JAPAN SKIING

I planned to post about Japan skiing a couple of weeks ago, and in light of recent earthquake activity I’m going to push right on, in true Japanese spirit. 

Courtesy of  Paine Family (see bottom ski interview)

                                                                                                          

Throughout Japan’s history entire towns and cities have been destroyed and resurrected.  Major fires burnt through entire suburbs regularly reshaping town planning. The atomic bomb of 1945 erased Hiroshima City, to visit Hiroshima Museum now and see aerial photographs and artifacts from Hiroshima ground zero makes one marvel how humankind recovers from nothing. Less than nothing.

Landscape reflected in their art

This amazingly stoic race is characterised by their ever-changing environment, woodblock prints featuring towering tsunami or extreme snow and sleet adorn walls in homes and restaurants. Meals reflect the change in seasons, festival revere and celebrate, landscapes reflect availability of resources of timber and bamboo or even recycled materials extending new land right into the sea. ALPINE  REGIONS were formed over millions of years of tectonic pressure, buckling and uplifting mountains even before the influx of humankind. These include skiable areas we love and so we must show a reverence to the forces that make them who they are. Just as the Japanese do.

Respect for seasons and climate

JAPAN SKIING in brief
Globally, Japan is considered the belly button of the world, centrally and regularly accessed by plane, not too far from Europe nor Oceania. Tokyo and Sapporo are the main hubs for delivering skiers to 600+ ski resorts spread over the main island (Honshu) and the north Island (Hokkaido) by extremely reliable public transport.

WHY DO AUSSIES FROTH OVER JAPAN?
Ski conversations in Australia inevitably turn to Japan. It seems to me any Australian who has skiied internationally has favoured Japan, or at least had it in their sights. It is soon becoming the ’10th state of Australia’, (with Bali as the 9th). Why? Powder snow, shorter travel times than to the States or Europe, tree skiing and the promise of daily Japanese cuisine play a huge part. Competitive package deals. Travellers this millenium are super savvy, enjoying immersion in cultures experiences like hot springs (onsen) but also enjoying being looked after, as customers. The Japanese have perfected culture and customer service and it lures like a rabbit to the lettuce.  Rutsutsu, Hakuba, Niseko, Nozowa and Furano remain strong favourites but with the Nagano Olympics skiers realise the ‘club’ (smaller sized) resorts on the mainland offer a good skiing experience.

HONSHU
In skiing terms, when I think of Honshu, its urban proximity to ski resorts remind me of the USA and makes me green with envy. Australian skiers would give their right glove to access decent ski areas within a 2 or 3 hours drive (ok, Melbourne…but the rest of Australia?). When you’re living or working in Japan you very quickly fall into that lovely habit of taking it all for granted and think nothing of heading to the snow for the weekend and it’s not too expensive. Aggghhhhh!!

PROS and CONS
 In Japan I have skiied Karuma Yama, Shiga Kogen as well as some tiny resorts with between 6-20 runs at their whole resort in close proximity to Nagoya, Osaka and Hiroshima.

Karuma yama and Shiga Kogen were not too bad in terms of international standards, lift ticket costs (cheaper than Australia but that’s not hard) and powder.

The tiny resorts are ok for day trips or for beginners and the cost makes it accessible, although the risk of being run over by out-of-control school groups is quite high. Especially one with a kooky colourful hat.
The highlight of these resorts, to me is the cultural aspect, staying in traditional accommodation (Ryokan), sleeping on futons, eating fish, rice and nato for breakfast. Love it. Bring it on. But these places don’t EXTEND your skiing abilities in the way Vail, Revelstoke or Jackson Hole might. I have not skied Hokkaido or any of the more popular Honshu resorts so for this purpose I will include resort reviews from skiers who have recently been there. So STAY TUNED.

Why hasn’t our family been there yet?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say it…in the planning stage of a ski trip Japanese resorts don’t appear as set up for kids like the USA or Canadian resorts. Resorts like Steamboat Springs and Big White are ALL OVER IT with kids clubs, activities, babysitters and ski school. And thus the question about skiing in Japan comes up every single year in our household, as I sigh with nostalgia and a strong desire for okonomiyaki (yummy foods) but friends and family members returning from Japanese ski trips shake their heads and say…not for your family because:

  • Ski school is not ‘all day fabulous’ for kids…Not that we like dropping kids off, skiing by ourselves all day, lunching ALONE then picking them up in the afternoon (cough..splutter…deny).
  • If your kids are ski-nuts they’re not catered for in the more advanced kids groups.
  • Kids ‘ski/ eat free/flight free’ packages in the USA and Canada are way too tempting. Steamboat Springs, you ace it.
  • Visibility can be poor and inconsistent, a little disconcerting for little eyes.
  • Temperatures can be cold for kids (between -5 and -10 degrees).
  • Better for older kids, rather than babies and toddlers.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. If I can be proved wrong I’ll get the kids on the plane in a heart beat. I love being proved wrong, too much information is NEVER enough, unless it’s facebook…

Please read about a family with kids who have skied in Japan in 2011.

Family fun
PAINE FAMILY 
Where did you ski?
Nozowa Onsen, Nagano Prefecture on Honshu Island
How did you get there?
Travelled by plane to Tokyo, then Shinkansen (super fast train) to Nagano, then local train and local bus to Nozowa Onsen.
Best thing about the resort? 
Beautiful traditional village in the Japanese Alps. Loads of history, spectacular views, really friendly locals, not too many Aussies, onsens everywhere including foot onsens, perfect after skiing! The mountain was busy on the weekends but we had the place to ourselves for the rest of the week! 
Tip-arrive on Sunday afternoon and miss the weekend crowds.
What did you do with the kids?
The kids had a 2 hour private lesson each morning which they loved (with an English speaking instructor) then we all had lunch together, then skiied the afternoons together. They all loved the terrain parks. We were mostly on the snow by about 9:30 and skiied til 4:30/5pm. After skiing we left our gear at the St Anton Ski Hire  shop for the night and walked down to the village in our walking boots-very civilised! There were some interesting little market style shops in the village where we had a snack and a poke around before heading back to the Ryokan (traditional hotel) for our onsen (hot spring). Kids are age 6, 8 and 9 years old.
Market-style shops selling local produce
How was the weather?                                                       

The weather was unusually warm and dry for the first four days.We had beautiful clear, windless days which was perfect for the kids (and Mum) to ski in, but Dad was doing a snow dance each night and prayed for the powder to come. On the last day the weather closed in and the snow finally fell. All a bit too late for us, unfortunatley as we were leaving first thing the next morning.The kids loved seeing the big light flakes falling in the night, a bit different to the driving sleet they’ve seen in Australia. Then it snowed and snowed about 50cms a day for the next week! Of course we watched the snow report daily after we returned to Sydney to torture ourselves!

Public Onsen
Other features of the resort?   
The resort was perfect for a family ski holiday, great range of runs for the kids, able to cover the whole mountain, good places to eat and not too expensive. There is no facility to drop the kids in the morning and pick up in the afternoon, only 2 hour lesson in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon-this is what they call a full day. You need to collect your children and give them lunch then meet up with their instructor for the afternoon. This suited us but might not suit all. There were 13 Public Onsens in the village which many people come to the village especially for, a great way to end the days skiing although beware, you might not get to dinner till very late after having an onsen. There is an overwhelming feeling to just lie on the fluffy doonas layed  out on your futons which magically appear in your room while you are in the onsen. Add alcohol and you might as well forget about dinner! We stayed at Kiriya Ryoken which is in an awesome position close to the Yu Road which takes you to the slopes. Also close to restaurants and onsens and market area. Lovely family-run Ryoken, the host spoke excellent English ( which was great as there is very little English signage) and was there at the front desk everytime we came and went and was very accomodating especially with the kids.
How did Japan compare to other places you’ve skied?

We have skied in Australia at Victoria’s Falls Creek and NSW’s Thredbo and Perisher with the kids. In Canadian British Columbia and Alberta we have skied Whistler Sunshine, Fernie and Lake Louise. The ‘Dad’ ( ski-nutter) has also skied in Vail, (USA) and Cragieburn (NZ). We skied Niseko, Japan two years ago without the kids as well.

In regard to snow conditions, we have had better. It was even a bit soft (and slow) on one of the days, but the cultural side to this trip made it the most memorable one yet. Also travelling with children makes it a different kind of holiday and they are not so critical of the conditions, they were just so happy to see another country and to be skiing (and out of school).  All of our kids have very different personalities but they all love skiing (PHEW!) so it was a great trip for us.
Would you go there again?
We would go to Nozowa again and highly recommend it. We were there for a week and probably wouldn’t stay that long again, but would love to check out some other resorts in that area like Shiga Kogen and Hakuba, but know that we wouldn’t get the same village feeling of Nozowa Onsen.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF PAINE FAMILY ski-nutters and ski-nutters in training.

Gonna jump onto the double black run like this 

( Hokkaido skiers interview to follow)

Compare Ski Resorts

Honsyu Area: 

Season Start
Early Dec
Early Dec
Early Dec
Early Dec
Late Nov
Early Dec
Season End
Early May
Early May
Early May
Early May
Early May
Early May
Average Snowfall (m)
12
12
12
13
12
12
Night Skiing
Yes-till 21:00
Yes-till 21:00
No
Yes-till 21:00
Yes-till 21:00
Yes-till 20:00
Max Elevation(m)
1831
2305
1650
1855
1660
1328
Vertical Rise(m)
1071
975
1085
1124
880
828
Difficulty
(beg | int | adv)
35% | 40% | 25% 40% | 35% | 25% 40% | 30% | 30% 45% | 35% | 20% 40% | 40% | 20% 30% | 40% | 30%
Skiers/Snowboarders
60% / 40%
60% / 40%
60% / 40%
60% / 40%
60% / 40%
70% / 30%
Longest Run (m)
8000
6000
10000
8500
10000
5500
No. of Courses/Runs
77
100
20
54
26
21
No. of Lifts & Gondolas
100
72
20
34
42
18
Max Gradient (°)
35°
39°
39°
38°
38°
34°
JTB Australia Rating
Mature Couples SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow
Young Couples SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow
Family SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow
Young Groups SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow
Single Skiers SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnow
Advanced Skiers SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow
Onsen Facility SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow
Kids Facility SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow
Après-Ski SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow
Restaurant SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow
Rental Gear SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow
Ski School (English) SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow
Sightseeing Spots SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnow
English Speaking Staff SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowSnow
Activity SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow

Hokkaido Area

Honshu
Season Start
Late Nov
Late Nov
Late Nov
Season End
Early May
Early Apr
Mid Apr
Average Snowfall (m)
13
14
14
Night Skiing
Yes-till 21:00
Yes-till 21:00
Yes-till 21:00
Max Elevation(m)
1200
994
1209
Vertical Rise(m)
900
594
949
Difficulty
(beg | int | adv)
30% | 38% | 32% 27% | 43% | 30% 40% | 40% | 20%
Skiers/Snowboarders
65% / 35%
50% / 50%
50% / 50%
Longest Run (m)
5600
3500
4000
No. of Courses/Runs
68
37
23
No. of Lifts & Gondolas
33
17
14
Max Gradient (°)
37°
40°
34°
JTB Australia Rating
Mature Couples SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow
Young Couples SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow
Family SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow
Young Groups SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow
Single Skiers SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow
Advanced Skiers SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow
Onsen Facility SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnow
Kids Facility SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow
Après-Ski SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow
Restaurant SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowSnow
Rental Gear SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow
Ski School (English) SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow
Sightseeing Spots SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow
English Speaking Staff SnowSnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow
Activity SnowSnowSnow SnowSnowSnowSnowHalf Snow SnowSnowSnowHalf Snow

http://www.snowjapan.com/e/spotlight/nozawa-1.html

http://www.shigakogen.gr.jp/english/

http://www.visitfurano.com/

http://www.japanski.com.au/ski_in_japan/index.htm

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