Japan is one of the world's greatest ski destinations boasting over 600 resorts. Far from Honshuu's heaving urban areas are top ski resorts in regions such as Hokkaido, Tohoku and Nigata. Here, the constant offshore breezes bring huge quantities of fresh, powder snow all through the winter. Even at such low altitudes the powder snow superiority is the main attraction. Once in Japan, take the opportunity to see some of the exotic sights and absorb the culture by spending a few nights in its vivacious, industrial capital city, Tokyo, or in the historical city of Kyoto, Japan's former capital and very much its cultural heartland.
Surprisingly, it is only in recent years that Japan's slopes have started to be recognised internationally as a major destination for skiers and snowboarders. Along with the perfect powder snow and beautifully picturesque landscapes, there is varied and challenging terrain and literally hundreds of resorts. The fact that not only the views, but the snow is a natural commodity adds to the magic of these resorts, along with the organic 'onsen' hot springs to dip in to and relieve aching muscles after all that piste action. The accommodation is really varied meaning that there is something for everyone depending on different desires and indeed, diverse travelling groups. Hotels, apartments, lodges, chalets and even houses are available throughout the resorts.
Skiing first came about in Japan in the early 20th Century when people living in the mountainous regions created primitive skis made of bamboo poles and whatever else they could find to survive in areas that accumulated snow metres high. Before too long there was the idea that this form of transportation could actually be a leisure activity. Japan has an abundance of mountains accounting for over 80% of the land; consequently they vary in size and suitability and ultimately signifies that there are slopes, runs, dips and bowls for every category of skier.
There is a predominantly modern lift system in most places with high-speed quad lifts, gondolas and ropeways. Only the smaller, family-owned locations may not sport the latest equipment, but many do not mind forsaking this in return for holidaying in an uncrowded and tranquil resort. The course classifications do not always match those of international standard, for example, beginners may have no problem at all trying the intermediate slopes, but intermediates will struggle tackling advanced courses. It is advisable to find out the classification system in resorts before your trip. It is also advisable to stay within the resort boundaries to avoid accidentally coming off-piste in the less-patrolled areas.
Many locations in Japan have built up the snowboarding market by introducing snowparks with half and quarter pipes, snow tubing, rails, jumps and corners. Meanwhile the après ski scene is often an assortment of restaurants and cafes mixing Japanese and Western style cuisine. Many resorts also provide rental facilities, whilst child care and kindergartens are less common.