Kawaba Lifts & Terrain


Kawaba Lifts & Terrain

Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded

Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded

  • Vertical (m)
    1,290 – 1,870 (580)
  • Average Snow Fall
    ?  metres
  • Lifts (5)
    3 quad chairs
    1 triple chair
  • Ski Season 
    early Dec - early Apr
  • Terrain Summary
    Runs – 10
    Longest run – 3.3 km
    Beginner - 20%
    Intermediate - 50%
    Advanced - 30% 

The Kawaba Resort ski and snowboard terrain is spread out across 3 hills, yet there are only 10 courses, or 7 depending on how you count them. In between the trails there is an abundance of off-piste terrain and it leaves you perplexed as to why they didn’t cut some more trails, but this is Japan where you’re often left scratching your head.

To further reduce the size of the Kawaba Ski Resort, they don’t groom the black runs, even though they’re not very steep and any world class resort would groom at least part of the slope. The Kawaba Resort is predominantly visited by snowboarders, most of whom don’t like moguls, which leaves only a handful of trails for them to play on so it’s no great surprise that the groomed runs get really congested.

To make matters worse, it seems that the snowboard instructors don’t teach etiquette. Snowboarders sit in packs right in the middle of runs, don’t look up hill before starting off, and do tricks in the middle of busy runs without looking to see if there’s room to do so. There is only one run that heads down to the base at Kawaba City, and even experts may find this trail really challenging and scary to weave around beginner snowboarders going splat.


The congestion on the runs is also compounded by the lifting capacity, such that there are about the same amount of lifts as there are groomed runs. Kawaba Resort has 5 chair lifts comprised of 3 quad lifts (one is a hooded detachable), 1 triple, and 1 double chair.

We visited on a weekday and there were small queues developing for the bubble chair which extended out across the piste rather than safely being lined up in corrals, and the lift attendants did nothing to encourage efficient loading of the chairs which could have lessened the queues.

Lift Tickets

Lift passes are towards the high end for a Japanese ski resort, which is not surprising considering that it’s a trendy ski resort within easy driving distance of Tokyo. Of course relative to the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, the lift passes at Kawaba are dirt cheap! Keep an eye out for various weekday discounts including ladies’ days, and you only have to be 50 years old to get a discounted seniors’ ticket.

Kawaba Snow

Like a lot of other Gunma ski resorts, the snow often falls very dry. Part of the reason for the dry snow is that big mountains such as Tanigawadake suck the moisture out of the storms before they hit Kawaba, which also means that snow volumes aren’t as high as they are at the Nagano and Niigata ski resorts closer to the coast. The amount of snow is still very respectable and the snow base usually gets up to 2-3 metres in the peak of the season.

A pro for the Kawaba snow quality is that Kawaba Kogen is definitely in the highlands and the decent elevation contributes to good snow quality, but a con is the aspect. It varies significantly across the resort, but the primary aspect is very sunny so it doesn’t take much for a melt-freeze cycle to set in.

Beginner Snowboarding & Skiing Kawaba

Kawaba is incredibly popular with beginner snowboarders, which makes it a really bad place to learn to ski or snowboard! The terrain is OK, it’s just that the crowds can make it dangerous, or harrowing at a minimum.

For novice kids, there’s a tiny little area crammed in near the base with the shortest covered magic carpet we’ve ever seen. It’s shared with snow play kids too, so it’s an inadequate space for kids to learn. There seems to be more space on the other side of run #2, so who knows why they didn’t put it there.

Beginners can take the B lift which terminates in a convergence, and then head down the really busy #2 green run. Even though it’s a wide run, all other runs terminate into the #2 so it’s a mess with the adjacent terrain park features, experts zooming down, beginners falling over, and snowboarders sitting on their arse. Scary! The next progression is to head up to the top and take the #7 trail which is considerably less congested.

Kawaba Skiing for the Intermediate

Fifty percent of the terrain for intermediates sounds like a lot, but there are only 3 trails, so hopefully you enjoy lots of repetition. The #3 trail is the pick and it’s a long fall-line trail that doesn’t tend to draw the crowds.

Terrain Parks

Kawaba is very popular for its terrain parks. Usually there are two terrain parks for different ability levels and a banked slalom course, although when we visited the park was not very exciting with just a handful of small jumps and rails.

Advanced Skiing On-Piste

Kawaba Ski Resort has 4 advanced runs, of which none are particularly steep. Elsewhere in the world, ski resorts would groom runs of this pitch, or at least one side of them so that people can choose between moguls or groomers. At Kawaba they think people love moguls so much that they put some fake bumps in too on the #6. If the lack of traffic on the advanced runs was anything to go by, it seemed that not many people actually love the bumps and that the ski resort should up the ante on their grooming.

Off Piste Skiing and Riding

The approach to off-piste and tree skiing is mixed across the resort, although it appears that they seem to be slowly coming around to the idea. There are some fences but not many, and a few signs here and there that aren’t really about it being prohibited versus strongly discouraged.

Kawaba Resort has added a tiny “sidecountry” area where it’s officially permissible to ride, but amusingly it’s inside the resort boundaries and not actually “sidecountry”. The zone around the “sidecountry” is the best aspect for snow and it has a mix of widely spaced trees and tight trees. There is a former lift to the skiers’ left of course #3 and a short boot back up gives you access to a large area of north facing trees that spit you back out just before the base.

Skiers’ right off the #6 trail area has some nice evergreens with a good aspect. They appear impenetrable at the top, but they open up quickly. The best off-piste terrain is near the top from chair E and also from Chair D, but it doesn’t necessarily have the best snow considering the sunny aspect. Another potential con of this area is that it’s very difficult to ride off-piste discretely.


The impressive peak above the resort requires about 150 metres of elevation gain and from there you can access the ridge that drops into a few drainages. The aspect isn’t the best for snow quality compared to the other side of Mt Hotaka so you need to pick your timing and potentially have ski/splitboard crampons. If you want to head backcountry, fill in a form with ski patrol (good luck with that if your Japanese is subpar!).