Naeba Kagura is one of Honshu’s best big ski resorts, and the jewel in the Prince Resort’s crown. Popular on weekends thanks to easy accessibility from Tokyo, it’s an ideal midweek ski in/ski out destination choice for ever increasing numbers of international visitors. For families it’s a no brainer as kid’s to 12 ski free all season!
The infrastructure is excellent, including Japan’s longest ski lift, the mighty Dragondola which links the two resort areas. Built to cope with large numbers, it’s often semi-deserted midweeks. So despite Naeba’s popularity you don’t have to worry too much about crowds. Especially if you head out into the extensive side-country options from the Kagura side.
The massive Naeba Prince Resort complex is the best place to stay. It’s super convenient, with step out the door access to a selection of express gondolas and chairlifts. It offers 1216 rooms and numerous food outlets from fine dining to fast food, including Japanese, Chinese, French and Italian. Many of them are excellent value, like the ‘Beer Restaurant’ Cabana, which serves tasty pizzas and pastas most priced around a very reasonable ¥1300. Overlooking the night ski slopes it has a great indoor view of the weekly fireworks if you’re there on Saturday night.
Naeba town, a few hundred metres from the slopes and Prince complex, has picked up a lot recently too. Wood fired izakaya cuisine in a sake brew pub was not part of the equation there even last year, but it is now. Check out Bar Bamboo for yourselves and join the Tokyo hipster crowd at the tables.
The food is amazing: best tofu we’ve ever eaten, and lots of light, crunchy, fresh options with no porky pig in sight unless you actually want some.
Not that we’re kale krunching veggos, we just like to eat healthy. And we prefer to drink healthy too, which is easy hooking into Bamboo’s own beer and local Niigata Hakkaisan sake.
Snow Action have been big Naeba fans for years. It offers such a great combination of top class piste runs for all levels, plus some powder options – they seem to be relaxing as the years go by on that front – at Naeba, and many more at Kagura, a 20 minute Dragondola ride or shuttle and ropeway ride away back toward Yuzawa.
Kagura was one of the leaders in opening up their big tree terrain – we gave their Mountain Manager Minoru Nakazawa our inaugural Japan Ski Boss of the Year award for his efforts eight years ago – and it’s become a mecca for back and side country enthusiasts. His pro-activity was a big part of that.
“We strongly encourage all levels of skiers and riders to challenge themselves and get into the backcountry. However, if you are inexperienced or skiing Kagura for the ﬁrst time, we highly recommend using one of the area’s professional guides. These guides will not only keep you safe, but they will also show you Kagura’s best spots!”
“Every year, more and more powder fanatics are discovering Kagura, and claiming it as their local mountain. I am but one of these people who happened to arrive years ago. While continually working to create a safe, fun and accessible environment, I hope to expand the scope of Japan’s backcountry scene, and allow as many people to experience it as possible.”
They have done that in spades over the intervening years, simplifying the system now with a sign out gate at the top of Kagura that accesses a lot of awesome terrain – a big chunk of it in the trees and bowl off skiers right heading back down, which funnels into a big gully into the Tashiro area.
There are any number of charging lines in this zone, mostly not very steep but with some big natural features to boot off and nice bowl lines to slash. As it gets traffic you can skate and hike further along the ridgeline towards Tashiro to find more untracked spots.
Eight years ago we got lucky with waist deep powder and just our small group lapping off the top lift here. Last year, arriving virtually straight off the plane from Australia on a Saturday morning, we got boot to knee deep fresh snow. The whole side country area skiing down into Tashiro is all pretty obvious and hard to get lost in as the you run across the main linking run eventually. But for excursions to the peak and beyond getting a local guide is a good idea.
There are a lot of serious backcountry skiers and riders in Japan, now joined here by plenty of internationals and ex-pats. The popular backcountry snow store at the Mitsumata base has plenty of fat skis for sale and rental.
There are some magnificent big pines to weave your way round on Kagura’s upper area. Staying up at Wadagoya-hut for a night will give you first shot at them. It’s not a hut, it’s a comfy, warm, ryokan style lodge with a nice restaurant that’s very popular for lunch.
Kagura gets a lot of snow, being a bit higher and bit closer to the coast, but Naeba has never been lacking for us on 5 trips now either. Staying there and taking the shuttle down the road to start at Mitsumata, or working your way across on the Dragondola and Tashiro lifts takes much the same time.
It’s hard to leave Naeba itself on powder days though. It’s a fast blast on powder mornings, especially if it’s socked in and still snowing, so you can get a bit ‘lost’ of the sides of the runs. They have mellowed and the terrain they officially let you ski there has expanded over the years, but many visible and easily doable lines are still officially off the map.
Naeba’s black run ‘Powder Fields’ as they are now called are good anytime there’s enough new snow to cover the base. Being first is well worth it. After a line or two here (use Gondola No.2), switch to Gondola No 1 which goes high enough to access the top pair lift to the summit of Mt Takenoko. From here the runs roll down into a nice gully line, and they don’t seem to mind you hitting the bowl and sparse tree lines. It doesn’t look like much of a lift, but it gives you 300m/1000′ vertical at a reasonable pitch. The peak is 1789m, high for the area, so snow quality is usually excellent.
For all standard groomers Naeba stacks up with anywhere in Japan. The lifts are good too, and even on a busy Saturday we didn’t waste much time in queues.
They put in a new Roxy Park last season, off the side of the main No. 5 express quad for express laps, plus there’s a beginner park included in the night ski terrain out front of the hotel.
Little kids even get an indoor learn to ski facility, and the resort is perfect for families.
Naeba Prince Hotel is the company’s largest, with 1216 room options across 4 buildings. Numerous restaurants and bars, an entertainment arcade, lots of indoor and outdoor activities – even an indoor kids learn to ski facility – and pretty much a big cruise liner on snow experience. Family Snow Land has snow rafting, snow tubing, snow trains, snowmobiles and more, plus kids ski free under 13 years so it’s obviously a great family choice. Naeba town has picked up with new businesses.
Also at Kagura the Wada-goya mountain hut option gives you absolute first tracks staying up at 1380m. Book via Prince on the link below.
Naeba resort/packages Prince Hotels www.princehotels.com/en/ski/naeba
www.deeppowdertours.com www.skijapan.com www.mogulski.com.au
Where is Naeba
Take the Joetsu shinkansen to Echigo Yuzawa (70mins), then free shuttle bus to Naeba resort (50 mins) for Prince guests; Kagura’s Mitsumata base is 20 minutes bus from the station. Or stay in Tokyo and get the direct bus from Shinagawa Prince Hotel, 3.45 hours.
Naeba Kagura Mountain stats and info
• Summit 1789m, base 900m, max vertical 889m
• 6m plus snowfall
• 22 courses longest 4km; terrain 30% beginner, 40% intermediate, 30% advanced/expert
• Big adults and kids parks, ski/boarder X course
• 17 lifts including 2 gondolas & 6 express quads
• Lift pass rates Naeba Kagura day adult ¥5700, senior ¥5000,
student ¥4300, kids to 12 years FREE
• Summit 1845m, base 620m, max vertical 1225m
• 10m plus snowfall
• 33 courses longest 6km; terrain 45% beginner, 35% intermediate, 20% advanced/expert
• Big park at Mitsumata, beginner park at Tashiro
• 22 lifts including 2 Ropeways, 1 gondola & 5 express quads
• Lift pass rates Kagura only day adult ¥4700, senior ¥4200,
student ¥3800, kids to 12 years FREE