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Gunma Area Snowboard & Ski Guide

Andrea Dawn 8 February 2014 No Comments

Winter is here! What is the one thing guaranteed to drag us out from under our warm toasty kotatsu? Why, snowboarding and skiing, of course! Did you know that next to Hokkaido, the Gunma-Niigata-Nagano region has the best ski resorts in all of Japan? Gunma, banzai!

Ski field locationsI. Choosing a ski resort: useful websites

There are so many wonderful ski hills to choose from in the Gunma area—over 20 in Gunma, over 50 in Niigata, and over 80 in Nagano! So rather than just listing my favorites, I thought it’d be more useful if I provided some resources. I hope that the websites below can help you to plan some awesome snowboard/ski trips this year!

1. Snow Japan. My personal favorite, one-stop website for ski resort info in Japan! Find ski resort info sorted by prefecture, get updated info on snow conditions, see user reviews, and get links to the ski resort websites. Also has handy info showing the percentage of skiers vs. snowboarders, percentage of beginner vs. intermediate vs. advanced runs, opening/closing times, basic prices, maps, and more. Your new best friend for deciding where to snowboard/ski this year!

2. Gunma Winter Ski Guide 2011–12. Our own Jessie Zanutig has compiled a useful introduction to some of the most popular ski resorts in Gunma. Definitely worth checking out!

3. Gunma Ski Resort Guide 2010–11. Even more Gunma ski resort highlights!

4. Outdoor Japan. This site has a great online magazine featuring the best resorts in Japan (Nagano: page 17–22; Niigata: page 23–26; Gunma: page 27–29.)

5. Gunma Tourist Guide. Has some information on ski resorts in Gunma, as well as lots of other excellent, year-round sightseeing information.

Yennies

II. Lift ticket and rental costs guide

Keep in mind that bigger and more popular resorts will often have more expensive lift tickets. However, being a Canadian used to lift tickets costing about ¥7,500, I find Japanese lift tickets to be very cheap! To give you a general idea of the costs associated with skiing/snowboarding in the Gunma area, I browsed the websites of some of the most popular ski resorts. Here’s a comparison of their prices:

Gunma price ranges*:

Tanigawadake Tenjindaira

(Minakami)

Tanbara Ski Park

(Numata)

Marunuma Kogen

(Katashima)

Kawaba

(Kawaba)

White World Oze

(Katashina)

Adult Lift Ticket

3,500

4,200

4,500

4,200

4,400

Half Day Lift Ticket

2,500

3,800

n/a

2,300

3,800

Snowboard Rental

(Board & Boots)

3,500

4,500

3,000

4,500

3,000

Ski Set Rental

(Skis, Boots, Poles)

3,000

4,500

3,000

4,500

3,000

Skiwear Rental

(Jacket & Snowpants)

2,000

4,000

2,000

4,500

3,000

(*All prices are in Japanese yen (¥) and are current as of November 2013.)

Nagano and Niigata price ranges**:

Karuizawa Prince Hotel

(Nagano)

Hakuba Happo-one

(Nagano)

Nozawa Onsen Village

(Nagano)

GALA Yuzawa

(Niigata)

Kagura

(Niigata)

Naeba

(Niigata)

Adult Lift Ticket

4,800

4,800

4,600

4,500

4,500

4,500

Half Day Lift Ticket

4,300

3,700

3,500

3,600

3,500

n/a

Snowboard Rental

(Board & Boots)

4,800

Check one of the independent rental shops nearby

Check one of the independent rental shops nearby

3,500

4,000

4,500

Ski Set Rental

(Skis, Boots, Poles)

4,800

3,500

4,000

4,500

Skiwear Rental

(Jacket & Snowpants)

3,500

2,000

3,000

3,500

(*All prices are in Japanese yen (¥) and are current as of November 2013.)

Extra notes on prices

 Tickets:

  • Half-day tickets: Some resorts have morning (usually from open to noon) and afternoon (usually from noon to close) half-day passes. Some resorts offer slightly discounted half-day ski and snowboard rentals as well. Check individual ski resort websites for details.
  • Drink and food ticket combos: Some resorts offer a deal on their cafeteria food with their tickets. Usually for around an extra ¥1,000, you get a free drink and meal.
  • Off-season ticket sales: Some resorts have cheaper tickets during the early season (November–December) and late season (usually April) since the snow conditions may not be ideal.
  • Night skiing: some resorts also offer night skiing.

Snowboarding Gunmachan

Rental sizes:

  • Boots: sizes typically go up to 30cm. If your feet are any larger than that, you should phone in advance to see if they rent bigger boot sizes, or you’ll have to buy/import your own.
  • Boards: typically go up to 165cm long.
  • Skis: typically go up to 170cm.
  • Skiwear: usually stock a wide range, from kids’ sizes to 4XL.

Ski wear: Accessories

Most resorts do not rent goggles, gloves, hats, or helmets. Either check before you go, or bring your own! You will definitely want a pair of gloves and some kind of eye protectionif you don’t have goggles, you could bring a pair of sunglasses, though they won’t be as warm and comfortable. A cold snowboarder is an unhappy snowboarder, so make sure to dress for the weather!

Other costs

Don’t forget to budget for travel costsgas, expressway fees, train/taxi/bus if necessary. Most ski resorts provide free parking. Other potential costs include food costs and accommodation if staying overnight.

III. Beginner’s guide

(Unfortunately I don’t ski, so I don’t have much advice to give specifically on skiingalthough I’m pretty sure the things I recommend below would be safe advice for beginner skiers as well.)

Getting started

The Bunny Hill

I highly recommend taking a lesson or having a friend teach you the basics on the bunny hill (beginner’s practice area) before you attempt going on a lift or difficult run. The first time I went snowboarding, my friends said they’d “teach” me. This consisted of dragging me to the top of the mountain and leaving me behind to faceplant and butt-slide my way down, which took an agonizing three hours. I decided I officially hated snowboarding. I’ve heard similar horror stories from many other people who gave up on snowboarding. It wasn’t until five years later when I finally had the courage to try learning snowboarding again. I took a lesson where I felt safe, was in control, and could learn gradually. From then on, I was hooked! So I definitely recommend starting off slow and learning at your own personal comfort level.

What you need: Equipment

  • Snowboard boots: In my opinion, the most important part of a snowboard set. Uncomfortable boots equals pain and unhappiness. If you splurge on anything, get high-quality boots!
  • Snowboard board: Recommended length for beginners is one that comes up to about your chin height while you’re standing wearing your snowboard boots. For width, you wanna check to make sure your toes and heels aren’t hanging massively over the edges, as this’ll make it difficult to control your turns.
  • Snowboard stance: You will be asked if you prefer a “regular” stance (going down the hill with your left foot in front) or “goofy” (right foot forward). This is just personal preference. You can get the resort staff to change your stance whenever you want, so if you’re unsure, try both and see which you prefer.
  • Skiing Gunma-chanSnowboard bindings: These will come as a set with your snowboard if you’re renting.
  • Outer wear: When it’s cold out, a warm waterproof coat, snow pants, gloves, neckwarmer/bandanna and hat are recommended. Being cold is the quickest way to ruin a good day out on the hill. Dressing in layers is best. There are coin lockers everywhere at snow resorts, so make use of them to store unneeded layers if it gets warmer out. An extra pair of warm, dry clothes to change into after a day at the hill is recommended too.
  • Socks: I prefer to wear just one pair of warm, tall snowboarding socks—too many socks can cut off circulation and you’ll end up with (ironically) colder feet. Short socks that don’t come at least above the boot height can bunch up and cause blisters and uncomfortable pressure points.
  • Goggles: definitely a must for anyone serious about snowboarding. They keep your face warm, cut down on sun glare, and don’t fog up as easily as sunglasses.
  • Helmet: Recommended (especially for beginners!) but not mandatory unless you hit the park.
  • Protective gear (wrist guards/knee pads/etc.): Again, personal preference. I have a history of wrist injuries, so I found some slim wrist guards that fit under my gloves, and they’ve been a lifesaver. If you are prone to knee injuries, having some slim volleyball kneepads can be awesome as well. As most snowboard beginners soon find out, you may be spending a lot of time falling on your butt—most sport shops in Japan sell padded pants to help. I haven’t tried them myself, but they look like they could be a fantastic investment for a beginning snowboarder!
  • Snowboard wax: You don’t have to worry about this if you’re renting. If you have your own, you can buy a roll-on easy wax that seems popular here in Japan, or get it waxed at the hill.

The big question: To rent or to buy?

This is totally a question of personal preference. How many times a year you plan on going snowboarding is probably the biggest factor in determining if you should buy your own equipment or not. I recommend renting the first few times you try snowboarding or skiing for the first timeor even better, borrowing from a friend if you can! You don’t want to invest in this expensive hobby until you know you actually like it and will get your money’s worth out of it.

I wanna buy my own stuff. Now what?

image018Once you’ve decided that you want to buy your own equipment, you get to search through the plethora of options available! I suggest doing research online and talking to friends/ski instructors to help you decide what style/brand/price range would best suit your level and needs. Although you can get really cheap starter sets (board, bindings and boots for about ¥30,000) at local sports stores, I feel like if you’re willing to buy equipment, you may as well invest in medium- (~¥60,000) to high-performance equipment (¥100,000 and up) that will last.

My first pair of snowboarding boots cost a hefty $300, but I still love them seven years later! I just bought a new board and bindings set last year after using my first set (~$700) for a good six years. Although my equipment was expensive, I took good care of it and used it enough to make it well worth the investmentand it was more cost-effective than buying a new cheapo set every two or three years.

Another thing to think about is where you’ll buy your equipment fromI found it was still significantly cheaper to buy my new board and bindings online from a Canadian store and have them shipped to Japan than it was to buy the same equipment in Japan. So do your research, talk to friends, and compare prices to get the best deal. Also check out Jessie’s Snowboard Buying Guide here.

Slope difficulty gradings

  • Bunny hill: Beginners’ practice area.
  • Green: The easiest.
  • Red: Medium.
  • Black: Expert.
  • Double Black: Extreme (though most ski slopes seem to top out at Black).

IV. My Ski Resort Top Pick

image015Favorite ski slopes differ from person to person depending on what they prefer: lots of runs, fast lifts, hidden gems with no line-ups, tons of black runs, etc. Also, one’s favorite ski resort may be influenced by changeable conditions—a resort that was your favorite last year might drop in your rankings if the mountain has less snow and is more crowded the following year.

Having said that, without a doubt my favorite Japanese ski slope I’ve been to so far is the fantastic combo of Naeba and Kagura mountains in Niigata Prefecture, due to their sheer number and variety of runs.

Naeba is the more popular tourist destination, as the picturesque Prince Hotel is located right on the hill. These two massive mountains are connected by the “Dragon Gondola,” which gets you between the mountains in about 20 minutes. (However, you can definitely spend an entire day on just one of the mountains!) You will pay a bit more (¥5,500) to have the use of the Gondola (and thus transport between both mountains), but be careful: the Dragon Gondola stops running fairly early in the afternoon, and although there are shuttle buses, they stop running right at 4:30pm. If you’re stuck on the wrong mountain, you’ll have to pay a pricey taxi ride to get back to the correct mountain. (It’ s a couple of kilometers on a narrow, busy mountain road, so walking isn’t really an option…) Unfortunately, I know from personal experience that the taxi ride will set you back a hefty ¥3,000! So be wary of fitting in that “one last run” and plan your day accordingly.

And that’s all she wrote!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you found some of the above information useful. Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below. Let’s enjoy another excellent season out on the Gunma area’s sweet ski slopes!

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