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Winter wonderland close to Tokyo: GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT!

Winter wonderland close to Tokyo: GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT!

Singaporeans and Southeast Asians love to travel to Japan during winter primarily to experience snow. It is something that people living in tropical weather do not get back home, and Japan is one place that not only has plenty of snow during winter, but is also relatively close to us. For those who plan to Tokyo during their winter travel, they might be interested to know that they can experience a winter wonderland right at GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT!

 

GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT is in Niigata prefecture, which is to the north of Tokyo. The resort, together with the town of Yuzawa, is highly popular for those coming from Tokyo, be it the locals or foreign visitors. Visitors can simply hop on the bullet train from Tokyo, and head straight to the resort. Best of all, it takes only 75 minutes by direct access with a single bullet train trip!

 

The bullet train Max TANIGAWA. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)

 

Although I have been to Japan during winter, I never had the chance to go to a ski resort or experience full winter activities before. I got to visit GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT back in February, and I was excited to see what the resort would look like. A small surprise awaited me en route from JR Takasaki Station (JR高崎駅 Takasaki-eki) to JR GALA Yuzawa Station (JRガーラ湯沢駅 Gāra-Yuzawa-eki): the bullet train Max TANIGAWA, which uses a two-level train! Visitors could reserve seats on either the upper or lower deck, and I went for the upper deck! Unfortunately, the train type will be decommissioned indefinitely soon. Also, one important note: JR GALA Yuzawa station is operating only while the snow resort is open from mid-December to the Golden Week period (first week of May).

 

Almost reaching GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)

 

To reach GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT, visitors can get off at JR GALA Yuzawa Station which is directly connected to the resort. This station used to be a train depot many years ago, but ever since the town of Yuzawa became a highly popular ski town, it was converted into a train station. Moreover, this station operates specially during the winter season only. For this year, services to this station ended on 12 April.

 

COWABUNGA 2F, just after JR GALA Yuzawa Station's ticket gates. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)

 

What is outstanding about JR GALA Yuzawa Station is how visitors can access the resort directly. Visitors will already reach the resort upon exiting the ticket gates! The whole station is designed so that visitors are sheltered from the weather when transferring from the station to the resort. Upon leaving the station, visitors will arrive at the resort’s COWABUNGA floor where they will see a wide variety of customer services awaiting them, from foreign language counters―languages available include English, Thai, Indonesian, Chinese (Mandarin), Korean, and a lot more―and foreign currency exchange counters, to food kiosks and even winter activity schedules!

 

Our guest staff awaiting us at the resort entrance. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)

 

Just a short walk from the entrance, and visitors will reach the main concourse. Here, visitors will see even more amenities and facilities, including restaurants, winter gear shops and changing areas. It is also here where visitors can rent equipment, from winter boots and winter coats, to head gears and snowboards. The main idea is that visitors without any winter equipment can show to the resort virtually empty-handed: they can simply rent everything right at the resort!

 

GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT's main concourse. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)

 

It is wonderful to see how readily available winter equipment are for rent. People like myself do not have winter equipment―why would I, when a country like Singapore has no winter―so the lack of equipment would be my biggest concern when coming to a snow resort. Better yet, sizing can be done on the spot and information such as different size systems (US/UK/China) are clearly indicated. They are also written in various language for easy reference! For those who want to prepare in advance, they can rent the equipment online coming to the resort.

 

Winter clothing rental equipment are readily available. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)

 

Visitors can use the size reference for winter boot sizing. (Image credits: JR East / Nazrul Buang)

 

For food, visitors can try out from any of the many restaurants available throughout the resort. Most of them are located at level one of the ski centre’s Rest House ‘CHEERS’. I had my lunch at a food court called PALPAL, where specialty Niigata foods are served. My recommendation: try the seafood tempura rice bowl (天丼 ten-don) or the premium seafood rice bowl (海鮮丼 kaisen-don); both were amazing!

 

Seafood tempura rice bowl (天丼 tendon) at PALPAL. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)

 

Once visitors have suited up, they can hop on the Diligence gondola lifts (up to 8 persons at a time) to get up Mount Takatsukara in the back where all the fun is. The view from inside the gondola is amazing; visitors can mentally prep themselves for an unforgettable winter experience even before it begins!

 

Gondola lifts to get up the mountain. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)

 

Breathtaking view from inside gondola up Mount Takatsukara. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)

 

A magnificent view awaits at the end of the gondola lift: The Snow Enjoyment Park! This is where people would gather and start their winter wonderland experience. Seasoned skiers and snowboarders would continue their way up the mountain further, while first-timers would stick around here just to experience or play with snow here. For skiers and snowboarders, they can choose from up to 16 different courses! Many foreign visitors begin skiing especially after witnessing others doing it for the first time here at GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT (which by the way are conducted in English, Chinese, or Thai). After a half-day lesson, most of them take the ski lift up the mountain and will be able to ski down the slope!

 

Snow Enjoyment Area. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)

 

There are many courses to choose from at GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Take the ski lift further up the mountain, and visitors will reach The Bell of Love Observation Deck. They will enjoy a panoramic view of the sprawling mountain slope below, which makes for an amazing photo taking experience. Wifi service and other amenities are also available here.

 

The Bell of Love Observation Deck. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)

 

View from atop The Bell of Love Observation Deck. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)

 

For those looking for something less vigorous than snowboarding or skiing, they can engage in less intense activities at the Snow Enjoyment Park. Aside from just playing with snow, they can try out other fun activities. One is Sledding, where they can ride a sled down a gentle slope (warning: it is not that easy to ride down the slope!). There is also the Snowmobile Sleigh Tour, where visitors can hop on a snowmobile sleigh and make a detour! Last but not least is the Kanjiki Snow Fun Tour, where visitors can wear traditional Japanese snowshoes called kanjiki (かんじき) that enable them to walk on deep snow easily.

 

Skiing available at 16 different courses and more. (Image credit: GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT)

 

Snowmobile Sleigh Tour... I am not the tour guide, however. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)

 

Kanjiki (かんじき) to make walking on deep snow easier. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)

 

Sledding activities. (Image credit: GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT)

 

The GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT is a must-visit for anyone wanting to experience a winter wonderland. It boasts its own bullet train station at JR GALA Yuzawa Station, and it is amazingly easy to travel there from Tokyo. For those who want to see and feel snow for the first time, GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT is best for a single day. For more seasoned winter lovers, try out one of the many lessons offered there (and check out their latest gear)!

 

Make this place your next winter destination; it will be an experience that you will never forget!

 

More details on GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT

The GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT is located at the JR GALA Yuzawa Station, and can be accessed by bullet train from JR Tokyo or JR Ueno station. Seat reservations are highly encouraged, especially during peak winter season. The ski resort is usually open only during winter, from mid-December to the Golden Week period (first week of May). However, the business operation period is subjected to weather conditions (due to poor snowfall, the resort is closed earlier than usual, on 12 April).

(INSIDER TIP: If you have JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area), JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), or JR TOKYO Wide Pass, you can travel on the bullet train and make seat reservations for free! Even better, holders of any of the passes can enjoy discounts on gondola tickets and equipment rentals, just for the winter season! Click here for more details.)

 

JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area)

The new JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)

 

The JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) is an affordable pass that offers unlimited train rides on JR East lines, including bullet trains, within the valid area for 5 consecutive days. It's only ¥27,000, making it a considerable option for rail travellers. Pass holders can also reserve seats online for up to a month in advance for free on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.

 

JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)

JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)

 

The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) is an affordable pass that offers unlimited train rides on JR East lines, including bullet trains, within the valid area for 5 consecutive days. It's only ¥30,000, making it a considerable option for rail travellers. Pass holders can also reserve seats online for up to a month in advance for free on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.

 

JR TOKYO Wide Pass

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

 

The JR TOKYO Wide Pass is an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 3 consecutive days. At ¥10,180, you can use it to travel from Tokyo to GALA Yuzawa, and many other places within the designated areas, such as Nikko, Karuizawa and more. You can also make seat reservations online for free, up to 1 month in advance, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.

 

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

 

Header image credit: GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT

 

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