wifm’s Top Six Ski Spots

by Julian Ryall
wifm’s Top Six Ski Spots Breathtaking peaks and knee-deep powder for novices and experts alike

At the first hint of a snow cloud on the horizon this winter, skiers and snowboarders were quickly dusting off their gear for another spectacular season on Japan’s best slopes. Blessed with some of the best ski runs in the world, winter resorts here also have some of the most impressive rest and recuperation options after a hard day tearing up the powder.

The original Akakura Kanko Hotel opened in 1937, when the government was promoting the construction of international resorts. The property was founded by Kishichiro Okura, often known as The Baron behind the Kawana Hotel, in Shizuoka Prefecture, and the Hotel Okura Tokyo. Rebuilt after a fire in 1965, the building was designed to resemble a Swiss mountain resort, while a new spa and suite wing opened in 2009.

The Akakura Kanko Hotel’s private rotenburo are fed by spring waters from deep beneath the mountain.

The Akakura Kanko Hotel’s private rotenburo are fed by spring waters from deep beneath the mountain.

“This is one of the oldest and best resorts in the high mountains of Japan’s snow country, and with some of the best vertical descents and longest runs in the country,” said hotel spokesperson Sonoko Koike.

Located midway up the impressive Mount Myoko — the peak of which offers a breathtaking panorama of the surrounding countryside — the hotel is at 1,000 meters and close to the borders of Niigata and Nagano prefectures.

The Akakura Kanko Hotel has 57 rooms, including a number of suites with private rotenburo that are fed by spring waters from deep beneath the mountain, a spa with four treatment rooms, and a number of dining and drinking options.

This winter, Myoko City also celebrates its 100th year as the birthplace of skiing in Japan with a series of events. “This is a place of deep snow and warm-natured people with a small-town feeling,” said Koike. “The Myoko Plateau really does offer a world of pristine beauty throughout the four seasons.”

The Hotel Green Plaza Hakuba has many faces.

The Hotel Green Plaza Hakuba has many faces.

Not too far away are the popular slopes of Hakuba, in the northern reaches of Nagano Prefecture. One of the largest accommodation options in the area is the Hotel Green Plaza Hakuba, which has 257 guest rooms and the red roof and criss-crossing black beams of Bavarian skiing resorts.

The hotel is right on the Hakuba Cortina Ski resort, which regularly experiences the highest amount of snowfall in the entire valley. On top of that, it also has among the steepest pistes, with the average at an angle of 36 degrees but touching 42 degrees in places.

“The resort is at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres, high in the Japanese Alps, and that gives us some excellent and deep powder snow,” said spokesperson Yoshiko Chikuni.

The reception for the Cortina Ski and Snowboard School is in the lobby of the Hotel Green Plaza — ideal for first-timers or relative novices — while the more adventurous will be glad to hear that the hotel is once again providing off-piste “tree skiing.”

The hotel’s Yu-Plaza Spa has 11 different spa facilities, while the gourmet dinner buffet is popular with anyone who has worked up an appetite on the slopes, Chikuni said.

27Another local institution is the Hakuba Tokyu Hotel, which opened its doors to snow-lovers in 1959 but was rebuilt shortly before the Winter Olympic Games in 1998 to provide top-notch accommodation for competitors from all over the world.

“Even though Hakuba is quite close to Tokyo, Osaka and some other large cities, we get tons of snow falling here every winter,” said the hotel’s Yojiro Fukushima. “Annual snowfall is more than 15m and there are lots of opportunities to get knee-deep in powder snow.”

Hakuba’s geographical position is a big draw for winter sports enthusiasts, he said, with the steep descents offering views that are stunning enough to take the breath away.

“Even European people say they have never seen such beautiful views,” said Fukushima. “And this vertical distance makes ski runs in Hakuba more challenging than any other domestic resort.”

The hotel has 102 rooms and the obligatory onsen, both indoor and outdoor, as well as a French restaurant named Chamonix, after that other skiing paradise.

A little further afield, the snow on Japan’s most northerly island is among the best in the country.

Club Med’s ski slopes are spacious and uncrowded with brief waiting times for lifts and fine powder snow.

Club Med’s ski slopes are spacious and uncrowded with brief waiting times for lifts and fine powder snow.

The Green Leaf Niseko Village hotel only opened on December 1, offering ski-in, ski-out accommodation right at the very base of the Niseko Village ski area. With 200 elegantly designed rooms, the hotel also boasts a spa, onsen and a rooftop bar appropriately named Altitude.

Niseko benefits from up to 16m of pristine snow every year and skiers and snowboarders are able to take advantage of an efficient lift system, numerous tree runs and a wide range of winter activities once the skiing is done for the day. These include snowmobile adventures, snow rafting and reindeer sledging.

The Green Leaf Niseko Village is also proud of Goshiki, its buffet-style three-meal restaurant that relies on the freshest locally sourced seafood and seasonal produce from Hokkaido.

And for anyone who really wants to leave their worries at home, Club Med offers all-inclusive holidays at its Sahoro resort, some 170km east of Sapporo.

Holidays include flights and transfers, a choice of accommodations, a ski and snowboard school for all levels, gondola and lift passes and bars and refreshments throughout the day. And that is on top of the vast buffets that Club Med is renowned for at breakfast and in the evening.

The ski slopes start at the doorstep of the resort and there are a variety of runs on slopes that are spacious and uncrowded. Waiting times for ski lifts are brief and the powder snow is a skier’s dream.

Club Med also caters to youngsters who might not want to spend all their time in the snow, with a range of options for kids aged between two and 17. Indoor options include squash courts, swimming pool, jacuzzi and sauna, as well as a spa and billiards room.

Akakura Kanko Resort & Spa

Hotel Green Plaza Hakuba

Hakuba Cortina Ski Resort

Hakuba Tokyu Hotel

The Green Leaf Hotel, Niseko Village

Club Med Sahoro Ski Resort