I was certain my face was slowly cracking like a sheet of ice.
It felt like ice. My face. My face felt like ice. Cold and fragile, ready to fracture the next time I blinked.
We have never been so cold as we were on day three of our ski trip to Japan.
Granted, we had just come from Fiji, where it was a tropical 35C every day, and we’d plummeted to around -17C in Hokkaido.
Everyone was bailing off the mountain as visibility was poor, the snow was falling sideways and the cold was viciously penetrating my balaclava through to my face.
As skiers and snowboarders, we had a good stock of appropriate clothing with us – but some days you just have to head inside. Japan was the coldest environment we have been skiing in. Despite multiple thermal layers, I only had a flimsy balaclava to protect my face. I learnt my lesson quickly.
Winter packing is never particularly easy, so it’s important to plan what gear you’ll need to take with you.
Here’s what to pack for a ski trip to Japan.
what to pack for a ski trip to japan
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I am SO glad I discovered the joys of thermal leggings. Dress them up, dress them down, use them as thermals under your ski pants, wear whatever way you want – they keep your legs, hips and bum toasty warm.
Normal jeans won’t protect you from the cold one bit, unless you’re pairing them with some long johns underneath. For an apres-ski look while staying warm, grab an integrated pair like the Camii Mia thermal fleece lined jeans.
You know it’s winter when you start bringing out the Sorel boots. You will definitely need waterproof, sturdy, warm snow boots for travelling to Japan in winter. But I couldn’t get any Sorels shipped over to New Zealand before we left, so I opted for these similar Northside Kathmandu Women’s Boots – which looked great and kept my feet warm and dry. I wore them every day in Niseko. John prefers a slightly shorter boot, such as the Sorel snow boot for men.
Your base layer is really important when travelling to cold destinations, or when doing any winter activity such as hiking in the snow, skiing, snowboarding etc. The base layer needs to be able to wick moisture away from your skin, otherwise it will stay trapped on your skin, which will make you cold. You can choose either synthetic or wool fibres – but we always choose merino wool.
Your mid layer is for warmth. Again, we always choose merino wool for our mid layer thermals.
I’m a three-layers kind of girl when it comes to winter activities. So I usually throw on one more layer – my merino Icebreaker hoodie – over my base and mid layers, under my jacket. You can always take off layers if you get too hot. I love my hoodie, I wear it all the time in winter.
For when you want to look a bit smarter and not like you’ve just walked off the ski field, include a cashmere sweater. It’s lightweight to pack and it’s warm and snuggly. You can wear it over your thermals or any shirts with the collar pulled up over the top for a smart winter look for both men and women.
A chambray shirt adds a bit of style to my winter outfits when off the ski field. Let’s face it, we don’t want to have to look like a giant marshmallow of thermals and ski wear all the time! A chambray shirt is also ideal if you’re transiting through Tokyo or if you have a few days outside the ski resort. You can wear a thermal underneath and a cashmere sweater over the top, or you can use it as an outer layer, under your jacket. Men may prefer a plaid shirt.
A quality feather down jacket is imperative for winter travel. The great thing about down is it packs really well and is lightweight – perfect for travel. For women, opt for a longer length rather than one that sits on your hips. Trust me. You’ll thank me later.
Don’t go anywhere without a hat. The best kind for warmth is a merino beanie or woollen slouchy hat. Sometimes wool gets itchy around the hairline, so if that’s the case, choose one with a fleece lining.
A woollen scarf will keep your neck warm – and an infinity scarf is an any easy addition to any outfit and great packing item for travel. You can pull it up over your mouth and nose while walking around. A grey merino scarf is a good colour option for the men.
In New Zealand, I’ve never skied with a neck gaitor or balaclava. However in Japan I had to buy one on the first day because it was THAT COLD. I couldn’t cope with any part of my face being exposed. A full balaclava offers more protection than just a next gaitor but it’s down to personal preference.
In northern Japan you’ll be skiing or snowboarding in extremely cold weather and lots of powder. Bluebirds are rare. Make sure you have a decent waterproof rating and insulation levels.
As with your ski jacket, be sure to have quality waterproof and insulated ski or snowboard pants. You will get wet and if you get stuck in the powder, you’ll want to stay warm. I love my bright pink Salomon ski pants.
I always wear a pair of long johns or tights underneath my ski pants. Partly for warmth, but also to prevent my sweaty legs sticking to the inside of my ski pants during the day. Sexy, I know.
Quality ski goggles are imperative on the mountain. Bring a clear lens for night skiing, and a good low-light lens for cloudy conditions. You might get the odd sunny day, but it’s most likely going to be overcast in Japan.
For our 7-day skiing trip (as part of a wider 2-week Japan trip), we took three pairs of ski socks each. We washed them in the bathroom and hung them out to dry each night so there’d always be a fresh pair.
Warm, waterproof ski gloves or mittens are essential in the snow. Don’t buy the cheapest pair because they won’t keep you warm or dry all day. I prefer hybrid mittens – which have a glove interior lining but a mitt Gore-Tex shell for better warmth while retaining some dexterity.
Guard this bag with your life! It contains your precious goods – your skis/snowboard. We share one bag between us with John’s snowboard and my skis and poles, wrapped in our ski jacket & pants. Get one with separate boot areas if possible. And make sure it has wheels – it will make transporting your skis and snowboard through airports so much easier. We have the Dakine High Roller bag which fits all our gear safely and has separate zip compartments.
Protect your noggin – you only have one. No matter how good at skiing you think you might be, you never know if there’s an out-of-control skier hurtling down behind you, or a snowboarder falling on your path around the corner. The best ski helmets have MIPS, or Multi-directional Impact Protection System, which offers superior protection.
A small, lightweight hydration unit will help you power through the day – although the water might freeze over in the hose! It’s small enough to barely notice, but gives you the chance to stash a few items as well such as tissues, lip balm, and a few snacks.
Don’t forget to capture the action!
The cold elements can ruin your lips. Be sure to stash a quality lip balm or hydrator in your pocket during your ski trip.
John swears by these feet warmers. He suffers from a terrible condition called UFFCF – uncomfortably friggin freezing cold feet.
The most precious cargo of all. Chances are you’ll be skiing in powder so you might need fatter skis than usual. Japan has good quality rental gear, so if you wake up waist-deep in fresh powder, your best bet is to rent some fat skis or a powder board. I stuck with my Fischer Ranger 89s the whole way through, although I mostly stuck to groomed runs with the odd bit of backcountry.
For more tips about travelling to Japan:
- 17 Tips for First-Time Travel To Japan
- Day Trip To Kiroro Ski Resort
- Tokyo 4-Day Winter Itinerary
- A Guide To Tokyo DisneySea For Adults
- A Guide To The Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
- How To Plan A Ski Trip To Japan
- Essential Japanese Ski Phrases
DISCUSS: What did we miss? What else would you pack for a ski trip to Japan?
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