With spring just around the corner, there’s no time like now to enjoy Japan’s ski slopes.
Japan’s ski resorts, famous for fabulous powder and après-ski hot springs, also offer a range of family-friendly services.Tokyo Weekender tells you how to hit the slopes with your little ones.
Gunma: Katashina Kogen
For young kids completely new to skiing, Katashina Kogen in Gunma prefecture is a good option.
This skiers-only resort is close to Tokyo, cheap, and family-friendly.
It even has a Miffy Bunny snow park. It’s not the place for seasoned snow bunnies, but a great place for little beginners to get the hang of things.
Katashina Kogen offers ski lessons for kids from age 4 to 12 who can speak basic Japanese.
Lessons cost from 3,000 to 5,500 yen.
You can also book a ‘Kids Snow Debut’ package, which includes a 4-hour lesson and equipment and snow wear rental, for 10,000yen per person.
Younger kids from ages 2 to 4 can frolic in the snow at the resort’s ‘Snow Kindergarten’ (3000yen/half-day and 5500yen/full day, including snacks).
Katashina is a 2.5 hour drive from Tokyo on the Kanetsu expressway.
Orion Tours also offers return bus and lift ticket packages for 6,300 yen per person (cheaper on weekdays).
Gala Yuzawa in Niigata Prefecture is easily accessed by bullet train, has great snow and hot springs, offers childcare and kid’s ski lessons, and has English-speaking staff.
The snow is usually great, and getting there by train is hassle-free.
The resort offers Sponge Bob Snow Camp ski or snowboard lessons for kids aged 4 or older with basic Japanese skills.
Lessons cost between 4,500 to 9,800 yen; call 090-2433-2302 (Japanese) to book.
Gala Yuzawa can also organize private lessons in English, depending on instructor availability; email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 025-785-6442.
Gala Yuzawa also has a daycare room offering childcare for kids from 2 to 6 years for 1200yen per hour.
Advance reservations are required; call 025-785-6437 (Japanese).
Gala Yuzawa is a three hour drive from Tokyo on the Kanetsu expressway, or a 90 minute ride on the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo or Ueno to Gala Yuzawa station.
Japan Rail offers one-day bullet train and lift ticket packages for 13,000 yen (adults) and 6,850 yen (kids); book at any JR View Plaza travel agency.
For a ski resort that’s not only kid-friendly but also offers some of the best snow in Japan, head to Shiga Kogen in Nagano prefecture.
This network of 21 ski areas and 70 lifts offers daycare for kids from three months old, children’s ski lessons, and English-language support.
Nearby Jigokudani hot springs offers the chance to see Japanese macaques lounging in outdoor baths.
There are 18 ski schools and about 100 hotels and Japanese inns in the area and nearby Yudanaka/Shibu Onsen.
For details, check their English website or contact the English-speaking staff in the Shiga Kogen Tourism Office at email@example.com or 0269-34-2404.
Access Shiga Kogen by taking the Nagano Shinkansen from Tokyo or Ueno stations (90 minutes), then transferring to a direct bus at Nagano station (another 70 minutes).
You can also charter a car with Chuo Taxi to take you directly to the resort from Tokyo.
Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 026-282-7777
Also in Nagano, the six ski resorts in Hakuba Village all offer fantastic powder and beautiful views of the Japan Alps.
Hakuba also offers some of Japan’s best outdoor adventure options for English speakers, thanks to the Evergreen Outdoor Center.
English-speaking staff at Evergreen Outdoor Center offer kids ski and snowboard lessons at Happo One ski resort.
They also offer daycare for kids from 18 months at their facility at the base of Happo One for 5,250 yen (half day) or 9,500 yen (full day).
This video from Eye On Asia shows just how good the Hakuba slopes can look!
If you want more snow adventure, they also offer back country guiding, snowshoe tours and cultural excursions.
Hakuba has a range of accommodation options, from small pensions to larger hotels and Japanese inns.
The village’s tourist information office can help you book; call 0261-72-7100 or email through their website.
There are a few ways to get to Hakuba. You can take the bullet train from Tokyo to Nagano (90 minutes), then by bus (another 70 minutes).
Or, take a combination of express and local trains from Shinjuku to Hakuba, via Matsumoto (about 4.5 hours).
Chuo Taxi, mentioned above, also offers direct charter service from Tokyo to Hakuba.