resorts
If you buy a package tour, transportation is often included—so you can score a great deal. For those going it alone, we have some handy articles about car rental, those economical Japan Rail Passes visitors love, and using the Seishun 18 ticket (though it’s limited to certain periods of the year). The times below are by car or the fastest public transportation (usually a bullet train/bus combination), so if you’re going to use the Seishun 18, plan on a lot longer.
Again, package deals can offer great value if you’re doing an overnight trip, but if you live here, city-owned cabins are a good deal, often close to ski resorts, and much cheaper than high-end resort hotels. Some areas also have hostels and many have pensions or minshuku (Japanese-style pensions) that are cheaper and more charismatic than big hotels.
Package deals for trips from Tokyo
The cheapest packages to be found are usually on travel websites and listed in Japanese, so if you don’t read the vernacular, you might want to enlist a friend’s help. Transportation (usually a bus from someplace central like Shinjuku Station) and a lift ticket for a day trip to somewhere in Nagano can go for as little as ¥5,000—but gear rental is not included and will be a few thousand more. Our top picks are Japanican and Voyagin for winter package deals.
Japan ski resorts: The best slopes near Tokyo
There are heaps of amazing slopes all over Honshu and Hokkaido, but in this article we’re focusing on skiing and snowboarding near Tokyo, and we’re capping it at the “a few hours away” mark.
Famous for hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics, this ski town in Nagano Prefecture is located in the Northern Alps and has good powder, plenty of resorts (around a dozen), and hot springs galore. The trip from Tokyo takes about four hours (by car, or bullet train+bus). A one-day lift ticket at Happo One, the area’s largest resort, goes for ¥5,200, but you can get discount coupons that include lunch—check for special deals towards the end of the season (around the end of March). Read more about your skiing options in Hakuba.
We love Nagano, and this sprawling ski resort has a special place in our stingy hearts. Made up of 21 separate but interconnected resorts, Shiga Kogen has a huge variety of options for snow riders of all capabilities. Some of the slopes were used in the 1998 Winter Olympics (those ones scare us). A one-day lift pass, which gives you access to the whole area (and its network of shuttle buses), will set you back ¥5,000. There are plenty of hot springs to relax in too—and you might see some of Japan’s iconic snow monkeys doing just that. A trip out from Tokyo takes just under three hours by a combination of bullet train and bus.
Escape Tokyo for the day, see mountains, hot springs, the modern, the traditional, the old and the ancient!
Yet another Nagano favorite, this spot also helped host the 1998 Winter Olympics. True to its name, Nozawa Onsen has a multitude of hot springs where visitors can soak away the day’s aches and pains. The communal onsen called soto-yu (housed in little shacks and sprinkled around town), can be used free of charge. As for the slopes, Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort is a popular place for snow lovers, as it boasts a 297-hectare ski area. The trip from Tokyo takes about four hours by car or three by the fastest combination of public transportation. One-day lift tickets go for ¥4,800.
This beautiful resort area in Fukushima Prefecture is home to Mt. Bandai, host of several ski resorts. In addition to skiing, nearby attractions include the lovely Lake Inawashiro and Goshiki-numa, five volcanic lakes in the Bandai Highlands. It takes about three to four hours to reach the area from Tokyo. A lift ticket at Alts Bandai, with 29 courses ensuring something for everyone, goes for ¥4,700. Other resorts include Nekoma, which is good for intermediate and advanced skiers, and Inawashiro.
Mt. Naeba in Niigata Prefecture is tucked deep in the mountains and offers some really wonderful powder. The Naeba area includes nearby Kagura ski resort, linked by a 5.5 kilometer gondola. The best powder is to be had at Kagura, due to its higher elevation. A combination day lift ticket to both Naeba and Kagura, including 45 runs and lunch, goes for ¥5,300 if you use this coupon. If you’re keen on a little bit longer in the snow, this 2-day package, which includes transport and accommodation, is a really good deal.
And while we’re talking about Naeba, GALA Yuzawa is not even 20km away—and makes for a super easy, affordable day trip from Tokyo.
If ambiance is more important to you than powder, you can always try Mt. Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture! There are two resorts on the famous mountain, albeit with man-made snow for part of the year. The family-friendly and amusingly named Yeti Resort has five small-ish slopes and a kiddie area, while Fujiten is a bit larger. At about two to three hours from Tokyo, this is a good bet for a close-by beginner or intermediate day of fun.
For winter action so near Tokyo it’s basically in Tokyo, there is always Karuizawa. One of the Prince Snow Resorts, Karuizawa is geared towards beginner and intermediate boarders and skiers. There are 10 runs, with the longest being 1.2km. A one-day lift pass will set you back ¥5,500 in peak season—you pay for the accessibility of the area. While it’s technically in Nagano, it’s just over an hour from Tokyo on the bullet train.
If you’re looking to try out some different slopes or activities in Karuizawa, then the Basecamp Passport is a great way to save on your trip. For ¥21,000 you’ll receive five tickets which can be used as one-day lift passes at a selection of resorts, as well as snow activities, meals and onsen entry. The tickets can be split between a group or used by one individual depending on your travel plans, and also come with an ID card that gives you discounts at shops and restaurant in the area. Note: the Passport must be purchased before February 28, 2019 and used before March 31, 2019.
Many thanks to Axel Lieber for his valuable input.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. First published in December, 2014. Last updated in December, 2018.
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