Friday, February 15, 2013

A Gala of Powder: Skiing Gala Yuzawa, Japan

Although I did not, unfortunately, have time to make it up to Hokkaido to ski the famed Niseko, I was still determined to get in on some of the much discussed Japanese powder :D. With my limited time, it seemed like my best option was to hop on the 75minute train from Tokyo's Ueno Station direct to the base of the Gondola at Gala Yuzawa for a day. Best choice ever. Lying within such easy access to Tokyo, Gala can often be crowded on weekends. Somehow, however, I managed to luck out and head over on a Sunday when the hill was relatively empty - something which may have had something to do with the nearly complete white-out conditions I found myself skiing in all day. While some people may enjoy seeing where they are skiing, there are also a number of benefits to white-outs - chief one of course, being the access to all that fresh powder!

Grabbing a photo from lower down on the mountain. This was the clearest it got all day.
Although the train ride from Tokyo to Gala Yuzawa isn't overly long, Gala is actually located on the other side of Honshu (the main Island), in Niigata Prefecture to the north of the Japanese Alps. It was really cool to see the day go from bright and sunny with no snow anywhere in Tokyo, to overcast with piles of snow up to my waist as we got further and further into the mountains. 

Coming down out of the fob bank as I head down toward the base of the gondola. 
Gala Yuzawa is not a particularly huge resort, with most of it's runs located on the top of the mountain, above the gondola. It also does not have particularly long or challenging runs - although there are quite a few fun black runs in the northern area and the 2.5km intermediate run to the base of the gondola makes for a nice ride (I imagine it's even nicer when you can see the view). What Gala does have - and in great quatities even when it's not a particularly snowy day - is exquisite powder. Living in Toronto, I'd forgotten how nice it was to ski on proper snow! While it may not be the best skiing on offer in Japan, it is definitely worth checking out if you have a free day - particularly if you have a JR Pass, in which case, the train ride is free.

Not-quite snow ghosts at the bottom of the mountain.

Overall, gear rental (clothes, accessories & skis/board) plus lift tickets runs for around $120 US per day (which is more than reasonable!), afternoon only (12-5) is just under a hundred. Sadly, Gala does not have any night skiing, but many of the resorts in the area do. For more info on Gala Yuzawa, click here.

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