So of all the great places to visit the snow in Japan this winter, you have opted for Yuzawa. Good choice. We have a few suggestions of what to check out to make the most of your trip!
The 'yu' in Yuzawa stands for hot water, and the town itself grew up around the discovery of a hot spring source in the mountains where a traveller was looking for ingredients for medicine. (That hot spring is still gushing out hot water and feeds the onsen at Takahan Hotel and Yama-no-yu.) A soak in an onsen is an absolute must while you are in Yuzawa. If you have been out in the snow all day you will feel yourself heated up and refreshed in no time. There are lots of different types of onsen (including one with sake in it inside Echigo-Yuzawa Station!) so if you get a taste for this very Japanese way of bathing you have lots of exploring to do.
If you are unsure what you are supposed to be doing, check out this explanation from The Japanese Ryokan Association, who have a whole bunch on useful information if you are looking at staying at a ryokan.
Japanese food is amazing wherever you go in the country. Yuzawa is no exception with an abundance of great restaurants and a food culture that has been influenced by long winters buried under the snow. Pickles and preserved foods are a speciality, as is the hearty, warming Kenchin soup. The area is famous for rice, growing some of the most well known Koshihikari rice in the whole of Japan. As a result the sake produced here is also highly regarded. There are lots of restaurants in the town serving many different styles of cuisine (though they can get busy on the weekends and Japanese holidays) so plenty of choice. Indulge, and burn it off on the slopes!
Try a different resort
We often get emails asking us about the same two or three well-known resorts in the Yuzawa area. They are certainly great places to spend a day but be aware that there are plenty of different resorts here and some that may suit your needs better. Exploring new resorts is always fun, and you may well find a new favourite, as well as skip the crowds at a more well-known neighbouring ski area. Travel a little bit further up the valley or over the hill and there are even more places to discover. Be adventurous! Have a look on the Snow Japan Yuzawa Resort page, as well as the Minamiuonuma Resort page for a full list of the options.
Experience the local culture
Yuzawa has a little culture museum (Yukiguni-kan [Japanese]) in the main street that has a traditional room from a house in the area from days gone by. There is also a collection of memorabilia from life throughout the four seasons. It is an interesting look at the history of the town and how people used to cope with the snow. Another section of the museum deals with the novel Snow Country whose author, Yasunari Kawabata, stayed in the town and drew inspiration from the area. If you are interested in the book there is also a walk around Yuzawa that calls in at areas that feature in the book, and there is the room where the author stayed as well as another small museum at Takahan.
If you are lucky, or plan it right, your trip to Yuzawa this winter could coincide with one of the festivals, either in the town, or close by. The Yuzawa Winter Festival sees a torchlight parade down a local mountain, a portable shrine carried around the town, and impressive fireworks. Other festivals in the region see semi-naked men jostle to gain entrance to a temple (Urasa Naked Man Festival), or recently married men thrown off a snowbank (Matsunoyama Onsen Bridegroom Tossing [which happens to be on the same day as the Nozawa Onsen Dosojin Fire Festival]). There is also an awesome firework and light snow which is an art project linked to the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field.
Take a day trip
If you fancy a day off the slopes while you are staying in Yuzawa there are lots of other things to do. Niigata City is within easy reach by bullet train, and Sado Island is a popular draw off the coast - check out the introduction to Niigata and Sado on Undiscovered Japan.
Closer to home the Snow Country Tourist Office offer a whole range of tours throughout the region. Yuzawa is part of the Snow Country Region which is made up of several different towns which have all been influenced by the heavy snow. There is an abundance of history and culture around the region and a day tour is a great way to check some of it out. Snowshoeing through hidden valleys, touring works of art at the Echigo Tsumari Art Field, visiting Akiyamago - a remote area deep in the mountains that experiences a different kind of winter to the resort towns, or riding along in one of the giant snowclearing machines that keep the roads passable. There is lots on offer and sure to be something to interest most people. These tours have been specially designed to highlight the best of the region.
Get a lesson
If you are looking to make the most of your time on the snow then a ski lesson or snowboard lesson is the perfect solution. No matter what level you are at with your skiing or snowboarding there is plenty of fun to be had and progress to be made. If you are just starting out, some work on your technique is going to boost your technique and enjoyment. If you are getting more comfortable it could be time to challenge yourself on some different kinds of terrain - steeper slopes, deeper snow, bumpier pitches, or even some basic park skills. Or how about trying a different discipline? Skiing, snowboarding, or telemarking. If you are accompanying people of a different ability level, trying a new sport is a great way to keep things interesting, and also a great reminder of how steep everything can look when you are just beginning with snowsports.
What ever you do, have fun!