Skiing Heaven The Ultimate Cover Photo Gallery from
ANA – All Nippon Airways Madarao
Juhyo” A Perfect Day in Shiga Kogen Undiscovered Marvels in Hakuba Echigo Yuzawa Visiting Japan’s “Three Major
A 3-day Trip Report
An 11-day Ski Trip Across
issue 3 │ 2019 │ FREE
Photography by Thomas Seear-Budd
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The Ultimate Cover Photo Gallery from Aizu
ANA - All Nippon Airways
The ultimate Japanese journey in the sky on a 5-star airline 18
Unbeaten in the variety of tree-run courses in Japan 24
Visiting Japan’s “Three Major Juhyo”
Trekking around the tohoku region
A perfect day at Japan’s biggest ski resort 40
The Search for Undiscovered Marvels in Hakuba
A hot spring and ski paradise 80 minutes away from Tokyo
A 3-day Trip Report to Experience the Wonders of The Myoko Area
Snowy mountain adventures, backcountry trails, and Japan’s largest off-piste area
issue 3 │ 2019 │ FREE
An 11-day ski trip across Hokkaido
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EDITOR IN CHIEF Kazuya Baba
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jSnow issue 3 │ 3
he world is honing in its travel sights directly on Japan with the Rugby World Cup in 2019, and the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020, amongst other major international events jostling for attention. With international travellers landing in droves to explore Japan, the number of visitors from Australia also continues to grow, chalking up a record high of over 500,000 visitors in 2018. The period between December and January is particularly popular amongst Australians as many travellers flock over to visit the plethora of ski resorts on offer. 4 │ jSnow issue 3
I have no doubt that a number of readers of this magazine have already visited some of the popular ski resorts in Japan such as Niseko and Hakuba. The rise in popularity of Japanese ski resorts amongst Australians is not something that has happened overnight. It was over 10 years ago when word got out in the Japanese ski resort industry that Niseko had seen a sudden influx of Australian skiers. Following this spike, Australian-run hotels and shops began popping up at such a speed that Niseko had practically become an “Aussie Town”. Niseko was the pioneer internationally-friendly town with facilities
to cater for foreign visitors – a luxury that was still rare at the time amongst local Japanese municipal governments. While Niseko had become a convenient place for English-speaking tourists to stay, thanks to its lowered language barriers, the number of skiers and snowboarders left feeling disappointed over the lack of new cultural experiences was on the rise. An opportunity began to form to meet the desires of travellers who wanted to enjoy the snow without any hassles, whilst also experiencing the unique culture that Japan has to offer. It was these people who broke away from
Canmore Asahikawa Asahidake Airport
New Chitose Niseko Airport Rusutsu
Arai Echigo Yuzawa Shiga Kogen
Niseko and stepped foot in other ski areas in search of the best of both worlds. As the trend began to pick up pace, more and more Australian tourists drifted away from the area of Hokkaido centred around Niseko to Asahikawa, and found themselves in other places such as Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen in Nagano Prefecture. The travellers who set up their bases in these new places slowly started to expand their area of travel to other locations in the surrounds, paving the way for a new style of holiday â€“ hiring a car to zoom around to other ski resorts one-by-one. As mentioned in the prologue of the previous issue of jSnow,
the proliferation of smartphones has made it possible for anyone to navigate around Japan using an app of their choice. The trend to drive around Japan owes most of its momentum to ever-changing technology. Efforts by many Japanese ski resorts to increase marketing are aimed at Australian skiers who could potentially pop up in new areas at any moment as the movement towards lesser known areas continues. jSnow was created in response to this wave of Aussie travellers visiting Japan in winter, with a mission to create an outlet for Aussie skiers and snowboarders to discover the new wonders awaiting them in Japanese
ski resorts. The first issue was published in 2017 and I am proud to bring you the third edition this year. As mentioned in the first issue, there are close to 500 different ski resorts in operation in Japan. Once again, with this issue of jSnow, I have personally visited, and photographed almost all of the places mentioned in the following pages in my efforts to give you an insight into what ski resorts lesser known outside of Japan have to offer. I truly hope jSnow acts as your guide to the upcoming Japanese ski season. Kazuya Baba
jSnow issue 3 â”‚ 5
The ultimate cover photo gallery from Aizu The Aizu area has been featured twice in past issues of jSnow and continues to grow in recognition, however, with the sheer amount of ski resorts in Japan it is still fairly unknown amongst international skiers and snowboarders, making it somewhat of a secret treasure in these crowds. One of the reasons why Aizu is considered a well-kept secret is its uncrowded ski slopes covered in the highest quality powder snow produced by the unique inland weather conditions. Another reason lies in the fact that it is located a convenient distance from Tokyo. On the topic of location, some readers may harbour some concerns over Aizu’s location in Fukushima Prefecture. No doubt a number of people still associate Fukushima with radioactivity. First and foremost, radiation levels have been strictly monitored, and safety
has been ensured ever since the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant. Furthermore, there should be no cause for concern as Aizu is located a significant distance away from where the incident occurred. Despite this, there are still people who hold these apprehensions about Aizu, further contributing to the location’s status as a hidden gem. Aizu is not just one ski resort, but an area comprised of 22 ski resorts in total. This time around, KEI, a local guide in the Aizu area will, show you around 3 ski resorts in the region – Alts, the largest ski resort in Aizu; Nekoma, the resort with the best snow; and Minowa, a ski resort worth of the name “the final frontier” – through photographs and accompanying commentary.
KEI: A local guide who knows all of the ins and outs of the Aizu area. He was responsible for the marketing of Hoshino Resorts Alts Bandai/Nekoma Ski Resort for 12 years from 2005. In May 2017, he moved to Sherpa Co., Ltd. where he is involved in consulting work related to snow and surf. KEI spends half of the year either snowboarding or surfing.
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Amongst the calm quiet is a melting pot of excitement, in the form of a tree-runs, calling out to you. The lines between the trees are perfect, not too wide like in Hokkaido. This high-end tree riding experience is sure to keep you on the edge of your skis.
Photography: Mint Tours
NEKOMA jSnow issue 3 â”‚ 7
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NEKOMA The surface of Lake Hibara expanding below Nekoma Ski Resort is frozen throughout winter. At over 70 centimetres thick, the ice is a testament to how harsh the cold is. The extreme cold temperatures between January and February can drop as low as -15C and also produce excellent powder snow.
The snow spray is so thick, youâ€™ll need a snorkel to breathe. In the Aizu area, the dry powder snow found in Nekoma is world-renowned in terms of both quality and quantity. The fact that you can ski here until early May is more than enough proof of how plentiful the snow is here.
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There are endless ways to enjoy the snow in the Aizu area with the plethora of ski resorts in the vicinity. Alts Bandai is the largest one around with plenty of courses to shred while you gaze upon the iconic Mount Bandai.
ALTS Shred down leaving a snow wake double your height. Light powder snow can be found in tact at the end of the day, even on the edges of courses, as long as snow has fallen. The reason for this? Thereâ€™s just too much for everyone to ski on.
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Alts Bandai was once the stage for many international competitions. Doing a few laps around the park is pretty fun if you’ve somehow shredded all the powder snow. The snow here is still to the standard of international competitions – it’ll almost feel like you’re surfing on snow.
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The north-facing slope, abundant tree areas, and friendly patrols. At the highest altitude in the whole area, Minowa truly is the final frontier. This ski resort continually offers both exhilarating and rich powder snow, not to mention the ability to do laps on the high-speed chair lift. If this isnâ€™t paradise on earth, then what is?
MINOWA The glade-runs here are not only spectacular because skiers are scarce, but because of the abundance of undulations. Another charm of Aizu is the untouched beech forests that offer an atmosphere different to that in Niseko and Hakuba.
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Urabandai Grandeco Tokyu Hotel There are many points of interest near Urabandai Grandeco Tokyu Hotel: from the sightseeing to relaxing in the nature.
Urabandai Lake Resort There is Lake Hibara behind our lobby. This is the only place in Japan that you can see the lobby with its luxurious chandeliers and lavishly used marble.
Active Resorts Urabandai
Welcome to the Snow Heaven
Rich in natural beauty with different magnificent colors-Goshiki Lake is only 7minutes walk away from the hotel. Only 20-minute drive to Grand Deco Ski Resort and Nekoma Ski Resort.
Recommendations for the best hotels in the area.
HOTEL LISTEL INAWASHIRO LISTEL INWASHIRO is located at the gateway to AIZU AREA. You can enjoy spending “a slow living” at the hotel Listel Inawashiro.
Hoshino Resorts Bandaisan Onsen Hotel Hoshino Resorts Bandaisan Onsen Hotel is connected to the Hoshino Resorts Alts Bandai ski resort directly which is one of the largest ski resorts of northeast Japan with 29 courses and famous for its new parks.
ALL NIPPON AIRWAYS The ultimate Japanese journey in the sky on a 5-star airline SLEEP SOUNDLY ON ANA AND ARRIVE ON THE SNOW SLOPES THE NEXT MORNING
For a trip over to Japan, I highly recommend a flight on a Japanese airline which is renowned worldwide for their conscientious hospitality, typified by the land of the rising sun. From the in-flight entertainment to the meals served onboard, you are bound to start your journey with a cultural experience in the sky. ANA was the first airline in Japan given a 5-star Skytrax rating with the Sydney to Tokyo route particularly popular amongst its flight destinations. SKYTRAX, a UK-based airline research company, has given ANA a 5-star rating for 7 years running since 2013. In 2018, the airline received its third “World’s Best Airline Cabin Cleanliness” award. The airline is also known for painting their aircraft with different themes, such as characters from 16 │ jSnow issue 3
Star Wars, garnering attention from many enthusiasts. Convenience is one of the reasons this airline is so popular. The convenience of being able to arrive at a ski resort by lunchtime is sure to be music to the ears of snow travellers. The Sydney to Haneda flight offered by ANA departs Sydney at night and arrives early the next morning at Haneda Airport, Tokyo. As such, a quick transfer to a domestic flight upon arrival will have you at your destination in time for lunch. If you are heading to the popular ski area of Niseko, Chitose Airport in Sapporo would be your gateway and you can be there by 8:30 in the morning and at Niseko by lunch time. If Asahikawa, a destination in central Hokkaido that has been gaining popularity in recent years, is your destination of choice, you can be at the corresponding airport by 8:15 in the morning
and at your Resort by mid-morning. Being able to jet off at night, sleep soundly on the plane, and then arrive in the land of snow the next morning will no doubt fill eager snow fanatics with joy. CHECK-IN SNOW GEAR AT NO ADDITIONAL COST
One of the biggest advantages of flying ANA for travellers heading to the ski slopes is the option to check-in ski gear at no additional cost. Passengers travelling Economy Class on ANA can check-in up to 2 pieces of luggage weighing a maximum of 23 kilograms each. One of these items can be your ski gear measuring up to 292 centimetres in length. Business Class passengers have an increased baggage weight limit of 32 kilograms per piece. Since ski gear can be rather cumbersome, the
generous option to be able to check it in at no cost on ANA is a massive drawcard. FEATURE-PACKED CABINS
A trip on a plane cannot start without getting familiar with what it has to offer inside the cabin. Economy Class features seats with 3-level footrests, seat-back entertainment system, and USB ports to keep all passengers comfortable. Premium Economy Class adds more spacious seating, and even more creature comforts can be found as you move into Business Class. Premium Economy Class also features a wider seat pitch and larger monitors to further enhance the in-flight entertainment experience. Access to Business Class lounge and priority check-in are also added perks of this class. The ANA lounge in Haneda Airport is renowned for its great service and high-quality food
options, making it worth a visit to try some tasty Japanese cuisine. The staggered arrangement of the Business Class seats gives all passengers aisle access, and the lie-flat reclining seats allows passengers to sleep soundly through the night without any disturbances.
Memanbetsu Asahikawa Sapporo (Chitose)
DIRECT FLIGHTS FROM PERTH STARTING SEPTEMBER
ANA has also offered up some welcome news with the opening of its Perth to Narita route flying daily from 1 September 2019. This route also arrives in Japan early in the morning, making it similarly convenient to the Sydney route. With the ongoing rise of Australian travellers flying over to Japan, ANA continues to offer more options to passengers. For your next adventure to Japan, hop onboard an ANA flight.
TOKYO (Narita) SYDNEY PERTH
jSnow issue 3 â”‚ 17
Unbeaten in the variety of
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glade-run courses in Japan Words and photography: Kazuya Baba
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here is a ski resort in Nagano Prefecture grabbing the attention of travellers looking to book long-term stays in an area that is also popular amongst Australians, boasting renowned areas such as Hakuba and Nozawa. This ski resort is none other than Madarao Kogen. This humble ski resort was once lost amongst the hustle and bustle of all the famous establishments in the area, however, efforts to market it towards international visitors have increased in recent years and it has developed to the point where overseas skiers and snowboarders have begun to notice it. It is not only part of the Nagano Prefecture ensemble presented at the annual Snow Travel Expo held in Sydney and Melbourne, but it also has its own booth as it starts to make the rounds amongst Australian travellers. The number of people buying up property around the Madarao Ski Resort area continues to grow and restaurants run by Australians have slowly begun to appear as the movement to offer services to visitors from overseas picks up pace.
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THRILLING SIDECOUNTRY TRAILS ACCESSIBLE VIA SKI LIFTS
The risk of misfortune on a snow mountain is high, which is why many ski resorts in Japan prohibit guests from entering off-course areas. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of ski resorts allowing skiers to access unpatrolled areas at their own risk, however, it is difficult for resorts to actively open up these areas due to the risk of avalanches and other such dangers. Despite this, Madarao is proud to grant off-course access, and its plentiful snow has earned it the moniker of “Madapow” for the top-quality powder snow it has on offer. One of the reasons Madarao was able to do this can be attributed to the fact that it is not a ski resort situated in a national park. A large number of famous ski resorts in Japan can be found in national parks. These ski resorts are restricted from maintaining the areas outside of courses as they are beyond their scope. On the other hand, Madarao Ski Resort has free range of the area it occupies and operates as an establishment for “powder snow lovers” that is “alpine run lover-friendly”. In fact, this resort goes above and beyond to
Nagano MADARAO make their sidecountry runs more enjoyable by trimming the trees around the entrance to allow for easy access, and thinning out trees along the glade-runs to make them more skiable. Even the exit back to the main slope from the sidecountry run is groomed with a snow compactor, amongst a range of other details to make life easier for skiers. Through these efforts, some people have started calling Madarao a “sidecountry mecca”. If you have made the hike over to Madarao then I highly recommend the sidecountry runs off the #13 lift headed towards the mountain peak, such as the “Powder Theatre”, ” Powder Wave 2”, and the “NINJA” (featuring an 8 metre-long ski jump), that can all be accessed by the “Adventure Trail” course along the ridge. While this course is closer to a means across the ridge rather than being a run in itself, it offers a fantastic view of the whole ski area for those who venture further within it. Only people who take the hike up into the backcountry area are treated to the marvellously exhilarating view. While it goes without saying that a certain level of skill is required to head into sidecountry areas, the view on offer is definitely worth the trek.
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MADARAO Nagano FROM NOZAWA AND MYOKO TO THE SNOW MONKEYS â€“ A CONVENIENT LOCALE FOR ADVENTURES
Madarao not only has excellent backcountry offerings, but the variety of traditional courses for snow sport-lovers of all levels makes it appealing to guests across the board. This centrally-located ski resort is also situated a handy 40 minutes away from attractions such as Nozawa, Myoko, and the snow monkey hot springs, further adding to its appeal. It is also home to a hotel offering ski-in, ski-out access at the base of the slope, and is also within walking distance of the restaurants that have been growing in number in recent years. The number of skiers heading over to Madarao when the conditions are favourable during their stays in Nozawa and Myoko continue to grow, however, with the convenience of its location, the growing number of accommodation facilities and restaurants, and the potential for further town development in the future, Madarao will surely become a new choice for travellers to centre their ski experiences around.
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Madarao.jp email@example.com @madaraoski @the-madarao
5 reasons why you should visit
Madarao Mountain Resort 1
Easy access - 1 hour and 50 minutes from Tokyo by Shinkansen and 20 minutes from the Shinkansen station by bus or car.
MADARAO IIYAMA KANAZAWA TOKYO
･1 hour and 20 minutes by Shinkansen from Kanazawa ･1 hour and 50 minutes by Shinkansen from Tokyo
Top quality powder snow and gladeskiing runs.
Close to neighbouring ski slopes (40 minutes to both Nozawa Onsen and Myoko Kogen). Madarao is a great place to set up base and take day trips to surrounding resorts.
Enjoy the ease of the Ski In Ski Out access at the main hotels - Madarao Kogen Hotel, Monaile Madarao and Hotel Tangram.
Walk and taste foods around the village
Experience powder tree riding
Visiting Japan’s “Three Major Juhyo” Trekking around the Tohoku region Words and photography: Kazuya Baba
re you familiar with the term “juhyo”? It is localised as “snow monster” by some Japanese local governments when marketed overseas to Englishspeaking countries, but this is bound to cause some confusion as the first thing to pop into your mind would probably be an abominable snowman or a Yeti-esque creature. In fact, the term “juhyo” is a combination of the Japanese characters for “tree” and frost”, and it is the myriad of shapes the tree frost forms that lends itself to the nickname “snow monster”. Juhyo is not simply snow or ice that sticks to trees, but a phenomenon that can only be replicated under certain conditions. One of these conditions is the type of tree – juhyo can only be formed on the Aomoritodomatsu or the Maries’ fir. When there are strong winter air pressures that are high in the west and low 24 │ jSnow issue 3
Mt. Zao Fukushima
in the east, water droplets carried on strong winds known as “supercooled water droplets” can form. The supercooled water droplets instantly turn into ice upon hitting the Maries’ firs growing on the west to north-west slope of a mountain, forming the unique shapes. This process is repeated and gradually creates unique monster-like juhyo. This natural phenomenon can be witnessed in three locations in Japan and is a rare sight highly uncommon around the world. In an effort to boost the level of recognition of these phenomena, the local governments of these three locations have dubbed the sights as “Japan’s Three Big Juhyo”. Through a kind invitation from the three local governments, I am happy to bring to you my journey around the Tohoku region to see the “Three Big Juhyo” as well as other attractions in the surrounds.
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MOUNT ZAO From Tokyo Station I hopped onto a shinkansen (bullet train) bound for Yamagata. While winter sports-lovers may know Yamagata Prefecture for its major Zao Onsen Ski Resort, Mount Zao is well known in Japan for its iconic juhyo. After a two-and-a-half-hour trip from Tokyo I arrived at Yamagata Station. I planned to see the Mount Zao juhyo at night in all its illuminated glory, so during the daytime I set off to visit Risshakuji Temple. This temple was founded in 860 by Jikakudaishi Ennin, the third leader of the Tendaishu. It is also the location where the renowned haiku poet, Basho Matsuo, composed his famous cicada poem. The sight of buildings lining the mountainside earned the temple its common name of “Yamadera” or “mountain temple”. A museum devoted to Basho Matsuo can be found nearby the temple and I highly recommend a visit there as part of your trip to see the juhyo if you are interested in ancient Japanese culture. At night I endured the extreme winds and rain as I climbed my way up to the top of the Zao Onsen Ski Resort on the ropeway and, despite the terrible weather, was treated to a beautiful view of the illuminated juhyo. While I was unable to join one myself on this day, there are also tours available to view the illuminated juhyo fields on a snowcat. Go ahead and hop on a tour if you ever get the chance to! 26 │ jSnow issue 3
The next day, I hopped back onto the shinkansen and headed straight up north to Aomori Prefecture. This time I was off to see the juhyo at Mount Hakkoda. With transit times not in my favour to head to a ski slope, I ventured into the city of Aomori. From the shinkansen, I transferred over to a local line and moseyed on over to Nebuta Museum WA RASSE. Nebuta is an ancient Japanese annual event that was once held on the seventh day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar as a part of the Tanabata summer festival. It is said that the event’s links to Tanabata became less prominent with the introduction of the solar calendar (Gregorian calendar) and shifted to a week-long summer
festival starting on the 1st of August. During this festival, a large float known as a “nebuta” is paraded around the streets with the Aomori Nebuta being the most famous of them all. Definitely take a trip over to the Nebuta Museum WA RASSE in the heart of Aomori City to see the huge nebuta if you happen to find yourself in the area. Early the next morning I headed over to Mount Hakkoda to find swarms of international skiers crowding the area. My heart began to race over the potential to see a magnificent view of the juhyo from the ropeway, but alas, it was a day of low visibility. Nevertheless, I was still taken aback by the sheer intensity of the massive juhyo. jSnow issue 3 │ 27
The Big Three Juhyo all have their defining characteristics that make them unique.
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MOUNT MORIYOSHI After experiencing the juhyo at Mount Hakkoda I bundled myself into a bus destined for Kita-Akita City in Akita Prefecture. On the way there we stopped by the roadside station of Takanosu where souvenirs and other local delicacies were found in abundance and I settled down for a lunch of the wholesome Akita delicacy – kiritanpo. Kiritanpo is a local hot pot dish made with famous Akita rice. With my belly warmed and full, I visited the Big Taiko Museum in the same complex where I got to see and thwack Japan’s largest taiko (Japanese drum) which is actually used in festivals held in Kita-Akita City. This place is great fun for lovers of Japanese instruments. That night, I joined a lecture to learn about “matagi”. Matagi are traditional winter hunters who carry out their craft in Tohoku and other snow regions. The matagi in Akita are particularly well known with their history spanning as far back as the Heian period. Their unique reverence for religious ideas and bioethics sets them apart from hunters in other regions or hunters who use modern tools. I went to sleep with a head full of educational Tohoku culture and woke up the next day to see the final Big Juhyo at Ani Ski Resort in Mount Moriyoshi. The walkable area amongst the juhyo in Mount Moriyoshi is expansive and very easy to stroll about in the field of frosty trees. Animal lovers will be happy to hear that the local breed of dog – the Akita-inu – can be found on this ski field. Ancient remains dating back 4,000 years featuring stone circles can also
be found in Kita-Akita. Unique clay figures also form a part of these ruins, making them a great sightseeing spot to drop by. The Big Three Juhyo all have their defining characteristics that make them unique. If you are planning to take a trip to see the juhyo then please be aware that the conditions required to form these frosty giants also bring with them many days of bad weather. Plan extended trips filled with sightseeing and skiing around these areas in order to catch the juhyo at their magnificent and stunning best.
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A perfect day at Japanâ€™s biggest ski resort Words and photography: Kazuya Baba
f all the Japanese ski resorts I visited in 2019, one of the places where I came across the best snow was Shiga Kogen in Nagano Prefecture. The 2018/19 winter season in Japan had a particularly high number of warm days compared to other years and many in the snow resort industry predicted that winter would conclude one month earlier than normal that season. I happened to visit Hokkaido in the second half of February and found it to be warmer, with the quality of snow less than perfect. With the conditions in mind, I wracked my brains over where I could get perfect photo opportunities upon my return from Hokkaido to the main island of Honshu in March. The place I finally decided on, was Shiga Kogen. I had my reasons for choosing Shiga Kogen. The ski resort is located at the highest altitude of all Japanese resorts, meaning that it had a high possibility of producing better snow than other places. It also
does not get as much international media coverage as places such as Hakuba or Nozawa Onsen, making it an excellent powder snow hidden gem. As Japanâ€™s largest ski resort, Shiga Kogen boasts 52 gondola lifts, and while it may not see many international visitors, it is without a doubt a popular slope that welcomes in many skiers and snowboarders to shred all of its runs on offer. Although there is an upward trend favouring powder snow in Japan, many Japanese snow-lovers prefer to ski on groomed slopes. As such, this ski resort can be considered the perfect place to ski on fresh, untouched powder snow. I kept my hopes close to my chest and had all of my powder snow dreams come true when I visited Shiga Kogen on a fateful day in March. A cold front swept through and masses of snow fell the night before my arrival. Piles of powder snow released from the heavens through the crisp, cold air. jSnow issue 3 â”‚ 31
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Kumanoyu & Yokote Area Shiga Kogen was once comprised of 18 independent ski resorts, however, efforts to improve access between each of the resorts has made travel between many of these places possible on skis. Amongst these slopes are two areas that are completely separate from the main group –Kumanoyu Ski Resort and Yokoteyama Shibutoge Ski Resort. While these areas cannot be accessed on skis, there are shuttle buses in operation to make access a breeze. It goes without saying that the main area, where access is possible on skis, is a mustgo location. However, I highly recommend the areas that are slightly out of the way for the fewer number of skiers on the slopes and the joys to be had away from the crowds. Most of Shiga Kogen is situated 1,500 metres above sea level and offers the highest
quality powder snow in many areas. The two aforementioned areas are located at particularly high altitudes, meaning that visitors can look forward to ultimate powder snow experiences there. Considering the fewer number of visitors to the area, your chances of having slopes covered in fresh powder snow all to yourself are tantalisingly high. Kumanoyu’s north-facing slope keeps it away from direct sunlight, and prevents the snow falling on this slope from melting. This major drawcard, combined with the courses it offers for even novice skiers, makes it a familyfriendly powder snow hot spot. Heading further beyond brings you to the Yokoteyama Shibutoge area, which is situated at an altitude higher than any other ski resort in Japan – an eye-boggling 2,307 metres above
sea level. This area is also well known for having great access to Manza Onsen Ski Resort and Kusatsu Onsen Ski Resort from the peak of Yokoteyama (Mt. Yokote) via the backcountry courses. Hiring a guide who knows the lay of the land to tackle these courses will guarantee an exhilarating experience. It goes without saying that the main area comprised of the 15 connected ski slopes is a major attraction of Shiga Kogen, however, the two independent areas also have their own unique charms. It is also worth pointing out that Yokote can be travelled to by skis from Kumanoyu. While I could not visit these two areas due to the limited time I had for the photoshoot, make sure to keep them locked in your head as must-visit locations when you are in the area.
A Skier and Snowboarder Heaven Filled with Nature Open for winter sports approximately 6 months in a year, from the second half of November to the first half of May. Everyone can have fun on the powder snow and range of different courses! Now is your time to shine in a snow-covered world
7148 Hirao,Yamanouchi-machi, Shimotakai-gun, Nagano, 381-0401 Japan Tel.81-(0)269-34-2166
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Grand hotels lining the main area The central area around Ichinose and Takamagahara is the most popular in all of Shiga Kogen. Both of these resorts have well balanced layouts, featuring steep slopes for advanced skiers in their upper sections and easy to handle slopes in the lower sections to cater for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. It goes without saying that these grand slopes are also home to grand hotels, too. Terakoya is particularly popular in this central area for its easy access to powder snow slopes. It is also known as another hidden gem within Shiga Kogen to experience top-quality powder snow. Moving along, the Higashidate area is another popular area that boasts the longest ski slope in the vicinity with gentle, steep, mogul, and a variety of other different courses to shred all the way down. Descending from the Higashidate slope takes you to the Giant Ski Area known for its difficult, steep courses. I based my photoshoot around Terakoya, Higashidate, and the Giant Ski Area this time around. The fact that it took me a day to go around and photograph these three locations alone will give you an idea of how vast the area is.
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From the central area to deeper within Venturing further in from central Shiga Kogen will bring you to Yakebitaiyama, and trekking in further still will take you to Okushiga Kogen. The Prince Hotel sits at the base of Yakebitaiyama (Mt. Yakebitai) and is a huge area with two gondolas of its own. With the number of family-friendly slopes in the area, many people choose to stay at the Prince Hotel and centre their snow adventures here. Over in Okushiga are a number of cult-favourite slopes. This area also happens to be frequented by the Japanese royal family and invokes images of having ancient and honourable origins. Both the Okushiga Kogen Hotel and Hotel Grand Phenix at the base of this mountain are gorgeous with luxurious atmospheres. The Okushiga Kogen Hotel has a St. Bernard as its mascot that is adored by guests staying at the hotel, while the Hotel Grand Phenix is a luxury resort hotel loved by famous guests such as the Japanese royal family, and the world-renowned conductor, Seiji Ozawa. This area is a favourite amongst skiers not only because snowboarders were not granted access for a long while, but also because of the relaxing powder snow runs it offers. A little bit of time and effort is required to gain access to the Okushiga area due to its location deeper within Shiga Kogen. As such, it is not uncommon for many people who visit Kumanoyu or Yokoteyama Shibutoge to ever make the trek over. However, I highly recommend this area as it differs from the central area with the calmer atmosphere it offers for visitors to relax in and enjoy.
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jSnow issue 3 â”‚ 35
The closest ski resort to the bathing snow monkeys One of the biggest items to tick off the lists of many international visitors’ to Japanese ski resorts is to see snow monkeys soaking in the hot springs. While skiers and snowboarders staying in Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen can often be found booking tours to see the snow monkeys, it actually takes a whole day to travel over to where the snow monkeys can be found, despite being located in the same prefecture. Not exactly the most convenient of trips. Jigokudani Hot Spring, where the snow monkeys soak and relax, just so happens to be on the way to Shiga Kogen and this ski resort is also the closest one to the furry bath patrons. The most efficient way to fit a snow monkey visit into your ski itinerary would be to stay in Shiga Kogen or the Yudanaka Shibu Onsen area at the base of one of the mountains in Shiga Kogen. Yudanaka Shibu Onsen is highly popular as a hot spring area and is a short 30-minute drive away from Shiga Kogen. I highly recommend a visit to this hot spring town for snow tourists to Shiga Kogen to experience the unique atmosphere and enjoy a walk around its streets. Piggy-backing off the popularity of the snow monkeys is a popular event amongst international visitors to Shiga Kogen held every year – the Snow Monkey Beer Live. This is a fun event featuring over 100 craft beers along with live music to get hearts pumping. If you are interested in planning your trip to coincide with this event then block out your calendars in mid-March when it is normally held. 36 │ jSnow issue 3
Nagano SHIGA Shiga Kogen is home to many large hotels, however, a disadvantage of the area is that there aren’t any towns nearby to base your travels around. This will all begin to change with the development of the ropeway remnants in the Hasuike area that fell into disuse in 2011 due to the facilities deteriorating. The ropeway remnants will be incorporated into the outdoor design of the café and bar – “SHIGA BASE” – amongst other facilities for international visitors to enjoy a casual drink after conquering a few runs on the ski fields, increasing the popularity of the area. Shiga Kogen once only had one ATM in operation that would close over weekends. There are still many places in Japan that do not accept credit cards, making cash on hand a necessity. Many tourists from overseas to Shiga Kogen have found themselves in a pinch due to a culmination of these circumstances. Fortunately, this has been rectified by the introduction of a foreign exchange cash machine which accepts 12 different currencies. The foreign exchange cash machine can be found in the Ichinose Diamond Snowcan rental shop in Ichinose. Its easy-to-access location in the central area makes it highly convenient. Make sure to jot this handy tip down for when you find yourself short on cash.
Shiga Kogen is a vast, expansive area. It would take days, if not weeks, to conquer all this gigantic area has to offer which makes a long-term stay an option to certainly consider. Even when compared to other areas in Japan, Shiga Kogen is particularly plentiful in snow, and due to its low exposure to overseas visitors (when compared to places such as Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen), it is still considered a hidden gem amongst those seeking the best powder snow. While I happened to strike gold in the snow department with my photoshoot this time around, the chances of other visitors being able to have a powder snow paradise to themselves is certainly well on the cards.
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TRIP REPORT Words and photography: Kazuya Baba
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The search for undiscovered marvels in Hakuba
apan is home to over 500 ski resorts, however, it appears as though popularity amongst Australian skiers and snowboarders can be generally divided across two specific resorts â€“ Niseko in Hokkaido, and Hakuba in Nagano. Hakuba has not been largely featured in past issues of jSnow due to the assumption that many readers of this publication have already visited the popular destination. During my business trip around Japan over
the 2018/19 snow season, I found myself with a few days free and decided to head over to Hakuba for a visit. It had been a while since I last visited the village and just as I was thinking about dropping by for a look around, I was contacted by an acquaintance of mine who had started working in Hakuba â€“ the stars appeared to have aligned. While I only spent a short 3 days in the area, I am happy to share with you my new discoveries in Hakuba.
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LUXURY SERVICES PIONEERED BY HAPPO-ONE As you may already be aware, “Hakuba” is made up of a number of ski resorts. Of these ski resorts, the biggest, and the one that attracts challenge seekers from across Japan due to its difficulty to conquer, is the Hakuba Happo-one Winter Resort. Happo-one has attracted attention for a new service it has started to offer – the “Day Use JYUBAKO”. The term “JYUBAKO” is a combination of the Japanese characters for “dwell” and “box” and refer to wooden mobile dwellings. These JYUBAKO were produced by Snow Peak, a company that sells hiking goods, in collaboration with Kengo Kuma, a world-renowned architect who has also worked in Australia. JYUBAKO are marketed as “living suite rooms on the snow field” and, as you can imagine, they can be found right in the middle of the ski slope. The dwellings are heated to provide a calm atmosphere to relax in as you gaze upon the scenic, snowy view. These 100 metre square spaces (including the wooden deck) can be reserved between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the ski resort is open and have received all round praise from those looking for a luxurious experience on the snowy mountain. They are highly recommended for elderly guests who cannot ski, or families with children. Fun can be had
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by all after hiking up the mountain – those who want to ski or snowboard can do so, whilst other members of the party can relax in the JYUBAKO or play in the snow. There are also other services, such as lunchtime room service, to enhance the experience of gazing upon the beautiful snowy mountain scenery of Hakuba in your own private space. Along with the JYUBAKO facilities, glamping dinner tours known as “Apres & Dining” have also been added to the line up of new services. The tours, where
participants can have dinner in the isolated winter wonderland, or sip on drinks around a warm fire, were trialled in the 2018/19 winter season to resounding success. If you are headed to Happo-one next season then be sure to check out http://fieldsuite-hakuba. com/ for further information about these services and much more.
EVER-GROWING TREE-RUNS TO CONQUER
Hakuba Goryu Snow Resort/Hakuba 47 Winter Sports Park and Hakuba Iwatake Ski Field are two other iconic ski resorts in Hakuba that rival Happo-one. During my stay I visited both of these ski fields, with a few Australian friends who just happened to be in the area at the time, to organise a photo session. While both of these ski resorts are large and quite well known, upon visiting them for the first time in a while, I noticed that there were a fair few sidecountry areas open for skiing that were not available in the past. Both ski resorts have maps that are coloured to indicate which areas are open for skiing and which are completely prohibited. Have a glance at the photos I took of my friends in the area to get a feel for the locations. In the past, there were a lot of ski resorts that were vague about their conditions for entering sidecountry areas, or would allow people entry under their own risk. I am of the firm belief that ski resorts should clearly state which areas can and cannot be entered and welcome the growing movement towards this. Transparency around areas that do or do not have access back to the main slope helps to add clarity around
which areas are relatively safe and which are dangerous. If you think you have seen all Hakuba has to offer and have turned your attention to other ski resorts, might I suggest another trip back to discover new experiences that may not have been there before?
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GAZE UPON THE BEAUTIFUL LAKE AT SANOSAKA I have no doubt that many readers have visited Sanosaka, a ski resort that is comparatively small and has a reputation for being mediocre. In order to confirm or bust this general consensus, I decided to visit the place myself. Sanosaka is a smaller resort with only 3 lifts, however, it features a newly upgraded station at the base of the ski slope known as the “Castor Plaza” that is clean and pleasant to use. It is also worth mentioning that each of the runs here are actually rather lengthy and the wide ski field ensures that runs are never monotonous. The non-compacted snow run at the peak of the mountain is particularly vast and sloped, and I can imagine that shredding it first thing in the morning after a night of snowfall would be amazing. Since it is unlikely that crowds would be speeding
over to Sanosaka first thing in the morning to taste the powder snow, now is your chance to hoard this secret Hakuba treasure all to yourself. Just when you think Sanosaka has nothing else to give it takes your breath away with the beautiful view of Lake Aoki. Sanosaka is the only place where you can point your skis towards the lake and glide towards it as if you were about to dive right in. The sight of the stunning lake from the quiet mountain is absolutely gorgeous. Photos do not do this lake justice, so you will just have to make the journey over to the lake to experience its true majesty.
Mogul runs can also be found over in Sanosaka and the area prides itself on offering high quality and exciting, bumpy trails to ski down. When it comes to offering generous services, such as allowing dogs to ride the chair lift up, Sanosaka shines precisely because its small scale allows for quirks that bigger places tend to turn a blind eye to. New restaurants and stores continue to pop up in the Hakuba area owing to its widely known popularity amongst overseas skiers and snowboarders. As such, I will also continue to have my eyes glued on the region in an attempt to keep track of its ever-changing face.
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A hot spring and ski paradise 80 minutes away from Tokyo Words and photography: Kazuya Baba
jSnow issue 3 â”‚ 45
t a short 1 hour 20-minute trip on the shinkansen (bullet train) away from Tokyo, the gateway to Japan, Echigo Yuzawa is a prominent Japanese winter wonderland that is also highly accessible. The beginning of the novel Snow Country by Nobel Prize winning author, Yasunari Kawabata, features the line, “leaving the tunnel, there was a country of snow” and this is exactly the sight you are treated to at Echigo Yuzawa. As you leave the city and travel through the mountain tunnel, the view waiting on the other side is a land filled with snow. This region has also seen an increase of visitors from overseas wanting to experience snow in Japan through its ease of access. Echigo Yuzawa has been known throughout the ages in Japan as a region abundant in snow and as a popular spa location. Numerous restaurants, stores, and hot spring inns typical to Echigo Yuzawa line the streets outside the station to greet you as you hop off the shinkansen. There is also a total of 14 ski resorts in the area to choose from to centre your adventures around. Inside of Echigo-Yuzawa Station is a massive shopping arcade filled with various different stores selling local foods and souvenirs. A casual walk around this arcade is highly recommended. Of these establishments, one highly unique place that truly stood out for me was Ponshukan – a corner filled with different vending machines that allow you to taste rice wines from all around Japan.
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As you leave the station ticket gates and head further into the arcade, you will come across a statue of a drunken Japanese businessman. That is what will lead you to the vending machine corner. Although the sight of an office worker passed out drunk on the street is almost unimaginable in Australia, it is, for better or for worse, quite commonplace in Japan and is, perhaps, proof of how laid-back and peaceful the country can be. A variety of other stores and restaurants can be found inside the arcade, as well as outside together with the hot spring inns. The best way to start your stay in the area might be to spend some time around the station before heading to the ski resorts. UNIQUE SKI RESORTS ALL AROUND
The Echigo Yuzawa area has a number of ski resorts that are great for beginners to get their tails wagging, however, if you are a hardcore skier or snowboarder who wants to shred some powder-snow runs or head onto sidecountry trails, then I have a few bits of information to share with you. Hop on a bus for a 40 to 50-minute ride to reach the Mount Naeba Kagura Ski Resort, which features a long course spanning 4 kilometres in length. This giant ski resort boasts an internationally renowned ski slope that has even hosted events as part of the 2015-16 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup.
The Naeba region features excellent sidecountry areas that can be accessed from the main slope, however, climbing plans need to be submitted in order to enter these trails. Hop off the #1 gondola in Naeba and head to the manned patrol facility to submit your climbing plans and receive permission to shred the glorious trails by the gondola. These tricky to manage, steep trails are sure to whip advanced skiers into a frenzy of fun. The #5 Romance Lift is another well known attraction in the Kagura area worth checking out. Although the lift is used to access the mountaintop, the view from this lift is absolutely stunning. Hopping off this lift at the top also provides easy access to hike up to other areas or into backcountry trails. As to be expected, entry into the backcountry areas is strictly monitored with permission only granted
to those who come fully equipped with items such as shovels and beacons. The ease of access to these excellent backcountry trails from this lift has helped to boost its popularity. At the base of the Naeba Ski Resort ski slope is the Naeba Prince Hotel. This hotel is so renowned that visitors often skip over Echigo Yuzawa and book their stays here straight off the bat. The Naeba Prince Hotel is an enormous establishment boasting a total of 1,224 guest rooms as well as a variety of restaurants, stores, and even hot springs. With the range of facilities on offer, itâ€™s no wonder many travellers choose to set up base here. For those who have some time on their hands, the best way to plan your trip would be to spend a few days around Echigo Yuzawa to do your research before deciding on which ski resorts to head off to.
Stylish and relaxing, with 4 rooms. Western atmosphere coupled with Japanese warm hospitality. Enjoy your stay with the natural hot springs and high class space.
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jSnow issue 3 â”‚ 47
48 â”‚ jSnow issue 3
A 3-day trip report to experience the wonders of the Myoko area
I Snowy mountain adventures, backcountry trails, and Japan’s largest off-piste area Words and photography: Kazuya Baba
n February 2019, I took up a tour invitation from the Niigata Prefecture local government to spend 3 days in the Myoko area to ski and experience various activities in the surrounds. Myoko has seen a gradual growth in popularity in recent years and has been featured in this publication on numerous occasions. In my search for new experiences in the region I was presented an itinerary to: explore the backcountry trails starting in the Akakura area; head just outside of Myoko to experience the nature of the snowy mountains in Togakushi (Nagano Prefecture); and travel an hour away from Myoko to shred the off-piste areas at the Lotte Arai Resort, which has just opened last year. Come along with me on my journey as I recount my wondrous experiences through words and photographs. Myoko is definitely high up on the list, along with Niseko, Hakuba, and Nozawa Onsen, of destinations popular amongst Australian skiers and snowboarders. The area is actually comprised of a number of ski resorts grouped under the region of “Myoko”. Many visitors choose to centre their stays in the renowned Akakura Ski Resort because of the sprawling hot spring town at the foot of the mountain and the variety of restaurants to choose from. Nearby is Ikenotaira, filled with parks; Suginohara, boasting the longest ski slope in the area; and Seki Onsen, popular amongst die-hard skiers. These four ski resorts are affectionately known in the Australian skier and snowboarder community by their shortened monikers of Aka, Ike, Sugi, and Seki. Joining in the mix of these ski areas is the Lotte Arai Resort that opened its doors last year and is located slightly further away on the cusp of the Myoko area. jSnow issue 3 │ 49
Home to Japan’s largest non-compacted snow slope – Lotte Arai Resort 50 │ jSnow issue 3
he Lotte Arai Resort opened last year with the backing of Lotte, a Korean corporation. It was formerly in operation between 1993-2006 as “Arai Mountain Spa”, however, was forced to shut down due to the downward trend of skiing in Japan and declining economic conditions at the time. Many hardcore skiers and snowboarders lamented the loss of the huge, non-compacted snow slope when its doors shut. One of the reasons for the resort’s original closure could possibly be attributed to the lack of skiers in Japan with a preference for off-piste skiing in backcountry or sidecountry areas. Times have undoubtedly changed with an influx of international skiers flocking to Japan
in order to experience the plentiful powder snow to be found in these off-piste trails. Lotte Arai’s biggest attraction lies in its noncompacted slopes – the biggest in all of Japan. The Myoko area has always been known as a world-renowned region of plentiful snow, and Arai is no exception. It is an absolute joy to experience the abundance of snow that can be found all over the mountain. Rather than having me use a number of superlatives to describe its sheer size, a quick look at the map yourself will surely have you awestruck by the scope of this resort. All of the areas on the featured map marked in purple are open for skiing. On the main ski slope, all off-course and specified areas can be skied on and since the
snow is not compacted, soft and powdery runs can be had when it snows. However, make sure to take caution as it does require a level of skill to discern whether you are still on a course or not because of all the freedom on offer. Off the slope itself is an attraction garnering plenty of attention – Asia’s longest zip line. This zip line is 1,501 metres in length starting at the gondola station at the top of the mountain with a jaw-dropping height difference of 240 metres. The mammoth zip line was installed on the top of the mountain to coincide with the re-opening of the resort. While seeing people shoot across the sky from below is already quite the sight, it is definitely worth experiencing this mid-air jaunt across the expansive snow mountain for yourself. Strap yourself in and soar down the mountain. I highly recommend a stay in Arai as it takes approximately 30 minutes by car to travel from the main Myoko area (where Akakura and
other ski resorts are). My recommendation isn’t necessarily based on the time it takes to travel, but rather the unique and wonderful experience that can be had at this hotel. The hotel features 257 rooms in total which are divided up into Superior, Deluxe, and Suite styles. As a luxury hotel with the aim of providing a pampered experience, even the Superior rooms offer an air of elegance rarely found in the average hotel. Perfect does not even begin to describe the luxury of their self-branded bedding designed to deliver a good night’s sleep. Hot spring facilities can also be found on the grounds of the resort. After a fun-filled day of shredding the massive slopes, utilise the ski-in, ski-out feature of this plush hotel and soak in the hot spring waters. A lavish experience of this kind is not easy to find in the Myoko area. The resort also houses various other facilities and restaurants such as: a book café area filled with a massive collection of literature; an extravagant playground with a bouldering wall; a pool; a gym; and even a spa. Enjoy the ultimate luxury experience Arai has to offer on your next trip here. Direct access from Tokyo and other major hubs has been made convenient with the recently completed shinkansen (bullet train) station, and the free shuttle bus operating to and from Joetsumyoko Station.
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A natural adventure in Togakushi
or my research trip this time around, I engaged the services of Dancing Snow, a Myoko tourism company founded by an American by the name of Bill, to create an itinerary for me. The day following my meeting with the company was a fairly warm winterâ€™s day, bringing my expectations for good snow crashing down. Since I had come all this way, I did not want to waste my time climbing a mountain to not have any good pictures to take. I requested to shift my climb to a different day when the weather and snow conditions improved. I spent two days in the capable hands of Dancing Snow. The weather on the first day was not ideal, so I decided against going to the ski slopes and joined a tour with other patrons for a snow shoe walk into the mountain to explore the natural surrounds. Our destination? Mount Togakushi. Although Togakushi is situated in Nagano Prefecture, it is actually part of the Myoko-Togakushi Renzan National Park and is quite close to Myoko. Togakushi is an area with a deep history and the mountain itself is said to have honourable origins in Japanese mythology. A walk around the area is sure to open your eyes to the mysterious wonders of Japan. We then set off by car from the Dancing Snow office to Togakushi with our compasses pointing towards the Upper Togakushi Shrine. This shrine is the start of a hiking course that is popular amongst hikers in warmer seasons. 52 â”‚ jSnow issue 3
Togakushi Shrine was built over 2,000 years ago and just the mere act of walking down the approach towards it will fill you with a sense of austere. On the approach is a gate, covered in snow with pillars of red peeking out from the sides, known as a “zuishinmon”. Passing through this gate leads to rows of Japanese cedars, said to be over 400 years old, that have been recognised as natural monuments. Beyond the rows of gigantic Japanese cedars is the snowy mountain nature in all its glory. I listened to explanations about all the plants in the area, spanning as far as my eyes could see, all eager for the incoming spring. My guide also spoke about the animals around and it was a great chance for me to learn about the natural environment found on a Japanese mountain. Every so often I found my eyes latched onto claw marks left by bears along
the way. Although the bears were said to be in hibernation, I still got to experience Mother Nature first hand through this eye-opening tour. The tours are offered in full-day or halfday options, and since we chose the half-day option we turned around and descended the mountain midway through the course. Around the entrance of the trail are a number of Japanese soba restaurants. While soba noodles may not be very popular in Australia, I highly recommend grabbing a bowl if you are ever in Togakushi since it is known for its delicious soba. On a side note – Togakushi is also known as the home of ninjas. A variety of ninja-related goods are sold in the area so make sure you ask a guide for more information if that piques your interest. jSnow issue 3 │ 53
n the day after the tour, the weather turned cold and the chances of snowfall were high; it was time to head into the backcountry. The Myoko area is said to be relatively safe, making it perfect for backcountry skiing with a number of courses offering entry into these areas from the main slope. This time around we chose to hop onto the gondola and lift headed towards the mountain peak at Akakura Ski Resort, and then hike up from there to ski down the course. This course is quite popular due to its easy access from the main slope. I even came across overseas media outlets filming powder snow skiing footage on my hike up. After hiking for about an hour we finally reached a huge, open area. While some of the snow had melted from the warm weather on the previous day, I was still able to find some spots of fresh, untouched powder snow thanks
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Heading in the backcountry from Akakura to the significant snowfall on the day I was there. My heart pounded with excitement as I carved up arching turns in the snow. A feeling of gliding through air enveloped me with more intensity than I had anticipated. This
was the perfect day. I was able to have fun shredding the trails, whilst also stopping every now and then at great photo spots to snap pictures of my Dancing Snow guide, Miles. My day of skiing flew by in a flash, but I was very much able to enjoy backcountry skiing to its fullest extent. I discovered another fun, new area in Myoko and went home feeling satisfied with my day. Although my stay in the Myoko area lasted only a short three days, it really drove home to me how vast and deep the region is. Those who have not visited the area should definitely make the journey over, whilst those who have been before should return to discover all the hidden joys lurking in the surrounds. Although there may be a number of ageing accommodation facilities in Myoko, the future is bright thanks to the rising popularity in the area spurring on the development of new resort hotels.
Conquering the Land of the North An 11-day ski trip across Hokkaido Words and photography: Kazuya Baba
The northern land of Japan â€“ Hokkaido. Where an abundance of nature sprawls across the vast terrain; where the summers are cool and comfortable; and where the winters create a snow sports mecca. With many large towns having ski resorts nearby, people often drop by for a quick run down a slope on the way home. Skiing is ingrained in the culture of Hokkaido. jSnow issue 3 â”‚ 55
lthough Hokkaido is a popular destination that many Japanese people would like to move to, the downward trend of Japanese skiers since the 1990s did not bode well for the future of the skiing industry there. Giant ski resorts, like Niseko in particular, bore the brunt of the difficult times until they found their saving grace from an unlikely source – Australians. Australian skiers and snowboarders saw the immense potential in Niseko as they began to buy up land, move there, and bring more Australians over. It was this movement that saw part of Niseko nicknamed “Aussie Town”. As Niseko turned into an “Aussie town”, the popularity saw the price of living skyrocket and other changes began to occur. Now Australians were steering away from Niseko – what was the point of flying all the way to Japan to spend time in a town no different to Australia? This time the Australian winter sports lovers shifted towards ski fields around and away from Niseko, which led to these places putting in more effort to attract these new, potential guests. The trend then expanded to Asian countries who looked to Japan for their first experiences on mountains filled with snow. Hokkaido is now seen as the forefront of multicultural living in Japan thanks to the influx of visitors and migrants from overseas. This special feature will be presented as a chronological report of the iconic ski resorts I visited in order to showcase the unique qualities found in the different areas of Hokkaido. 56 │ jSnow issue 3
ASAHIKAWA From the airport to Canmore Ski Village – a nighttime stroll in Asahikawa My trip came about this time through an invitation from the Hokkaido District Transport Bureau to join the “Snow Expo” being held in the city of Asahikawa while on my travels in the region. Knowing that there would be media outlets and travels agents around the world converging for the event, it was a no-brainer for me. I departed Sydney on an ANA night flight and arrived at Haneda Airport early the next morning. After a leisurely breakfast at the airport, I hopped onto a domestic ANA flight and found myself at Asahikawa Airport an hour and a half later. Asahikawa Airport is currently being renovated to upgrade its facilities, so I was greeted by some members of staff at the airport who showed me around the stores.
An international terminal has also been constructed in response to the growing number of tourists flying in from overseas. Asahikawa is sure to become more and more internationally friendly as time goes by. Landed and ready to go, I left the airport and on my way to my hotel I dropped by Canmore Ski Village, a ski resort located a handy fifteen minutes away from Asahikawa Airport. While Canmore may be rather small with only two chair lifts, it is a great place for visitors who want to strap on their skis the same day they arrive at the airport. There are also condominium units on the premises that can house up to eight people with reasonable prices starting at 3,800 yen per person. Canmore
Hokkaido ASAHIKAWA Ski Village is a pretty good place to start your adventure in Hokkaido. Upon reaching the hotel in Asahikawa City, over 40 expo participants had gathered in the hall for a meeting. I was one of four people who had come from the Oceania region while other participants had come from all around the world including the USA, the UK, Denmark, Sweden, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Thailand. Asahikawa is the second largest city in Hokkaido, following Sapporo, and its location in central Hokkaido makes it the perfect place to base your travels to the surrounding ski areas around. Aside from the aforementioned Canmore Ski Village, there is also Kamui Ski Links a short drive away, as well as the backcountry heaven of Asahidake amongst a number of excellent ski resorts in the area. One of the great advantages of staying in a major city whilst you take day trips to the surrounding ski fields is the ability to return to the city at night and enjoy a range of activities such as: feasting on typical Hokkaido fare at an izakaya (Japanese pub), hitting up a few fancy bars, singing your lungs out at karaoke, or dancing the night away at a club.
Since there were too many of us to head out as one pack, we split off into three groups and strolled around the town at night with an Asahikawa guide to show us the way. After being taken to a variety of different restaurants, we settled on our choices and went our separate ways. I decided to head into a ramen joint because it would be a waste to come to Asahikawa and not try the famous Asahikawa ramen. While I have had my fair share of Asahikawa ramen, it is difficult to lump all the different places under one flavour profile because of how unique each restaurant is. On this trip, I chose to visit “HACHIYA” in the heart of the city to try out their particularly unique ramen. The charred lard used in their recipe affords it a flavour that you will either love or hate. Personally, I loved it. I highly recommend hopping around different ramen joints to taste their different offerings if you are ever in Asahikawa.
A cultural experience in Asahikawa The next day we were split up into seven different activity groups. We were given a list of activities to choose from, such as “dog mushing & horseback riding” or “ice climbing”, but for some reason I was allocated to the rather plain activities of “rice-sack bag making and dyeing”. Asahikawa is home to “Kikko-nihon”, a soy sauce store with a long history. This was the first stop for the whole group. My eyes were opened to the limitless possibilities of soy sauce through this thoroughly interesting tour, from soy sauce flavoured with garlic or cherry blossoms, to salad dressings using renowned local Hokkaidobranded potatoes amongst a wide variety of other condiments. The many different variations of this essential Japanese ingredient available here are sure to impress gourmands.
If you are a fan of the flavours found in Japanese cuisine then make sure you drop by this store to pick up a few bits and pieces. Although the official website is completely in Japanese, there is a map on the company information page to guide you there if you want to stop by mid-way through a stroll around town. For access to the map and more information (in Japanese) visit: http://kikko-nihon.com/kaisyajoho.html. We left the soy sauce store and my group set off for the rice shop. The rice shop in question makes bags out of sturdy rice sacks. Rice sacks are said to withstand heavy usage due to their sturdy structure and resistance to water, despite being made out of paper. While the process itself was rather dull, the finished product was very sturdy and great for general use. In fact, I still carry it around to this day as a shopping bag. jSnow issue 3 │ 57
With bags in hand, we then headed over to a food mall that is home to the “Ramen Village”, a gathering of popular ramen restaurants. Our destination was the famous “Baikohken”. This ramen chain has expanded overseas with a number of restaurants in Asia and serves up delicious bowls of noodle soup with deep flavour profiles that are highly palatable. Hopefully they add Australia to their list of countries to expand into. Our last stop for the day was “Mizuno Somemono” (Mizuno Dyed Textiles). Asahikawa is also known for its dyed fabrics, so we all tried our hands at indigo dyeing some hand towels and T-shirts. We created patterns in the fabrics because there was little creativity in merely dyeing them indigo. Patterns were made by preventing the dye from soaking into portions of the fabric through techniques such as tying marbles into the fabrics with rubber
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bands, or wrapping chopsticks into the fabrics. It sounds easy in theory, but it was hard to picture what the finished product would end up looking like. In the end, I was able to create the pattern I wanted and was highly satisfied with myself. My expectations for the day were not high, however, I was pleasantly surprised by all of the bits of Asahikawa culture I got to experience by visiting the soy sauce, rice, and dyed textiles stores – the fact that I also got to take home a shopping bag and a T-shirt dyed in a pattern I quite like as souvenirs of my trip was a happy bonus. Make sure you do some research into cultural experiences like these if you are staying in Asahikawa and find yourself with a day or two free due to unfavourable conditions on the ski slopes. Not only are they educational, but they are also surprisingly fun!
MountainCityResort Asahikawa Higashikawa Kamikawa Pippu Aibetsu Takasu Higashikagura Tohma
PIPPU SKI RESORT
The Taisetsu area is located next to Daisetsuzan National Park and is known as the “roof of Hokkaido”. This area has long nurtured the Ainu culture with magnificent nature, and now offers breathtaking scenery and diverse outdoor activities throughout the year. World-class powder snow, which can be experienced only in extremely cold weather, and diamond dust that glitters in the air can also be seen here. Asahikawa, the area’s central city, is the transportation and tourism hub of northern Hokkaido. It features train stations, an airport, and many hotels. It is a place where people and things come together - where fresh seafood and vegetables from the Taisetsu area and other parts of Hokkaido can be enjoyed in abundance. Our DMO calls the Taisetsu area the “Mountain City Resort” - an area to be enjoyed with all five senses.
SANTA PRESENT PARK Mt.KURODAKE KAMUI SKI LINKS
CANMORE SKI VILLAGE
Recommended Ski Resorts Near Asahikawa
There are only a few ski areas with more than 20 courses in Hokkaido; this ski area is one of them. Everyone can have a great time regardless of their abilities with courses covering all levels from beginner to advanced. A variety of courses, such as the FIScertified competition course and uncompacted snow courses, make your skiing or snowboarding experience more enjoyable. Located 60 minutes away from Asahikawa Airport, via the Kamui nonstop bus, this ski area is easier to access than other similarsized ski areas in Hokkaido. This ski area will be one of the reasons you love Asahikawa.
Taisetsu Kamuimintara DMO
Located 50 minutes away from the heart of Asahikawa is this ski resort with a magnificent view of Daisetsuzan Volcanic Group. A jam-packed day of fun is guaranteed with 9 courses at a maximum length of 2,200 metres to shred. The large spa area in Pippu Ski Resort makes it the perfect place to wind down after full day of skiing.
Feeeal Asahikawa 7F, 1-8, Asahikawa, Hokkaido, Japan email@example.com +81-(0)166-73-6968 https://www.taisetsu-kamui.jp/en/
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Powder snow heaven on the doorstep of Asahikawa On my third day of the tour I was finally able to step foot onto the snow. Kamui is the easiest place to drop by if your travels are based around Asahikawa City, and is also one of the best places to experience powder snow. The party was split off into two groups since many of the participants, particularly those from Asia, had never skied before. One group set off to ski or snowboard and the other took part in other snow activities. Sixteen of us opted to ski and we were led by Makoto Ogata, the head of the Kamui Miura Dolphins Ski School, which operates at the resort. The Miura Dolphins is a prestigious school operated by Yuichiro Miura who is a pro-skier, mountaineer, and climbed to the peak of Mount Everest for the third time at the age of 80 in 2013. Kamui is rather compact with a total of seven lifts,
including the gondola, however, it boasts a wide ski slope that is satisfying to ski down. There are also many open sidecountry areas for thrill seekers to shred up the tree-runs found all over the place. Despite the lack of snowfall on this day, there was still an abundance of fresh powder snow because Kamui is still relatively less exposed to skiers from overseas. I felt spoiled by the powder paradise around me. Our group practically had the ski slopes all to ourselves because there were few skiers around on the weekday that we visited. Kamui definitely has a lot to offer, especially with all of the glade-run courses available for skiing. If I could, I would spend days returning to Kamui from Asahikawa to uncover all the little treasures it has to offer. Now is your chance to take on these slopes before the word gets out overseas. jSnow issue 3 â”‚ 61
ASAHIDAKE Spectacular volcanic plumes rising from the sacred grounds
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All of the travel agents that had gathered from around the world met with locals for business meetings on the fourth day, whereas representatives from media outlets headed out to survey Asahidake. Asahidake is an active volcano situated in the neighbouring town of Higashikawa at a whopping 2,291 metres above sea level making it the highest mountain in all of Hokkaido. While it is a harsh place that rivals the 3,000-metre-tall mountains found on the main island of Honshu, Asashidake sees visitors from all around the world to experience the backcountry paradise it has to offer. From a general perspective, this ski area is relatively small with only two ropeways and two courses to ski on in total. However, the majority of people who come here can be found off the courses in search of powder snow. There are also number of people who hop off the ropeway to hike up to the top of the mountain. It goes without saying that those who are planning to go off course need to come fully equipped and prepared since entry is strictly at your own risk. As Asahidake is particularly known for its harsh weather you will definitely need a certain level of knowledge and
experience in order to ski the off-course trails. On my previous visit to Asahidake I could not see anything from the ropeway due to the horrible weather, fortunately, this time I was treated to a view of volcanic smoke rising from the mountain. Normally, I would be raring to hit the ski slopes on my skis, however, this time around we were rounded up to take on the snow mountain on a new piece of equipment â€“ ski shoes. Ski shoes combine the best features of skis and snow shoes. They can be slipped on like snow boots, and the adhesives seals on the soles, as well as the lack of heels, make them feel lighter and easier to walk on than snow shoes. Using them like skis is a little difficult due to the fact that your feet are not tightly secured into them, nor do they have sharpened edges, but they are very useful for hiking up mountains in the snow. We strapped on our ski shoes and hiked over to hear the roaring and see the pluming smoke of the volcano. While taking the trip over to Asahidake to ski would be an absolute no-brainer, just being able to marvel at what Mother Nature has to offer here is more than enough reason to book a ticket over.
NISEKO The champion of the international ski boom to Japan
Hokkaido NISEKO The fifth day rolled around and all participants got to head off to their preferred ski areas. Some areas such as Furano and Tomamu were rather close, however, I chose to head further away over to Niseko because I had never actually been there before. Seven years ago when I had arrived in Australia and started flying over to ski resorts to research articles for jSnow’s beefier sister publication, jStyle, Niseko had already become a hugely popular and renowned destination amongst Australians. At that time, I figured there was no need for me to cover the location and in my travels to other ski resorts, I could not find a reason to go to Niseko. Seeing Niseko as an option for me as part of the “Snow Expo” schedule, I figured my time had come and put it down as my preference. Although my heart was pounding with excitement, my fifth day was spent in its entirety travelling to my destination. On the morning of the sixth day it was finally time for me to hop into the gondola at Niseko. At first, I was taken aback by the sheer number of people on the mountain before being overwhelmed by the massive size of the mountain
as I reached the peak. As the single lift headed to the mountaintop area surpasses the tree-line, there are no trees to be found, creating a view that is rarely seen at other Japanese ski resorts. I gazed upon the scenery around me and was struck by the majestic atmosphere similar to that of European ski areas – so this is the Niseko everyone flocks to. Niseko has a very unique layout with four large ski areas converging at the top of the mountain. There was just too much to ski in one day. I now understood why this place was so popular. It was a little unfortunate that the weather had been fairly warm in the days leading up to my visit, so the snow had melted somewhat, making for rather icy runs. Even so, I had immense fun on the magnificent alpine courses and my eyes sparkled over the true potential of Niseko when the conditions are just right. I spent the next morning skiing a little more at Niseko before heading off to Sapporo in the afternoon. This marked the end of the “Snow Expo” program, and the start of my own personal itinerary to visit more ski resorts garnering interest in the world of winter sports.
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Growing popularity over generous glade-run courses
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I headed on over to a car hire shop to rent a four-wheel drive car with studless snow tires to handle the icy mountain roads and set off for Kiroro Snow World. Kiroro is located in a particularly snow-rich region of Hokkaido and is said to be the ski resort with the most plentiful snow. This full-scale ski resort is highly accessible with it being only one hour away from Sapporo, and only forty minutes away from Otaru, another city similar to Sapporo in its popularity as a tourist destination and convenience as an accommodation hub to centre your travels around. Many ski tourists from overseas head straight to their destination of Kiroro from New Chitose Airport, but it seems like such a waste to not enjoy what the large towns of Sapporo and Otaru have to offer after making the long trip over to Hokkaido. A huge advantage of Kiroro is the convenience of being able to travel to these cities whilst also offering the luxuries of a major ski resort in Hokkaido. Skiers and snowboarders from all around the world have been increasingly visiting Kiroro in recent times for the extremely high chance of snowfall in the area, the abundance of snow, and the high possibility of being able to shred on powder snow. Since this ski resort
Hokkaido KIRORO boasts a whopping 22 courses with its longest run spanning approximately 4 kilometres in length, it is almost impossible to experience all of the joys it has to offer in a single day. Despite its massive size, access to the top of the mountain is extremely easy by simply hopping on a single gondola that will take you from the base to the peak. Hiking further up from the mountaintop station will grant you access to the brilliant backcountry trails beyond. The plethora of off-piste and sidecountry trails on offer is guaranteed to bring a smile to many faces. There are two ski area maps for the Kiroro ski resort, one that outlines the main courses, and another that focuses on the sidecountry areas featuring 14 clearly marked sections that can or cannot be skied in. Popularity surrounding Kiroro continues to increase with more and more sidecountry areas being opened for skiing from the 2017/18 snow season, and fun to be had for those who decide not to go off-piste but still want a similar experience on the main trails straight off the lifts. My visit did not happen to coincide with fresh snowfall this time, however, I was still able to enjoy untouched powder snow in many portions of the sidecountry areas. My personal favourite run was the “Powder Ride”. Although it is not in the sidecountry and is actually one of the main courses, it is often covered in powder snow because the steepness of the course keeps the crowds away. This steep course also ensures an unbelievably satisfying powder ride for those who have the experience to conquer it.
Two hotels welcome the addition of a new condominium It is not uncommon for visitors to take a day-trip over to Kiroro because of its convenient location, however, it should not be forgotten that it is the closest full-scale ski resort to Sapporo that features a hotel renowned for its high quality. With a hotel on the premises garnering such high praise, who wouldn’t want to book a room? The Sheraton Hokkaido Kiroro Resort is connected directly to the Mountain Center and ski area at the base of the mountain and offers ski-in, ski-out facilities. There is also the Kiroro, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Hokkaido, a luxury hotel that is a threeminute shuttle bus ride from the ski slopes. Both hotels have restaurants, hot springs, and comfortable rooms to choose from, however, I would recommend visitors who are after convenience to stay at the Sheraton, and those who are after luxury to book a room at the Tribute Portfolio. The Tribute Portfolio Hotel is a complete
experience and offers relaxation facilities such as hot springs and a pool; markets; and a range of indoor recreational facilities to use should the weather take a turn for the worse. Patrons staying at the Sheraton Hotel can also hop onto a shuttle bus to use these facilities if they so please. The plans to make the Tribute Portfolio ski-in, ski-out friendly in the coming season will further increase the convenient accessibility of this establishment. There is also a condominium under construction adjacent to the hotel, as well as the creation of a family ski area with a new gondola to coincide with its completion. Keep your eyes on Kiroro as it continues to expand into its bright future. jSnow issue 3 │ 65
KIRORO SPECIAL PHOTO GALLERY In the winter of 2019, an independent group from Austria consisting of professional skiers, a photographer, and a filming expert visited Kiroro in Hokkaido in search of snow. Here are some photos specially provided by them to us here at jSnow. Skiers: Josh Absenger, Daniel Maurer Photography: Matthias Fritzenwallner
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Kiroro Mountain Club Kiroro offers a great skiing experience on its main courses, but it is hard to overlook the backcountry areas that can be approached from the top gondola station. Entry permits and other checks are required to access the backcountry, and Kiriro has set up the â€œKiroro Mountain Clubâ€? membership program to fast-track the application process and provide courses on how to safely ski in the area. Becoming a member of the club grants a variety of benefits such as: priority over non-members in obtaining entry permits; information and lectures about the Kiroro mountain rules; priority parking; wax service; priority tune-ups; preferential selection for high-grade skis and snowboard rental; and many others. Sign-up to become a member immediately from the second floor of the Mountain Center Facility if you are looking to safely enjoy your time on the mountain. Starting in the 2018/19 winter season the Kiroro Mountain Club now offers TREAK TRACK safety devices for rental. The device helps you to keep track of your location data whilst also allowing anyone on the network to locate you as well. Monitoring of all data is conducted round the clock, all year long, and if you ever find yourself in trouble, pressing the HELP button will send a rescue call to your registered emergency contact. This service is gaining traction as a means for skiers to stay safe and offer their families peace of mind during their adventures in the oft dangerous backcountry areas.
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RUSUTSU An enormous ski resort with a view of Mount Yotei and Lake Toya Standing proudly amongst the ranks of giant ski resorts such as Niseko, Kiroro, Furano, and Tomamu is yet another major resort – Rusutsu. I began my ski pilgrimage in Asahikawa and followed the trail to Niseko and Kiroro before arriving at Rusutsu, my final destination. The journey from Kiroro to Rusutsu is a straight path from the north to the south. One of the most famous views from Niseko is that of Mount Yotei, also known as Ezo Fuji (“Ezo” being an old name for “Hokkaido) for its resemblance to Mount Fuji. It is this very mountain that the road from Kiroro to Rusutsu takes you towards before you reach a T-intersection. Turning right will take you to Niseko and turning left will lead you to Rusutsu. Mount Yotei acts as the central beacon with Niseko and Rusutsu on opposite sides of it. An average drive from Kiroro to Rusutsu would normally take approximately one hour and forty minutes, however, the view of Mount Yotei on the approach was so stunning that I found myself stopping multiple times to take photographs, stretching the trip to almost two and a half hours long. jSnow issue 3 │ 69
RUSUTSU Hokkaido Catching a glimpse of the enormous hotel upon reaching Rusutsu is bound to take many people by surprise. The hotel is popular all year round with attractions such as an amusement park and a golf course. In fact, with a giant carousel at its entrance, the hotel itself feels like part of an amusement park as it exudes a creative air about it. Walking around inside is a fun experience in itself to explore the arcade filled with shops and restaurants. Even more mind-boggling is the size of the ski area. Three mountains surround Rusutsu with four gondolas interconnecting them, making it the largest ski resort of its kind in Japan. This resort is so massive that it took me almost an hour to travel from my hotel to Mount Isora, the highest mountain on the premises. The view from Mount Isora was absolutely breath-taking. On the right-hand side of the mountaintop was a view of Mount Yotei, and on the left was a topdown view of Lake Toya. All of the courses at Rusutsu share a common trait â€“ they are all extremely long. The gentle slope of the family course, aimed at beginners, is so wide that families can space themselves out and have a great time without disturbing others. There are also many noncompacted, steep courses to keep expert skiers challenged and satisfied. These slopes become powder paradises following a night of snowfall. Snowfall eluded me on my trip, so I spent most of my time on-piste, but the variety of long, moderately steep slopes were thoroughly enjoyable for the ability to pick up high speed and carve out huge turns. No other ski resort in Japan can offer this level of distance in the length of their courses. There are two hotels in Rusutsu and facilities across both hotels can be mutually used. The monorail connecting the two hotels makes travel between them easy, providing convenient access to a variety of facilities such as: shops, restaurants, a wave pool, climbing walls, and hot springs. Direct access to Rusutsu from Sapporo or the airport takes approximately one-and-a-half to two hours. While it is certainly possible to 70 â”‚ jSnow issue 3
take a day trip to this ski resort, I highly recommend having a more relaxing stay at one of the hotels at Rusutsu to enjoy all of the unique luxuries on offer. My 11-day trip took me around a number of major ski resorts in Hokkaido, however, after spending only one to one-and-a-half days at each destination I cannot say with confidence that I have covered everything. I will continue my quest next season to dig deeper and discover what is bound to be an abundance of treasure waiting for me. What I can say for sure is that, much like how Niseko has transformed into an internationally renowned resort, all of the resorts I have covered in Hokkaido have the potential to stake their claim in the international market. The future of winter sports travel in Hokkaido is bound to be rich, so I have my skis primed and ready to shred.
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Published by NichigoPress, Japanese newspaper in Australia since 1977. In this magazine, You will find out a lot of tips that shows where to...
Published on May 31, 2019
Published by NichigoPress, Japanese newspaper in Australia since 1977. In this magazine, You will find out a lot of tips that shows where to...