Of late, the ski resorts in the Naeba area are currently our family favorites.
Because the kids have taking up skiing seriously and want to be skiing every chance they get, we are often visiting ski areas that can be accessed quickly for overnight stays and maximum skiing. You can visit our earlier writeups Where to go for ice and snow activities in Japan but below is our latest rundown of ski areas with family-friendly places that easiest to get to from around the capital city.
To get your bearings, see this map for location of major ski resorts: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2262_resort.html
Yuzawa/ Echigoyuzawa /Gala Yuzawa
Yuzawa has its own bullet train station and can be reached by train from Tokyo in just over an hour. It is also quickly accessible by car, taking just over two hours, which makes this slope one of the most popular (and crowded) ski resorts around. A mountain that offers great views on a clear day. There are onsens and plenty of family friendly facilities. Overcrowded though on public holidays. The nearest resort is in Echigoyuzawa – see my writeup (note for the budget-conscious): “Snow country” – Echigo Yuzawa or Yuzawa (Niigata). But you might prefer Gala Yuzawa which is one of the most popular ones for families.
Naeba/ Kagura – Naeba is located in Yuzawa along with Gala Yuzawa and Iwappara and thought to be best known and most famous ski resort in Japan for locals due to its proximity to Tokyo and reputation for good powder. Naeba ski field is enhanced by its linkage to the Kagura resort by way of the “Dragondola”. Between the two resorts there is a huge variety of runs and terrain to experience. For just a short skip from Tokyo this is one of the best places to go. Naeba can get very crowded depending on where you go…mostly for serious skiers. Prince Snow Resorts are always a safe choice for families. See also reviews of Kagura resort by the Tokyo Snow Club here.
Karuizawa – Karuizawa is an historic upmarket resort town which has a fairly large outlet mall, onsens, and its own ski field. No challenging ski slopes but good for a family with little ones. There are plenty of things for others to do if for non-skiers. Karuizawa is popular as a day trip from Tokyo as the ski field is very close to the station. Many like the respectable Prince Hotel establishment’s accommodation.
Nozawa Onsen – 3 hrs from Tokyo by Nagano Shinkansan and bus This is an incredibly picturesque mountain and village, located at the base of the mountain and blanketed in snow for the duration of the winter season. The township itself is slightly hilly, being at the very foot of the mountain, and absolutely oozes character. There are 13 free Onsens scattered around the township where you can take a dip if you take your own towel and soaps. In addition to this there is one larger Onsen complex near the ski field and a couple more within a quick drive.http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6017.html
Kusatsu – Kusatsu is a resort town nestled in the mountains of Gunma. The township itself is extremely pretty and boasts a geothermal spring which steams up from the ground in the very center of the town. Kusatsu is a popular family resort and has a slightly up market feel to it. There are plenty of onsens, restaurants rand souvenir shops to purchase the local delicacies. The ski field (Kusatsu Kokusai) itself is nice for beginners and intermediate levels. It can get a bit crowded during holiday periods. Japan Guide recommends Kusatsu Kokusai Ski Resort
Minakami Kogen– The Minakami area is in the north of Gunma prefecture in the Tanigawa mountain ranges. This area is famous for its Onsens and there are a wealth of really picturesque spots to bathe after a day’s skiing in the snow. The area has 10 ski and snowboard resorts including; Minakami Houdaigi, Minakami Kougen, Minakami Kougen Fujiwara, Minakami Okutone, North Minakami, Ohana, Tanigawa Onsen White Valley and Tanigawadake Tenjindaira. Only 70 minutes by train from Tokyo this spot is oftern overlooked by the crowds in favor of Yuzawa and Naeba. However, this area is less crowded and far superior when you add in the beautiful Onsens. Check out also Chalet La Neige and the Prince Hotel (which is described by one reviewer to be “one of the most pictureque settings of all the ski resorts I’ve been to”).
Alts Snow Park or ski resort in Fukushima – See my Alts Bandai Snow Park writeup on the re-opening of the family friendly snow park, the largest snow resort closest to Tokyo. See Alts Bandai website: http://www.alts.co.jp/english/. Other options in Fukushima are: Fukushima Inawashiro Snow Paradise and just in front of a big slop of ALTS BANDAI Samurai Riders – Samurai Riders`s – one of few hostels available for ski in and ski out in Japan.
Shiga Kogen – 2,000m high mountains, Shiga Kogen boasts with its numerous and large scale ski areas – fine powder snow, abundant snow fall, the latest facilities including a speedy lift operation system – Shiga Kogen is one of the worlds top ranked ski resorts (see also Prince Snow Resort )
From Powderhounds.com comes this excellent description of Shiga koen:
“Shiga Kogen is a good all-rounder as a ski holiday destination. It first gained international notoriety when it hosted various events at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, including the women’s downhill, slalom, super G and snowboarding events.
Since that time many other skiers and snowboarders have flocked to the Shiga Kogen ski resorts to get a taste of what this area has to offer. Shiga Kogen provides a large variety of ski and snowboard terrain, and quality snow because it’s the highest ski resort in Japan. It’s not called Shiga Heights for nothing (Kogen means heights or highlands).
Shiga Kogen Ski and Snowboard Terrain
Shiga Kogen is made up of 21 different ski resorts that are largely interlinked via the slopes and a comprehensive lift system that can be accessed off the one lift pass. The ability to explore the many villages on skis or a snowboard feels somewhat European.
With 980 metres of vertical, approximately 600 hectares of terrain, and 80+ kilometres of trails, Shiga Kogen is cited to be the largest ski area in Honshu (and possibly Japan), although when compared on an international scale, Shiga Kogen would probably be considered a medium sized resort.
Yakebitaiyama and Okushigakogen are amongst the largest ski areas within Shiga Kogen, whilst some of the other ski areas are so small that you could blink and miss them. A few of the areas are exclusively for two plankers (which could include a snowboarder on a split board!).
The extensive network of approximately 68 lifts includes some gondolas and ropeways, as well as some “romance” (ie double) chairs (romance on the chairs is optional!). Eight of the ski areas have a degree of night skiing.
The Shiga Kogen terrain is varied and includes beginners’ slopes, moguls, and some tree skiing, but powderhounds will have to really put their canine nose to work to sniff out the powder. There’s nothing particularly steep at Shiga Kogen that will make experts go yabba-dabba-doo. Shiga Kogen’s forte is the many kilometres of fresh ‘roys for cruising or schussing. Shiga Kogen is nirvana for intermediates, strong intermediates, and low end advanced riders.”
Less accessible and further out is the popular Hakuba (Nagano) known for the magnificent mountain range views:
It requires a little more travel time because you need to take an express bus (60-90mins) on top of the Shinkansen train ride getting there, but for hardcore skiiers and those with time, it may be well worth the effort. See access info http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6090.html
Other links and resources:
Try using Snowjapan.com’s reviews for ski resorts.
Reviews of Kagura resort by the Tokyo Snow Club here.
Samurai Riders – Samurai Riders`s is located in front of a big slop of ALTS BANDAI which is the largest snow resort closest to Tokyo. Samurai Rider`s is also one of few hostels available for ski in and ski out in Japan.
Nasu Kogen/Highlands – Even though Nasu Kogen is located at the boundary with Fukushima-ken, it is still readily accessible from Tokyo – about 1 hour by shinkansen http://iguide.travel/Nasu/Activities (See Prince Snow Resort Manza also Secret Japan’s account of Manza)