Kansai Scene Magazine
 

 

The joy of winter

While some suffer through the winter months, others rejoice

The idea of a long, bitterly cold winter might not be the most attractive image for some people, but for those looking for energetic adventure, there are some real treats in store. Many people unfamiliar with Japan seem surprised when they hear about the amount of snow that falls each winter, and the literally hundreds of ski and snowboard resorts dotted throughout the mountainous backbone of the country. Japan must be one of the only countries in the world where most of the population is within reach of a ski resort.

The '80s heralded a Japanese ski boom, a time when hitting the slopes was the most fashionable thing imaginable. Consequently, there were some huge investments in ski lifts and infrastructure. Snowboarding became white hot in the early '90s, which saw further increase in interest. But while the snow scene and numbers of people on the slopes each season remain huge, they have been on the decline.

Until recently, Japan’s ski facilities were something of a secret to outsiders, but the Japanese winter sports scene is now rapidly becoming a talking point around the world, even amongst the most experienced riders, who flock to the world-beating slopes here. Hardcore skiers and snowboarders will need no encouragement to hit the white stuff, but even for absolute beginners it’s relatively easy to pick up after a few lessons or tips–and most definitely worth the effort.

Near KansaI
There are skiing and snowboarding areas within easy reach from Kansai that are well worth a visit. There are ski resorts dotted around the mountains, but the most popular regions for those living in the immediate Kansai region are the resorts in the Takasu region of Gifu prefecture, and the northern region of Hyogo prefecture.

In Gifu, look for the popular Dynaland, Takasu Snow Park, and Washigatake resorts. It is probably worth noting that they get particularly busy on weekends, so if you are driving, keep that in mind as the expressways might be congested. To the west in Hyogo, the resorts at Hachi Kogen and Kannabe are the most popular.



Further afar

If you are prepared to take a slightly longer journey, then opportunities for overnight stays increase exponentially. Nagano is most convenient for those living in the eastern regions of Kansai, and probably is home to the most–and best–snow and ski areas in Honshu, with over one hundred resorts in Nagano alone! Many of the resorts are small local hills with only a limited amount of terrain, but some are the major slopes of Japan. These include the Olympic Village of Hakuba, which in itself offers a wide choice of ski hills; the huge Shiga Kogen resort area, and the small popular onsen village of Nozawa. These three areas are all within about an hour of Nagano City. Other regions of Nagano to explore include Sugadaira, Togakushi, and Madarao Kogen, with each offering their own distinct character. Just to the north of Nagano is the Myoko region of Niigata, which experiences impressive snowfalls and is a major skiing destination.

Hokkaido
If you feel like getting on a plane to search for some of the best powder in the world, you could do worse than heading for Sapporo’s New Chitose International Airport and then taking a trip to one of the resorts in Hokkaido. Well-known resort areas include Niseko, Rusutsu, Tomamu, and Furano, but there are plenty more to choose from. Niseko has become world famous, with a fairly large foreign community that includes visitors from every corner of the world.



Onsen

One of the wonderful things about visiting ski resorts in Japan is that there are often onsen nearby. Taking a soak in these natural spas after an energetic day on the slopes is hard to beat, and a fine way to unwind the day.

Gear Up
Most ski resorts offer ski and snowboard rental, with independent rental shops in the areas around the larger ski resorts. Quality might vary considerably, so be careful! However, if you intend to go more than a few times, it might end up being cheaper to buy equipment.
Most resorts now allow both skiers and snowboarders on their slopes, with snowboarding restrictions now very much being the exception.

Wherever you end up choosing to visit, make sure you make the most of this winter. Happy sliding!

For more information on skiing and snowboarding resorts in Japan, as well as a lively online community of like-minded people, check out the SnowJapan website and its forums (www.snowjapan.com, www.snowjapanforums.com). For some slopes-related kanji tips, check out our Language section on page 38 of this month's magazine!

Text: Peter McIntyre
Illustration: Courtesy of snowjapan.com

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