Skiing is a winter activity that has long been associated with Western countries, with some of the most popular destinations being the transboundary Alps in central Europe, the Rocky Mountains in North America, as well as numerous alpine and cross-country trails across the Nordic countries. Ski tourism grew at a much slower rate over in Asia, where Japan and Korea remain two of the more popular ski destinations. Despite having fewer options in the Eastern half of the world, there are a few good destinations across Asia Pacific for first-timers to try skiing or snowboarding.
The Hakuba Valley is a fairly popular destination for skiing in Honshu, the main Japanese island. Located near Nagano city, the area is accessible from Tokyo by bullet train and express bus in under three hours. With 11 ski resorts scattered across the mountains and a wide range of accommodation from the luxurious to the affordable, Hakuba is a good choice for skiers of all ski levels and budgets. The slopes attract large crowds in peak season but are not nearly as crowded as the most popular ski resorts of Europe and America. Ski areas and villages are quite widely spread out and are serviced by a network of shuttle buses. Busier areas like Happo-One and Echoland are quite Westernised, allowing international travellers to get around with relative ease and there are decent après-ski (post-ski social activities) and nightlife options available. Skiers looking for the best powder snow and ski facilities in the country will want to look north to Niseko in Hokkaido, though accommodation options here are significantly more expensive.
Australia is not a country that many would associate with skiing, but there are several well-developed ski resorts that are fairly popular. Many ski resorts are located pretty far inland, but Mount Buller is the most convenient place for newbies to get their first taste of skiing or snowboarding. Mount Buller is a three-hour drive from Melbourne and the closest to any of the big cities. While there are a handful of cosy hotels on the mountain, single day trips are very popular with tourists, which can crowd the slopes during peak season. While first timers can flock to ski or snowboard instructors, the slopes are just as good for more experienced skiers as intermediate ski runs make up nearly half the terrain. There are even terrain parks for those seeking the thrill of practicing tricks while airborne. After a day of skiing, take your pick from a large selection of restaurants and bars to dine in. More dedicated skiers looking for a longer ski trip with more runs to choose from may want to opt for Perisher, the largest ski resort in the Southern Hemisphere.
3. South Korea
South Korea has many good ski resorts, all of which have different strengths. But for this article, we will look at the largest one: Yongpyong Resort. Located in Pyeongchang county, about a three-hour drive from Seoul, Yongpyong was the designated venue for many skiing events in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Korean drama fans may even recognize this as one of the iconic filming sites in Winter Sonata and Goblin. Yongpyong’s strength is that it boasts having more slopes and ski lifts than any other Korean ski resort and has a balanced mix between beginner, intermediate and advanced terrain. Curiously, a fair number of Korean ski resorts have water parks that are open in the winter and Yongpyong is no exception, but additionally, the resort offers plenty of extra activities from sauna to karaoke and a sports bar with bowling lanes, billiard tables and arcade games. The mountain is even open during summer months but for other outdoor activities such as golf and luge rides.
4. New Zealand
Cardrona Alpine Resort on New Zealand’s South Island may not be the top choice for expert skiers, but its easy access and beginner-friendly terrain make it a popular choice for families. Located within an hour’s drive from Queenstown, the slopes feature wide ski runs for beginner and intermediate skiers as well as extensive terrain parks and halfpipes for skiers and snowboarders who want to go wild with their freestyle tricks. The family-friendly ski resort offers ski lessons for children as young as five years old and has fully-licenced early childcare services for babies. There are a few cosy apartment units on the mountain that enjoy a one-minute walk to the ski lifts, but it is more common for visitors to find other comfortable accommodation in nearby Queenstown, Wanaka and Arrowtown, all less than an hour away. These laid-back and picturesque towns are excellent choices for tourists looking to escape from the big cities.
China’s ski scene is a little behind that of other countries, but ski resorts are being quickly developed to catch up with the growing demand. Among the limited options, the Yabuli Ski Resort appears to have the best reputation among visitors so far. Located all the way in the north, a two-and-a-half-hour train ride from Harbin, Yabuli is currently the largest ski resort in China which also has ski jumping facilities. Visitors will have to splurge a little to enjoy comfortable accommodation by Club Med, which offers classy dining options, a relaxing spa, an indoor swimming pool as well as indoor recreation for children. Visitors will want to bear in mind that the ski runs are geared more towards intermediate and advanced skiers though, with limited beginner runs, and weather conditions can get quite chilly on some days. With Beijing set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, avid skiers can soon look forward to other upgraded ski resorts near Zhangjiakou city.