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Ski Season is a GO at GALA Yuzawa

Ski Season is a GO at GALA Yuzawa

Looking for some fresh powder snow to shred this year but have no winter equipment to do so? Look no further! Here’s an introduction to GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort, the only one with a direct connection to a Shinkansen Station so you can waste no time hitting the slopes. Read on to find out more about the 2023-24 winter season at GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort.

 

Season

Originally scheduled to open on 16 December 2023, the opening for this season was slightly pushed back by a few days to 20 December due to low snowfall. But now that the snow is here and more than a metre thick (at the time of writing), now is the time to go before the season ends, currently scheduled for 6 May 2024. Please note the season may end earlier depending on the weather situation.

 

About GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort

GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort is located in the town of Yuzawa, Niigata, a prefecture renowned for heavy snowfall every year due to its location along the coast of the Sea of Japan, with winds blowing in from Siberia and picking up moisture over the sea and then falling as snow all over the prefectures along the Sea of Japan.

 

In the town of Yuzawa, there are many snow resorts that cater to winter sports enthusiasts that wish to ski/snowboard on the Japanese alps, but the standout feature for GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort is its direct connection to GALA-Yuzawa Station, a seasonal Shinkansen train station that opens only during the winter season. For the 2023-24 winter season, you can get from Tokyo Station, to GALA-Yuzawa station, via the Joetsu Shinkansen (上越新幹線), in as little as 71 mins. Once you step out of the station, the ticketing office for GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort at the Ski Center「COWABUNGA」 is right in front of you. This is perfect for a day-trip or a weekend holiday to enjoy the slopes, but also to explore the town of Yuzawa.

 

Brand new equipment for rent for 2023–2024

Don’t have your own ski/snowboarding gear? Not to worry; GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort is one of the most convenient resorts when it comes to renting the necessary equipment to get you started.

 

Not only can you rent important equipment such as skis and snowboards, but you can also rent other winter wear and safety gear, such as outerwear, helmets, googles, and snowshoes. And not to forget the younger crowd, but sizes for children are also available so the whole family can get in on the action.

 

Also, after the completion of renovation works at the rental shop area around Ski Center「COWABUNGA」2F, GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort has partnered with American snow sportswear brand Goldwin to establish the FISCHER SNOW BASE - GALA YUZAWA.

 

With the new partnership, you can reserve Fischer-branded equipment along with Goldwin winter wear for your winter activities.

 

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Summary of gear available. (Image credit: GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort)

 

If you want to avoid the queues for rental wear, there is the PICK UP BOX service where, if you make your reservations online up to 2 days before your arrival, your gear will be prepared for you to pick up without needing to go through the manned counters. With this new service, you can collect all your gear and hit the slopes in no time!

 

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PICK UP BOX area. (Image credit: GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort)

 

For those not planning on skiing and snowboarding, other items like sleds are also available so that they can enjoy the snow. Refer to the pricelist for more details!

 

Facilities

Before even heading up the gondola to the slopes, many facilities are available to make your ski trip even more convenient.

 

Luggage delivery

For readers bringing their own gear to Japan, you can always have it delivered to GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort ahead of time, so you don’t have to bring it with you on board the Shinkansen. The Delivery Corner is located on the 3rd floor of Cowabunga.

 

Locker rentals

A large, all-gender locker and changing room is also available at Ski Center「COWABUNGA」3F (same level as the Delivery Corner). This is suitable for families visiting to share a common storage locker before they proceed to the separate changing rooms and then head to the gondola.

 

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All-gender locker and changing room area at 3F. (Image credit: GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort)

 

On the 2nd floor of Cowabunga, there are more lockers, this time split into separate male and female locker rooms.

 

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Male lockers at 2F. (Image credit: GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort)

 

Locker rentals are available from 7:00 to 18:00, and you can access your personal belongings at any time during its operating hours.

 

Hot spring/pools

After a day on the slopes, you would have likely worked up a sweat. Why not check out the SPA GALA no Yu, where you can relax and enjoy the various facilities which include a hot spring bath, a fitness pool (swimwear required), and even an open-air jacuzzi.

 

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Clockwise from top left: Hot Spring, Fitness pool, Children’s Pool and Open-Air Jacuzzi. (Image credit: GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort)

 

Take note that the facilities are open from 12:00 to 19:00. The entrance fee is ¥1,000 per adult for entries before 15:00, and ¥1,300 per adult after 15:00. Swimwear is also available for rent for ¥500 each.

 

Shops for souvenirs and winter gear

The shopping area is largely divided into 2 functions, souvenirs and gear. The souvenir shop, Kayahirado (茅平堂),  specialises in local Niigata produce for you to bring home as a memory of your trip.

 

GelesPo is a sports shop for any last minute equipment purchase before heading off to the slopes.

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Kayahirado (茅平堂) (left) and GelesPo (right). (Image credit: GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort)

 

School

Totally new to winter sports? Fret not; near the entrance of Ski Center 「Cowabunga」, you will see a counter where you can sign up for ski and snowboarding lessons. You can pick up all the basics from the lessons and then be on your way to enjoy the slopes!

 

Gondolas and lifts

Now that you’re ready to hit the slopes, first check out the course map to see the various courses based on the difficulty level. From Ski Center 「COWABUNGA」, you will need to get on the Gondola before transferring to the various lifts to get to the start of the various courses.

 

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Gondola to get from Cowabunga to CHEERS. (Image credit: GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort)

 

Also, take note of closure for certain courses on certain days due to bad weather conditions. Safety first!

 

You need the right lift passes to use the gondola and ski lifts, and you can check them out here.

 

Other activities

Aside from skiing and snowboarding, you can also take part in other activities that require much less skill:

 

Sledding

Near the Rest House 「CHEERS」, where you get off the Gondola Diligence (ディリジェンス), is a Snow Enjoyment Park, where visitors can come to simply enjoy playing with the snow. Here, you can make full use of the sled that you rented at Ski Center 「COWABUNGA」. Please note that sledding is only allowed at the Snow Enjoyment Park.

 

Observation decks

There are two observation decks from which you can see the mountains that surround Yuzawa: The Bell of LOVE 「愛の鐘展望台」and The Bell of Dreams 「夢の鐘展望台」. Both of which require a separate lift ride to get to.

 

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The Bell of LOVE Observation Platform. (Image credit: GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort)

 

For The Bell of Dreams 「夢の鐘展望台」, you would need to have your ski/snowboard gear as it is part of the downhill cost that brings you back to Ski Center 「Cowabunga」.

 

Snowmobile sleigh tour/Moon Bike tour

To visit the Northern Area, you can choose to be pulled along in a giant 6-man sleigh by a snowmobile. This 10-minute ride will give you a relaxing way to get to your destination, as well as take photos.

 

You can sign up for the Snowmobile Sleigh tour or the Moon Bike tour at the Rest House 「CHEERS」F1 Snow Activities Counter. Take note that for the Snowmobile Sleigh Tour, it is available from 9:50 to 15:00 and is ¥2,000 per adult. Each sleigh is able to accommodate up to six passengers each time.

 

For the Moon Bike tour, it is available every hour from 9:50 to 15:00, and is ¥4,000 per adult. Visitors must also be 16 years old or older, and each tour is able to accommodate up to three adults.

 

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Snowmobile and Moon Bike tours (Image credit: GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort)

 

Estimated costs

Not sure how much to budget for a day at GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort? Here’s a rough budget estimate for one person spending the whole day at the resort:

Cost breakdown for a day-trip to GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort. (Image credit: JR Times)

 

The ski lift tickets are sold at the counters and online via the official website. Tip: the online tickets are sold at a discount, so it's highly recommended to get them before arriving at the resort.

 

If you’re looking at a 2-day course, the general rule of thumb is to simply multiply your costs by 2, while taking into consideration other activities in the Yuzawa area.

 

Cost breakdown for 2 days at GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort. (Image credit: JR Times)

 

Yuzawa

It’s not just about the slopes, the town of Yuzawa also has a whole bunch of activities you can also get involved in once you’re done for the day, before you head back to Tokyo or to your accommodation for the night.

 

Fireworks

As introduced in this article, the Yuzawa Winter Fireworks is a special event where ski resorts in Yuzawa come up with their own themes for creative evening fireworks displays. GALA Yuzawa also takes part in it, with 2024’s edition taking place in January. If you can’t make it in time for that, the festival is from 31 December 2023 to 23rd March 2024, so you still have time to plan ahead.

 

Yukiguni Agri Park "Yuzawa Strawberry Farm”

Currently with a tentative opening date of 15 January for the 2024 season, you can enjoy picking of the Echigo Hime variety of strawberries at this farm. This is an all-weather activity as it takes place indoors, since the strawberries are grown in greenhouses, and is a perfect activity to complement an overnight trip to the town, after you are done with all the snow activities at GALA Yuzawa or any of the other surrounding snow resorts.

 

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Strawberry Picking at Yukiguni Agri Park "Yuzawa Strawberry Farm". (Image credit: JR Times)

 

Gangi-dori

As you exit from the ticket gates of Echigo-Yuzawa Station (越後湯沢駅), you see Gangi-dori, a row of shops that sell all kind of delectable foods ranging from omiyage snacks, souvenir goods, and restaurants serving food made with local rice.

 

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Gangi-dori awaits you the moment you step out of Echigo-Yuzawa Station. (Image credit: JR Times)

 

Ponshukan

Niigata experiences high-quality snow during winter, and that translates to clean water when the snows, providing an ideal environment for agriculture. When it comes to rice, Niigata is one of the top producers in Japan, with Koshihikari being a type that’s renowned globally. Incidentally, the water is also perfect for sake brewing, with many breweries in the prefecture.

 

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Wall display at the Ponshukan. (Image credit: JR Times)

 

At Ponshukan, a museum dedicated to Niigata's local sake, you can taste the leading brands of sake in the prefecture as well as soak in a bath filled with sake. There are 100 different types of sake by 90 different breweries based in Niigata alone, so you will definitely be spoiled for choice!

 

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Many varieties of sake available for tasting at the Ponshukan. (Image credit: JR Times)

 

For ¥500, you will get a tasting cup and five tokens. Place your cup at the dispenser of the sake that you would like to try and put in the appropriate amount of tokens (note: some premium sake may cost more than one token.). Each sake brand also has a description on the taste notes to look out for, as well as some information on the alcoholic content, sugar level (dry / sweet) and acidity level.

 

The Ponshukan near Echigo-Yuzawa Station also runs a public bath where the bath water is mixed with blended sake. The natural amino acids contained in sake are a powerful soft-skin supplement. Sake infused spas improve blood flow and gently clean the pores.

 

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Sake is mixed into the bath water. (Image credit: JR Times)

 

After your bath, you can enjoy either a latte or ice-cream that’s mixed with koji (Malted rice, 麹) used in sake brewing and is naturally sweet), at the adjoining cafe.

 

A wide variety of local products is also offered, so it is great for buying souvenirs.

 

Sample itineraries

Now that you have more information about GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort as well as the town of Yuzawa itself, let’s put together an itinerary to maximise your time.

 

Day-trip sample itinerary. (Image credit: JR Times)

 

For a day-trip, to maximise the day on the slopes, you might have to wake up earlier than usual. Also, a day trip to GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort is very popular with the locals, so the train ride from Tokyo to the resort is probably packed with passengers. Hence, I recommend reserving your train seats as early as possible. Seat reservations open up to 1 month in advance, via JR-EAST Train Reservation, alongside your purchase of the JR EAST PASS.

 

Overnight trip sample itinerary. (Image credit: JR Times)

 

If you want to spend more time in Yuzawa by staying overnight, a 2-day itinerary will let you wake up just a bit later on the first day, and still leave you with about half a day left in Tokyo after returning on the 2nd day. Of course, feel free to adjust accordingly!

 

Closing

Why not consider Yuzawa for your next winter getaway? Either picking up a new skill in skiing or snowboarding, or simply enjoying the snow, GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort makes it easy for people of various backgrounds to enjoy Niigata's winter without having to worry about having the right equipment.

 

After that, enjoy the other offerings that Yuzawa has before moving on to the next part of your journey or returning back to Tokyo!

 

See you there!

 

JR TOKYO Wide Pass

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The JR TOKYO Wide Pass and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)

 

If you are travelling to Tokyo and its surrounding areas, including GALA-Yuzawa Station from Tokyo Station in as little as 71 minutes via the Joetsu Shinkansen (上越新幹線) as mentioned previously, check out the JR TOKYO Wide Pass, an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 3 consecutive days. At only ¥15,000, it makes for a considerable option for those planning to travel around the region. You can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.

 

The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)

 

The JR TOKYO Wide Pass can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass.

 

The pass also allows users to make full use of participating &EKINAKA facilities, of which includes GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort and shops at Echigo-Yuzawa station for some great deals.

 

Header image credit: GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort

 

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