One of the most common questions we get when advising people about their winter ski vacation to Yuzawa / Minami Uonuma is which resort should they choose for their lesson? This area has a huge amount of different options when it comes to ski resorts, and unfortunately there is not an easy answer.
Most resorts have something for everybody which means first-timers, intermediates, or advanced skiers / boarders should all be able to find some suitable terrain to enjoy. Some resorts are better than other for certain levels.
There is a huge amount of information online about each different ski resort. Be wary of other people’s reviews and opinions as there are so many different factors at play when it comes to enjoying a ski area.
Other things to consider are lift ticket prices and location/travel time. At certain times of year the elevation of a ski resort might be important as this can affect the quality/amount of snow.
So having warned you to be careful of the opinions of others, here are our thoughts on the ski resorts in and around Yuzawa and Minami Uonuma! We haven’t covered everywhere, and the list is in no particular order.
Maiko – Maiko has one of the easiest beginner runs in the region if you are learning to ski. It also has some great runs to progress to after that over at the hotel side of the resort. For beginner snowboarders the hotel side of the resort tends to be a better choice as that great beginner ski run is a little flat for snowboarding. The runs at the top of the gondola are good for intermediates and advanced. There is also a magic carpet over on the hotel side of the resort but it is often a little steep for first timers. Some good options for those that want to play in the snow, especially on the weekends. Being right opposite the Shiozawa-Ishiuchi Interchange off the Kanetsu Expressway makes it a popular choice with those coming by car.
Iwappara – Iwappara is a great choice for beginner through to intermediate lessons due to the consistent gradient of its slopes, which also happen to be really wide. Great for practising your turns. For first timers there is a magic carpet (which is also used for the Kids Paradise sledging area.) The face of the top lift is steep and challenging so is a good work out for those with more advanced skills, and it can be a great run to lap on a powder day. Plenty of independent restaurants dot the slopes, and there is also a good range of ski-in, ski-out accommodation.
Kagura / Mitsumata – Kagura / Mitsumata is the first resort to open in the area and the last to close with a season that can be as long as 6 months! With its higher elevation it often has the best snow in the area. Even the green runs here tend to be steep so it is not recommended for first-time skiers or weaker beginners (though at some times of year it might be the only resort in the area open.) For intermediates and advanced it is a good place to ski. It links up to Tashiro making it a very large area to explore. There are some good hiking options for those looking for backcountry, and is a popular location for beginner backcountry tours with local guides. Being a Prince Resort children under 12 can get a free lift ticket. There is normally a good mogul field, and a decent park too.
Tashiro – Tashiro links up to Naeba (via the Dragondola) on one side, and Kagura on the other. Once you negotiate the track down from the Tashiro Ropeway to the first lift you then have some great runs for beginners and lower intermediates – wide and cruisy. For those looking for more of a challenge the slopes get steeper as you head further towards Kagura. Like Kagura it is high (though often closes a bit before Kagura itself) and has free lift tickets for children.
Naeba – Naeba is the one of the furthest resorts from Echigo-Yuzawa Station but with the large Prince Hotel at the base of the resort and the high number of accommodation options in Naeba itself, it is a popular destination. It’s first beginner run is a bit on the steep side for beginner skiers, but great for snowboarders. Intermediates and expert skiers and boarders having lessons here will find plenty to challenge them. Again, free lift tickets for under 12s.
GALA – GALA Yuzawa is one of the easiest resorts to get to due to its bullet station in the base building. As a result it can get very busy on weekends and holidays. They normally have a long season and try to make it to Golden Week every year. Recently they have been making efforts to improve the facilities for those looking to play in the snow with sledging and snowshoe tours. The rental gear here is good but pricey, and often one of the bottlenecks that causes queuing. You need to ride the gondola if you want to get up to the snow. GALA links up to Yuzawa Kogen (via cable car) and Ishiuchi for most of peak season to make the 3 Mountain area.
Ishiuchi – Ishiuchi Maruyama has a few different base areas. Probably the best for first-timers and beginners is the Hatsuka-ishi Area, but the easiest run is at the second lift. The run from top to bottom in the resort is a long ski/board though most of the terrain is better for intermediates and experts. There are several good, independent restaurants on the slopes for those that enjoy their lunches while skiing. Ishiuchi has one of the best parks in the area and also two half pipes.
Yuzawa Kogen – Yuzawa Kogen has one of the easiest beginner ski slopes in the area. It is short and gentle (and ski only) so is a good location for the first lesson on skis. Once you graduate from that slope everything gets quite a bit steeper and narrower.
Yuzawa Nakazato – Another ski resort that is accessible by train – this one by local Joetsu line trains that run between Minakami and Echigo-Yuzawa. Yuzawa Nakazato has a magic carpet and kids play area, as well as a reasonably easy beginner run for both skiers and snowboarders. It is a good resort for kids with tracks through the woods, and this year there were some interesting park features there too.
Nakazato Snow Wood – Nakazato Snow Wood is a very small resort attached to Angel Grandia Hotel. It is a good resort for beginners though currently the Nakazato Snow Wood Ski School are not keen on other ski schools using the slopes for lessons. You can walk from Nakazato Snow Wood to Yuzawa Nakazato, or there is also a shuttle bus at certain times of day.
Hakkai-san – Hakkai san is another Prince Resort, so free lift tickets for children. The long ropeway gives access to a long, steep run down. It is a favorite resort with our ski and snowboard instructors when they have a day off due to the terrain on offer, and is one of the best resorts around when the snow is good. For a resort that is seen as an intermediate/advance resort it actually has a good first timer/beginner run too.
NASPA – NASPA Ski Garden is a skier-only resort linked to the NASPA New Otani Hotel. It has a great flat area for first time skiers, though the beginner run has a steep finish to it which is a big challenge for those that are just starting out. It also has a great mogul run which is often used by top athletes for practice.
Kandatsu – Kandatsu has one of the best parks in the area, a good mogul field, and a mix of terrain for all levels. One of their unique selling points at the moment is a night ski session that goes through the night on weekends!
Joetsu Kokusai – Joetsu Kokusai is another popular resort for those looking for ski-in, ski-out due to the large Green Plaza Hotel. One note of caution here is that the beginner runs are labelled in red, not green! The face of the resort is quite steep but there are nice, gentle runs for beginners as you head further away from the hotel.
Picking the best resort for you requirements might seem complicated, but more often than not you will have a great time wherever you end up. Should you need help deciding, we are happy to advise you. Drop us a line letting us know your levels, what age are the people in your group, and where you are staying – we’ll then do our best to explain the options.