Gassan Ski Resort

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Gassan backcountry touring
Gassan backcountry touring
Yudonosan adjacent to Mt Gassan
Yudonosan adjacent to Mt Gassan
Gassan snowcat shuttles
Gassan snowcat shuttles
Fine winter day in the alpine
Fine winter day in the alpine
Nice tree spacing
Nice tree spacing
Sub-alpine terrain
Sub-alpine terrain
Ski touring in the Gassan area
Ski touring in the Gassan area
Very snowy mountains
Very snowy mountains
Yudonosan Yamagata
Yudonosan Yamagata
Gassan Ski Resort opens in spring
Gassan Ski Resort opens in spring
Gassan Ski Resort
Gassan Ski Resort
Low frills amenities at Gassan Ski Area
Low frills amenities at Gassan Ski Area
Pole Pole Farm
Pole Pole Farm
A cottage/villa at Pole Pole Farm
A cottage/villa at Pole Pole Farm
Communal lounge at Pole Pole
Communal lounge at Pole Pole
Great dinners at Pole Pole near Gassan
Great dinners at Pole Pole near Gassan
Pole Pole near Gassan
Pole Pole near Gassan
Gassan ski touring
Gassan ski touring
Skiing Gassan "Glacier"
Skiing Gassan "Glacier"
Lovely tree spacing
Lovely tree spacing

Gassan Ski Resort

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Southern Hokkaido Powder Tour

Gassan Ski Resort

Gassan Summer Ski Resort is famous in Japan as being the ski area that gets so much snow that it can’t open until April and the ski season usually extends until mid to late July. Also called “Gassan Glacier” despite it not being a glacier, this little ski area is popular amongst Japanese skiers and riders who didn’t get enough of a sliding fix during the winter.

Having too much snow to operate in winter sounds exciting to a powder hound, however before you book a pow trip to Japan for spring or early summer, you’ll want to keep your expectations in check. Whilst Gassan has an astonishing snow base, that’s about all it has going for it in spring/summer. The ski area looks naff on paper and in reality it is, unless you’re there to do some backcountry touring to appreciate the mountain scenery.

Winter is entirely a different matter and it is possible to do some snowcat accessed skiing and riding below the treeline and/or backcountry touring so that you can revel in amongst the deep snow.

Pros and Cons of Gassan Ski Resort

Pros
  • Gassan Ski Resort is ideal if the novelty of skiing during summer in a T-shirt and shorts is appealing.
  • The ski area has a delightfully chilled out social vibe.
  • For those heading into the backcountry in spring and summer, the lift provides some initial access.
  • Gassan receives huge amounts of snow and in winter you can go snowcat skiing or backcountry touring. The tree skiing is amongst widely spaced beech trees.
Cons
  • The lifts don't operate during winter.
  • Gassan Glacier Ski Resort is a very small ski area.
  • Despite some nice weekday discounts, lift passes are quite expensive considering the little on offer.
  • Gassan Summer Ski can be incredibly busy, especially on weekends and holidays.
  • In spring and summer the Gassan snow quality is generally not very good & often not aesthetically pleasing either (think dirty melting snow).
Pro or Con Depending On Your Perspective
  • If you don’t enjoy skinning or hiking, or sitting in the snow with your kids, Gassan has very little to offer in spring and summer.
  • It is family friendly except that it’s a decent walk from the car park up to the ski area, and if you have to carry your kids you’ll want to be pretty fit.

Gassan Ski and Snowboard Terrain - Spring/Summer

Gassan Ski Resort is very small and at the commencement of the season it’s even smaller. Officially it has 4 courses and 3 lifts which comprise one double chairlift and 2 ropetows that have detachable T-handles. These “T-bars” sit above the chair lift, you have to hike up to them, pay extra for them, and they only commence operation part-way through the season.

The ski resort offers 900 metres of vertical (700 - 1,600m) and the terrain is mostly wide-open although there are some treed areas to skiers’ left of the chair lift. As the season progresses, the mogul runs tend to become wider and wider, so if you love bumps you’ll be in heaven.

You can hike or skin up to the summit of Ubagatake (1,670m) and early in the season when the T-bar is not running, this may take about 40 minutes. Some of the backcountry slopes have massive glide cracks so keep your eyes peeled. Or a 2 hour hike from the top of the lift can get you up to Mt Gassan at 1,994m where the views are pretty special. There are a few backcountry guides in the area, and you can book a private tour with an English speaking backcountry guide.

Gassan in Winter

There is a small snowcat operation that operates at Gassan that offers single runs or multiple runs for private groups. The cat skiing is between 900m and 1,300 metres elevation and is in a forested area with wide trees, slopes of 25 to 40 degrees gradient, and typically DEEP snow.

Backcountry ski touring and splitboarding is also a possibility and you can do a combo of snowcat accessed backcountry and touring as part of a bespoke tour with an English speaking guide such as Gassan Ski.

Backcountry Skiing Dewa Sanzan

The Dewa Sanzan (Three Mountains of Dewa) is the collective name for the three sacred mountains of Gassan (the highest), Yudono-san and Haguro-san. Backcountry skiing is growing in popularity with the locals across the three mountains. There is plenty of impressive alpine terrain including chutes, bowls and ridges, and the feasibility of skiing the upper elevations in winter is dependent on how much the wind has trashed the snow, the visibility, and of course the snow stability. More commonly in winter, the backcountry skiing on Gassan and Yudonosan is below the tree line. Many parts of the tree skiing are mellow but there are short steep pitches as well.

There are various Japanese ski guides that typically only take out Japanese guests but Gassan Ski provide guiding services to internationals as well.

Gassan Snow

Gassan receives an annual average of 30 metres of snow, so it’s considered the snowiest ski resort in Japan, yet it’s unknown as to whether this statistic is for the ski resort elevation or the snowfall for the top of Mount Gassan. So only Puki Yuki knows exactly how much snow Gassan Ski Resort gets but it’s a mighty lot.

For the 2022 season the Gassan Ski Resort opened with a snowpack of 9 metres! Most ski resorts around the world would be chuffed to get 9 metres in cumulative snowfall, let alone have that as a snow base.

Most of the snow falls during winter. It’s not the same as the highly renowned Hokkaido snow yet the snow quality is pretty good because it’s often fresh and DEEP. May and June only see the occasional snowflake, so powder days during the Gassan Ski Resort season are not that common. The chair lift has a southwest facing aspect, so it comes as no great surprise that the snow quality is incredibly variable during spring and summer.

Where is Gassan?

The Gassan ski area sits on the southern slope of Mount Ubagatake, which is on the southwest flank of Mount Gassan. Gassan is located in the Yamagata Prefecture of Tohoku, 26km northwest of the little town of Nishikawa, 59km northwest of Yamagata City (about an hour drive), and 78km northwest of Zao Onsen Ski Resort.

The last part of the drive up route 114 to the Gassan ski area is quite spectacular. The narrow road has lots of hair pin bends and in spring it has very high snow walls. It’s easy to see why it would be too much work to keep the road or ski resort open during winter.

The car parking attracts a fee, and from the car park you have to walk approximately 600 metres up to the base facilities and chair lift. A snowcat may take your skis or snowboard up for you, but hopefully your young children are light because you might be carrying them!

Gassan Accommodation

You can stay at the Gassan Pole Pole Farm as part of a guided package with Gassan Ski (see below). It is located about 10 minutes drive from the Gassan Ski Resort. From Pole Pole, distances to other ski areas:

  • Yudonosan – 20km northwest (20 minute drive) - good for beginners and intermediates
  • Nishikawa Chomin – 1 lift & 3 courses – open for night skiing and open weekends - 20 minute drive – mellow slopes
  • Zao Onsen – 70km southeast – 1 hour drive
  • Asahi Shizenkan – 49km southeast – 1 hour drive 
A handful of pensions sit below the base of the ski resort, adjacent to the parking area. Or you can stay in one of the ryokan in Gassan Shizu Onsen, which is about a 10 minute drive from the ski area.

Facilities

The ski area has a cafeteria, although most people sit outside and enjoy a picnic or BBQ. Basic ski and snowboard rental equipment is available to rent, and lessons are available from a ski and snowboard school (in Japanese).
Tours that night visit Gassan

Safari (Road Trip) Tours

Yamagata & Miyagi Adventure
GUIDED RESORT & CAT ASSISTED BC TOUR
Customisable From 5 Nights
Ability: Intermediate to Advanced
This private adventure tour incorporates snowcat assisted backcountry skiing/riding plus a few ski areas in the prefectures of Yamagata & adjacent Miyagi. You will be guided & hosted by local English speaking Japanese guides who will provide an authentic cultural experience.
Price p/p Sample price is based on 6-night package, twin-share (4 in group).
Base/invoice currency is JPY
Displayed price might vary slightly due to exchange rate fluctuations.
USD 2,880
View Details
 
See all Safari (Road Trip) tours that visit Gassan here

Single-Base, Multi-Ski-Area Tours

Gassan Backcountry Day Tours
GASSAN BACKCOUNTRY GUIDED DAY TOURS
Private groups only | Max 5 in a group
Ability: Intermediate to Advanced
If you are looking for something different & you love backcountry skiing, Ski Gassan Guides offer day guiding to Gassan ski resort in Yamagata. This resort gets so much snow the lifts don't spin until April so it is ideal for backcountry touring plus there is a snowcat for access as well.
Price p/p Sample price is based on backcountry guiding at Gassan resort with a private group of 4 people.
Base/invoice currency is JPY
Displayed price might vary slightly due to exchange rate fluctuations.
USD 125
View Details
 
Yamagata Powder Tour
GASSAN SNOWCAT + RESORT TOUR
Customisable From 3 Nights
Ability: Intermediate to Advanced
This customisable private adventure tour incorporates snowcat assisted backcountry at the mighty Gassan plus a day at Zao Onsen & the option to visit a lesser known Yamagata ski area. You will be guided & hosted by local English speaking Japanese guides. Sample price per person based on group of 4 for 3 nights.
Price p/p Sample price is based on 3-night package (4 in group).
Base/invoice currency is JPY
Displayed price might vary slightly due to exchange rate fluctuations.
USD 1,408
View Details
 
See all Single-Base, Multi-Ski-Area tours that visit Gassan here
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