Just a two-hour trip from Tokyo Station sits Gunma Prefecture, a veritable mecca of winter sports, boasting 22 ski resorts. With few foreign guests and loads of backcountry and side-country skiing and snowboarding, you can hit the hills ‘til you drop with no lift lines and a ton of undiscovered terrain.
Best of all, the prefecture is filled with traditional Japanese Ryokan inns, amazing food (ramen, anyone?) and 96 hot springs to soak your weary ski/board muscles in at the end of each day.
We’ve highlighted two resorts and a traditional ryokan to get you started.
Hodaigi Mountain Resort
A blast for both beginners and pros, the Hodaigi Mountain Resort is the biggest resort in the area. Boasting a plethora of runs from wide hills to 40-degree drops, a long 2.5km groomed run with sweeping views and a ton of powder for advanced skiers.
For visitors from abroad, there’s English support available. And for a fee, you can drop the kids (ages 1.5 – 6 years) off at the daycare service. Ski with peace of mind while they’re hitting the kiddie slopes.
Did we mention the food? Check out the restaurant at the top of the 9th Quad Lift and dine on snacks and drinks with a world class view. The Fire Cracker cafe serves up everything from traditional curry and ramen to hot dogs and kebabs
Curry, pasta, ramen, and more. This spacious restaurant has it all. And from the summit of the 9th Quad Lift, have some drinks and snacks with a view. There’s a cafe, hot dogs and kebabs served up at a shop called “Fire Cracker”, and plenty of beer, wine, champagne and more to enjoy at your leisure.
Take JR Joetsu Shinkansen about an hour from Tokyo Station to Jomokogen Station. From there, there’s a free shuttle bus (check the scheduled days) that can get you to the resort in 45 minutes.
Oze Iwakura Resort
During the season, the resort remains open until 5pm daily and offers night skiing days, when you’re free to tear up the slopes until 9pm.
There are 16 courses across all difficulty levels to give you the perfect challenge and six official powder runs offer regular “deep freshies” for powder hounds.
If you’re looking for some pristine backcountry, put in a request to the information counter and from the gondola’s summit station, hike over to Nishiyama. The popular “Milky Way Course” is the longest, a cool 2.9kms of cruisy powder skiing.
At the end of the day check out the Oze Iwakura Resort Hotel, you can still use their hot springs and saunas for a fee if you’re not a hotel guest.
The hotel restaurant also offers everything from curry, beef stew, hamburger steak and chicken steak rice, to Japanese food, including local delicacies. There’s even a cafe with hamburgers and plenty of sweets.
Take the JR Joetsu Shinkansen for 50 minutes from Tokyo Station to Takasaki Station. From there, you can take a 100-minute shuttle bus ride to the resort (reservation required). All-in-all about 2.5 hours one-way from Tokyo.
You’ll find Nayaka Ryokan, a Japanese inn complete with open-air baths where you can gaze up at majestic starry skies, in the heart of Minakami (the access town to some of Gunma’s best skiing). Among these high-quality, natural hot springs, there’s even one suitable for babies. Perfect for kicking back with the family.
The hotel feels like an old, Japanese home, but features Japanese and Western-style rooms. The inn provides loungewear called “yukata” which is a fun way to experience traditional hospitality.
Ryokans are known for their gourmet cuisine and Nayaka is no exception. Expect both traditional fare and a mix of international cuisine plus an all you can eat buffet style breakfast to set you up for a day on the slopes.
Take the JR Joetsu Shinkansen for 1 hour from Tokyo Station and transfer to the JR Joetsu Line (bound for Minakami) at Takasaki Station. After an hour, you’ll be at Minakami Station, where you can take the Kanetsu Kotsu Bus (bound for Tanigawadake Ropeway). Get off at Yubiso Onsengai, and it’s only one minute away on foot.