Peak hour for magic mountain
Japan’s three main ski centres are welcoming record numbers of snow enthusiasts
IT is just as well Japan’s most recent ski season was blessed with near-perfect conditions, for a veritable blizzard of Australians had descended on the country.
In January alone, the number exceeded 30,000 — the highest on record, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. Bookings are now open for the 2013-14 season, and resorts hope to lure similar crowds of snow-loving Australians. With most of its 600 resorts located in three major snowfields — Hokkaido, Nagano-Niigata and Tohoku — there’s no shortage of options, just the daunting job of making a choice. The bone-snapping cold of the Siberian winds that blow across Japan’s northernmost island is tempered by its onsen (hot springs) and the warm welcome extended by locals. This is the perfect location for skiing: the cold climate ensures an abundance of famous ‘‘Hokkaido powder’’, which turns the mountainous landscape into a frosted wonderland. Winter is celebrated during the island’s Sapporo Snow Festival, the Otaru Snow Light Path and the Monbetsu Ice Floes Festival. Furano Ski Resort: In the centre of Hokkaido, with more than 30 hotels and lodges, Furano is a favourite of families and mature skiers. Japanese culture is emphasised, but properties such as Furano Prince Hotel will help with English-speaking ski instructors and volunteer guides. More: princehotels.com. Rusutsu Resort: Hokkaido’s largest single resort is set in a natural highland at the base of Mount Yotei and can accommodate up to 3000 people. Book a Japanesestyle room, complete with tatami mat, at Highland Lodge & Travel Lodge. More: en.rusutsu.co.jp. Steep mountains characterise these neighbouring prefectures on the main island of Honshu and reinforce their popularity among thrillseekers. While Nagano City hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics, snow sports are not the only attraction — this is where you’ll see the famous snow monkeys soaking in hot springs at Jigokudani Monkey Park. And Niigata serves as head office for many of Japan’s leading sake brands, capitalising, no doubt, on the rice wine’s apres-ski popularity. Shiga Kogen: Located in the elevated Joshinetsu National Park, Shiga Kogen is Japan’s largest resort, with about 100 hotels, traditional Japanese ryokan (inns) and minshuku (home stays). There are seven hot springs, spectacular views of the North Alps and a superfluity of winter activities to keep visitors busy. The runs around Okushiga-Kougen Hotel are off limits to snowboarders, making the experience a paradise for skiers. More: okushiga-kougen.com/eng. Myoko Ski Area: This snowfield encompasses nine mountains, ensuring enough geographical variation for even the most jaded skier. Awayfrom the runs, it’s a Japanese feast, with local soba noodles and native mountain vegetables on the menu at Myoko’s many restaurants. From its elevated perch, the Akakura Kanko Hotel commands views of the surrounding peaks, Lake Nojiri to the east and, on a clear day, even the Sea of Japan. More: akr-hotel.com. Heavy, windswept snowfalls in Yamagata Prefecture transform the region’s trees into spectacular white shapes in winter known as ice monsters. Tohoku is in the north of Honshu and blessed not only with heavy powder falls but a multitude of onsen in which to warm up after hitting the slopes. Winter activities are supplemented with festivities such as the Kamakura (snow hut) Festival in Yokote City and the Namahage Sedo Festival on New Year’s Eve in Oga City. Zao Hot Springs Ski Resort: Ski runs and ice monsters fan out across the mountains above the hot-springs The richly varied courses lacing these snow made it a snowboarder’s mecca. Twice yea names in this increasingly popular sport arri pete in world-class competitions. Novices ar too. Weary limbs and chapped skin can be the Mount Bandai Hot Springs Hotel, where wallow in the heated indoor swimming poo hot spring and sauna. More: alts.co.jp/english
Shiga Kogen resort in Joshinetsu National Park is Japan’s largest, with about 100 hotels as well as hot springs and spectacular views