But Manza remains a virtual secret to western skiers, being a bit smaller and a bit harder to get to than it’s sister resorts.
Manza Prince Hotel is actually Japan’s highest year round onsen hotel, perched next to steaming fumeroles 1800m up on Mt Manza.
That is almost the same altitude as the top of the lifts at Hakuba’s highest resort, Happo-One! At Manza you can ski down from the hotel and ride up to just below 2000m. Not surprisingly you can expect decent quality snow, and there’s a decent quantity too, 7 – 8m season average.
Snowfall and snow quality are similar on both fronts to nearby Shiga Kogen – you can day tour over from the Mt Yokoteyama end of Shiga Kogen to Manza when conditions are suitable. In summer it’s an easy drive, but the route is well and truly buried in deep snow through winter.
Manza Prince Hotel is renowned as arguably Japan’s best onsen resort hotel, and enjoys plenty of popularity with the locals for that reason year round.
It was also renowned as one of the country’s chicest ski resorts too, back before the Japanese ski boom hit and mega resorts sprouted like snow mushrooms across the country.
Which is great if you don’t favour mega resorts – the slopes are big enough to have plenty of fun, on or off piste, in an easy to navigate layout that’s ideal for anyone with little kids or beginners along with them.
We have enjoyed nice powder days here with zero competition for fresh lines. That has likely changed a little since our last visit, but given the main clientele are families and couples as interested in the onsens as the snow, it likely hasn’t changed that much.
For families looking for something quieter Manza is ideal – Prince Resort’s Kid’s Ski Free Program applies for those under 13, there are other activities like tubing and snow rafting, and it’s all ski in/ski out super convenient.
There’s plenty of kid’s rental gear at the 3 rental locations, and private ski lessons in English can be booked with Interalpen Ski School by prior arrangement – see contacts opposite page. There are family onsens too.
Speaking of onsens, that is reason enough to come here if you, like us, are aficionados of the Japanese keep-it-clean ritual scrub and soak.
I guess being raised as a young tacker in merry old England, where bathing has been out of vogue since the fall of the Roman Empire, it’s a chance to embrace the new found joys of cleanliness, never mind the therapeutic qualities of the mineral rich waters.
At Manza you can see and smell the onsen in the valley. At the hotel the waters are channelled into an array of indoor and outdoor pools that is simply the best in snow selection we have come across.
As the only western people in the entire hotel on our last visit any etiquette boo-boos were all ours. I can’t speak for the ladies side of the sheds, but I was the lonely only guy in the three outdoor onsens I sampled, so pretty hard to offend anybody there.
So yes, Manza is not a great place for party animals.
Manza is a great place for independent minded families who actually like to spend some time skiing with their kids, not dump them in all day programs, especially those with smaller children.
Manza is also great for couples/groups of friends who like to ski, chill and enjoy some great food in an out of the way, and still seriously secret as far as western visitation goes setting. It easily combines with anywhere on the Hokuriku shinkansen line – Shiga, Myoko, Nozawa, Madarao etc, with an all ski tour option over from Shiga also.
Where to stay at Manza Onsen
The Manza Prince Hotel is true ski in/ski out, set mid-mountain with beginner slopes below the hotel and the main ones above.
Choice of western or Japanese style rooms, superb cuisine, magnificent onsen including stepped terrace outdoor onsen in the snow.
Where is Manza Onsen
To Manza by rail is easy, take the shinkansen to Karuizawa, 60 minutes from Tokyo, then the free guests Prince shuttle to the resort, 1 hour 40 minutes. Check times when booking.
Self driving it’s 230 – 245km from Haneda Airport, around 3.45 – 4 hours plus depending on traffic and route choice, heading west on the Joetsu freeway with a couple of options off that.
It combines easily with Kusatsu, with daily bus services available. You can day trip between these two special Gunma onsen.
Or ski tour over from Shiga – when conditions are right, ¥15,000 per person minimum of two – they will drive your luggage & any non-skiers around from the Prince at Shiga to Manza or vice-versa.
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