Do you like riding deep powder with nonexistent lift lines? If so, a ski or snowboard trip to Japan is probably already on your bucket list. Here, the pros at evo tell us how to make the most of it.
Japan has so much to offer on and off the slopes, making it one of the hottest international ski destinations. The evo team has become so enamored with Japan that some years it’s easier to find our crew over there than here in Seattle or Denver.
5 Tips for Skiing in Japan
Navigating the language barrier and traveling with winter gear, among other logistics, can seem overwhelming when planning a ski trip to Japan.
Because we now regularly run trips to this winter wonderland, we wanted to share some of the knowledge we’ve gained over the years skiing and snowboarding in Japan.
1. Don’t Try to Do Too Much
Japan is a country about the size of California. It’s a lot larger than many people realize. This means there are endless amazing areas to explore, but you don’t want to spend your whole trip wheeling your ski bag through train stations. Trust us, it’s no fun.
Two of Japan’s many islands, Honshu and Hokkaido, contain the vast majority of the country’s skiing. Honshu is the largest island in the country, home to Tokyo as well as the popular Hakuba Valley ski areas. Hokkaido is Japan’s largest northern island, anchored by the city of Sapporo.
One of Japan’s most popular areas, Niseko, is in Hokkaido. We recommend that you stick to either one region or the other unless your trip is at least two weeks long. This will maximize days on the slopes and minimize down days. Learn more about where you want to go in this guide to skiing in Japan.
2. Focus Your Gear
Japan is an international destination that can lead to overthinking your gear. But here, less is more. Most folks here at evo get away with just a wheeled board bag, carry-on backpack, and boots as a second carry-on bag.
You may have an old sleeve-style bag you think will be good enough, but an investment in a nice ski bag with wheels is totally worth it. Wheeled bags not only make it far easier to get around, but they also offer more room that lets you pack your gear in with your boards.
If you plan to spend time earning your turns, look toward fun fat skis and bindings that can do double duty, like the Salomon Shift, or a splitboard with a more powder-friendly shape.
And if just the thought of traveling with your skis or snowboard is daunting, read this guide to flying with your ski and snowboard gear.
3. Rent Some Wi-Fi
You’re going to need a way to post those Instagram pics to make everyone back at home jealous, right?
But seriously, having the ability to get online can be a huge help when you’re trying to navigate or communicate. There are portable Wi-Fi hotspots available for rent in several different stores in Tokyo’s airports. These are cheap and work with your smartphone.
Downloading the Google Translate App is a great call too. The app lets you type in your native language, translates to Japanese, and can even read your text out loud. It’s your own personal interpreter.
4. Spend Some Time in Tokyo
Obviously, you’ll want to maximize time shredding in Japan’s infamously deep powder. But a trip isn’t complete without some time in the country’s capital. Tokyo is a huge and bustling city with endless attractions and delicious food.
Some of our favorite stops are the Toyosu fish market, sumo competitions at the Ryogoku sumo hall, and the Shibuya and Shinjuku neighborhoods. Get adventurous: Bring Google Translate and explore!
5. Learn How to Onsen
An onsen is the cherry on top of a ski or snowboard trip to Japan. The traditional Japanese hot-springs baths are the perfect way to end to any ski day. They’re also everywhere in the mountains of Japan.
Note: Onsen are nude baths. If this is uncomfortable, you can use a small modesty towel when you’re not in the pools.
In general Japanese culture highly values respect, so it’s important to know some general onsen rules. The first biggie is to wash yourself at the onsite showers first. The second is straight-up respect. Onsen are not like the hot tub at your hotel in Whistler. These baths are for relaxation and healing, not partying. So save the Sapporo or Asahi beers for after your bath. Seriously.
Japan Ski Trip Pack List
Skiing or snowboarding in Japan can be cold. It takes very cold temperatures to produce Japan’s special light powder.
So don’t skimp on packing layers, extra sets of mittens or gloves, facemasks, and quality waterproof outerwear.
evo Roller Ski Bag & Roller Snowboard Bag: $135 Each
These roller bags combine all of the great features we’ve found in different ski and snowboard bags over the years: great storage, protection, and small details designed for travel essentials.
Line Pescado Skis: $800
Inspired by the playful shapes of fishtailed surfboards, longtime Japan-visitor and pro skier Eric Pollard has once again altered our outlook on skiing pow. The Pescado by Line Skis is the ultimate tool for swimming effortlessly through powder.
The Gentemstick Barracuda Snowboard has that famous Ja-pow mountain-surfing float for going all out on epic days. This sleek, artful deck is shaped with a shallow taper and an eye-catching swallowtail for slashing big mountain lines and exploring the possibilities of terrain like the sport’s founders dreamed of.
For snowboarders that can’t drop almost $1,000 on a new board after booking a trip to Japan, check out the Korua Shapes Stealth.
Trew Gear TREWth Bibs ($420) & Flylow Foxy Bibs ($400)
Even with a powder skirt, snow can sneak up your jacket. So get prepared with the right pants. These are some of our favorites for keeping snow out of your layers and staying dry, but you can shop the whole evo collection of men’s and women’s ski pants.
Oyuki The Pep Trigger Mitts ($140) & The Kana Mitts ($120)
A collaboration between Oyuki and pro skier Pep Fujas, these mitts will give you the insulation to stay warm and dry in the Asian mountains. The trigger-style pointer finger means you don’t have to bare your hands to the cold when transitioning between hiking or skinning and riding.
For the ladies, The Kana Mitts get the job done with style and ease thanks to goatskin leather and Gore-Tex.
Unless you’re staying at one lodge that has its own onsen, you’re going to be checking out different hot springs. Bringing a towel will save you a rental fee every time you hit the onsen. And packable backpacking towels are very travel-friendly.
Ski Goggles (Prices Vary)
It’s a bummer to shell out for the trip of your dreams only to not be able to see anything once you get there. With all of the powdery face shots and hard-charging riding, there will be a lot of moisture buildup that could fog your goggles. New goggles will ventilate better and keep your vision clear all trip long.