Japan Ski Resorts, COVID-19 and the 2020/21 Season

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By justine@japanskiexperience.com | Mon, 08 Feb 2021
Categories: Niseko, Hakuba, Covid-19
Japan Ski Resorts, COVID-19 and the 2020/21 Season
***UPDATED 8th FEB 2021***
What a year it has been. It is hard to imagine anyone or anything not being affected in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Japan (and most notably Japan ski resorts such as Niseko and Hakuba) is no exception.
Japan Border Closures
Japan officially closed its borders to international visitors in May 2020 to restrict the spread of COVID-19. The border restrictions which are expected to be in place until April 2021 earliest, mean that virtually no foreign tourists are allowed entry into Japan, and those with exemptions (short-stay business travellers who must follow strict entry protocols) must self-isolate for a minimum of 14 days and avoid public transit. This means of course that all of those Japan powder lovers travelling from abroad will have to put their Japan ski trip dreams on hiatus for the 2020/21 season and hold tight until the 2021/22 ski season. For the majority of would-be visitors, being ‘disappointed’ is an understatement!
Japan and COVID-19
For a long while Japan seemed to be ahead of the game on COVID-19 infections with extremely few cases per capita, and an exceptionally low death rate considering Japan’s aging population. After a bit of a spike in August, things started improving again until around late November when Japan experienced a third wave.  Thanks to some lockdown measures, COVID numbesr have been steadily decreasing since around the 20th of January, and new cases as of the 7th 2021 of February were at 1,637. Japan is once again faring quite a bit better than many other countries around the world, and the hope is that they will still be able to carry out the Tokyo Olympic Games, planned for 24th July - 9th August, 2021.
Go To Travel Program and Japan Ski Resorts
In an aid to reboot the economy damaged by the coronavirus, the Japanese government launched the Go To Travel Campaign in July, which offered big discounts on travel inside Japan for domestic residents. The campaign had largely contributed to ski resorts such as Niseko and Hakuba being able to operate as close to normally as possible early on, given the increase in domestic visitors compared to a regular ski season, who may not usually book ski holidays in Japan.  With COVID numbers increasing from November, the government suspended the Go To Travel campaign in December with no immediate plans to relaunch.
Graph credit: Japan-Guide.com

Further campaigns launched by individual prefectures such as Hokkaido’s “Dominwari” campaign offered discounts of up to 50% off luxury hotel stays such as The Vale Niseko. The travel incentives give us hope that many of the wonderful small businesses in the Japan ski resorts such as restaurants, onsens, and especially hotel and chalet accommodations can make it through these uncertain times with an aim to hit the ground running for the 2021/22 ski season!
The Vale Niseko, one of the best ski in / ski out properties in Hirafu Village

Some Japan ski resorts such as Hakuba saw record numbers of visitors during their green season (hiking the Japan alps - a fantastic green-season activity in Nagano), a trend which many property owners were hoping would continue over the ski season as well.
Niseko and Hakuba Ski Resorts 2020/21 Season Opening
Niseko and Hakuba ski resorts opened up a bit earlier this season than they have over the last couple of years.  Niseko Annupuri Resort opened on the 28th of November, followed by Niseko Village on the 1st and Grand Hirafu and Hanazono Resorts shortly after on the 5th of December. Hakuba Valley's 10 ski resorts opened between the 11th and 19th of December.  
Niseko Powder
The forecasted La Nina pattern which was expected to contribute to colder than normal temperatures as well as increased snowfall in the northern mainland area has delivered as promised: both Niseko and Hakuba resorts have been experiencing crazy daily powder dumps which hasn't been seen for at least a couple of ski seasons.  
COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Japan's vaccine rollout is set to begin by late February, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's administration claims they plan to secure enough vaccines for the entire country by the end of June 2021.  As with other countries, the rollout plan will include vaccinating front line workers and the elderly or high risk populations first, however exact details of the plan are yet to be released. 

The administration is planning to have every willing Japanese citizen above the age of 16 inoculated by September of 2021, which while unfortunately too late for the Tokyo Olympic Games, should be in time for the 2021/22 ski season (with some breathing room)!

Looking Ahead
Some of us are lucky to be in the thick of the latest dump of powder the Japan ski resorts have received over the past few weeks. However, most of us will have to dreamily watch from afar this season, making a mental list of all of the incredible Japan ski experiences we can store for the 2021/22 season!  We are adding Niseko daily snow reports to our blog every day so make sure you check back here to stay connected while you can’t be with us in person.  And we look forward to seeing you again soon!
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