Japan’s best night skiing – we love nighta!

521

Japan’s best night skiing, or ‘nighta’ as the locals call it, is a big call. There are hundreds of ski areas that still offer some night runs. Back in the ski boom years a resort really had to have some floodlights and night skiing to compete. Many of these still turn on the lights at least a couple of nights a week, even if there are even less clients at night than they get in the daytime.

Nighta ranges from short beginner runs to top-to-bottom powder feasts, super-pipes, parks and empty groomers to plant the pedal on.

So where do you find Japan’s best night skiing? Here’s the Snow Action crew’s current Top Five .. Got your own preferences?

Andreas Sjöbeck smashing a powder pillow line enjoying Japan's best night skiing at Niseko Hirafu
Night pillows at Niseko Hirafu get the treatment from Andreas Sjöbeck © Alister Buckingham

Japan’s Best night skiing #1: Niseko Hirafu

Approaching Niseko late afternoon or at night and seeing all the resorts lit up for night riding is an impressive sight. All four individual areas have some. But the best and biggest is hands down what’s on offer at Hirafu.

Don’t get old timers started on how much better it used to be back in the day. Or rather, back in the night. When they used to light it up and lift you all the way to the top of the tree line. And when there was no one there.

Sorry millennials, along with affordable housing and a cooler planet, this is one of those things consigned to the memories of those who went before you.

But hey, what you get is still pretty freakin awesome! Lapping on the gondola with a handful of others on a typical snowy Niseko night sure works for us.

“I can remember so many times riding through the forest and coming back to the same spot on the next run to find my tracks completely covered” says Alister Buckingham, who has done the past few seasons here doing marketing for skijapan.com and for niseko.com (a great site to bookmark for the latest conditions, info and more up there) interspersed with some guest sessions shooting for Snow Action.

“Most people leave the slopes around 2 – 3pm, and it snows hard enough to completely reset the powder fields in just a few hours.”

“The best snow is in the trees for sure, so don’t forget your clear lens,” is Alister’s tip. “the light is best when it’s snowing heavily; the floodlights diffuse through the falling snow, spreading it over a larger area, so visibility is almost never an issue.”

Ditto that. In our experience on numerous trips there over the past 15 seasons visibility is often better than in the day. And the queues are usually non-existent at night.

You get enough light to ski way out skier’s right to the edges past the Ace Quad, and back down the Konayuki line under the gondy.

Even better, Japan’s best night skiing & riding is available every night in main season.

Staying anywhere close to the gondola – Ki Niseko is perfect – makes it even easier.

But for those doing their best to ski Niseko on a reasonable budget who can’t afford slopeside, just head down for some sustenance and rehydration in the village mid-afternoon then scoot back up on the shuttle to get into the evening session.

Night skiing at Niseko Grand Hirafu
Andreas Sjöbeck getting another night line at Hirafu all to himself © Alister Buckingham

Japan’s Best night skiing #2: Geto Kogen

What’s not to love at Geto? This Iwate powder gem often has more snow than anywhere in J-land, they have a hugely pro-pow riding policy and the nighta is truly top-to-bottom off the First Gondola. That is not massive at 424m vertical, but it’s more than enough for great powder lines.

Geto’s Mountain Manager Hide Sugawara explained the reason they get so much snow there is that the ranges, although not high, are uniquely narrow here. So the Siberian Express sweeping southeast off the Sea of Japan funnels in, concentrating the powder it delivers onto Geto, instead of spreading it out over more ranges, as happens most places on Honshu where the mountains are wider.

Geto is also far enough north to get good quality dry snow mostly too. Which sets things up perfectly for lights, skis, action at night.

Japan's second best night skiing can be found at Geto Kogen
Head to Geto Kogen for top-to-bottom night riding in deep snow © Geto Kogen

On the downside that funnelling effect can make things super windy, and wind delays/interruptions are pretty common.

On the upside they are used to that and bust a gut to open as soon as possible when that happens.

The weather and often deep snow tend to tire people out, so many haul in early to the distinctly different base complex. It looks like a giant Antarctic base shelter, or prototype for living on the moon, from the outside.

Inside, apart from a food court, cafe, hire and the usual base amenities, you find Geto Camp 88 the funkiest on-snow backpacker accommodation in Japan.

Camp 88 is a great cheaper option to enjoy the night pow then get up and do it all again in the morning. Check out our feature on doing the season living in Camp 88 for more on that.

Take care night riding at Geto not to get tempted to stray far into the trees off the illuminated runs: you won’t see the red and green markers in the tree runs to indicate whether you head inside or outside them, and you will very easily get into trouble stuck in deep snow, terrain traps or worse. Bombing the edges is huge fun.

For our full lowdown on Geto check more here.

Night ski options at Geto Kogen
Nighta options at Geto Kogen

Japan’s Best night skiing #3: Ishiuchi Maruyama

Yuzawa is the classic example of why night skiing got big in Japan. At Gala Yuzawa the shinkansen station is the ski resort base, being owned and purpose built by JR East Rail. So 70 minutes from Tokyo, plus a lift up from the station to the base and gondola up from there and you can be skiing downhill in as little as 90 minutes or so after leaving the office.

At Echigo Yuzawa, just back down the line from Gala, the Yuzawa Kogen ski area base literally across the road, so the time from work day to nighta session would be similar.

They are both nice enough, but scoot a bit further down the road on the shuttle bus service from the station, or in a taxi, to Ishiuchi Maruyama is our advice.

Ishiuchi installed a great new combo 10 person gondola/6 seat chairlift, the Sunrise Express, last season – which has to be Japan’s best night skiing lift complete with heated cabins and chair seats. Handy that between laps on a cold and snowy night.

Ishiuchi’s new Chuo base Resort Centre has everything you need to get decked out and/or fed fast before hitting the extensive nighta slopes.

With fast heated lift access to decent long runs & the GungHo Superpipe Ishiuchi has plenty of night skiing;
yellow stars runs/lift every night 4 – 830pm, blue star runs/lifts nights before holidays only

For pipe dudes/dudettes Ishiuchi should actually be your number #1 nighta spot – they light up the GungHo Monster Pipe some nights.

The Yuzawa area does get a lot of snow, and some great powder days, which are mostly concentrated in mid-winter from late December to mid-February. It’s lower altitude and close to the Niigata coast, so spring arrives early.

So any night powder here is a bonus, but the groomers available at night include long, wide open decent runs to go the charge on. The fast lifts allowing a lot of laps in a session.

Plenty of restaurants are clustered beside the slopes for sustenance. Afterwards back in Echigo Yuzawa shinkansen station’s big mall you can hit the sake tester bar.

More on Ishiushi Maruyama in the feature here.

For close to Tokyo enjoy some of Japan's best night skiing at Ishiuchi Maruyama
Impress the locals with your park skills dudes © Ishiushi

Japan’s Best nighta #4: Furano

Furano is one of Japan’s Top 5 ski areas period, with more than enough terrain inside and outside the gates to wear you out in the daytime.

One of Furano’s best features, especially when there’s a lull between powder refills, is the fall-line groomers. These are more reminiscent of typical North American runs than most of Japan. The pine trees lining most of them add to that.

On the Furano Zone side of the mountain the night skiing takes you around 70% of the way to the summit there in one hooded chairlift ride. That supplies 500m vertical or so of groomed run bombing back down, with a pow top up if you are lucky.

Night skiing doesn’t get anymore convenient than staying at the New Furano Prince Hotel – it’s straight out the ski locker room door to the lift. Even after a big day, an aprés session, onsen and dinner it’s amazing how a few fresh flakes can revive you .. after all, most of us ski way more than we would like to so squeezing a nighta session in is a bonus.

And if your partner doesn’t feel the same way he/she can go check out the Ningle Terrace log cabin village behind the New Furano Prince while you go hard for an hour or two.

And like all Prince Resorts ski areas, kids to 12 years ski FREE day or night, so they are all great fun and Japan’s best value family night skiing.

Furano's Ningle Terrace village
Those who don’t want to night ski can check out the cute Ningle Terrace log cabin village behind the New Furano Prince Hotel © Carmen Price

Furano’s Kitanomine Zone also has night skiing, but it’s much shorter – just off the bottom hooded quad there accessing only the easy lower third of the mountain. This is fine for families with kids for the novelty, but not a big deal even if it snows for better skiers.

If that happens and you are keen head over to the Furano Zone instead – ski over before the lifts close and get a shuttle bus back around after night skiing is simplest.

More on Furano here.

Furano Zone trail map

Japan’s Best nighta #5: Okutone

Hands up if you have heard of Okutone? No? You are not alone, it is one of the still less discovered powder gems of the Minakami area in Gunma Prefecture.

Since they added a double chairlift and pushed the vertical to a respectable 747m it has become a very viable option to go with mighty Tenjindeira for Japow fiends. If bad weather/avalanche danger takes Tenji out of the equation Okutone won’t dissapoint.

That’s for daytime. For legs-of-steel types a great day at Tenji can be followed by a good night at Okutone. The available vertical at night (without the top chairlift zones) is around 450m, and it can fill in with a lot of fresh snow in the afternoons when no one is around midweek.

Minakami locals love the place. On weekends it can busy up with a party crowd from nearby Tokyo, who are able to enjoy nita riding to midnight. It’s just up the road from Canyons.jp, who run winter and summer outdoors activities, snow sports schools and guiding. Plenty of their instructors can be found after hours here, and they can sort you a lesson and intro to the area.

Okutone lift hours are unique, with some attractive pricing from ¥1,500 for 2 hours sessions 8pm–10pm or 10pm – 12pm (a bit more weekends/holidays). Or ¥3,800 2pm–10pm; ¥2,300 4pm–10pm; ¥2,300 4pm–10pm; ¥2,000 6pm–10pm.

For families kids ski free to 12 years, so with that and the numerous time tickets outlined above it has to be Japan’s best night skiing value too. Seniors (over 60) get discounts, and Grand Seniors (over 70) even bigger discounts. Just bring proof of age ID.

The nighta riding includes the parks, where you might see some off-the-charts riders in action, there are some hot locals.

The food at the mid-mountain restaurant is excellent value to go with a couple of vending machine beers to keep you going till late.

Lifts are limited to several pair lifts, which are slow, and it gets cold, especially at night, so rug up well.

There is plenty of nearby accommodation in Minakami. More on Okutone and the Minakami area here.

So that’s our current top 5 for Japan’s best night skiing options, you’ll have a great time at any or all of them. Let us know your own favourites.

Okutone trail map
You can ride most of the mountain for night skiing at Okutone