If you are planning your very first winter snow trip to Japan you probably have masses of questions. It may seem daunting, but everything is very easy once you get started. Japan has a huge number of ski resorts and areas to choose from, and no matter where you choose, you are likely to have an amazing time.
We are based in Yuzawa which is very easily accessed from Tokyo by bullet train – taking about 80 minutes to either Echigo-Yuzawa Station or Gala Station. (How many places in Japan can boast two bullet train stations?) It is so easy to access that it is possible to do a day trip to the snow from Tokyo. The valley up from Yuzawa is called Minami Uonuma and also has many resorts. Technically is a separate town, but if you are coming to this region is worth your consideration too.
There are no “one size fits all” ski vacations as everyone has their own needs and budget but below we have some general advice that might help.
If you are coming to Yuzawa for a longer trip there is a wide range of accommodation options that cover all budgets. Japanese hospitality is legendary so you will be well looked after. You don’t have to stay in the main town as there are plenty of smaller areas that have their own ski resort too. Do you need to stay on the slopes in a ski-in, ski-out hotel? Not necessarily – there are rental shops in Yuzawa that will drive you to and from the ski resorts each day as part of their service if you rent your equipment from them. It is a very convenient service that allows you to try different resorts. Most ski areas are within 15 minutes drive of Echigo-Yuzawa Station.
Ski or Snowboard?
Again, there are no right answers to this one. Whichever takes your fancy…. Both…. For children younger than 7 we would usually recommend starting with skiing. Both can be great fun and take a little bit of time to master. Both skiing and snowboarding are really enjoyable even if it is your very first time on snow. You get a great sense of achievement as you progress. You don’t have to be on the top of the mountain on the steepest slope to enjoy the sports. They are a huge amount of fun at every level.
Get a lesson
Funny that a ski and snowboard school should be recommended that! Skiing and snowboarding can look easy when done well. You might be able to figure it out on your own. For most people, learning the proper techniques of skiing or snowboarding will be the safest, most fun, and fastest way to enjoy their time on the snow. Fewer people with one instructor is better. There are no rules about how many hours each person needs, but if you are unsure start with a half day of lessons and add more as necessary. There are not many options for group lessons in English in Yuzawa – it is often just a quick introduction to the basics, and if there are lots of people in your group, you may not get much time practising.
There is a baffling range of ski and snowboard equipment. If you are coming to Japan to learn to ski or learn to snowboard most likely you will be renting the equipment. The rental shops are very good at making sure you have the right gear in the right sizes. You don’t usually need to book rental equipment in advance in Yuzawa. You can rent from local rental shops, some hotels, and all resorts.
If you are not sure what to wear, or how cold it will be, join the club. The weather in the mountains can be unpredictable, and we get unexpected weather at odd times of the season. You can rent ski wear at all the rental shops. Most of them have gloves/goggles/hats to rent or buy too. We usually advise wearing a few extra layers under this in mid-winter. If you are having your first ski lesson or first snowboard experience you will probably be very active and get hot quite quickly. You can then take off layers if you are too warm. As a general rule it is better to be too warm and shed layers than not have enough. You don’t need a jacket in spring but you are better off having one with you just in case.
For most resorts in Yuzawa you buy lift tickets on the day. There are usually discounts on multiple days. You might find discounted lift tickets available at your accommodation, or at the rental shops. You can often get good deals pre-season too if your plans are already set as many resorts have Early Bird offers.
There is not much in the way of babysitting or childminding at resorts in Yuzawa though some of the Japanese ski schools have special lessons for small children.
Weekends and Japanese holidays can be very busy and accommodation prices will be higher at these times. If you can come outside of those times, restaurants and ski resorts are quieter, and you are likely to get a better deal at your hotel.
Hopefully we see you on the slopes in Japan in winter!