Tokyo day ski trips are easy thanks to the mighty shinkansen – even if you have only a day spare in Japan’s capital there’s no reason not to hit the slopes. No gear is no excuse, everything can be hired. No idea is no excuse either, great English language lessons are easily organised and some of the best and most easily accessed day ski areas featured here are ideal for first timers. Some are great for experts too, including some less known powder stashes in Gunma.
Snow special trains to Gala Yuzawa, just 90 minutes from Tokyo, depart every few minutes on winter weekends. The resort base station is built right on top of the shinkansen station – big lifts take you up to the plaza level, where a massive gear hire and English language snow sports school operates. With gear sorted, hop on the gondola up to the ski area, which is quite a decent size and connects to two neighbouring ones.
Echigo Yuzawa, 5 minutes before Gala Yuzawa, is a thriving town with 11 close ski areas, one a short walk away, the rest accessed by buses or taxis.
The station has a great shopping and restaurant complex. Highlight is the sake tasting centre with over 90 varieties on offer via token machines. It’s easy to store ski gear if you are lugging it, or just hire everything.
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 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 5, Echigo Yuzawa. If you accidentally got off there no problem, shuttle buses run frequently around the areas. There is a huge variety of accommodation in Yuzawa, and great shopping, restaurants and nightlife.
Gala Yuzawa resort info/useful links
English language snow school/guiding
packages Yuzawa area
Even closer than Gala, Karuizawa is just over 60 minutes from Tokyo on the Hokuriku shinkansen, with the slopes a short walk from the station.
The ski area has 10 cruisy runs up to 1.2km long and terrain parks. The snowmaking is potent, and they do an amazing job of pushing it around to form runs, enabling it to be one of the first areas to open in Japan in November each year.
Around 200 shops, including outlets, are on offer at Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza.
Joetsu Kokusai Ski Resort
With 25 lifts and a wide variety of courses, plus half-pipes, parks and a kids area, there’s something for everyone from beginners through to advanced. The variety of restaurants mean you are able to relax with your choice of Japanese or Western food. Take the shinkansen from Tokyo to Echigo-Yuzawa, then transfer to the JR Joestu Line to Joetsu Kokusai Ski Jo Mae station, 110 minutes from Tokyo.
Kusatsu Kokusai Ski Resort is situated a short walk from Kusatsu Onsen, one of Japan’s best hot spring resort areas. It has 12 lifts and is a nice, small resort perfect for part-time skiers. The best way to finish a tiring day on the slopes is to soak in the onsen.
Highway buses to Kusatsu depart from Tokyo, Shinjuku and Shibuya Station. The journey takes approximately 4 hours.
White World Oze Iwakura
One of the larger Gunma areas, with 10 lifts and some nice runs, Oze Iwakura is quite high, reaching 1703m, and can get some good snow that midweek is pretty much all yours. They leave some advanced runs ungroomed, with gradients up to 40°. Stay here to get those first.
It’s ski in/ski out convenient if you go for more than a day and stay at Iwakura Resort Hotel located at the base, with quality Japanese or western rooms, delicious meals prepared using locally produced ingredients, and facilities include their hot ‘Ichiyama-no-yu’ hot spring.
Like so many Gunma areas, the lift passes are fantastic value at ¥3,500 adults. It’s 80 minutes bus ride from Jomo Kogen station. From Tokyo take the shinkansen to Jomo Kogen and then the Oze Kikou bus to the resort. Total travel time is approximately 150 minutes.
more at www.oze-iwakura.co.jp/ski/en/
Sitting just south of the Tanigawa mountain range, there are many ski resorts in the Minakami region. Minakami is a year-round destination as well, with a variety of other outdoor activities during the green season too.
Take the shinkansen from Tokyo to Jomo Kogen, from where there are a variety of shuttle buses to Minakami Onsen or the ski resorts directly. Travel time from Tokyo is around 2.5 hours.
Midweek all the above areas are usually quiet.