For some, one of the only reasons to travel to Japan is to experience the world-class ski resorts. It sounds a bit extreme, but just as Australia as some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world, Thailand has some of the best sunsets in the world, and most of Europe’s landscape is stunning in scenery, Japan’s winter is an absolute wonderland, and to experience it is like a dream come true for the snow enthusiasts.
What’s so great about the snow in Japan, you ask? Well, for one, it absolutely dumps in Japan. We’re talking about metres of snow in the midst of winter – you can literally be walking next to a wall of snow whilst heading out to the grocery store in some regions (mainly the northern region). For another (and probably the biggest reason why people travel far and wide to Japan in winter), the snow in Japan is as soft as powder. We are not kidding! You run and jump right into a mound of snow and just sink right in, like it’s a fluffy cloud of cotton candy. This soft snow, aptly referred to as powder, draws people from around the world to experience its remarkable texture.
If you and your partner are traveling to Japan, want to experience this powder phenomenon, but have a jam-packed schedule, fear not, for we have done the work and we know that the following resorts are first-class, colossal in size, and are merely a day trip away from Tokyo! If you’re looking for somewhere quick, easy, and fun, look no further.
Hakuba 47 is one of the most popular ski resorts in Hakuba Valley, a massive area in the Northern Alps, west of Nagano. Hakuba Valley itself hosts 11 different ski resorts, with this particular resort being interconnected with Goryu and Iimori, two of the 11 other resorts (the lift pass for Hakuba 47 allows you to cross over between the slopes of both mountains).
Couples who go to the snow together, stay together!
One of the reasons why Hakuba 47 is so popular is because the quality of the powder is supreme, even for Japan standards. Also, for those who are a bit more adventurous, the terrain park here is one of the best ones across Japan, so you can spend your days sliding across the railings and leaping off the hills, if you ever get bored of the 23 runs across the three interconnected mountains. It’s not particularly beginner-friendly, and is best suited for those who are comfortable with skiing or snowboarding at an intermediate level due to its slope steepness.
Directions from Tokyo: From Tokyo Station, take the JR Horuriku Shinkansen to Nagano, and then alight for an express bus to Hakuba Station. Total trip time will be approximately 3 hours, and will cost roughly 10,000 yen. There is a shuttle bus that runs to and from the slopes from Hakuba Station, and there will be signs that you can follow for the Hakuba 47 resort. You will need to take the same route back in the late afternoon. The earliest you will be able to leave Tokyo is roughly 6:30am, and the latest you can leave Hakuba Station is around 6:00pm.
Website: Hakuba47’s website
Happo One is one of the largest ski resorts within Hakuba Village. Its popularity stems from the fact that it offers a good learning base for beginners who are experiencing snow for the first time, as well as those who have participated in snow activities before and are after a fun and exciting challenge. It’s such a large resort that it starts from a narrow top, and slopes down to four separate bases: Nakiyama, Shirakaba, Kokusai, and Sakka.
There is a whooping 23 chair lifts to use, multiple green trails for novices, groomed runs for intermediate riders, but unfortunately it is not as well-equipped for those after some terrain fun. The snowfall here is heavy during winter, making the sweeping views at the top of the mountain incredible, especially if it’s a blue bird day. It does get incredibly busy during the thick of winter, though, so know that you will need to somewhat maneuver your way around the crowds, especially if it’s the weekend.
Directions from Tokyo: From Tokyo Station, take the JR Horuriku Shinkansen to Nagano, and then alight for an express bus to Hakuba Station. Total trip time will be approximately 3 hours, and will cost roughly 10,000 yen. There is a shuttle bus that runs to and from the slopes from Hakuba Station, and there will be signs that you can follow for the Happo One resort. You will need to take the same route back in the late afternoon. The earliest you will be able to leave Tokyo is roughly 6:30am, and the latest you can leave Hakuba Station is around 6:00pm.
Website: Happo one’s website
Gala Yuzawa, located in Yuzawa of the Niigata prefecture, is a gorgeous ski resort that caters mostly to local tourists. It does not seem to attract the international crowd like Hakuba 47 and Happo One, but this has nothing to do with the powder quality. In fact, many people argue that it is good enough, if not superior, to many snowfall regions on Honshu.
One of the biggest benefits that Gala Yuzawa has over the two aforementioned slopes in Hakuba Village is that Gala Yuzawa has its own Shinkansen station (Gala Yuzawa Station) and thus, a direct bullet train from Tokyo only takes 90-minutes – a significant time difference. You will be able to squeeze in approximately 3-4 more hours of shredding the slopes before you need to hop on the train back to Tokyo. For those who are serious about making the most of their time at the slopes, this might be the more viable option.
Apart from that, Gala Yuzawa is a great slope for beginners, as the base area has ample space to practice, as well as a small, short lift that can take you up to a small area to practicing going back down before taking on the bigger guns to the top of the mountain. This mountain is not particularly geared towards intermediate/expert riders.
It is close to two other resorts, Yukawa Kogen and Ishiuchi Mariyama, and a lift pass can be bought for either just the one mountain, or across all three (or a combination of two, take your pick!).
Directions from Tokyo: From Tokyo Station, take the Joetsu Shinkansen (platforms 20-23), and take either the Max-Tanigawa or Tanigawa train towards Gala Yuzawa. The trip will take just 75-minutes, and sill coast roughly 14,180 for a round-trip back to Tokyo. From Gala Yuzawa Station, you will be able to rent gear right outside the station, and take the Gondola straight up to the slopes.
Website: GALA Yuzawa’s web site
Another resort within the Yuzawa snow region, Ishiuchi Maruyama is a toned-down yet still fun, slightly more traditional resort compared to Gala Yuzawa. The crowd here screams local enthusiasts and return customers, and many of the hotels, shops, and rental stores here (both at the base and on the slopes) are owned by independent families, a massive difference from many of the other resorts that are accessible via a day trip from Tokyo.
The resort is admittedly smaller than the three aforementioned, but this just adds to the charm and unique stature of this resort. Unlike most resorts, instead of an electronic lift pass that scans from within your jacket, you will receive a slight piece of paper, which will need to be made visible at all times. You can either purchase a plastic sleeve arm wrap that goes around your bicep, or you can hang it from a keychain from your waist, both methods of which can be seen amongst all the locals on those slopes. You will also notice that the employees who operate the chair lifts and ticket booths are much older than the average cohort of ski field employees, and are almost all Japanese, adding still to the unique charm of this resort.
he slopes themselves cater towards beginner and intermediate level riders, although there are some advanced trails as well as a small park area. You can either purchase a one-mountain lift pass just for Ishiuchi Maruyama, or you can purchase shared lift pass where you will be able to also access Gala Yuzawa, and Yukawa Kogen.
Just a tip from us: when you get hungry, head down to the small restaurant at the base and order the curry – the warmth of it will seep through your body, and the portion is actually huge!
Directions from Tokyo: From Tokyo Station, take the Joetsu Shinkansen (platforms 20-23), and take either the Max-Tanigawa or Tanigawa train towards Gala Yuzawa. The trip will take just 75-minutes, and sill coast roughly 14,180 for a round-trip back to Tokyo. From Gala Yuzawa Station, you will be able to rent gear right outside the station. To get to Ishiuchi Maruyama, simply ask the information desk for the free shuttle bus that heads there. It will drop you off right at the car park of the resort, and you just need to walk a few minutes to get to the base, where you can also rent gear, purchase your lift pass, and get some food.
Website: Ishiuchi Maruyama’s website