JAPOW in Snow Country

Photo Credit -Ji Zhou

By Matt Klampert

Lately, the buzzword trending amongst international winter sports aficionados is “Japow!” JAPOW refers, of course, to the superb powder snow that falls here in Japan. Though Japan prides itself as a place where you can experience the four seasons, areas like Tokyo typically experience little snow. First-time travelers are often surprised to learn that just 70 minutes from central Tokyo is our Snow Country, a region which experiences some of the largest amounts of precipitation in Japan. Snow Country, or YUKIGUNI in Japanese, is the most convenient place to enjoy abundant amounts of JAPOW for your ski and snowboarding adventures!

Why choose Japan and Snow Country as your skiing destination?

For many years now, Japan has been catching on as an international snow sports mecca, most famously starting from the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998. Japan is a country roughly the size of California in the U.S. but with approximately 500 ski resorts packed in! In fact, Niigata prefecture is the birthplace of skiing in Japan, thanks to an Austrian soldier by the name of Theodore von Lerch and later popularized by the famous ski instructor Hannes Schneider, who began teaching students in Japan in the 1930s. Especially in and around Asia, Japan’s large amount of dry powder snow sets it apart from its neighbors in the region. You can rest assured that the snow you will experience in YUKIGUNI is not artificial snow but pure, natural JAPOW!

In Snow Country, it is not unheard of to get a meter of snow overnight! In addition, the Snow Country area is more mountainous than other ski destinations, such as in Hokkaido, which also means a different quality to the snow, not to mention the slopes themselves.

About Gala- The most convenient ski resort in Japan!

Another significant fact setting YUKIGUNI apart is that it contains the only ski resort accessible by bullet train! Gala-Yuzawa station, a seasonal shinkansen station on the Joetsu line, is located within Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort, which is accessible directly from Tokyo station. Many tourists come into Tokyo without realizing this is even here, but Gala is so convenient that it makes the perfect winter day trip. For those who wish to stay longer and experience all Yuzawa has to offer, ample accommodation is also available nearby.

When you reach the slopes at Gala you have the option of using both the lifts as well as the magic carpet. Gala has something for everyone, whether it is skiing, snowboarding, sledding with the family, a snowmobile tour, or a ride on their special “moon bikes.” At the slopes is a large restaurant with local specialties as well as a food court with a wide selection, including vegan options, and Blue Seal ice cream! There is also a big rest area, which includes a spa and sauna! Click HERE for information about other such saunas in Snow Country. Luggage storage and locker rooms are also available at Gala.

Gala is loved by visitors from all over the world, some of whom may be seeing snow and JAPOW for the first time! Do note that the resort fills up on weekends, especially during holidays like Chinese New Year. Surprisingly, you can ski here all the way up to Golden Week in May!

Photo Credit -Ji Zhou

Learn about skiing in Snow Country with Canyons

Getting your own ski lesson in English at Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort is possible thanks to Canyons, the official international ski chool for the resort. Canyons began in Minakami giving specialty canyoning tours, and now offer a variety of summer outdoor activities both within Minakami and elsewhere. These activities have helped revitalize the town and make it a hotbed of adventure tourism. Canyons offer ski and snowboard lessons starting from two hours to full-day programs. Lessons can be private or in groups. Aside from English, they also have instructors proficient in Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai, and Spanish.

You can meet your Canyons guide directly outside the ticket gate at Gala. Guests at NASPA New Otani may also choose to get ski lessons there. In the case of Gala, the lifts are open from 8:00 a.m. and close around 4:00 p.m. Full-day lift tickets are recommended, but please be aware that lift tickets and rental fees are not included in the lesson cost. Canyons teach all levels from beginning to advanced. Groups of up to 8 people are accepted, and children as young as 4 years old can ski, and 6-year-olds and up can snowboard. While it is technically possible to request an instructor on the day, Canyons recommend securing a reservation in advance. Gear can also be reserved online, though gloves and goggles have to be brought with you or purchased at Gala. It is also recommended that guests purchase travel insurance.

Other places for skiing and fun in the snow

If you are interested in winter fun in Snow Country, why not stay longer and experience some of the other great skiing areas within YUKIGUNI? They each have their own charms and fit depending on your level. A great skiing area for beginners is the Nakazato ski resort. It is known for its gentle slopes, and not being too crowded. Nakazato ski resort is conveniently located near accommodation such as Angel Grandia, which we wrote about HERE. You can also do off-terrain skiing here, and get a lesson in English! Click HERE for the full rundown.

For more advanced skiers who want to be out in nature, an exclusive skiing area is Sakae Club Ski in nearby Nagano prefecture. This so-called “secret ski area” boasts picturesque slopes overlooking Mt. Kaitate. It is known as a “Gosetsu” area, where you can expect to see over 2-3 meters of JAPOW. Sakae Club Ski is a place where you can relax and ski like the locals. The resort is also known for its reasonable prices, and have package deals with local accommodation that are perfect for inexpensive overnight stays, so you can ski even more the following day! Click HERE to learn more about Sakae Club Ski, as well as their famous pickled turnips, which they offer for free at the restaurant.

For those interested in snow activities besides just skiing and snowboarding, Tokamachi’s Matsunoyama Onsen Snow Park has a variety of interesting excursions one can experience, including airboarding. Though much newer than skiing, airboarding has begun to catch on around Japan: click HERE to learn more about it. Matsunoyama Onsen Snow Park is known for heavy, wet snow that is used to host prefecture-wide ski competitions. Other fun activities include snow cycling and camping. Enjoy skiing during the day, camping and cooking out at night, and then doing the same thing all over again the next day! Campers can bathe at the public baths at the nearby onsen street.

Information for Travelers

Ski Lessons at Gala (Canyons)

Address: 1039-2 Yuzawa Town, Minamiuonuma District, Niigata Prefecture 949-6101
Access: Canyons office located right outside Gala-Yuzawa station ticket gate, shuttle bus to Gala is available from Echigo-Yuzawa station
For booking information click HERE