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Dec 2003
Issue 043

KS Classifieds out NOW!

Ski Suki?

Ski buff Miles Walsh and SnowJapan.com gets the lowdown on some of the best ski resorts in Japan for folks who want to get a jump on the ski season.

Winter might not be everyone’s favorite time of the year. After all, it can be trying at times…. having to cope without central heating, without thick carpets, battling with your kerosene heater that always seems to run out of fuel at the wrong time….. But there is one aspect of winter in Japan that makes it absolutely the best season of the year. Snow! And great, big mountains of it!

You might not know it yet, but not too far away from you — wherever you are in Japan — there is a mountain that transforms into a winter paradise come December or earlier, bringing with it all the fun and excitement of winter sports.

According to a survey conducted by the popular winter sports website, SnowJapan.Com, the majority of foreigners who arrive in Japan have never had the chance to put on skis or a snowboard, and their first time skiing or snowboarding was at one of the hundreds of resorts scattered across the Japanese mountainsides.

It seems that — apart from there being a big market for ski and board lessons in English — arriving in Japan turns a large number
of foreigners into powderhounds by the time they leave.

The biggest problem faced by the would-be skier and snowboarder in Japan is the huge amount of choice. With resorts dotted all over the Japanese moun-tains, from the northern island of Hokkaido right down to the main southern island of Kyushu, almost all of Japan’s inhabitants live within a couple of hours of a resort — many much closer.

With over 600 resorts, Japan is actually home to the largest number of ski and snowboard resorts in the world. From the deep powder of Niseko (Hokkaido); the huge Shiga Kogen resort areas of Nagano; the quaint traditional villages of Nozawa Onsen in Nagano and Zao Onsen in Yamagata; the "Olympic village" of Hakuba in Nagano with it's superb selection of resorts and facilities; the popular Yuzawa Onsen resort region in southern Niigata Prefecture, offering over twenty resorts within a short train ride of Tokyo... the variety and depth of choice open to snow-lovers in Japan is truly breathtaking and difficult to match anywhere else on earth.

Whilst the well-known large-scale world-class ski resorts do exist, the majority are much smaller operations offering just a few lifts and runs. Whilst they may not be as big, many times these “resorts” can often be just as enjoyable as the their larger counterparts.

The winter sports scene has changed considerably over the last ten years or so. After the ski boom of the 80’s, the next big event was the emergence of snowboarding. During the early 90's when snow-boarding first appeared in Japan, the few boarders taking to the slopes were often looked on at with amusement by the skiers.

Back then, resorts where you could snowboard were few and far between. Things have changed considerably since then and there are presently only a minority of resorts remaining that do not allow snowboarders on their slopes. Snowboarders can now be found at all but a handful of resorts and increasingly — at many resorts — they actually outnumber the skiers.

The resorts that still do not allow snowboarders onto their slopes use their "skiers-only" policy to try to attract families and those traditionalist skiers who may prefer not to mix with snowboarders — for whatever reason!

The fact is, however, that snowboarding is the fashionable choice right now and it seems to have revived interest in the winter sports scene over recent years. You’ll find that many resorts now prepare special Snowboard Parks complete with halfpipes, quarter pipes and other fun facilities for snowboarders and this trend will no doubt continue this coming season with bigger and better facilities to keep the boarders happy – great news for anyone into the sport.

There are traditionally a number of regions of Japan that are home to a cluster of resorts - the main ones being Hokkaido, the Tohoku region, Nagano and Niigata. There are also many resorts in Tohoku, Gifu and Toyama, and further south, in Hiroshima. As would be expected, conditions tend to be better the more north go and at resorts higher on the mountains, but for those living in Kansai and further south, there are still opportunities to get on nearby ski slopes, and the excellent transportation network makes even the northern areas easy to get to.

For a complete rundown of resorts in the region, and over 800 resort reviews written by readers, check out the Snow Japan website. In the meantime, here are a few of the main regions that you might want to explore in the region:

Many of the resorts are found in the areas around and to the north of Mount Washigatake. This area is popular with young people from Nagoya and Osaka.
Dynaland: big and popular resort with a good selection of runs and good park.
Takasu Snow Park: decent resort with good snow. Some steep runs to enjoy.
Meihou: popular “local” resort.
Winghills Shirotori Resort.

Resorts are found in the areas around Mount Hyonosan.
Hachi Kita Kogen: it can get crowded on holidays.
Nashiki Kogen: a fun place to avoid crowds.
Sky Valley.

Some resorts can be found in the areas around Biwako Lake.
Biwako Valley (west of Biwako Lake): just an hour on the train from Kyoto, can get crowded, need to pick well for decent snow.
Ibukiyama (east of Biwako Lake): a couple of hours from Kyoto, but less busy than Biwako, and generally better than Biwako Valley.

Geihoku Kokusai: one of the most popular resorts in the Hiroshima region, easy to get to.

If you have the time and the budget, a trip further north is highly recommended. Many of the best winter sports regions of Japan can be found to the north, and with generally more snowfall, better quality snow and longer seasons it’s definitely worth the effort.

There are countless large-scale resorts in Nagano and Niigata
— try the Hakuba valley and Nozawa Onsen in Nagano, and the Myoko region in Niigata. There are many more good resorts in Gunma, Fukushima, Yamagata, and further north in the Tohoku region. Many people’s favorite is the northern island of Hokkaido — some say that the best snow in Japan falls on the slopes
in Hokkaido.

So this winter why not take advantage of the natural white wonder-lands that are easily within reach. You can’t get escape the winter months, so just make the most of it!

Text & Photos: Miles Walsh


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Ski Suki?
The lowdown on some of the best ski resorts in Japan for folks who want to get a jump on the ski season.


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The ultimate guide and online community
SnowJapan.Com (previously known as “Ski Japan Guide”) has now been online for five winter seasons, providing information about the Japanese winter sports scene and also bringing together like-minded people with an active and popular online community. With info on resorts, hotels, travel, feature articles and the popular interactive elements of the site, Snow Japan is the one-stop site for anyone interested in winter sports.


Weekly weather forecasts and snow depth information for over 600 snow resorts all over Japan, updated 3 times a day.

INSIDER (Members Section)

Login for free and create your own members page where you can upload your holiday photos, keep an online journal, create a customised weather report, win fantastic prizes and keep in touch with other Snow Japan Buddies!


This new feature lets you easily organise trips to snow resorts with friends, fill up those empty spaces in your car, or just find new like-minded friends to travel with to the mountains.


One of the more popular and friendly Japan-related discussion boards on the web.


Listings of popular foreigner-friendly places to stay at popular snow resorts.


Detailed information on over 600 resorts, and over 800 reader resort reviews. Send in your own!
To find out more about anything “Japan winter
sports” and to join in the fun, check out the site
at www.snowjapan.com.

A rundown of the new features on the site can be found directly here: http://www.snowjapan.com/e/about/index.html.