Gassan resort review (Nishikawa Town, Yamagata)

Nishikawa Town, Yamagata
Submitted by Metabo Oyaji on 2nd June 2014
Spring gathering of snow fans
Visited Gassan twice: April 29, and May 25.

First visit:

Tuesday April 29 was a holiday, weather forecast looked reasonable for Gassan, so we made the early morning road trip, planning to get afternoon tickets (11:30-16:30).

The drive up was relatively uncrowded for a holiday, and we got to the parking lot around 10:30. 500 yen parking fee, which goes towards conservation efforts, and in return for which one gets a Gassan sticker, which went straight onto the kid's snowboard.

The map near the parking lot shows the layout. One pair lift on the right, with some T-bars (really rope-tows with detachable T handles) to the left, on Ubagatake. That day, only the T-lift closest to the chair lift was operating, though at least one other seems to have been installed.

From the little pension mura at the base, it is a 500 meter walk up to the Ski Center/restaurant/lift base station. A caterpillar car is there to take skis and boards up, and only skis and boards -- no people, no backpacks or other equipment. Still, nice not to have to carry up the skis.

We got to the base building a bit early, just after 11:00, so had an early lunch while waiting for the afternoon tickets to go on sale. Then it was off.

t was bright, sunny and warm, probably upper teens? But the cool snow made for nice natural air conditioning, so very comfortable. No sweating, no jacket needed, until the last couple runs of the day when it started cooling off.

At the top of the lift is a rest house, with vending machines and toilets in it. To skier's right of the lift is the main valley course, with treed areas to the left, and the flanks of Ubagatake on the right. The snow in the center of the valley was a bit on the soft side for my tastes, though the kid enjoyed it quite a bit. To the sides the snow was a bit harder, and steeper slopes could be found.

The T-lift cost extra money in addition to the afternoon ticket, and I did not try it. But one could cut across from the top of the chair to access much of the face of the Ubagatake area, where some mogul courses and open faces were available. To get to there, one has to cross a cornice/snow cliff from the underside. Some ropes are set up around the cliff edge, but more as a warning than as any kind of restriction. Proceed at own risk, nobody will stop you. The ropes seem to indicate, Do Not Enter! -- Unless You Feel Like It. Some spallation snow-boulders dotted the landscape below the snow cliff. Some people were jumping off the smaller parts of the cliff.

The sky to the south was hazy, to the north clear.

I watched one family hit one of the mogul courses, both parents and a little kid (6-7 years old?). All experts. Put me completely to shame. (Not that that takes much.)

There is a spot under the lift where one can cross over to a tree'd section on the other side. Didn't try it myself, but it comes out below the base building, so have to hike up a bit to get back to the lift if one goes there.

All in all, a very pleasant day. Couldn't have asked for better weather, or more complete snow coverage. The vibe of the place is very relaxed, with people playing all over the place. A mecca for lovers of the snow. No attitude, no show-offs, just people enjoying themselves on the mountainside.

Not crowded at all -- there were no lift lines -- but the place seemed pretty peppy. Restaurant was full at lunch time, for example. It is sufficiently spread out, though, that people can really get away from each other pretty easily. The more one looked, the more one spotted people here and there in the distance or in the trees.

As I left, I decided I would definitely go back some time.

And so I did. Visit two:

The weather forecast for May 25 looked reasonable, and I figured the snow coverage should still be pretty good, so I thought, what the heck.

As it turned out, the entire population of Japan thought the exact same thing.

Hit the road at 4:30, made it there by 9:00, and was one of the last cars allowed into the parking lot. Those behind us ended up parking alongside the road going down the hill from the pension mura.

Looking up at the hill, hill looked covered in ants! And the lift line! Looked like something out of Naeba ca 1988.

Well, I guess once everything else is closed, where else are you going to go?

The inhabitants of Honshu took up residence on the (greatly-expanded since last month) mogul courses. Kyushu and Shikoku battled it out in a snowboard mogul (!) competition off the first T-bar lift. Okinawa went hiking beyond the pale. Hokkaido was lost in the trees.

Other than some bare spots near the top of the chair lift, snow coverage seemed still pretty complete.

Last time, there were two mogul courses. This time, there were more mogul courses than you could shake a stick at. Actually, this was a nice thing, if one is at all interested in moguls. One could go hunting for a mogul course at one's level. I hunted around and found some (many) too hard, some too easy, and some... just right! めっちゃ楽しい, as the kids say.

If you're not interested in moguls, the trick is to take the T-bar lift up. As Rock-hand reported previously, it is all clear, fast, wide open-face carving from there.

Down below the base, a snowboard park was set up. Lots of whooping and hollering. Looked like fun.

As for the crowding, we timed it to be about 30 minutes round-trip to do one run, a bit after the busiest time. So, 10 minutes riding up and skiing/boarding down, and 20 minutes queuing? I should observe that the lift lines did go down as the day went on. By mid-afternoon, the lift line was down to 5-10 minutes. But the sight that greeted us first thing in the morning was quite a shock.

Also, lunch lines were not as bad as feared. We ate at the cafeteria, but most others, apparently having more experience than us, brought their own picnic lunches with them.

The weather, I should add, was actually cooler than it was last month! Which was a pleasant surprise. And made for better (firmer) snow conditions.

To sum up, I would say that the basic relaxed snow-lovers vibe was the same as before. Everybody was having an un-self-conscious good time. Just magnified by the number of people attending this time as compared to theh previous month.
Date visited: From 29 April, 2014 To 25 May, 2014
Snow condition on visit: All kinds of spring skiing imagineable
Things I liked: Atmosphere, terrain.
Things I didn't like: The crowds on the second visit.
Recommended for: Intermediate riders
Advanced riders
Off-piste opportunities
Ungroomed courses
Authentic Japan experience
Not recommended for: Beginner riders
General score: 75
Snow conditions: 60
Courses/Terrain: 80
Lift system: 70


Nishikawa Town, Yamagata
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Average Rankings

General score: 80
Snow conditions: 67
Courses/Terrain: 85
Lift system: 65
Apres ski: 50

Basic Resort Statistics

Max. elevation: 1600m
Min. elevation: 700m
Vertical: 900m
Steepest slope: 35°
Longest course: 5000m
Number of lifts: 3

Other resorts nearby

Nishikawa Chomin 25.60km
Yudonosan 30.60km

Location of Gassan