Japan or North America (Canada and USA) for Skiing

The USA, Canada and Japan are some of the most popular countries in the world to go skiing, but what is the difference between them? In this article I’ll be comparing North America and Japan in terms of the snow quality, price, après ski, resort accessibility and more so you can decide which to go to.

Skiing in North America or Japan

Japan offers better snow for skiing compared to North America. The ski season starts earlier and ends later in North America and the major resorts are roughly 4-5 times the size of those in Japan. The cost of the lift tickets are significantly cheaper in Japan compared to the USA and Canada.

CategoryBest Place
Largest Ski Resorts  North America
Snow Quality Japan
Early/ Late Season Skiing North America
Cheapest Lift TicketsJapan 
Least Crowded ResortsNorth America 

Snow Quality

Japan has incredible snow conditions and is the ideal place to go skiing if you’re looking for fresh powder. That’s not to say that North America has bad snow, because it certainly doesn’t, but Japan definitely has the best.

The snow quality is better in Canada compared to the USA in the vast majority of resorts. Canada receives more snow on average across the resorts, and it is colder meaning the snow stays drier and doesn’t get wet and slushy as quickly. However, there are some resorts in Utah in particular with exceptional snow.

Here’s a table showing the average snowfall and snow depth of some of the top resorts in North America and Japan.

Ski ResortAverage Snowfall
Aspen Snowmass, USA295″
Breckenridge, USA304″
Whistler Blackcomb, Canada310″
Alta, USA340″
Nozawa Onsen, Japan394″ 
Snowbird, USA423″ 
Shiga Kogen, Japan472″
Rusutsu, Japan512″
Niseko, Japan591″
Kiroro, Japan787″
Average snowfall in popular North American and Japanese ski resorts


The temperatures in America and Japan are fairly similar and will be roughly -8°C (18°F) throughout the day, although it does depend heavily on the mountain elevation.

If you’re not a a fan of the cold then I’d steer clear of Canada especially during the middle of season as it can get incredibly cold, particularly in Banff. It’s not uncommon to experience temperatures of -20°C (-4°F) in December and January.

Ski Season Dates

In North America the ski season typically lasts for 5 months and runs from mid-late November through to late April.

The ski season in Japan usually lasts for 4 months and spans from mid-December to April in most regions. Resorts in Nagano have the longest season which usually lasts 5 months from late November to early May.

Here are the average ski season dates for some of the top resorts in both locations.

USA Ski ResortAverage Ski Season Dates
Keystone, USALate Oct – Mid Apr
Lake Louise/ Sunshine Village, CanadaEarly Nov – Mid May
Whistler Blackcomb, CanadaLate Nov – Late May
Vail, USAMid Nov – Early May
Aspen/ Snowmass, USALate Nov – Late April
Nozawa Onsen, JapanLate Nov – Early May
Shiga Kogen, JapanEarly Dec – Early May
Niseko, JapanEarly Dec – Early May
Rusutsu, JapanEarly Dec – Early May
Hakuba Valley, JapanMid Dec – Early May

Lift Ticket Prices

Lift ticket prices are significantly cheaper in Japan compared to North America. In Japan, the day lift tickets for the top resorts are typically less than half the price compared to the Canadian resorts and even a quarter of the price compared to American resorts.

Check out the table below for a comparison of the adult single day lift ticket prices.

Nozawa Onsen, Japan$43$60¥6000
Niseko, Japan$58$77¥8,100
Rusutsu, Japan$63$84¥8800
Big White, Canada$81$111¥11291
Lake Louise, Canada$95$129¥13244
Whistler Blackcomb, Canada$123$167¥17147
Alta, USA$151$205¥21050
Park City, USA$223$303¥31087
Vail, USA$247$336¥34433

Costs quoted above are based on the most recent ski season at the time of writing and are subject to change. Based on peak weekend rates when buying in-advance online (better value offers are available when booking for multiple days). Please check the resort websites for up to date prices.

*Prices calculated using local conversion rate at the time of writing:

  • $1.36 CAD = $1.00 USD
  • ¥139 = $1.00 USD

Resorts and Après Ski

Après ski is pretty different in Japan compared to North America.

Japan offers a more cultural experience where you can really immerse yourself. North America has more in terms of bars and does offer a very westernized experience if that’s what you’re looking for. With that said, you can still find this kind of atmosphere in some of the Japanese resorts too.

In Japan you can visit the onsen which is a hot spring to relax after a day on the slopes. This is definitely more interesting compared to the hot tubs in North America.

Comparing Top Ski Resorts

The ski resorts in North America are a lot larger compared to Japan. This not only means there’s more skiable acreage in North America, but also that the resorts tend to feel a bit less crowded.

Most Japanese ski resorts tend to offer between 500 and 1000 acres of skiable terrain which is considered very small in comparison to North American resorts. Most major US and Canadian ski resorts offer at least 2000 acres of terrain and plenty offer much more than this.

Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or expert, you’ll find suitable resorts in Canada, the USA and Japan. However, the resorts are typically steeper in North America which some advanced skiers will prefer as it can make the terrain more challenging.

Top Ski Resorts in North America:

  • Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
  • Vail, USA
  • Park City, USA
  • Big White, Canada
  • Lake Louise, Canada
  • Sunshine Village, Canada
  • Aspen Snowmass, USA

Top Ski Resorts in Japan:

  • Niseko
  • Rusutsu
  • Nozawa Onsen
  • Kiroro
  • Shiga Kogen
  • Appi Kogen
  • Hakuba Valley

Here’s a comparison table of the top ski resorts in North America and Japan. It is ordered from the smallest to the largest in terms of skiable terrain.

Ski ResortSkiable TerrainDifficultyVertical Drop
Hakuba Valley, JP494 acBeginner: 30%
Intermediate: 40%
Expert: 39%
2605 ft
Rusutsu, JP524 acBeginner: 30%
Intermediate: 40%
Expert: 30%
1949 ft
Nozawa Onsen, JP734 acBeginner: 50%
Intermediate: 29%
Expert: 21%
3560 ft
Niseko, JP803 acBeginner: 44%
Intermediate: 36%
Expert: 20%
3084 ft
Appi Kogen, JP850 acBeginner: 30%
Intermediate: 40%
Expert: 30%
2717 ft
Kiroro, JP1200 acBeginner: 29%
Intermediate: 35%
Expert: 36%
2001 ft
Shiga Kogen, JP1500 acBeginner: 50%
Intermediate: 36%
Expert: 14%
1476 ft
Big White, CA2765 acBeginner: 18%
Intermediate: 54%
Expert: 28%
2550 ft
Sunshine Village, CA3500 acBeginner: 23%
Intermediate: 46%
Expert: 31%
3361 ft
Lake Louise, CA4200 acBeginner: 25%
Intermediate: 45%
Expert: 30%
3250 ft
Vail, US 5317 acBeginner: 18%
Intermediate: 29%
Expert: 53%
3450 ft
 Aspen Snowmass, US5517 ac Beginner: 9%
Intermediate: 45%
Expert: 46%
 4406 ft
Park City, US 7300 acBeginner: 7%
Intermediate: 49%
Expert: 44%
3200 ft
Whistler Blackcomb, CA8171 acBeginner: 20%
Intermediate: 55%
Expert: 25%
5280 ft

Getting to the Resorts

In North America, most of the major ski resorts are within a 2 hour transfer time from the nearest international airport. In Japan, most ski resorts are within 2-3 hours of the local regional airport and it will usually require a connecting flight if you are travelling internationally.

If you want a short transfer time then the best resorts to consider in the USA are in Utah, Montana and California. In Canada, Big White and Mont Tremblant have short transfer times from the closest international airport.

Check out my comparison between Canada and the USA for skiing.

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