Easily accessible powder for all skill levels near historic onsen towns
Last updated: December 21, 2020
In winter, the mountains that dot Gunma become snowy playgrounds for skiing and snowboarding. The prefecture’s diverse ski and snowboard offerings range from extensive, built-up resorts like Minakami Kogen Ski Resort and Oze-Iwakura Ski Resort to local hills like Minakami Hodaigi Ski Area and Marunuma Kogen Ski Area, and major backcountry draws like Tanigawadake Tenjindaira Ski Area.
Gunma is popular with Japanese skiers and overseas visitors alike due to its many ski resorts with convenient access from Tokyo. The prefecture is the closest area to the capital with natural powder snow, adding ease to a ski holiday. Gunma’s variety of ski areas means travelers can experience culture during a ski trip or skiing during a cultural holiday; hills like Kusatsu Onsen Ski Resort are near historical onsen towns. Moreover, resorts offering night skiing allow for time on the slopes after a day full of other activities.
Gunma has many resorts with Japan’s internationally renowned powder snow, which some affectionately call “Japow.” Some of the prefecture’s best snow conditions can be found in the Katashina area, which includes the eastern face of Mt. Hotaka and the western face of Mt. Nikko-Shirane. In particular, Marunuma Kogen Ski Area on Mt. Nikko-Shirane enjoys some of the Kanto region’s best snow conditions and longest operating seasons. Its higher elevation means the snow quality is usually better here than at nearby ski fields in early and late parts of the season (December and late March onwards, respectively).
Katashina is home to many other ski resorts, such as Oze-Iwakura Ski Resort, Ogna Hotaka Ski Area, and Snow Park Oze Tokura. This variety means visitors can choose to ski or snowboard at many different resorts over an extended holiday while staying in one location. The same can be said about the Minakami area, whose resorts include Minakami Hodaigi Ski Area, Minakami Kogen Ski Resort, and White Valley Ski Area.
There is a wealth of natural onsen around Gunma, and mountains surround nearly all of them. This proximity allows you to enjoy a relaxing hot spring soak after a long day on the slopes. Alternatively, it is easy to add skiing as a diversion to an onsen-focused getaway. You can choose to ski during the day or at night, as many of Gunma’s ski areas—such as Norn Minakami Ski Resort and Okutone Snow Park—light up their slopes late into the evening.
Your snow holiday does not need to be all adventure, all the time. Some of Gunma’s ski resorts are located in or near historic onsen towns, letting you add a dose of culture to your downhill thrills. Kusatsu Onsen Ski Resort is just 1.5 kilometers away from the center of Kusatsu Onsen and is accessible by shuttle bus. Mix in time on the slopes with a walk by the Yubatake—the hot water field fed by Kusatsu’s main spring—and a yumomi experience. This traditional water-stirring performance cools the water without diluting it. Similarly, Manza Onsen Ski Area is near the town of Manza Onsen, whose open-air baths are especially scenic in winter.
Gunma has slopes and ski areas suitable for all skill levels, and many go out of their way to cater to children and families. Katashina Kogen Ski Area is the only skier-exclusive snow resort in the wider Kanto region, including Gunma. In addition to this rule, its mellow trails make it a top choice for novices and families with young kids. Non-ski activities at Katashina Kogen include sledding and snow striding, while the Miffy-themed play area is a hit with children. At Fujiwara Snow & Spa Resort, kids can take a break from the gentle trails with tubing, in addition to sledding and snow striding. Other resorts that are especially recommended for beginners and families include Tambara Ski Park and Okutone Snow Park.
Backcountry skiing and riding is the ultimate way to experience Gunma’s powder. Tanigawadake Tenjindaira Ski Area, sometimes called “Tenjin,” is considered one of Japan’s most noteworthy backcountry and sidecountry destinations for its epic conditions, challenging terrain, and ease of access. Take the ropeway up Mt. Tanigawa to a small ski area that is mainly interesting for intermediates and beginners. The real appeal for experts is in the trees, chutes, and bowls that are easily accessed by short hikes or traverses. Prodigious amounts of snow and a long, December-to-May season further add to the draw.
Backcountry skiing is risky, so be sure to hire a guide and bring or rent appropriate equipment. Do not head outside the ski area boundaries if you are not an advanced skier or snowboarder.