Pizza ploughs into the heart of Japan’s ski scene, where epic powder, whisky in your coffee and friendly Aussie ‘locals’ are just part of the daily routine.

When it comes to finding the best mountains to ski, us Aussies are always looking abroad.

Is it the insane cost of skiing in Australia, the humongous queues for the ski lifts or just simply that our powder isn’t all that?

With a population of 26.5 million and only several good slopes worth skiing, it makes sense why we pack up our skis and head overseas (says me who doesn’t actually own her own skis but I love that it rhymes, OK?)

I had the absolute pleasure of skiing in Japan in February 2023, and I can see why it’s a top choice for Aussie skiers.

With truly remarkable snow conditions, Japan is one of the best places in the world to ski (or snowboard, but this article is about skiing because I gave up trying to learn how to snowboard).

So, here’s why Japan (specifically Niseko in Hokkaido) should be on your skiing bucket list in 2024 and beyond. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out, these slopes are calling your name.

Read more: Remember to leave no trace


Skiing in Japan: Why Niseko Is Best For Beginners, Photo by Ally Burnie, skiing, japan, niseko, skiing guide, skiing in niseko

Ski past impressive views of Mt Yotei

Why Niseko is Great for Beginners

  • Plenty of green runs for beginners
  • AMAZINGLY soft powder for the inevitable stacks
  • Great ski schools
  • Fun après-ski activities

First of all, Japan has several amazing spots for skiing, including Hakuba, Furano, Rusutsu, Nozawa Onsen, Shiga Kogen, Myoko Kogen, and Kiroro.

Niseko, however, is the biggest, and the most popular. In fact, it’s earnt itself the nickname of ‘the Bali of the skiing crowd’ due to the flock of Aussie skiers it attracts, and it’s easy to see why.

With an impressive average of over 15m of snow each season, it’s known as one of the snowiest ski resorts in the world, offering absolutely incred opportunities for gliding through waist-deep powder.

And if that’s not enough for ya, the lively après-ski scene adds an extra layer of epicness to the whole experience.

Which Niseko Ski Resort is Best for Beginners?

Niseko is one big mountain split into four ski resorts: Annapuri, Niseko Village, Hanazono, and Grand Hirafu. Here’s what you can expect from the skiing experience of each.


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Photo via Niseko United



Beginner runs: Junior, Paradise, Family

Annapuri is super chill. That’s the only way to describe it. It has plenty of wide, open runs and is perfect for first-timers finding their ski legs. It’s definitely the quietest resort out of the four, so it’s great for easing into the ski scene without the rush.

Fun fact: it’s the only resort in Niseko that even low to intermediate skiers can ski from the top of the gondola to the bottom (it switches between red and greens runs all the way down).

Junior, Paradise, and Family are all green runs that are perfect for beginners. These runs are gentle and wide, offering a safe and comfortable gradient for first-time skiers to build confidence and actually enjoy the slopes.

Niseko Village

Beginner runs: Cruiser, Banzai, Enchantment

Niseko Village is known as the resort for family skiing – but that shouldn’t stop you if you’re sans kiddos. It’s got plenty of beginner runs and it’s not too busy, so you won’t be waiting in huge queues (at least that was my experience).

If you’re just starting your skiing journey, the Cruiser, Enchantment, and Banzai slopes are perfect for you – they’re super friendly and just right for getting the hang of things.

For those who’ve got the basics down and are ready for a bit more, the Namara run is a solid choice. It’s nice and long, pretty straight, and not too steep, making it a great next step. And for the seasoned skiers searching for something a little more gnarly, Superstition, Jagaimo, and Misoshiru are the runs for you.


Beginner runs: Mango Salad, Juicy Fruit

Hanazono is where things start getting interesting. With a couple of greens and then several red runs (and some blacks), it’s the place to challenge yourself a tad more as your confidence grows.

This is the mountain my friends and I spent the most time on because we were walking distance from the resort. I also somehow managed to do a red run on my first day on the slopes. That was… not fun. BUT I didn’t stack it so I’ll take the wins.

For those just starting out, Mango Salad and Juicy Fruit are the go-to runs – both gentle, wide, and perfect for finding your groove on the snow. And for the intermediates ready to kick it up a notch, Crystal Garden and Stairway to Heaven are absolute must-tries. Crystal Garden offers a fun change in steepness, while Stairway to Heaven – the widest run at Hanazono – is ideal for smooth skiing with a side of adventure in the trees.

Grand Hirafu

Beginner runs: Family, Boyo, Sennoki, Kogen, Holiday

Grand Hirafu is the heart of Niseko’s ski scene. It’s the largest area with a diverse range of beginner terrains, and it’s where you’ll find all your group lessons.

It’s probably the most crowded resort for this reason, but on the plus side, it’s also super close to town for your midday Asahi and ramen bowl.

I’d say at least 50% of the runs at Grand Hirafu are beginner-friendly. I’d check out the Holiday, Family, and Boyo Runs as good starting points. The Shirakaba run, higher up the mountain, is perfect for confident beginners looking to step up their game.

If you’re more of an intermediate skier, check out the Center run – it’s a good gradient with spacious, open terrain. Kokutai also offers stunning views and good cover on windy days.


Skiing in Japan: Why Niseko Is Best For Beginners, Photo by Ally Burnie, skiing, japan, niseko, skiing guide, skiier standing in front of the outdoor niseko ski map

So many runs to choose from!

Best Time for Skiing in Japan

The best time for skiing in Japan is the end of December to around mid-February. The later in Feb you go, the quieter it’ll be.

I went in early Feb and didn’t find it overly crowded. Of course, on the weekends the slopes became a bit hectic and the queues for the lifts were long-ish but not unbearable (which is saying something coming from me because I am not a patient person).

Some people will tell you March and April are good times for skiing in Japan and all I can say is that it will probably wildly depend on the season. You could try your luck, but from all accounts, you’ll definitely get the best snow between late December to late February.

Powder Skiing in Japan: Off-Piste Opportunities

Look, this is a beginner’s article so you’re probably not trying your hand at off-piste skiing but in case you do… well, powder skiing in Japan is truly unmatched. Or so my snowboarder friends tell me. I’m not ballsy enough to try.

It’s not just the massive snowfall that makes it special, but also its varied terrain – an absolute dream playground for back and side-country skiers.

While some experience is needed for off-piste skiing, Niseko offers something for nearly every skill level. While the famous Strawberry Fields (Hanazono) might be a bit much for some, just a bit further down is Kamp Kitsune.

It’s a smaller more manageable off-piste route and runs alongside Silver Dream (also Hanazono) – the perfect opportunity for unseasoned skiers who want to give off-piste a crack.

Hot tip: It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway – never go off-piste alone. Ever.

Off the Slopes – Non-Skiing Winter Activities

If you’re looking for a challenge, snowshoeing up Mount Yotei is an option.

Mt Yotei is the most iconic part of Nieko’s landscape, standing at a whopping 1,898m above sea level. You’ll often catch a glimpse of this truly beautiful mountain while doing runs on Hanazono and Grand Hirafu.


Skiing in Japan: Why Niseko Is Best For Beginners, Photo by Ally Burnie, skiing, japan, niseko, skiing guide, mount yotei

You can see why they call Mt Yotei ‘Niseko’s Mt Fuji’…


If you’re up for the challenge, it’s strongly recommended you get a guide to take you up as it does involve some degree of mountaineering experience. Plus, you’ll need all the right equipment, including avalanche equipment.

The hike up takes about 4-6 hours, and the descent back down on skis or snowboard takes about an hour.

If you’re after something a little more chill and completely off the skis, there’s also the Hangetsu Lake Circuit at the foot of Mt Yotei. It’s an unmarked track, so again, it’s safest to go with a guide.

Essential Gear for Skiing in Japan

You can either bring your own equipment or there are plenty of rental shops located in the town centre. Either way, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Clothing
  • Ski jacket
  • Pants
  • Waterproof gloves
  • Thermal layers
  • Ski socks
  • Beanie
  • Buff
  • Ski Gear
  • Skis
  • Boots
  • Poles
  • UV goggles
  • Helmet
  • Accessories
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Backpack
  • Snacks and water
  • Water bottle
  • Energy bars or trail mix
  • Optional extras
  • Avalanche safety gear if skiing off-piste
  • Camera or GoPro for capturing the mems
  • Extra clothing layers for changing weather conditions

Read more: Packing List for Backcountry Skiing & Splitboarding


Skiing in Japan: Why Niseko Is Best For Beginners, Photo by Ally Burnie, skiing, japan, niseko, skiing guide, Allie Burnie on ski slopes in niseko

Now you’re ready to ski-daddle

Skiing in Japan FAQs

Is skiing in Japan more expensive than in Australia?

The cost of skiing in Japan vs Australia is overall cheaper. According to the most recent costs, a seven-day ski lift pass for Perisher costs $1,076. A week-long pass in Niseko (which gives you access to all the resorts) costs $648.

Of course, you have to factor in flights to Japan, which costs roughly $2,000 return (Sydney to Sapporo via Tokyo).

And then there’s accommodation. This will vary of course, but overall, a stay in Japan works out on the cheaper side.

PLUS you get the benefit of incredible snow and an international holiday. Boom.

Where’s the best place to stay when skiing in Niseko?

You’ve got your Hiltons and your Park Hyatts of course, but there are plenty of lower-budget options. There are plenty of places on Airbnb, as well as serviced apartments and so forth. Accommodation isn’t cheap, but if you can get together with a big group, the costs are significantly lower.

Is April skiing in Japan still good?

For a beginner, skiing in Japan in April is absolutely fine. If you want low costs, no crowds and plenty of bluebird days, April is the best time to go. There’s not a lot of fresh powder for off-piste opportunities, but there’s usually still enough snow across the resorts to ski on and have some seriously good fun.

When is the official Japan skiing season?

The official Japan skiing season is from the end of December until the end of February. However, some skiing is usually still an option in March and April.

This piece was brought to you by a real living human who felt the wind in their hair and described their adventure in their own words. This is because we rate authenticity and the sharing of great experiences in the natural world – it’s all part of our ethos here at We Are Explorers. You can read more about it in our Editorial Standards.