By Jerome Lee
Naeba Ski Resort is one of the icons of Japan’s ski scene - a huge hotel sitting right at the base of a decent sized resort. The hotel and resort are owned by the mighty Prince Hotel group and although both have seen better days, it is still a great place for some winter sliding.
Naeba is a small town that is part of Yuzawa, just before the Mikuni Pass on what was the old main road up from the Kanto plains before the expressway tunneled under the mountains. There have been some famous ryokan along that road for centuries but Naeba is now home to a bunch of mansion buildings and ski lodges. Apart from the ski resort (and the Fuji Rock Weekend in summer) there isn’t too much going on. The majority of people skiing at Naeba are staying somewhere close by - it is about 35 minutes drive from Echigo Yuzawa Station, a bit far for a day trip for most people when other resorts are closer. Back in the day Naeba was heaving but in recent years lift operations have been trimmed to save costs. You can still get really busy days, and from 2012/13 kids under 12 can ski for free so the crowds may well re-materialize. Even with fewer lifts than its heyday there are still masses of terrain to explore. There are two gondolas where you can ride to the top of the mountain and get stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Naeba also links up to another Prince-owned resort, Tashiro, by way of a five kilometer long gondola that takes about twenty minutes to transport you across the valley. Tashiro in turn links up to Kagura and Mitsumata, and, as it can all be covered by the one Mount Naeba Pass, it makes for a huge area.
Kids are well catered for with an indoor artificial slope in a summer swimming pool to get the first timers balanced and then a dedicated kids’ area outside, with obstacle courses and a sledding zone. There is also a craft room inside for those bad weather days.
Most of the restaurants are in the main hotel with several different choices of cuisine for guests and non-guests alike. There are a couple of restaurants out on the slopes but most business is funneled back to those sprawling white buildings at the bottom. There are coupon tickets online where you can get your lift pass and a lunch & drink ticket for a bit of a discount.
Naeba can be good for a day or for a longer trip, with plenty of accommodation in the area, there is lots to explore.
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