Slide into a Winter Wonderland

2022.01.14

After the fall harvest is done and people have stocked up on rice and sake, Niigata makes its yearly transformation into a ski paradise. With some of the heaviest snowfall in all of Japan, people gather from all over to join in on the fun, not only on snowboards and skis, but snowmobiles and various sleds, not to mention have general playtime in the snow. And of course, a hot spring to ease the body after a hard day's play Here's a few locations to help you plan your winter escapade to Niigata.

GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT

Despite being a top destination for winter activities, Niigata is remarkably accessible from the metropolitan area. "Gala" resort claims the top spot in terms of convenience for visitors from Tokyo, having its own bullet train stop at the base of the mountain. Rentals, including boots and wear, are only steps away from the train, so little to no prep is required to enjoy a day in the snow. In addition to the regular slopes, different "areas" like the snowboard park and "Free Ride" zone designed by Gala's own snow grooming team, provide a tailored riding experience to fit your level. There's even a snow play park for kids with an escalator back to the top of the sled hill!

What's more, is that this area actually encompasses three different resorts (Gala, Yuzawa Kogen, Ishiuchi; the latter two also have their own local train stops), giving you the option to stay on one, or pay for an all-around ticket to move freely between them via gondola. You can be on the slopes in just over an hour from Tokyo, and you have the option to make your day as extreme or easy-going as you feel like.

Matsunoyama Onsen (hot spring) ski area is on the compact, cozy side. If you aren't as eager to have an intense day, but rather want to enjoy relaxing around the snow with some light riding, the smaller Matsunoyama slopes are for you! Like much of Japan, Niigata is doted with volcanic hot springs, and Matsunoyama is nearby many inns with attached hot springs.

On the topic of staying the night though, this place is famous for the "snow camp" option that is open throughout the ski season. Many come by car and bring along their tent and gear to pitch right on the snow to cuddle up and stay the night. You'll also have full access to the ski lodge and restaurant, so it could be a unique and exciting stay option if you plan to ski again the next day.

Another angle to take when experiencing the snow of Niigata is on a snowmobile! Since it's not something you have much opportunity to try unless you own one, Myoko Snowmobile Land near Sugi no Hara Ski Resort has filled this market niche. Here, you can join in on a snowmobile tour, on either a single or tandem machine. If you want to ride alone on a single, you need to be over 16 years old, and also take a 30-minute lesson to get "licensed", although you can of course skip it if you brought your snowmobile license along! Alternatively, if you just want to ride on the back, you can join in right away. If you have children under 16 joining, the other option is to have them ride on the back with one adult or an instructor.

The courses are in a set area, and actually allow you to ride by some nearby rice fields in the flat areas away from the slopes. If you do the 30-minute course and have a snowmobile all to yourself, you'll be allowed to explore the area at will, as long as you don't blast through the rice fields. Of course they're not in use during the winter, but still be careful please!

One more attraction here, usually a choice for families, is snow rafting. Hop in the inflatable raft attached to a snowmobile, and get ready to "sail" the high snows! It's a great choice for families with younger kids, or if you simply don't want to commit too much time here before hitting the nearby slopes.

We try and show the treasures of Niigata in all seasons, but no one can deny the allure of winter here. Come have fun in the snow all day, and at night hunker down with some delicious food near a steaming hot spring at night. Fun and comfort all in one!