Palcall is rapidly developing a reputation for its premium grooming and world-class terrain park.
Palcall Tsumaoi is not particularly well known internationally, but don’t be fooled: Japanese skiers and snowboarders know and love this resort, and for good reason. It is the largest in Japan’s Karuizawa region, and a major attraction for skiers who appreciate long, wide, perfectly groomed runs.
Palcall is also rapidly developing a reputation for the quality of its terrain park – the largest in Asia – which has been an area of focus for the resort’s new owners. It’s been built by the industry’s best, and attracts everyone from pro riders to kids launching off a jump for the very first time in the 24-hour mini park.
No, you won’t necessarily get the waist-deep powder that you would some of Japan’s snowier regions, but that’s the point. This place is the for everyone else; it’s a beginner and intermediate paradise, easily accessible from Tokyo, with ski-in ski-out accommodation and resort facilities that make for an easy family holiday or weekend trip.
Lifts & Terrain
A major feature of Palcall is its 3.2km high-speed gondola, which takes riders to the resort’s highest point (2,100m) for a thigh-burning 4.2km run all the way back to the resort’s ski centre (1,370m). Palcall has launched an initiative called the “Sunrise Gondola”, which allows resorts guests access from 6:30am for extraordinary views of the sun-kissed Mount Azumaya to the east. The initiative has been such a hit with guests that it has attracted hundreds of Instagram posts capturing the experience with the tag ” パルコール日の出ゴンドラ/ “.
In addition to the gondola, the resort is also serviced by two quad chairlifts, two pair lifts and a magic carpet. 23 of the 24 runs are either green or red, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better resort in Japan to learn or fine-tune your skills, with ultra-wide runs (up to 1km) and consistent gradients. If you’ve found yourself in places like Niseko or Hakuba, surrounded by powder, chopped up snow and moguls thinking: “what am I doing here?”, then Palcall may be a smart choice.
For its youngest visitors, Palcall has set up an area called “Family Land”, where kids can enjoy sledding or simply playing in the snow.
Terrain Park (Magic Park)
While Palcall has traditionally been thought of as a family resort, its “Magic Park” has become an attraction in its own right, drawing attention from freestyle riders all over the country.
It’s been coined “the largest terrain park in Japan”, but there’s more to the Magic Park than simply its size. Palcall has drawn on the most creative minds in the industry to build the components: a traditional slopestyle course for intermediate and advanced riders, an innovative transition park and a 24-hour mini park in front of the hotel (which riders can hike).
The transition park has been designed in collaboration with pro Ryo Aizawa, a former X Games rider who has been described as “a new school snowboarder with an old soul”. It’s been designed to appeal to all levels of riders, from kids to pros like Aizawa, and includes 20 features – a creative mix of rails, kickers, volcanoes, banks, spines and more.
Palcall proudly boasts that 80% of days at the resort are sunny, so it comes as no surprise that this is not a resort for those seeking mammoth snowfalls and deep powder days. There’s still plenty of natural snow (it’s Japan, after all), and the resort runs snow-making machines at capacity through the season to ensure a consistent base of light, tightly-packed snow – for a sensation they refer to as “Magic Burn”.
“We have some of the best grooming in the country”
“We have some of the best grooming in the country”, said Kei Ishiuchi, a Manager a PalCall in an interview last year.
Accommodation and Resort Services
Palcall is a purpose-built ski resort with a 135-room hotel at the base. It’s a genuine ski-in ski-out hotel that is directly connected to the main gondola, which means you won’t even need to step outside to get your day underway (no long, cold walk to the lifts with kids in tow!).
There is a variety of room types, including a 2-storey Maisonette room (4-person capacity) and a large Japanese-style room that takes up to six. This is a little unusual in Japan, and a real luxury for groups or families who don’t want to be split up.
A stay at the hotel will include a transfer from the station, breakfast and access to the hotel hot spring bath.
Rental & retail
There is a “Salomon Station” rental shop on the ground floor of the Palcall’s ski centre (Center House), where visitors can hire skis or snowboards for their stay. A standard set (ski + boots / snowboard + boots) will set you back ¥5,000/day, while a premium set – which includes more advanced Salomon kit – will cost ¥7,000/day. For an additional ¥1,000 yen you can even switch from ski to snowboard (or vice versa) for the day, a handy initiative. Helmets and outerwear can be rented at additional cost.
On the second floor of Centre House is a retail store which, like many ski resort retailers in Japan, stocks an interesting mix ski/snowboard gear, accessories, snacks, souvenirs and alcohol.
Palcall’s snow school has offered Japanese language lessons only in the past, however the resort has plans to add an international team in 2022/23. Watch this space for details.
Attractions & Activities
Karuizawa Prince Outlet Mall
Karuizawa Prince Outlet Mall is Japan’s largest outlet mall, and is such a popular side trip for Palcall guests that the resort offers a daily shuttle. With ∼240 shops (all tax-free if you bring your passport), the outlet is a tourist destination in its own right, and in addition to the many luxury and lifestyle brands, also has more than 30 restaurants.
The nearby Kusatsu Onsen (30-minute drive) is a picturesque hot spring resort, and is said to have the largest volume of flowing water in Japan (it’s also in Japan’s Hot Spring Hall of Fame – yes, that’s a thing!). Due to the high acidity of its water, a soak there is said to have many healing benefits, not least an antidote for tired muscles at the back end of a ski trip.
In addition to the many bathing facilities, guests to the area will also find many cultural and natural attractions, including “Yubatake”, a distinctive hot spring field that is one of the town’s main sources of hot spring water.
Tsumagoi Dining (2F of the Ski Center) is the main dining venue for ski resort guests, and offers many of the hearty Japanese staples that we’ve come to expect (and love) on a ski holiday in Japan, including Tonkatsu (豚かつ), Katsu Curry (カツカレー) and Karaage (唐揚げ). Tsumagoi village is the largest producer of cabbage in Japan and, in celebration of this, the restaurant offers all-you-can-eat shredded cabbage with all of its set menus and rice bowls – very healthy!
For those who like their meals spicy, very spicy or dangerously hot, we suggest heading to Renki (open weekends only), which serves curries, ramen and rice bowls with generous servings of chilli. The resort boasts that its “18-ban curry” is “painful” to eat, but fear not: it also serves Unmai milk, a regional specialty, which will help keep your mouth calm.
If Western food is more your style, head to Palcall’s Magic Cafe (base of the Magic Park), for hamburgers that look like they’ve been delivered straight from an ’80s American diner.
Guests of Palcall’s hotel also have access to the Palcall Buffet, which serves an extensive selection of Japanese, Chinese and Western cuisine (see photos here).
Culture & Ambience
A common criticism of places like Niseko and Hakuba is that they’ve become too international (notwithstanding the recent lack of foreign guests due to border closures). Well, if you want to see how the Japanese travel, then Palcall is a good start. The resort is merely a blip on the radar for international travellers, and yet Japanese tourists are flocking to its slopes in droves thanks to the recent upgrades and initiatives like the “Sunrise Gondola”.
It’s only a matter of time before the foreign market discovers the appeal as well, which will no doubt be a priority for its foreign owners. In the meantime, take the opportunity to soak in some Japanese tourist culture.
Of course, if you have quaint onsen towns and cute izakayas in mind, then Palcall is not the spot. But as mentioned above, it’s well placed for day trips to spots like like Kusatsu Onsen or Manza Onsen, which will give you a healthy dose of culture without losing the benefits of a convenient, slope-side stay.
Runs (total): 16
Runs (km): 21.5
Lifts: 6 (1 Gondola, 2 Quads, 2 Pair Lifts, 1 Magic Carpet)
Top elevation: 2100 m
Base elevation 1370 m
Vertical: 730 m
Nearest international airport: Haneda Airport (Tokyo)
Transport: Coach, shinkansen, private transfer