Gear guide for winter in Japan
Japan is cold in winter. And if you’re chasing a good run, you’ll probably find yourself on a flimsy chair lift in the middle of some serious wind. And if you’re not properly prepared, your face, fingers and morale may take a good beating.
When you factor in the the wind chill, the temperature at the summit can get down to an epic -30C or so. The biggest tip here is to layer, and layer well. I’m talking multiple layers of technical garments to protect yourself from the elements.
As a start, I bring:
- Thermals: top, leggings, and socks
- Thick ski socks
- Warm mid-layer: merino wool or similar. It wouldn't hurt to double up on these on particularly cold days.
- Waterproof shell jacket and pants
- Good quality Gore-tex ski gloves, the ones designed for very cold temperatures
- Wool beanie, one that covers your ears
- Neck/face warmer — I wear a necktube that I can pull up over my mouth and nose. You will see people in full-face masks, if that’s your thing
- Ski goggles — whilst bluebird days are everyone’s favourite, the conditions in Japan are often somewhere between lightly snowing to blizzard. So make sure you have goggles to protect your eyes from the snow and wind, and so that you can see when you’re ducking in and out of the trees!
- Helmet — because even for the most experienced, collisions do happen.
- Of course, your skis or snowboard! Japan’s a great place to try powder skis!
- I usually wear a thin pair of wool gloves underneath my ski gloves for added warmth.
- Smartphones can shut down when it's very cold. I keep my phone in a plastic zip-lock bag in my ski jacket to protect it from the cold and wet.
- Make sure you pack shoes that you can walk through deep snow in for when you’re not skiing or riding; rubber-sole hiking or snow boots rather than leather-sole shoes or high heels.
- If you don’t own your own ski gear yet, you can usually rent it from the resort. However, you should have your warm layers and accessories ready.
Where to eat, drink and be merry
Aside from the delicious pow-pow, one of the best things about a snow trip to Japan is the food! There’s nothing better than coming in from a long day of skiing or snowboarding to a steaming hot bowl of ramen and a $5 pint of Japanese beer.
Depending on the size of the resort, there will be several options for mid and post-run snacks and meals, most often very affordable. There's also some great cocktail bars for the perfect après imbibements. Here’s some of my favourites.
Bar Gyu AKA the Fridge Door. Look for a literal fridge door among the snow covered street and enter for cocktails and winter warmers.
The Barn. For those nights you want a nice meal, The Barn does French cuisine. After dinner, visit the cocktail bar upstairs.
JAM Cafe Bar. A cozy izakaya.
Haus St Anton. A delicious coffee, and ice cream. Make sure you try the different flavours of hot steamed buns from the vending cart outside.
The Craft Room. For craft beers, and try a chuhai (a refreshing canned beverage) to really get your night started!