Ishiuchi Maruyama is Yuzawa’s best local ski area

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Ishiuchi Maruyama is a pretty big ski resort by Japanese standards, and has three different bases, the legacy of being two areas once – Ishiuchi and Maruyama. Put together it makes one decent sized one, and probably the best all round choice of the immediate Yuzawa town areas for most reasonable skiers. Their fantastic new combo 10 person gondola/6 seat (heated!) chairlift, the Sunrise Express, is a big bonus for the 2018-2019 season.

Kengo Nogami skiing Ishiuchi Maruyama
Ishiuchi boss Kengo Nogami likes to skin up the peaks in the background on his days off – respect! © Owain Price

You can buy a joint ticket for Ishiuchi, Gala Yuzawa and Yuzawa Kogen, which adds up to a lot of terrain. It links very easily at the top to adjacent Gala Yuzawa.

Coming from town, or straight off the shinkansen, you may get to the top of Ishiuchi more quickly by heading over from Gala then taking the shuttle bus to one of the actual Ishiuchi Maruyama base areas running down the side of the valley. Except on weekends, when heading early to Ishiuchi will likely avoid more crowds.

But the place to start this winter will surely be the Ishiuchi’s brand new Chuo base Resort Centre and its impressive new ‘Sunrise Express’ combo 10 person gondola/6 seat express lift, complete with heated cabins and seats!

Ishiuchi Maruyam 2018-2019 trail map
The new look trail map for Ishiuchi Maruyama with Sunrise Express highlighted

It’s the biggest lift investment in the area for many years, if not all Japan, and will make a big difference. Non-skiers can come up too, for the views and the slope side restaurant zone.

With 664m vertical the snow is usually better up the top half and the new lift whisks you up there. It also helps access the extensive night skiing zone.

night skiing Ishiuchi Maruyama
The new Sunrise Express gondola/6 pack lift at Ishiuchi makes accessing the extensive nightskiing a lot easier © Ishiuchi

It’s always a good sign anywhere if the the mountain boss is a keen skier. Ishiuchi head honcho Kengo Nogami is certainly that. I asked him about the higher mountains we could see off in the distance to the north east and he told me he had skinned up one of them the previous week. Respect!

He skis fast and we hammered together. Ishiuchi is great for that. Fast lifts and long, mostly empty runs mean you can rack up a lot of vertical in a short time. Bombing off the top express lift, which accesses some nice pitched groomed terrain, is the pick of the crop.

skiing top lift at Ishiuchi
Canyons.jp instructor George Greensmith was our Yuzawa local at Ishiuchi © Owain Price

We put in more legwork in our two hours here than the rest of the day at the other two areas we visited.
Little clusters of restaurants are dotted around the slopes for a refuel stop, but we had no time for that.

There are enough runs for all standards to keep most people happy for a couple of days, especially linking further over to Gala and Yuzawa. Grooming is excellent, lots of great value restaurants line the slopes, and we would love to come back for night skiing now the new lift makes the access to that so easy.

They have a massive superpipe too, but that’s way out of my league.

Gung Ho Pipe Ishiuchi
The GungHo Pipe is great for pipe people but scared the crap out of me sorry © Owain Price

Late on a spring day with shade coming down and the sugary snow crunching up reminded me of lots of afternoons like that skiing at home in OZ. Stay in the sun and go till the buzzer is a good plan. We did, it set the seal on a great day that started as a pow day, sort of, at Kandatsu, then included an Italian pizza lunch you wouldn’t easily beat in Italy at Iwappara, and finally an afternoon session tearing up almost empty fast slopes with magnificent views.

Ishiuchi base view
View back to Ishiuchi base © Owain Price

Get it on a real powder day – come in January/February for best chances of that – and it would be huge fun.
Like the whole Yuzawa region, it’s great value too. Lift passes are only ¥4,500 or ¥5,100 for the triple combo with Gala & Yuzawa Kogen.

Where is Ishiuchi Maruyama?

It’s only around 70-80 minutes from Tokyo to Echigo Yuzawa by Shinkansen, plus a short 10 minute or so shuttle bus ride from the station to the base area.
Self driving it’s about 120 minutes on the Kanetsu expressway from Kanetsukaido Nerima IC to Shiozawa IC, with the resort base just 5 minutes flat road from the exit.

Where to stay at Ishiuchi Maruyama?

There are ski in/ski out accommodation hotel options at the Hatsukaishi base area and pension lodges scattered around the Ishiuchi base, plus plenty more in central Yuzawa.

Booking.com

Ishiuchi Maruyama, Yuzawa and Niigata useful links

For Niigata Prefecture info head to http://enjoyniigata.com/en/
For local Yuzawa info www.e-yuzawa.gr.jp
For Ishiuchi info check Visit Ishiuchi
The resort website is in Japanese here.
For English language snow school/guiding in the Yuzawa region check www.canyons.jp – they are also at Nozawa and Minakami so you could pre book from there.

For more features on the best Yuzawa areas check out Kandatsu Kogen, Gala Yuzawa and Iwappara here, all very close on shuttle buses from Yuzawa. Or a little further (30-40 minutes) Naeba Kagura.