When I got the opportunity to travel to Tokyo in February for a two-day workshop, I jumped on it! We miss winter sports, and this was a great chance to get in some skiing.
Since I would be at the workshop on Thursday and Friday, I would only get one day of skiing to John’s three days. The good news is that he had two days to figure out the system in order to make my day of skiing very smooth. We avoided long queues by arriving early and, by the time the crowds started showing up, I had already had a full day’s worth of skiing! In total, we had 5 days and 4 nights in Tokyo.
*Check your travel health insurance to ensure that it covers winter sports!
Getting from Narita Airport to Tokyo is easy on the reserved seating Narita Express. We were heading to Tokyo Station where we would transfer to our final destination. Round trip tickets between Narita Airport and Tokyo Station cost 4,000 JPY / 34 USD, while one way tickets cost 2,820 JPY / 24 USD. When you travel to Japan, you have to pull out your calculator and compare options. There are ticket promotions that are only available to foreign passport holders that can save you substantial money. The rates and combinations are constantly changing, so do your research and cost comparisons before you arrive. A great site for your analysis is Train Route Finder.
For John, the round-trip ticket was best because he was using the three day JR Tokyo Wide Pass on days 2, 3, and 4. He would then use the return portion of his round-trip ticket to Narita Airport on our final day.
I needed to buy my JR Tokyo Wide Pass so that it would cover the last three days. I maximized my value by using it on the trains in Tokyo on day 3, the skiing trip on day 4, and the Narita Express to the airport on day 5.
We stayed at Hotel Villa Fontaine Tamachi (20,000 JPY / 171 USD per night). Just a 5 minute walk to and from Tamachi Station, this hotel was in a great location. There were plenty of restaurants within easy walking distance.
We love Japanese noodles – both thick, hearty udon noodles and ramen noodle soups. We took full advantage of the delicious restaurants near our hotel to get our fill!
Gala Yuzawa is the easiest ski resort to access from Tokyo. It has its own bullet train station, and you can reach it in just 75 minutes. The best guide for skiing at Gala Yuzawa is their website. I will just highlight some of the tips that John picked up on his three trips.
We love trains, especially bullet trains! It is worth getting up early in order to arrive at the resort at opening. We got our train tickets the night before to ensure that we had seats.
The trains are very comfortable, and the seating is assigned. The JR Tokyo Wide Pass cost 10,000 yen / 85 USD. A one-way ticket on this train costs 6,890 yen, and the return trip costs an additional 6,890 yen, for a total of 13,780 yen! You break even with just one round-trip, not even counting additional train trips or the special discounts you receive at Gala Yuzawa when you present the pass.
Another great perk of the JR Tokyo Wide Pass is the discounts that you receive at Gala Yuzawa. After arriving at the station, we went directly to the ticket counter to purchase our discounted lift tickets for 3,100 JPY / 26 USD each. The normal ticket price is 4,600 JPY / 39 USD each. Here they also gave us our coupons for 10% off rental gear and a code for a free locker.
After getting our passes, we headed straight over to the rental area and picked up rental forms. John saved time by having a pen and knowing our sizes, saving us from having to try on boots for sizing. We rushed over to the rental counter (second in line) and received our skis and boots in about three minutes (4,680 JPY / 40 USD each).
Arrive early, and the line to get rentals will look like this:
Sleep in, and it will look more like this:
After quickly changing clothes and putting everything into our lockers, we boarded the gondola which is located in the train station and headed up to the ski slopes!
We were off of the gondola before 8:15 AM! We grabbed a pair of self-serve ski poles and headed to the lifts.
Early birds get the slopes to themselves!
It felt great to be cold again! We were able to ski down and immediately get on the lift with no waiting. And this was on a Saturday…
After not having skied in many years, we enjoyed the gentle progression of the beginner slopes. It was easy to do a few runs and get comfortable before moving up to the next level.
The crowds started to show up at 11:00 AM. There were short waits at the lifts near the restaurant. By 2:30 PM it became much more crowded with long lines at the lifts. That was when we, exhausted, called it a day.
If you want to leave before the reserved seating train to Tokyo Station, queue at the gates and take a non-reserved train 5 minutes to Echigo-Yuzawa Station. Be quick getting to the next train so that you can secure a seat!
Once we arrived back at Tokyo Station, we reserved seats for the Narita Express for the next day.
For our final dinner, we ate at Bistro Uomasu near Kanda Station, our only fancy (over 10 USD per person) meal in Japan. It was fabulous!
We really enjoyed the atmosphere, and the food was delicious.
In the morning, we went to Tokyo Station and walked to the Imperial Palace.
It was a very nice walk and a relaxing way to finish our trip to Tokyo before heading back to our hotel to collect our bags and head to the airport.
We loved our Tokyo visit! We were pleasantly surprised how easy and painless it was to get from Tokyo to beautiful skiing. It had been way too many years since we had seen and played in snow. Recently we had actually had a conversation pondering whether we could ever live in the cold again. The answer is YES!
If you get the opportunity to visit Tokyo in the winter, I highly recommend adding a day (or three!) of skiing at Gala Yuzawa to your itinerary.
- Time of Year: February 2016
- Length of Stay: 5 Days, 4 Nights
- Total Trip Cost – 2 People: 1620 USD*
- Cost Per Day / Per Person: 162 USD*
- Visa Information: U.S. citizens are granted 90 days visa-free entry, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
*Adjustments to the cost analysis:
- International Airfare Excluded – International airfare is not included because fares vary depending on your starting location.
- Skiing with rentals was $66 per person / day. I was only able to ski one day. I adjusted the total cost by adding $132 to display an accurate cost per day utilizing the Tokyo Wide Pass for three days of skiing.
GPS Coordinates: Narita International Airport @ 35.77317,140.387622
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Hotel Villa Fontaine Tamachi @ 35.64282,139.744925
Tokyo Station @ 35.681382,139.766084
Tamachi Station @ 35.645798,139.747656
Gala Yuzawa Station @ 35.645798,139.747656
Kitahanebashi Gate @ 35.689467,139.753682
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Narita International Airport @ 35.77317,140.387622
You can copy and paste the latitude and longitude into Google Earth, your browser, or into your GPS.
*Disclaimer- ALWAYS verify locations, transportation routes, GPS coordinates, etc. Errors are made, routes changed, sometimes we are just plain wrong. No one knows what you like more than you. If the trip is worth doing, it is worth doing right! Do your homework.