Thanks to the world-renowned shinkansen, some of Japan's best skiing is within easy reach of Tokyo.
Tokyo is located within the Kanto region of Honshu, the biggest and most populous of Japan’s four main islands. Whereas Tokyo is relatively flat, much of Honshu is dominated by the Japanese Alps, a series of mountain ranges among which some of Japan’s best skiing is found.
The fastest way to access the slopes is to ride the world-renowned shinkansen (bullet train), a high-speed rail network that spans 2,764 km. Skiers departing from Tokyo Station will need just 80 minutes to reach several of Honshu’s most popular ski destinations, including Yuzawa (Niigata) and neighbouring cities Minami Uonuma (Niigata) and Minakami (Gunma).
Resorts in northern Nagano Prefecture, just south of Niigata, are generally a little trickier to access, but offer some of Japan’s best skiing. The world-renowned powder fields of Nozawa Onsen, Hakuba and Madarao can be accessed via shuttle from Nagano/Iiyama stations, both of which are less than two hours from Tokyo on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line.
Niigata (Joetsu Shikansen Line)
1. Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort
Distance from Tokyo (central): 200 km
Time from Tokyo (station): 75-90 minutes via shinkansen
Ski Area: 25.8 km / 17 runs / 26 lifts / 800-1181 (381) m elevation
Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort is located in Yuzawa, Niigata Prefecture, less than 200 km north of Tokyo. The resort is best accessed via Gala-Yuzawa Shinkansen Station, which during winter months is part of the Joetsu Shinkansen Line. The journey from Tokyo Station takes roughly 80 minutes on board the Tanigawa service (limited express).
Gala is one of the bigger resorts in Yuzawa – a region blessed with some of Japan’s heaviest snowfall, incredible natural beauty, several historic onsens and an abundance of skiing options. The resort offers 25.8 km of marked trails, with 26 lifts in operation including a gondola that transports skiers from the shinkansen station to Gala-Yuzawa’s lift hub – a convenience that sets it apart from the other resorts on this list. Lift tickets, concierge and rental can also be taken care of from within the station.
Skiers can opt to buy a 3-mountain lift ticket (¥5,100) that provides additional access to Yuzawa Kogen and Ishiuchi Maruyama ski resorts – both directly linked to Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort. Alternatively, a standard one-day lift pass fetches ¥4,600 (adults) during peak season, with discounts applied in spring.
2. Mount Naeba
Distance from Tokyo (central): 190 km
Time from Tokyo (station): 75-90 minutes via shinkansen + 30-40 minutes via bus/shuttle
Ski Area: 20 km / 22 runs / 15 lifts / 900-1789 (889) m elevation
Mt. Naeba comprises two adjoining ski resorts, Naeba Ski Resort and Kagura Ski Resort, the latter of which is divided into three separate areas, Kagura, Mitsumata and Tashiro. The two resorts are linked by the 5.5 km Dragondola, Japan’s longest aerial lift. In total, skiers have access to almost 200 hectares of terrain, totalling 20 km of marked runs.
On the Kagura side, the mountain tops out at an impressive 1,845 m, making it the tallest of Yuzawa’s ski resorts by some margin – nearby Gala-Yuzawa caps off at 1,181 m. Thanks to its elevation, Kagura delivers some of the best powder in Yuzawa, a region known by the nickname “Snow Country”. Naeba, on the other hand, offers a greater variety of pisted terrain, plus a lift system that spins until 9pm (10 pm on Saturdays). A combined lift pass, allowing access to both resorts, sells for ¥5,700, with discounts available to Prince Hotel guests.
Naeba Ski Resort lies 20 km south of Echigo-Yuzawa Station, which belongs to the Joetsu Shinkansen Line. The journey from Tokyo Station clocks in at around 75-90 minutes. From Echigo-Yuzawa Station, skiers can take the Seibu Crystal Line (YN) bus to Naeba Prince Hotel, which sits at the base of Naeba Ski Resort. This can take up to 40 minutes, with buses running from 6:10 am to 6:45 pm. Alternatively, guests of the Prince Hotel are entitled to a free shuttle service from the station.
3. Joetsu Kokusai Ski Resort
Distance from Tokyo (central): 210 km
Time from Tokyo (station): 75-90 minutes via shinkansen + 12 minutes via subway
Ski Area: 16.5 km / 22 runs / 25 lifts / 215-931 (716) m elevation
Joetsu Kokusai is the first of two Minami-Uonuma-based ski resorts on this list, found just north of Yuzawa – barely 10 km from Gala-Yuzawa Station. The resort benefits from having its own stop on the Joetsu Line (subway not shinkansen), which is just three stops from Echigo-Yuzawa Station (shinkansen transfer point).
Joetsu Kokusai, otherwise known as Joetsu International Skiing Ground, is another mid-sized resort, with 22 runs totalling 16.5 km of terrain, 817 m of vertical and 25 cable lifts. The mountain has plenty on offer for casual skiers, but is perhaps lacking in opportunities to explore off-piste. Powder hounds may need to look elsewhere.
Joetsu sells its standard lift pass for a very reasonable ¥4,000, with night skiing available at extra cost (+¥500 or ¥1,500 for the night session only). The lifts grind to a halt at 9 pm, long after the day-trippers have packed up and headed home. Hotel Green Plaza provides the best option for accommodation, with slopeside access and a range of facilities including hot spring bath, indoor swimming pool and karaoke.
4. Centleisure Maiko Snow Resort
Distance from Tokyo (central): 205 km
Time from Tokyo (station): 75-90 minutes via shinkansen + 20 minutes via shuttle
Ski Area: 30 km / 26 runs / 11 lifts / 260-920 (660) m elevation
Maiko Snow Resort is another popular ski area in the Yuzawa region. The resort has a Minami-Uonuma address but is only a 20-minute shuttle ride from Echigo-Yuzawa Station. To access this free shuttle service, skiers must leave the station via the East Exit and turn right. Maiko-bound buses, which stop at both the Day Ski Center (Nagamine base) and Maiko Kogen Hotel (Maiko base), depart from behind the line of restaurants.
Maiko’s 26 runs are serviced by 11 lifts including a 2.8 km gondola, which leads to the popular Okusoechi bowl area (920 m elevation), arguably the best spot to seek out powder. This section of the resort caters well to intermediate skiers, offering a variety of terrain, steeper gradients and ungroomed snow. However, first-timers will enjoy the exceedingly gentle “RanRan” course, which runs 6,000 m from peak to base, finishing in front of the Day Ski Center.
The Maiko ski area, on the hotel side, is dominated by kid-friendly terrain, with English-language tuition provided by Snow Country Instructors, a Yuzawa-wide operation. Skiers will also find several terrain parks on this side of the mountain, including the recently upgraded Maiko Snow Park, accessible via the Maiko Triple lift. Single-day lift passes cost ¥4,700 (adult/day), providing unrestricted access to the resort.
Nagano (Hokuriku Shinkansen Line)
5. Karuizawa Prince Snow Resort
Distance from Tokyo (central): 170 km
Time from Tokyo (station): 65 minutes via shinkansen + 1 minute via taxi
Ski Area: 5.8 km / 10 runs / 9 lifts / 940-1155 (215) m elevation
Karuizawa Prince Snow Resort straddles the border between Nagano and Gunma, 170 km north-west of Tokyo. The resort is best accessed via rail thanks to its spot on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line. Skiers need only allocate 65 minutes for the journey from Tokyo Station, followed by a 10 minute walk or one minute cab ride. Those intent on driving will need more than two hours to reach the resort from central Tokyo.
Karuizawa Prince Snow Resort is tiny by Nagano standards, serving up 5.8 km of marked trails, 215 m of vertical and 9 lifts. The resort boasts a particularly long ski season (starting in early November) thanks its extensive snow-making system, which includes 7 ice crushers and 195 snow machines. Of course, not much of this will appeal to serious power hounds, who may be better off heading further north. However, Karuizawa’s gentle pistes should meet the needs of beginners, families and casual skiers.
As with all Prince snow resorts, Karuizawa offers plenty to do aside from skiing. The resort features a gigantic plaza with more than 200 shops, a bowling alley and food court. Elsewhere in town, skiers will find several public onsens worthy of a post-ski soak.
Karuizawa Prince Snow Resort should not be confused with Karuizawa Snow Park (Gunma Prefecture), which is accessed via the same station but requires a 30 minute shuttle ride to reach.
6. Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort
Distance from Tokyo (central): 260 km
Time from Tokyo (station): 110 minutes via shinkansen + 20 minutes via shuttle
Ski Area: 44.5 km / 36 runs / 18 lifts / 565-1650 (1085) m elevation
One of Japan’s tourist hot spots, Nozawa Onsen is located in the upper reaches of Nagano Prefecture, a region known to amass huge quantities of powder (>10 m of snow per season). Getting to Nozawa requires a trip to Iiyama Station on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line (Hakutaka service). From Iiyama, the Nozawa Onsen Liner Bus transports skiers directly to the resort in just 20 minutes.
Nozawa Onsen comprises 44.5 km of marked trails, 1,085 m of vertical and 18 cable lifts. The resort offers considerably more variety than found in Yuzawa, including some genuinely steep terrain, several mogul courses and gladed tree areas. The Yamabiko area, towards the top of Mount Kenashi (1,650 m), is a sure bet for powder (known in this country as “Japow”), offering up to 5 m of snow underfoot. Nozawa’s longest run is a leg-burning 10 km from peak to base, with a drop in elevation of more than 1,000 m.
Of course, Nozawa Onsen is more than just a ski resort. The town itself is one of Japan’s cultural treasures, with a long history dating back to the 8th century. There are more than 30 traditional bath houses throughout Nozawa, including 14 that are free to the public. Each bath contains a unique combination of minerals and salts, perfect for treating any number of ski injuries, no doubt!
7. Madarao Ski Resort
Distance from Tokyo (central): 270 km
Time from Tokyo (station): 110 minutes via shinkansen + 30 minutes via bus
Ski Area: 34.8 km / 31 runs / 16 lifts / 942-1382 (440) m elevation
Parked between Nozawa Onsen and Myoko Kogen is Madarao Ski Resort, lesser known than its neighbours but equally deserving of praise. Madarao is an excellent spot to seek out powder, with 60% of its slopes left ungroomed and several dedicated tree courses. Particularly for a Japanese resort, Madarao is unique in that skiers are entirely free to explore off-piste.
During the 2017/18 ski season, Madarao received more than 8 m of powder (or “Madapow”) in total. This figure has been known to exceed 12 m – most commonly in La Niña Years – thanks to the resort’s proximity to the Sea of Japan.
Madarao connects to Tangram Ski Circus, combining to offer 31 runs or 34.8 km of terrain. The resort tops out at a modest height of 1,382 m, but Madrao’s high base (942 m) ensures that beginners don’t have to endure slushy snow towards the foot of the mountain. An all-mountain lift pass costs ¥5,000 (adult), with night skiing available at extra cost (weekends only).
Madarao is just 11 km from Iiyama Shinkansen Station, with direct buses operating from 8:45 am to 9:20 pm. Skiers will need to hop off at the Madarao Kogen Hotel. Otherwise, some of Madarao’s hotels offer a free shuttle service to and from Iiyama Station.
8. Hakuba Happo One Winter Resort
Distance from Tokyo (central): 270 km
Time from Tokyo (station): 85-100 minutes via shinkansen + 75 minutes via bus
Ski Area: 52 km / 13 runs / 22 lifts / 760-1831 (1071) m elevation
Hakuba (“White Horse”) is a village in the Japanese Alps, located 40 km north-west of Nagano city. Some of Japan’s best known ski resorts lie within this general region, ten of which belong to Hakuba Valley – Japan’s largest combined ski area. The biggest, oldest and most popular of these is Happo One, a resort that encompasses 52 km of terrain, 13 marked trails and 22 lifts.
Happo famously hosted the Downhill and Super-G events at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Skiers wanting to retrace these Olympic courses can do so via the Adam Gondola (Shirakaba base area). Further up the mountain, Happo’s Riesen Grat course provides the best chance of finding powder. Otherwise, Evergreen Outdoor Center runs a popular backcountry tour of Happo’s north-facing valley.
From Tokyo Station, the journey to Happo can take up to 3 hours. Skiers should board the Kagayaki train bound for Nagano on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line. This is an express service that runs uninterrupted from Omiya onwards. From Nagano Station, Alpico buses run directly to Hakuba, stopping first at Goryu before heading onto Hakuba Station and Happo One.
Driving from Tokyo (< 150 km)
9. Fujiten Snow Resort
Distance from Tokyo (central): 110 km
Time from Tokyo (central): ~90 minutes via the Chuo Expressway
Ski Area: 7 km / 7 runs / 4 lifts / 1300-1500 (200) m elevation
Each year, over 300,000 hikers make the trip up Mount Fuji, Japan’s most recognisable landmark. Fujiten Snow Resort, found on Fuji’s north face, provides a slightly more unusual way to experience the mountain.
The resort features 4 lifts and 7 runs, including the 1,300 m “Slalom” course. Fujiten also houses a small terrain park with the usual array of kickers and rails. Beginners are particularly well catered for, but the resort’s novelty location should appeal to skiers of all levels. Tickets are available in full-day (¥4,500) or half-day (¥3,000) varieties, with lifts in operation until 10 pm.
10. Snow Town Yeti
Distance from Tokyo (central): 120 km
Time from Tokyo (central): ~2 hours via the Tomei Expressway
Ski Area: 3 km / 4 runs / 3 lifts / 1300-1450 (150) m elevation
Snow Town Yeti is a tiny ski area on Mount Fuji’s southern slope, 120 km west of Tokyo. The “resort” boasts the earliest opening dates of any ski area in Japan (early October), largely thanks to its snow-making technology.
The resort’s super mellow pistes are best suited to first-timers and familes. However, Snow Town Yeti serves as an excellent spot from which to view Japan’s iconic volcano – which, by the way, is still technically active. Single-day lift passes cost ¥4,000. Directions to the resort are available here.
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