Biwako Valley ski resort review

View from the top of Biwako Valley

Biwako Valley Ski Resort Overview

Biwako Valley (びわ湖バレイ) is a tiny little ski area located next to Lake Biwa (びわ湖, Biwako) in Japan’s Shiga prefecture ( 滋賀県 ), a short distance from the city of Kyoto. It really is small, with just over 200m of vertical and 7 lifts… at least, 7 lifts on paper… but actually two of them are in a line so they really only count as one (with a midway switchover), and there are two sets of parallel lifts so those four really only count as two! So really, in navigational terms, there are four lifts. The runs are short, and lapping the main Horai lift you can probably fit in 8 runs an hour (depending on waiting times in the park). The parallel lifts come into play during weekends and national holidays, when every snowboarder in Kyoto and Osaka heads to Biwako Valley and the crowds are ridiculous – these days are best avoided if possible, as the lift lines are by far the worst I’ve experienced in Japan and the cable car back down to the base area is a major bottleneck; I’ve waited as long as an hour to get down on busy days, and there isn’t a viable option for riding down what with the high snow line in Kansai.

Biwako Valley ski resort stats
Highest lifted point: 1174m
Lowest skiable point: 950m
Vertical drop: 224m
Lifts: 7 (4 really!)
Runs: 8
Total run length: 7km
Longest run: 1.4km
Ski area size: small!

Homepage and piste map (the homepage is in Japanese and has a limited English version – hit the ‘English’ tab at the top right of the screen. I’ve tried to cover everything below, including access information)

Terrain, snow, off-piste, transportation, etc for Biwako Valley ski resort

While Biwako Valley is very small, I definitely have a soft spot for the place. That’s partly just because I’m biased by some great memories from my two winters in Kyoto, but it does have a few good points; being a small affair it’s super-chilled, the staff are all really friendly, the views of Lake Biwa and Mt Hiei are fantastic (probably my favourite ski resort view), lift tickets are cheap, and the riding is saved from being a complete waste of time by the great effort they go to with their terrain park. The park crew build a good set of jumps and keep them nicely groomed, and they always have a dude on a deck chair spotting for everyone and keeping everything running nice and safely. Unbelievably, they even have a half pipe up there – it’s hardly ever in good riding shape, but they have the appropriate equipment and do cut it when the conditions allow. Although the pipe is probably only in decent shape for a total of a couple of weeks per season, it’s amazing that they have it at all and I used to hit it every chance I got – there’s no way it makes financial sense for them to maintain a pipe, so extra kudos to them for having it!

Lake views from the Biwako Valley terrain park

Biwako Valley is a nice place to learn, but to be honest, for non-beginners if you don’t ride park you’ll have ridden the whole mountain in no time and won’t be very impressed. If you’re going to be riding here regularly and are not a park rider, well… it’s time to learn park! That’s exactly what happened to me – Biwako Valley was where I landed my first backside 360s, got my first proper airs in a (small) halfpipe, and hit the Big Daddy jumps for the first time. I still prefer pow any day of the week (or all day, every day, if you’re talking Hokkaido!), but you have to ride what’s available and while Biwako doesn’t have powder or terrain they do make the most of what they’ve got and it’s a decent place to ride park (and it’s pretty awesome flying through the air while looking at that lake view!)

Snow conditions at Biwako Valley aren’t great – the annual snowfall isn’t much, and what does fall is usually pretty wet and sticky. They do manage to keep things topped up and in decent shape though with some impressive grooming and snow-making equipment for such a small hill (though it’s often not cold enough for the snow cannons). The other thing to warn you about conditions-wise is the wind – this ski area is on an exposed ridge, with the land rising up gradually from the west and dropping away precipitously down to the lake on the east side… sometimes the wind absolutely rips over the top of the ridge towards the lake, making the Horai chairlifts extremely unpleasant – freezing cold and also a little scary – so make sure you’re dressed for it even if the temperature isn’t that bad.

So, overall, Biwako Valley is definitely not a ski area to fly all the way to Japan for! But if you happen to be in the Kansai region during winter and fancy a day on the slopes but don’t have time to go all the way to Nagano or Niigata, it’s a good option for a fun day out and makes a change from all the temples you’ve probably been checking out in Kyoto – as much as I love Kyoto, to be honest it can be a bit drab and grey in winter and I always loved getting out of town and up the hill every chance I got. And if, like me a few years ago, you wind up taking a job in Kyoto or Osaka and then find yourself wondering if there’s a local hill nearby and whether you should take all your riding shit with you, the answer is yes you should – during my first Kansai winter (after a New Year’s trip to Hokkaido with a rather eventful return journey featuring a scissor-wielding maniac) it took me a while to figure things out for local riding. If you’re now trying to work it out, hopefully I’ve just written the page that answers your questions.

How to get to Biwako Valley from Kyoto and Osaka

To get to Biwako Valley from Kyoto, simply take the Kosei ( 湖西 ) line from Kyoto station (or perhaps Yamashina ( 山科 ) station if you’re staying somewhere on Kyoto’s Tozai (orange) subway line) and get off at Shiga ( 志賀 ) station (580 yen, around 40 minutes). The JR rail company operates a shuttle bus from Shiga station to Biwako valley’s lower ropeway station where you can buy tickets etc. The bus waits just outside the station, leaves roughly hourly, takes 10 minutes, and is rather overpriced (340 yen each way when I used to do it, plus they charge 100 yen extra if you have a board or skis) – you can check the bus schedule on the website here. You can check train times on Hyperdia and choose your train accordingly (there’s a good explanation for using Hyperdia here).

Coming from Osaka, the faster trains (called ‘special rapid’, 新快速, shin-kaisoku) to Kyoto leave every 15 minutes from Osaka station in Umeda – don’t get on the ‘local’ train (普通電車, futsu densha). One of those four special rapid trains per hour actually runs along the Kosei line after Kyoto (the final destination of the train will be Tsuruga, 敦賀), but this doesn’t stop at Shiga so you’ll need to get off at Katata ( 堅田 ) and switch to a local train for a few more stops to Shiga station. This is the fastest way from Osaka to Shiga station and saves you about 15 minutes. The other three shin-kaisoku trains per hour from Osaka to Kyoto (final destination: either Yasu ( 野洲 ) or Omishiotsu, 近江塩津) go on the wrong side of the lake after Kyoto, so you have to change at Kyoto station to the Kosei line. Osaka station to Shiga station is 1,320 yen and takes from 67 to 83 minutes, check Hyperdia for up to date schedules.

Returning, make sure you check the last shuttle bus departure time from Biwako Valley back to the station, it’s a long walk which I did once and wouldn’t do again – get a taxi or thumb a ride! (I had to hitch down a couple of times, people are usually happy to pick you up and have a chat). Also keep in mind that on busy days the queue to come down on the ropeway can be horrendous – as much as an hour on national holidays – so (a) don’t go on national holidays! (and preferably not weekends either) and (b) allow plenty of time for the ropeway line so you don’t miss the bus.

Biwako Valley Ski Resort Summary

This is the ‘local’ hill for Kyoto and Osaka. It’s a small hill with usually small amounts of wet snow, but a good park, a halfpipe (sometimes), good vibes, and cracking views.

Resources and Useful Links for Riding at Biwako Valley

Search Agoda for hotel deals in Kyoto and Osaka. You could also stay in Otsu (the closest city, neighbouring Kyoto in Shiga Prefecture).

Travel insurance with snow sports cover from World Nomads. Their flexible insurance can be bought even if you’re already in Japan – I once found out the hard way (in Thailand) how important this can be!

Homepage and piste map

Snow Forecast for Biwako Valley (snow-forecast.com does exactly what it says on the tin – my go to for accurate snow forecasts!)

Use Hyperdia to work out the train schedules in Japan (guide to using Hyperdia here)

Have you been to Biwako Valley? What did you think? Does my information need updating? Do you have any questions? Leave a comment below!

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9 comments on “Biwako Valley ski resort review
  1. ornuma p. says:

    Hello , I want to know in Biwako vallay ski has a ski lesson.
    We will visit on January 19, 2018 .

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hello, yes, Biwako Valley has a ski school – however, if you don’t speak Japanese it may be difficult to get an English-speaking instructor as it’s a very small ski area and they don’t have foreign instructors. Hopefully they’ll have an English-speaker available for you!

  2. Ah says:

    Hi, my boys are beginners and they did their skiing at the yuzawa Kogen last year. It was a neat short hill down they practiced on wt short lift rides.
    I have looked at some of the videos taken at Biwako Valley it seems very high up at the top of mountain even the play area? Is that the point where the beginners will slide down from? It looks pretty high….
    What about if I just want to wait at the point to see my kids when they ski down where should it be? The rope way starting point?….appreciate if you can share some info about the ski field for beginners and non skier/parent.
    Thanks!!

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi there, yes Biwako Valkey is high up, but everything’s up there at the top of the ropeway. The runs don’t go down the steep side towards the lake, they’re actually on the other side. The beginner slope isn’t steep at all, don’t worry it’s perfectly safe for your boys! The best place to wait for them would be the top ropeway station, there’s a restaurant there with nice views where you can wait, and you’d also be able to go outside and watch them from the top of the beginner slope. You can buy a ropeway-only ticket for yourself and all go up the ropeway together.

      One thing though – do your kids need lessons? There might not be any English language instructors available (it’s a much, much smaller ski hill than Yuzawa Kogen)

      • AH says:

        Thank you so much for your reply. My boys took lesson at Kogen last time. They went on the ski lift and skied down on their own. I could see them from the bottom of the slope. I also went to the resting place near the start of the ski lift and was able to catch a good view at them 🙂 They may still need an instructor with them for the first day if possible as I’m worried they may ski down the wrong path e.g the intermediate slope?…

        We also found it hard to find place to stay near Biwako Valley. Any place that you know perhaps?

        Thanks.

        • Simon Norton says:

          …and for places to stay, I’d just stay in Kyoto. For convenient access to Biwako Valley, it’d be good to stay near Kyoto Station so you don’t need to ride the subway. If you want to stay closer to Biwako Valley, the best place would be Otsu, but actually due to the train connections (you’d have to change at Yamashina Station) it isn’t much faster from Otsu even though it’s closer.

  3. AH says:

    Hi, thanks for your reply.
    The boys took lessons at Kogen and was able to ski on the beginner slope with chair lifts all on their own.
    As the slopes on Biwako Valley look all connected for all levels, I’m also concerned how should we ensure the boys don’t go down the harder slopes…..:)

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi again, the set up at Biwako is that the beginner slope starts from the main building, and goes down from there. There’s a chairlift up the side of the slope, so it’s easy for them to just ski down and then come back up on that chairlift. Just tell them 2 things – don’t go up the other chairlift (going up the opposite slope) as that’s the advanced area, and also don’t take any of the right turns off the beginner slope which are more intermediate runs. Really, you don’t need to worry, it should be very clear once you’re there.

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