Ski resorts across Japan jealously look at Niseko and wonder how they can turn their fortunes around with the help of an influx of foreign tourists. Unfortunately this is not as easy as just making an English website.
I have known about the ski area around Yuzawa Onsen (hot spring) for a long time, but never had the chance to visit (despite being a skier before coming to Japan, I have only skied here once but that’s another story). I got my chance this weekend as I wanted to take my kids somewhere to experience snow for the first time.
One of Yuzawa’s best features, and the reason I chose it this time, is the fact that it takes under an hour and a half from Tokyo Station by bullet train and the station is in the centre of town. You can actually hop off the train and walk to ski lifts. Very convenient!
Snow seems to be in abundance too. The base was 200cm despite a recent drought of snow. Our activities were limited to tubing and making snowmen so I can’t comment on the quality of the skiing personally, but I have heard it is good.
The other thing that this area has going for it is the hot springs. This is of course the main point of most resort areas in Japan so having hot springs isn’t particularly unique. However, they are one of the main attractions for Asian travellers to Japan so having hot springs, winter recreation, and a clean/ natural setting with good facilities is a key combination. Unfortunately it is in this last component where Yuzawa seems to fail in completing the package.
The area around the station is typical of the hot spring resorts built during the time Japan was rapidly developing. There are a lot of drab concrete buildings that were bunched together without any thought of resort planning.
Moving away from the station area toward the Naspa ski area improves the scenery dramatically, but it is due more to the lack of development than to good planning. In fact, aside from the New Otani Hotel at the base of the hill and a few related condos nearby there doesn’t seem to be much else. Even the “condos” for sale in the New Otani project seem incomplete as they do not include kitchens (480sq feet from $60,000 & 980sq feet from $175,000). I guess they want everyone to eat in the hotel restaurants!
As a Tokyoite looking to play in some snow, Yuzawa offered a great weekend. However, for those travelling to Japan from overseas, I can’t see why they would chose Yuzawa over Niseko since they could just as easily fly into Sapporo as Tokyo. This is a shame as places like Yuzawa and Nagano should be able to use their proximity to Tokyo as a lure.
The key to winning over inbound travellers is providing a “complete” high quality experience. That is why developers in Niseko have been working so hard to turn a hodge-podge of run-down bed & breakfasts into a village of attractive accomodations, restaurants, and other ammenities to complement the natural wonders the area has to offer. Rather than just enviously looking at Niseko, Yuzawa and the many other resorts in similar situations should be learning from what the Niseko developers are doing and use that knowlege to raise the level of their own resorts.