A $500 million bet on reinvigorating Japan’s aging ski industry

Taking a cue from Vail’s success, Hanazono resort in Niseko is spending big on modern lifts—and wants to raise ticket prices by 50% to pay for it.

HOKKAIDO, Feb 01 (Bloomberg) - Niseko sits on the western edge of the island of Hokkaido, where Siberian winds sweeping across the Sea of Japan drop heavy snow almost daily during the winter months.

The area typically gets at least 10 meters (33 feet) a season—and sometimes more than 15 meters—versus about three in France’s Courchevel and six in the Colorado resort of Vail.

Japan’s ski areas this season reopened to foreign visitors for the first time since the pandemic, and the slopes are packed with people from Australia, Singapore, the US and France alongside many locals. As a weaker yen has made the country roughly 20% cheaper than it was the last time foreigners were allowed in, a day at Niseko now costs the equivalent of $65, versus an average of $165 in the US.

Japanese tourism authorities have high hopes of again attracting hordes of skiing foreigners, but the lack of investment risks undercutting those ambitions. Laurent Vanat, an industry consultant who tracks skiing worldwide, says Japan’s aging infrastructure has damaged its reputation as a global destination. Powder hounds may come from afar for the snow, but they’re often disappointed when they find that the lifts date to the ’80s or ’90s. “The ski industry in Japan did not reinvent itself,” Vanat says. ...continue reading

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