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Tenjindaira Backcountry Tours

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 receives an astonishing amount of snow, that’s about all it has going for it. 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.

Pros and Cons of Gassan Ski Resort

  • 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, the lift provides some initial access.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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

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 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 could try your luck at the Tsutaya Ryokan.

Gassan Snow

Only Puki Yuki knows how much snow Gassan Ski Resort gets but it’s probably a mighty lot. The nearby Oisawa area of Nishikawa receives 12.6 metres of snow per year on average, and 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.

Gassan Glacier, as it’s called by, often tops their forecast charts, but keep in mind that this is for Mount Gassan where even the mid-mountain elevation sits well above the top of the chair lift.

Most of the snow falls during winter, with only the occasional snowflake in May and June, so powder days at Gassan are not that common.

Considering the Gassan ski season is during spring and summer, and the chair lift has a southwest facing aspect, it comes as no great surprise that the snow quality is incredibly variable.

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

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.


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).
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