Destination Guide #7: Skiing at Yuzawa, Niigata

With Niseko and Hakuba getting more crowded with tourists, where are the other options for a quick ski/snowboard trip? We spent a few days at Yuzawa this season and enjoyed the spacious slopes, as well as “owning” the slopes most of the time.

Located about an hour and half away from Tokyo via Shinkansen, Yuzawa is frequented by Tokyo-ites over the weekend for a quick Japow fix. Known as “Snow Country”, the resort town is known for its hot springs, ski areas and sake!

Posing at Gala Yuzawa

Introduction

Yuzawa area is home to 12 unique ski resorts, with many other resorts scattered beyond. You are literally spoilt for choice here. One of the largest ski resorts, Gala Yuzawa, has its own Shinkasen station “Gala Yuzawa”.

Most of the resorts are nearby “Echigo Yuzawa” Shinkasen station. Echigo Yuzawa is a good base, with many amenities within walking distance from the station. The onsen street is a quaint charming town featuring traditional Japanese houses, snow-capped roofs and lots of local eateries. There is also a ski shuttle that brings you to various resorts.

The view right in front of Echigo Yuzawa station.
  • I stayed at Yuzawa Grand Hotel during my trip, which was within walking distance from the Echigo Yuzawa Shinkasen station.
  • The hotel is a shuttle stop for the Naspa-Gala-Yuzawa Kogen shuttle bus. It also has 2 in-house onsens!
  • During my trip, I visited Gala Yuzawa, Kagura, Ishiuchi Maruyama and Yuzawa Kogen ski fields.

Gala Yuzawa

Gala Yuzawa chair lifts
  • This ski resort is the easiest to access from Tokyo – after all it has its own Shinkasen station – and many visitors and locals visit for a day trip to get a quick ski or snowboard fix.
  • Gala Yuzawa is a huge resort and is linked to Yuzawa Kogen on the left and Ishiuchi Maruyama on the right. A three-mountain pass is available for those who would like to venture the connecting trails to the other resorts.
  • You can rent your gear at the resort, as well as engage English-speaking instructors from Canyons.
  • We had our lesson there and the instructor was good, although the 2-hour private lesson was priced more expensive than some of the others we came across later on.

Kagura 

When the snow was so deep at Kagura…
  • Kagura is a huge ski field that is linked to Mount Naeba (which is about an hour’s drive away from Echigo Yuzawa town).
  • We accessed the slopes from the Mitsumata Ropeway and skied the right part (Kagura) side of the mountain.
  • The area is huge and there are many trails to explore. Similarly, you may need to take a number of lifts to reach to your destination. Complex trail aside, I think this is a good area to explore for more than a day.
  • Kagura seems to get more powder, especially at the northeast area, so I think this is perfect for those looking for ungroomed runs.

Ishiuchi Maruyama

View after getting off the Sunrise Express gondola at Ishiuchi Maruyama
  • Our favourite ski fields out of those that we visited because of the alpine town vibes. Every area is littered with cafes and eateries. There is even a yakiniku restaurant and a local izakaya located mid mountain.
  • The gondola system was revamped in 2018/2019 season and looks quite state-of-art.
  • The trails are groomed, so powderhounds with a preference for ungroomed or off-piste may not enjoy this resort as much as us.

Yuzawa Kogen

View of Yuzawa Kogen from the base camp. There was almost no one at around 9am. We managed to catch first tracks at Yuzawa Kogen even at 9.40am.
  • This ski field is nearest to Echigo Yuzawa Shinkasen station.
  • However, it is very small with limited trails. We felt quite bored after a couple of hours there. Probably a good place to focus on learning, as it is not crowded at all and features very wide slopes.

Tips

  • We rented a car when we were in Echigo Yuzawa, but considering the distance from the various ski resorts, it is possible to navigate around via the shuttles. Most of the established ski fields have rental shops nearby, so you could rent near the ski resort before heading up the slopes.
  • There are plenty of rental shops at Yuzawa, therefore pre-booking is not necessary. We recommend Yuzawa Ski House, which is located across the road from Yuzawa Kogen at the onsen street.
  • The main onsen street is littered with eateries, so there is no need to venture outside of the town. In fact, the Echigo Yuzawa station is populated with local eateries and stores selling omiyage. At the back of the station, there is a sake museum (Ponshukan) where you could go for sake tasting.
  • Check your hotel to see if they sell discounted ski passes. Yuzawa Grand Hotel had great discounts for various ski resorts. Also, most ski fields at Yuzawa do not have the tap-in-tap-out system like Niseko or Hakuba. Sometimes, the guys at the chairlifts do not ask for your pass.
Sake tasting at Ponshukan, located inside Echigo Yuzawa station

List of English-speaking schools at Yuzawa

Eateries to check out

Desserts at Hatago Isen.
  • Eateries at Echigo Yuzawa Shinkasen station
  • Kikushin – This eatery across the road from Echigo Yuzawa station is well known for their Soba with Tempura.
  • 居酒屋 ゆた – A simple local izakaya with no English menu but the chef serves delicious food!
  • Taikohen – Popular yakiniku place that requires reservation.
  • Hatago Isen – This is an onsen resort but their cafe serves delicious onsen coffee and cakes. Apparently, they serve Omakase dinner too.




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