Gala Yuzawa is Japan’s number one ski resort! Are we crazy? What about Niseko, Hakuba, Rusutsu, Nozawa, or nearby Naeba-Kagura etc you ask?
We didn’t say Gala Yuzawa is Japan’s best ski resort. Just the busiest, getting around 2.5 million skier days a season. That’s more than Vail, or similar to Whistler in World terms. So why is this at best medium size resort so popular and you have probably never heard of it, far less skied it?
Well, imagine hopping on at Melbourne’s Flinders Street station & hopping off at Buller’s Northside Express chair 75 minutes later. Or going from Sydney Central Station to Perisher Skitube that fast. Or Vancouver to Whistler for that matter. Gala Yuzawa is built right on top of a shinkansen station. It has 35 million people down the line in Tokyo to draw on, so yes, it does get busy.
And we rocked up on Sunday morning! But this is Japan, they know a thing or two about crowd management. At Gala Yuzawa everything moves along at an efficient pace. People flood off the shinkansen, then up the big lifts to the huge foyer/base building. Ticketing, rentals (of everything, all clothing too even gloves if you’ve got nothing) and food outlets, and an excellent English language ski school, Canyons, are right there. They all work speedily to get you onto the gondola and up to the main slopes above.
Our guides needed to sort hire gear and get themselves organised, so I got chatting to the young English lads at the Canyon’s Ski School desk. Soon I had a couple of keen models, Jamie Thompson and Will Grantham, lined up to show us round. The area is not big, but not tiny either, and Gala Yuzawa can get some decent powder the lads informed us, with midweek usually way quieter to enjoy it.
“We are usually flat out with lessons all weekend” Jamie said, “but some midweek days we don’t get much work at all, so we get to ski a lot.”
The top elevation is 1181m, and with grey and sleety weather in Yuzawa town we didn’t have high hopes for a powder day on this trip.
Still, the lads know their mountain and we did a quick charge around before letting them have a play in the small park to get a few pics.
Out the top of the gondola the immediate beginner slops are as crowded and chaotic as you would expect with this volume of traffic, but away from that we hopped straight on lifts with no queues.
Gala Yuzawa interconnects with Yuzawa Kogen and Ishiuchi Maruyama areas to the south and north sides respectively, with a 3 area pass available that opens up longer and better terrain options. Isiuchi has some excellent long fast runs on their upper mountain which you ski straight into from Gala. It was too socked in to bother for us this day though.
After a park session in the little park – just a couple of rails and a 3 jump line – Will and Jamie had to work, so I headed back to the mega food court at the top station for lunch.
Japanese resort food courts are almost always great value, especially if you like fried crunchy stuff – mmmm, carbo & fat loading, perfect diet for skiing I reckon. The Gala Yuzawa food court has a more upmarket upstairs level with table service, or a massive self service section below.
We were hungry, it was a fun morning. This was the end of February, with conditions getting seriously spring like at Gala Yuzawa’s altitude.
Forty minutes up the road to Naeba the top is 600m higher, and the Kagura side of Naeba a bit higher again, so snow quality and quantity is usually better there. But midweek in mid-winter you could have a lot of fun here, especially if you work the 3 area connections to find some longer powder lines.
After lunch we hit the 2.5km Falcon Downhill Course home trail back down to the Gala Yuzawa base. It’s a nice fast pitched groomer that bumps up with traffic late in the day. It sorts out over confident beginners who blunder on it and then slide down on their backsides most of the way.
Where is Gala Yuzawa
Gala Yuzawa is in Niigata Prefecture, just a fast 70 minute shinkansen ride from Tokyo. JR East Rail’s ‘Ski Ski’ train & lift packages make it a cheap day at the snow if you are in Tokyo from December – April with time to kill. For example, if you are there on business you can get a full day skiing and easily catch an evening flight. Or just ski a half day – it’s closer than many people’s daily commute.
There are a dozen ski areas ringing Yuzawa town, which has its own shinkansen stop, Echigo Yuzawa, 5 minutes before Gala Yuzawa.
If you accidentally get off there it’s no problem, shuttle buses run frequently around the areas and you can ride over via the inter-link from Yuzawa Kogen if you get the inter-link ticket.
There is a huge variety of accommodation in Yuzawa, and great shopping, restaurants and nightlife.
Gala Yuzawa resort information and useful links
Accomodation and ski packages Gala Yuzawa area
There is a huge selection of accommodation in and around Echigo Yuzawa, including some next to the slopes of several resorts such as family friendly Naspa.
For Niigata Prefecture info head to http://enjoyniigata.com/en/
For local Yuzawa info www.e-yuzawa.gr.jp