Everyone likes free stuff and if you are reading this blog you probably like powder snow, so you are in for a treat here. Can you really ski or snowboard in Japan for free? Yes, yes you can.
I recently told you about an entire ski resort for free, but if that feels like too much of a commitment, maybe you just want some free ski or snowboard lift passes?
A few years ago the Fukushima Tourism Board offered free lift tickets to foreign visitors between the ages of 19-24 to try and drive up awareness of the amazing ski resorts in this prefecture.
You can still ski and snowboard in Japan for free in the 2019 – 2020 ski season. A different promotion is running, but interestingly it is also targeted at similar age groups. For guests aged 19, there are completely free lift tickets available to over 180 ski resorts across Japan! For guests aged 20-22, there are also free lift tickets available for 22 ski resorts in Fukushima Prefecture.
I list the following items as almost free, as there is some spending required from you to earn the ‘free’ item.
Holders of the Epic Pass, Epic Local Pass or Epic Australia Pass get free skiing at Rustusu in Hokkaido and Hakuba in Honsho. Both resorts are offering 5 consecutive days with no blackouts or restrictions for holders of any of the eligible Epic Passes. Rusutsu is one of the gems of Hokkaido powder skiing, and a must-visit for those heading north (e.g. Niseko). Hakuba Valley boasts that it is the biggest ski resort in Japan, but really it is a collection of resorts that share a common pass.
So if you have a season pass to Hotham, Falls Creek, Perisher, Whistler Blackcomb, Vail, Keystone, Breckinridge or any of the other 30+ resorts on the Epic Pass make sure you add Rusutsu and Hakuba to your plans this winter!
The Mountain Colective pass is a little bit different, and it is an ideal purchase for the storm chaser who likes to travel. As a pass holder, you get 2 free days riding at each of their 18 resorts (Alta, Aspen, Banff, Jackson Hole, Mammoth, Remarkables, Revelstoke, Squaw, Thredbo to name a few) and 50% off any additional day passes. This list includes Niseko United, debatably the most famous ski resort in Japan, and the top winter destination for Hokkaido.
The Ikon Pass offered unlimited riding at major US resorts like Mammoth, Squaw Valley and Steamboat. Pass holders additionally receive up to 7 days at 28 resorts in the US and elsewhere like Jackson Hole, Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Thredbo, Revelstoke etc.
Depending on what pass you get – the Ikon or the Ikon Base Pass, you will get either 7 or 5 days at Niseko United Resorts. It is important to note that the Base Pass has blackout dates for Niseko on Dec 26-31 2019; Jan. 18-19 2020 and Feb. 15-16 2020. The top tier Ikon Pass has no blackout dates.
You also get the bonus of 25% lift passes for up to 10 friends and family – maybe this option could move into the Totally Free section with some careful negotiation with 10 of your best powder friends?
Mt Buller in Australia offers season pass holders 5 consecutive days free at Madarao resort in Nagano and 50% off any additional day passes. It is worth noting that Madarao is connected to Tangram Ski Circus, and you need a combined lift pass to get the best out of this amazing tree skiing mountain. Madarao offers an upgrade to a combined area pass for Mt Buller season pass holders for a small fee.
Note that Mt Buller has recently joined the Mountain Collective and pass holders also receive 50% off at other Mountain Collective resorts, which in Japan means Niseko United.
There is also a 30% off accommodation option in Madarao thanks to a partnership with the team at Kuma and Woodpecker lodges.
Other Free Passes
Some resorts offer free lift passes with accommodation. An example of this in Japan are Active Life in Madarao offering up to 3 days of free lift passes with 6-night accommodation packages. I will let you calculate if this really is free.
Many ski resorts also offer free skiing for children, most have restrictions on days etc, but some like the famous Naeba resort in Yuzawa and Iwate Kogen in Tohoku have unlimited free skiing for children under 12.
Related Free Stuff
Every year Jetstar runs a promotion for flights between Australia and Japan that are essentially half price, as the promotion is ‘return for free‘ where you only pay for the outbound leg of a return flight. Even with the additional fees for baggage, and then oversize sports baggage, Jetstar is often a more economical choice for getting to Japan from Australia.