The expense of skiing and snowboarding in Japan
Skiing and snowboarding are not the cheapest of pastimes anywhere in the world. Japan is no exception, but at times surprisingly inexpensive compared to other countries. Transportation costs, equipment rental and accommodation can all add to the expense of a weekend in the mountains. However, taking part in winter sports in Japan is not as expensive as you may imagine.
Each resort has it's own lift ticket pricing strategy, but most are fairly predictable. The main choice at most places being a 1 day ticket, half day ticket, or an hourly ticket. A one day ticket typically costs around 4000 to 5000 yen.
Some resorts now use an hourly system, so for example an 8 hour ticket instead of a 1 day ticket. Traditionally not many resorts offered multiple day tickets or season passes, but in recent years this has changed.
The majority of resorts throughout Japan still use paper lift tickets that are checked by resort staff as you get on the ski lifts. If you are going to one of the larger resort areas though, you might modern electronic chip and gate systems, which will require a small deposit for the chip to be returned when you finish.
There are often a selection of other tickets on offer at each resort - each resort will have their own policies and so check before you choose which ticket to buy. The Resort listings on SnowJapan show the main lift tickets prices for each resort.
Discounted tickets are sometimes available from local convenience stores and definitely worth checking out as you visit an area. Resort websites also sometimes offer a printable discount coupon that can help keep costs down.
In recent seasons, with the numbers of skiers and boarders decreasing year on year, some resorts have brought down their prices to attract customers to their slopes. Some have also began offering reasonable package deals that include transportation, hotel charges and lift tickets. For people living in Japan or lucky visitors staying for an extended period, some resorts offer season passes which can be a great deal if you plan on hitting the slopes often. Check each resort for more detailed information.
Rental gear can be found at almost all resorts. Quality varies. It can easily become expensive though - you could easily find yourself paying over 4000 yen a day to get kitted out. Cheaper places near the resorts can often be found but the gear may be older. Sometimes much older! If you plan on staying for more than a few days, it is definitely worth considering bringing your own gear with you. Rental sizes used to be a big problem, but nowadays most of the larger resorts have a large enough variety of gear to fit most people. That being said, if you do need overly large sized equipment or ski wear, it would be much easier to bring your own stuff. Or at least check in advance.
There are exceptions - Niseko Grand Hirafu coming to mind - but night skiing is usually limited to a few floodlit runs and in some cases just one or two runs. It can be great fun especially after a fresh snowfall; but after a particularly sunny day, conditions can also resemble an ice rink. Another good thing about a ‘nighta’ is it is a good way to avoid any crowds.
If you are arriving by train, many of the popular resorts have shuttle buses running from the major stations. Many of these are free but some resorts will charge you for the bus service, usually a few hundred yen.
Most resorts have car parks. Traditionally resorts charged 1000 yen for the day, but in recent years many resorts are offering the car parks for free on weekdays and even on weekends as well.
Some snow resorts are now also offering other new facilities to attract more visitors. Families with children will be pleased to know that some resorts offer childcare facilities and ski lessons in English. Snow Tubing is also becoming more popular at some resorts. Other resorts offer snowmobile rides.
There are also companies that specialize in backcountry ski and snowboard tours, snowshoeing and even snow rafting. Many of these companies specialize in white water rafting and other adventure sports in the warmer months and have recently begun expanding their services year round. Check the SnowJapan Services page for some more information.
One way to cut down on expenses is to join one of the many packaged ski tours. It’s impossible to miss all the colorful brochures that appear in huge racks outside travel agencies and train stations each fall. Most travel agencies offer ski and snowboard packages to popular resort areas. Although foreigners generally scorn package tours in Japan because are restrictive and pricey, most package ski tours are fairly unobtrusive and normally just include transportation, accommodation and lift tickets. Meals are often included as well, so if you don’t want to eat at the hotel all weekend, it may be worth asking about. I
It is also worth checking out the JR packages that include train travel to and from resorts with a lift ticket included. Often these are excellent value.
If you don’t feel comfortable making travel plans in Japanese, some agencies have English-speaking staff, and there are smaller agencies that specialize in foreign customers as well.