SnowLocals Japan
Credit: Courtesy of SnowLocals

It started with your first friend who skied in Japan, and continued with every successive person bragging about “Japow.” The endless conversations about incredible powder stashes may, by now, have made you envious enough to plan a ski trip there yourself.

One challenge is the country’s lack of an easy online system for winter sports fans to make lodging reservations, rental requests, and lift ticket purchases. That’s why two lifelong skiers founded SnowLocals to take care of it for you with trip planning for self-guided travels for groups and couples, storm chasing, and skiing with the pros.

Charlie and Jake Cohn have been skiing in Japan since 2011, and return each winter to make films about it. They’ve traveled throughout the country by plane, train, bus, subway, taxi, ferry, rental car, and camper van. They’ve hiked, skinned, explored, and sought out the best zones on each mountain, looking for great lines and deep pockets of snow. It’s this experience that makes their help so valuable in building the best possible Japan ski trip.

“Only a few of the many ski resorts have been good at marketing to Westerners,” says Charlie. “That means those few become extremely crowded, but there are far more where you can feel as if you’re one of only a few people on the mountain.”

Niseko is the nation’s most-visited and most-developed ski resort, but Japan has more than 500 ski areas. Last season, I tapped into the SnowLocals brain trust to find great resorts that weren’t quite so crowded. We traveled first to Rusutsu Resort in Hokkaido, just a 90-minute drive from downtown Sapporo, and a neighbor to Niseko. The three mountains of the resort are all connected by lifts, gondola, and monorail, letting you change locations easily all day.

Even though Rusutsu is buried in unbelievably deep and light snow each winter, the sprawling resort complex has plenty of things to do when you’re not skiing, from snowshoeing to dog-sledding, snow rafting to snowmobiling, onsen to arcade, and bars to restaurants. But when it’s snowing, it’s hard to argue doing anything other than setting out to find more powder.

Our second ski spot was Mount Racey at Yubari Resort in Hokkaido. The closest noteworthy ski resort to the New Chitose airport (the main Sapporo airport), Yubari is only 34 miles away. “Yubari is our new favorite place,” Jake said. At Mount Racey, skiers have a handful of choices, from powdery tree skiing to smooth groomer runs, the speedy GS course to the mogul zipper line. The entire time we were in Hokkaido it was snowing, so even the groomer runs had inches of powder on top.

When we weren’t skiing, we scouted out great food. Yubari is known for its cantaloupe melons, which sell for thousands of dollars. Winter isn’t the time to taste the fresh Yubari King melons, but there’s melon bread, melon ice cream, melon candy, and even Melon Kuma — Yubari’s bear mascot with the head of a melon.

Would I have found these places without SnowLocals? Perhaps, but having trusted skiers help me plan my trip made it so seamless that there was more time to have fun on and off the slopes.