The best ski resorts in Nagano are spread across the mountains of central Honshu. Ever since the Winter Olympics took place on the island in 1998, the slopes of Nagano have been a place of pilgrimage for winter sports fans. They host more ski fields than you can count on one hand, with runs for all levels and types of riders.

    Some ski resorts sit to the east on the peaks that spread off Mount Azumaya, while others wait to the west, amid the jagged Hida Mountains. Between them, they come up with zigzagging red runs and heavy black pistes and beginner-friendly nursery slopes alike. Oh, and there are some pretty lovely slope-side hotels with their own hot springs – great for après ski indulgence.


    Shiga Kogen

    Carve in the wake of Olympians

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    Shiga Kogen isn't just one of the top ski resorts in Nagano – it's among the best in the whole of Japan. Look for it spreading its slopes around the foothills of the Joshin'etsukogen National Park, just to the east of the city itself.

    You can find slopes of Olympic pedigree at Shiga Kogen. They hosted some of the fastest female downhill skiers and slalom maestros during the 1998 Winter Olympics. The stats are good for casual riders, too – you're looking at a whopping 71 lifts, 19 separate but interlinked ski areas, and a vertical drop of nearly 1 km. There's also night skiing during the peak of the season.



    A whole valley of open pistes

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    Hakuba isn't just 1 ski resort but a whole run of about 10 of them. They're all linked together by the eponymous Hakuba Valley, which strings north to south through a cleft in the Japanese Alps on the side of the Chubu Sangaku National Park – the transfer is about 50 minutes from central Nagano.

    There's so much to get through that you could certainly fill a whole winter trip here. Take the Hakuba Happo-one Snow Resort, which offers over 1,000 metres of vertical and some seriously gnarly black slopes for dedicated carvers. At the other end of the spectrum is the Sanosaka Snow Resort, where beginners can find wide pistes surrounded by lovely pine woods.



    Uber-long runs to cruise down

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    Nozawaonsen, also written as Nozawa Onsen, is a tried-and-tested winter-fun favourite in the northern mountains of Nagano. Reachable in less than an hour's transfer from the city centre, it sits at the far extremity of Mount Yakebitai.

    There are almost 70 years of snow sports heritage in Nozawaonsen. That's been plenty of time for the resort to expand into what's now one of the largest on the island. So, get ready for over 290 hectares of skiing terrain, 20 lifts, and just over 1 km of vertical descent. The piece de resistance is a 10-km-long run – one of the longest in the country, no less.



    Something a bit more compact

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    Karuizawa is a relatively small and compact little snow field that focuses mainly on catering to casual and beginner riders. It's actually run and operated solely by the Karuizawa Prince Hotel Ski Resort, which sits about 90 minutes' transfer from Nagano, on the south side of Karuizawahigashi city.

    A modest selection of trails spanning just 1 mountain includes a wide family run that's easygoing from start to finish and 2 faster reds through the eastern portion of the resort. In all, there are 12 hectares of ski terrain and the top station is a manageable 1,000 metres up.



    A favourite of powder hunters

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    Cortina might get its name from the uber-famous glitz and glamour resort of the Italian Dolomites, but it's actually known for some of the deepest powder accumulation in the Nagano Prefecture. It caps off the skiing haven of the Hakuba Valley, about 40 minutes or so from the city.

    High-perched runs that are relatively flat and undulating mean that this field is a doozy for accumulating pretty thick cushions of the white stuff. But it's not just for off-pisters. You can also score wide family runs and good beginner slopes, not to mention some lovely base-station onsen hotels surrounded by the Japanese Alps.

    Joseph Francis | Contributing Writer

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