snow adventure close to Tokyo
Gala Yuzawa, a snow resort in Niigata Prefecture, is just 70-minutes by bullet train from Tokyo. The resort is an excellent choice for an easy daytrip as everything you need is onsite, including rentals and lessons. The shinkansen station is housed in the resort's main building, meaning very easy access to snow adventure.
We spoke to Miki Kuriyama, one of Japan's top pro skiers, and winner of the Ski Association of Japan-sponsored Ski Demonstrator Tournament three years in a row. Read on for her tips and photos.
What sets the Gala Yuzawa resort apart is the bullet train station inside the main lodge, Ski Center Cowabunga. Access couldn’t be easier as there are several direct trains a day from Tokyo Station. The resort also connects to neighboring ski resorts via the Yuzawa Snow Link — a multi-resort lift pass — making it the second largest ski complex in the Niigata area, after Mt. Naeba.
Exit the ticket gate at Gala Yuzawa Station, and head to the long counter selling gondola and lift tickets. The staff, who speak English and Chinese, can give you advice about snow conditions, lift passes and the wide range of snow services the resort offers. Make this your first stop when you arrive at the resort.
Your whole day, from arrival to skiing to departure, is made easy by multilingual signage across the resort. All signboards provide information in English, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, Korean, and Thai.
Before you begin your adventure on the slopes, pick up an onigiri rice ball from Japanese restaurant Yuta in Ski Center Cowabunga. Gala Yuzawa is in southern Niigata, an area known for producing some of the best rice in the country. This local specialty tastes particularly good when steamed, molded by hand and stuffed with various fillings. Be sure to try one before you head to the mountain summit.
Gala Yuzawa offers high-quality ski and snowboard rentals. They have the latest models from famous brands, as well as goggles, hats and more. You can make advance rental reservations online to save time when you arrive. Even if you don’t plan to ski or snowboard, you can rent cold-weather gear for other snow activities.
Once you've changed into your winter gear, you can store your luggage in the lockers. The lockers are large, with plenty of space for all of your belongings. Lockers are managed by a PIN system allowing you to access them as many times as you need during the day.
Ride the eight-person gondola lift to the slopes directly from Ski Center Cowabunga. It takes about eight minutes to make the 800-meter trip, and you can enjoy gorgeous views of Yuzawa and its incredible mountain scenery along the way. If you're feeling hungry while on the hill, drop into the restaurant to fill up.
The main place to eat at Gala Yuzawa is the Food Court Palpal. You can choose from over 50 different dishes including tandoori chicken rice, pork cutlet bowls or roast beef rice bowls. There are plenty of dessert options, from ice cream to elaborate crepes, and alcoholic and soft drinks are served.
Gala Yuzawa's slopes are divided into three areas: Northern, Southern and Central, and there are 18 courses in total. The lift from Ski Center Cowabunga takes you the base of the Central area, from where you can take the four-seater lift to the Central area's upper section.
The main course of the Central Area is a gentle, easy-to-ski slope suited for beginners and intermediate skiers. The slope is variable, so it does offer some excitement in terms of speed. Enjoy incredible views of the tightly-packed, snowy mountains that surround the resort on the way down.
The top of the chairlift in the Central Area has an observation deck with sweeping views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks. The stunning scenery is open to everyone — even those without winter sports gear can ride the lift up. Although Gala Yuzawa is only 70 minutes from Tokyo, the dramatic mountains feel worlds away.
Gala Yuzawa has expansive courses for novices, such as the gently sloped Beginner's Course. This 350-meter-long run is perfect for repeated practice or easy fun.
The skiing and snowboarding school offers programs in English, Chinese and Thai. The lessons are ideal for beginners.
Guests who don't ski or snowboard can still enjoy gliding on the snow with sledding at the Snow Enjoyment Park. This separate area is equipped with a covered escalator. It's also open for freely playing in the snow — the perfect place to experience snow for the first time, for both kids and adults.
Ski Center Cowabunga rents out sledding sets of a sled and rubber boots, each of which can be rented individually as well. Rental boot sizes start at 15 centimeters.
1. Spa Gala no Yu
Visit Spa Gala no Yu to refresh yourself after a day on the snow. In addition to standard baths for bathing (swimsuits not allowed), there's also a fitness pool and outdoor jacuzzi (swimsuits required).
2. Irori Lounge
This free relaxation space and cafe is connected to Spa Gala no Yu. You don't need to be a spa customer to visit.
3. Shop Jour de Gala
This shop carries original Gala Yuzawa merchandise, Yuzawa specialty sweets, local sake and more. Stop by to pick up the perfect souvenir.
Yuzawa offers wonderful snow-country experiences within easy reach — just over 70 minutes away. Tokyo-bound bullet trains run until about 7 p.m., so if you arrive around noon, you can still pack in a solid half-day of fun. The last train arrives in Tokyo around 8:30 p.m., leaving you with plenty of time for a nightcap with your friends or to get some much-needed rest.