Having heard tantalising tales for many years about the legendary powder in Japan, a large group of us finally decided to take the plunge and go and see for ourselves what all the fuss was about.
With just over 2 weeks at our disposal our aim was to cram in as much as possible and we certainly ended up with a trip of contrasts, but Japan did not disappoint. We probably only dipped our toes into all Japan has to offer, but it was certainly enough for us to be very keen to return.
Tokyo in the snow
We experienced the wonderful craziness of Tokyo, some of which had to be seen to be believed – check out the Robot Restaurant for just one example – completely mad, but good fun. We had some great skiing in Niseko, one of the best known of the Japanese ski resorts, including an amazing cat-skiing day on a private mountain, the site of an abandoned ski resort. Niseko is well geared up for international visitors and very popular with Australian skiers, with English widely spoken, but for a truly authentic Japanese skiing experience then look no further than Myoko Kogen.
The Myoko area is pretty easy to get to from Tokyo, being just about a 3.5 hour journey by bullet train and then local train (unless like us you were trying to travel on a day when Tokyo had been hit by freak snow storms).
We arrived to find the resort under an enormous amount of snow and for the next 5 days it hardly stopped snowing, but surprisingly nothing ground to a halt – even little old ladies were to be seen out on the streets shovelling snow! Amazingly the snow stayed very light in texture and showed no signs of turning into the heavy porridge that we all know and love so much. This meant that even the inexperienced skiers in our group were pretty undaunted by all the fresh snow, whereas the powder hounds were in their element whooping it up in the trees in glorious deep powder every day, with one member of our group, who is no stranger to the occasional high-speed wipe-out, being very glad he had his new RESQSKI attached!
Myoko Kogen is known for its heavy snowfalls, receiving an average of more than 13 metres each winter, resulting from its proximity to the Sea of Japan. It is made up of a number of different resorts which can be easily explored by shuttle bus, with each area having its own characteristics and suiting different types of skiers. Whether you like steep tree-skiing or long groomed runs, there’s something for everyone. Even I, not normally being a great fan of tree-skiing, developed a bit of a taste for it, as in many areas the trees are well spaced and without some of the hazards that I normally fall foul of! For anyone who wants to practice their carving, Myoko Suginahara has an 8.5km run which is just perfect.
Get some! Myoko Kogen powder.
We stayed in Akakura Onsen, which provides easy access to some of the best skiing and has a small high street with a selection of bars and restaurants and a very traditional Japanese feel. We saw very few other Westerners and English is not widely spoken, although there is an English-speaking ski school. The food is mostly very traditional Japanese, but some restaurants do have menus in English, or at least helpful photos of the various dishes. We found that the best way to deal with particular dietary requirements or food allergies was to find someone who could write down the details in Japanese on a piece of paper, which could then be produced whenever necessary. This was always well received, with the restaurant staff graciously making every effort to accommodate any particular needs. We found the Japanese people to be extremely polite, very welcoming and appreciative of even our pathetic attempts to speak a few words of Japanese.
After a long day on the slopes, a very popular activity is to take advantage of the abundance of hot springs by visiting a traditional onsen. These communal bathing areas use geothermically heated water and can be found in many of the hotels and also in open-air locations. If you fancy a break from skiing one day, take a trip out to visit the Snow Monkeys – it’s not only skiers who enjoy bathing in the hot springs!
Tessa Regan is a BASI qualified ski instructor, a Ski Club of Great Britain member and co-owner of Snow Swappers – a holiday swapping service dedicated to property owners in ski resorts around the world.