Kusatsu Onsen

Kusatsu Onsen

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Kusatsu Onsen

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Japan Ski Tour Tohoku Area

Kusatsu Onsen Ski Resort

Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma is phenomenal for onsen hounds where you can sniff all the sulphur you want and soak in the healing waters, but if you’re a powder hound, you should probably skip the Kusatsu Onsen Ski Resort. Kusatsu Onsen is first and foremost an onsen town which just happens to have a little ski area nearby, that’s pretty much only good for beginner and low intermediate skiers and snowboarders. Kusatsu Onsen is one of the most famous hot spring towns in Japan. It’s renowned for water that has outstanding healing qualities, so domestic tourists flock there in their droves to gawk at the onsen fields in town and soak in the indoor and outdoor baths.

Pros and Cons of Kusatsu Onsen

Pros
  • It’s a great place for chilling out in the many onsen, and the onsen fields in the centre of town make for pretty dramatic viewing.
  • Kusatsu Onsen is reasonably close to Tokyo (ideal if you have a car).
Cons
  • The Kusatsu Onsen Ski Resort is tiny.
  • There is negligible terrain for mid-level intermediates and up.
  • There isn’t really any off-piste terrain and the little there is, is heavily policed.
  • The town is very busy, so if you actually want a relaxing onsen experience you’d be better placed in nearby Manza Onsen.
  • It’s a bit of a pain to get to if you don’t have a car.
Pro or Con Depending On Your Perspective
  • Despite formerly being called Kusatsu Kokusai, there’s nothing particularly international about the ski area and negligible English is spoken. The KFC made it somewhat “international”, but it’s now gone (but you can still get karaage!).
  • Kusatsu is very touristy and not particularly cute compared to some of the lesser known onsen towns and villages in Japan.

Kusatsu Onsen Ski and Snowboard Terrain

Kusatsu Onsen Ski Resort has always been rather small, but unfortunately after a tragic volcanic eruption in January 2018 damaged the gondola, the ski area shrank further. The top elevation reduced from 2,171m to 1,600m, and the only vaguely pitchy runs were closed. The ski area now has 355 metres of vertical (1,245-1,600m), 8 lifts, and 6 courses (so Japanese to have more lifts than runs!).

Officially the trail stats are now 50% beginner, 30% intermediate and 20% advanced, but most of the ski hill is very mellow. There is one tiny ungroomed zone and a run that hits 30 degrees at its steepest point, and with insignificant off-piste opportunities, Kusatsu is not a ski hill designed for advanced riders. One of the runs, R292, is the road that heads from Kusatsu over to Shiga Kogen in summer (Highway 292), which gives you a bit of an idea of how mellow some of the terrain is.

The ski area isn’t particularly busy because most of the hordes are hanging down in town in one of the onsen, but you may find a lot of “snowboard fences” whereby beginner snowboarders sit in packs in the middle of runs.

Kusatsu isn’t renowned for amazing snow, in part due to its SE aspect and the reasonably low elevation, which is probably why the resort grooms the snow to the max.

Where is Kusatsu Kogen?

Kusatsu Kogen is located in the western part of the Gunma Prefecture, just near the border with the Nagano Prefecture. In summer, Kusatsu is only 28km by road from the southern end of Shiga Kogen in Nagano.

The Kusatsu Kogen Ski Resort is about 1.5km from the centre of town, so it’s a little too far to walk in ski boots. An hourly shuttle connects the two areas and many of the hotels also run shuttles.

Like most other Gunma ski resorts, having a car is beneficial. The drive from the Joshin-etsu Expressway is pretty narrow, windy and snowy. Another ski area in the region you could hit up is Manza Onsen which is about an hour away in winter (accessible via R292 in summer). The town of Minakami is 61km to the east, which has various ski resorts close by.

There are some direct buses from Tokyo to Kusatsu Onsen, otherwise the closest train station is Naganohara Kusatsuguchi on the Agatsuma Line, from where there are buses to Kusatsu town, but it’s all a bit messy.

Kusatsu Onsen Hotels

Most of the Kusatsu Onsen hotels are located in the centre of town, which are too far away from the ski resort to easily walk there. Kusatsu has lots of accommodation types ranging from inexpensive pensions to fabulous hotels, but if your primary reason to visit is to onsen, you may wish to pay the extra yen to have a lovely onsen at your hotel or ryokan.

Or if being close to the ski resort is your priority, Kusatsu Now Resort Hotel is just 600 metres walk from the ski resort.

Kusatsu Onsen Hotels

Ski Resort Facilities

The base area of Kusatsu Kogen has a handful of buildings that house all the amenities. All your eating requirements are covered, there are equipment and clothing rentals (don’t expect big sizes), and there is a ski school if you can speak Japanese.

Onsen

One of the highlights of Kusatsu Kogen is the hot spring field (Yubatake) in the centre of town. The hot spring has a huge output, gushing out thousands of litres of water a minute (along with sulphur clouds and the associated stench) which cascades along rows of wooden boxes. There is a viewing promenade connected by wooden stairs to view all the action. The water from this spring is too hot for bathing, but the locals perform water cooling ceremonies with long wooden paddles, because it would be sacrilege to simply cool the water by adding tap water.

For bathing there are a few free public baths that have rustic amenities, or lots of the hotels have indoor and outdoor onsen baths.
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