Niigata Prefecture is divided into four geographical areas: the Joetsu region in the south (where Myoko City is located); Chuetsu in the central area (where Yuzawa Town and Minamiuonuma City are located); Kaetsu in the northern area; and Sado Island.
There are over 50 resorts in Niigata, ranging from small, one-lift local hills to the famous Naeba, which hosts international ski events. While there are resorts dotted all around the mountains of the prefecture, most of them are concentrated in two regions: the Yuzawa-Minamiuonuma area and the Myoko area. Each winter these two areas enjoys some of the heaviest snowfalls in all of Japan—as can be seen from the reported snowfall at SnowJapan's daily reports.
Gala Yuzawa is famous for being the only ski resort in Japan with its own Shinkansen bullet train station—with the train station, rental shop and gondola all in the same building. You can literally step off the train, grab your gear, and get on the gondola. Gala Yuzawa is also connected by ropeway to Yuzawa Kogen and Ishiuchi Maruyama from the North Area. While not a particularly large resort on its own, the convenience of getting to Yuzawa makes it a very popular choice, especially if you only have little bit of time for a trip! The slopes are great for all levels. Check the daily Yuzawa snow reports here.
Note that not all Joetsu Shinkansen trains stop at Gala Yuzawa Station, so double-check before choosing which train to ride! There are free shuttle buses from Echigo-Yuzawa Station, though, and they only take five minutes or so to get to Gala.
The Naeba resort is located in the southern area of Yuzawa Town. Connected with the Kagura resort via the 5.5-kilometer (3.4-mile) Dragondola lift, the two resorts together make up what's called Mount Naeba. The Naeba side offers 13 lifts and 22 runs spread across the eastern face of Takenoko-yama, while Kagura's 22 lifts and 23 runs are divided over three areas: the Mitsumata Area, the Tashiro Area and the central Kagura Area. You can get lift tickets for just Naeba, just Kagura, or the whole Mount Naeba area.
Kagura is accessible in roughly 20 minutes by bus from Echigo-Yuzawa Station on the Joetsu Shinkansen. Naeba is a little farther, taking about 50 minutes by bus from the station, but tends to be the more popular destination with its greater variety of runs concentrated in a single area. However, Kagura tends to have better snow, and holds it even into May. You can check the detailed daily Naeba snow report here.
Minamiuonuma, situated next to Yuzawa, offers 11 ski resorts of its own, and is accessible from the Joetsu Shinkansen station at Echigo-Yuzawa. The largest resort in Minamiuonuma is Joetsu Kokusai, which offers 25 ski lifts and 22 courses. The resort is a good choice for intermediate to advanced skiers, with about 70 percent of the courses falling into these categories. That said, it also offers kids' attractions such as a Spongebob park and a designated sledding area. Ishiuchi Maruyama is also technically in Minamiuonuma, which illustrates just how close it is to Yuzawa.
From Echigo-Yuzawa you can either take the local Joetsu Line or get shuttle buses to the resorts, which will typically take from 10 to 40 minutes depending on your selection.
Facing the Sea of Japan, Myoko is a city with seven distinct ski resorts, the largest being Akakura Onsen, which has 14 ski lifts and 17 courses. Akakura Onsen resort is a great choice for beginners, with about half the slopes at the beginner level. That said, its steepest course registers at 38 degrees, so it's no slouch on the challenge side, while the connected Akakura Kanko Resort offers a further 300 meters (984 ft) of elevation.
The area in general is a great choice for families or people looking for a relaxing holiday with more to offer than just winter sports, with some fantastic hot springs to soothe sore muscles after a day of hitting the slopes. Check the daily snow updates here.
Regional Snow Guide
Want to learn more about the best resorts and trails for you in Niigata? Check out all the information you could need over at SnowJapan!