Trip Report Crispy does Honshu '16

Discussion in 'Japan' started by Crispy013, Feb 13, 2016.

  1. Crispy013

    Crispy013 Dedicated Member

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    Following on from a highly enjoyable trip last year attempting to visit the lesser known powder magnet resorts around Hakuba, it was back to tick off and find a few more gems in the Nagano-Niigata-Gunma crown.

    Plan was fairly simple: couple nights in Tokyo, shink to Nagano where I would pick up my wheels and spend the first week based out of Myoko, then venture round to Yuzawa/Minamkami for the remainder of the second week.

    Leading up to the trip I was fairly excited to experience and 'really' explore the area but the unusual weather that transpired this past season over December and early January for the central Honshu resorts definitely had me questioning whether I had made the right choice. Nevertheless, not one to back out of prior accommodation commitments, I decided to suck it up and just make the most of the trip whatever the conditions/snowfall that eventuated. With 12 different resorts hit over 12 days, I can safely say that I had no regrets.

    PART 1: TOKYO
    Direct flight from Brisbane to Narita using the (new?) Qantas route @ $850 for a full service airline with 30kg baggage allowance was a no brainer. Such a great experience too not having to transit through Sydney or an Asian hub. Hallelujah! Daytime flight was very smooth and landed 30mins earlier than planned in Narita which was was a win. I was subsequently outside customs before our actual planned arrival time :thumbs:.

    Once I picked up my snowboard bag, it was a quick jot down to drop it off at the black cat services, pick up some cash and then down a couple levels to sort out my train ticket into Ueno on the Keisei Skyliner Express. I also made the most of the Skyliner + Metro pass deal (open to foreign tourists) which you can pick up at the service centre when booking your seats. I think it was Y4700 for the return trip + 1 day metro pass = good value in my books.

    Holy wow is all I can say about the Skyliner. 41mins and I'm in Ueno - no fussing around here. If you don't have the constraints of a rail pass, then this is definitely the way to travel from NRT into Tokyo.

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    Had 2 nights in Tokyo and I stayed in Sutton Place Hotel located near the main JR terminal in Ueno. It was a fairly basic no-fuss Japanese business hotel that came with a light breakfast each morning and from memory was about Y7600 per night. No complaints really other than the fact that my room stunk like an old ash-tray :mad:. Had a quick looksie around Ueno that evening after checking in but I was fairly stuffed from the day's travel and had a pretty early night.

    Having ticked off most of the major Tokyo bigger must-do's on previous visits to this metropolis, it was tough choice as to where I wanted to spend the next day exploring before heading off to the mountains. I really wanted to give one of the theme parks a go and was initially planning on heading out to Fuji Q Highland, but the 2hr+ journey each way was not really all that appealing. In the end I settled on Tokyo Disney Sea and was eager to see what the place had install for me.

    It was an early start on a Monday morning as I took the local rail/subway network out towards the Disney theme parks. Didn't really take into account that I would be negotiating public transport peak hour, but it was enjoyable to experience the daily commute of the Japanese workers.

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    It really didn't take more than about 40mins from Ueno, and I had arrived at the JR Maihama Disney resort station. A quick 10 minute walk along some of THE most perfectly manicured roads and I was inside ready to get into it.

    For a Monday morning, I was hoping the theme park would be deserted, however I was VERY wrong. School and tour group central. Nevertheless, I tried to make the most of the place and slowly worked my way round the huge complex.

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    The major rides had queues of about 30-45 mins which wasn't too horrible, but I was kind of disappointed with the length of the actual experience once you got in. All over in less than 5-10 mins. The fast track system was also a schemozzle! Scanned my ticket to pick my first one up and it told me to come back at 6:40pm that evening!! Stuff that.

    Once I had ticked off the major rides of the resort by about 1pm, I felt like I had my share of entertainment for the day. Highlight was probably the Journey to the Centre of the Earth ride and maybe the Aztec roller-coaster. This place is genuinely amazing for kids with so many dressed up charters just walking around the park taking photos, but I was hoping it would be aimed more at an older market (say similar to California Adventure) which I don't think it made it to in my books. Typical theme park prices for food too so I made tracks shortly after lunch time back into western Tokyo to check out Shinjuku, Harajuku and Shibuya for the rest of the afternoon.

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    Later that evening as I made my way back towards my accommodation in Ueno I also ventured out via Asakusa and Tokyo Skytree which was amazing at that time of the evening as the sun was setting. A nice little ice skating rink and light display out the front was also enjoyable to experience, as too was the amazing shopping complex at the base of the Skytree.

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    The following day, it was again a quick check-out and a walk literally across the road to the JR Ueno shink station to pick up my ticket and rocket out towards Nagano. Arrive 90 mins later and with a little wander round to the Nissan rentakar next to the station, it was hello to my transport for the next 12 days.

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    Input the address into my car's GPS for Myoko and I was off to the mountains. Conditions were cold and clear - bring it!

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    More to come!
     
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  2. Gimp

    Gimp Dedicated Member
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    Great read so far Crispy, looking forward to the reports of 12? resorts in 12 days?. Thanks and keep it coming
     
  3. M_G

    M_G Dedicated Member
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    Been looking forward to reading this. :cheers:
     
  4. Crispy013

    Crispy013 Dedicated Member

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    Thats correct. I'll try and do a bit of a review of each one if I can. Strengths, weaknesses, etc.
     
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  5. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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  6. pedub

    pedub Well-Known Member

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    Heading to DisneySea tomorrow but opted for the starlight pass 3pm-10pm... I know Sunday wont be ideal but we are only here for 4 days (11th-14th) while the weather has got warm in Hokkaido. Since the 11th was a public holiday I was pretty screwed for options for quiet days. I hope later in the night it will get quieter...
    Anything else you recommend seeing there apart form those rides you mentioned??
     
  7. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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    You may be lucky. If you HAVE to go to Tokyo Disney on a weekend, make sure it's raining. This scares many people away.
    I think it will clear mid afternoon. Even then, you will probably struggle to get on any good rides.

    Normally, a weekend Starlight pass is a BAD idea. Instead, you need to get there 60min early before opening time to get tickets, line up and RUN to the best rides first and get your first Fastpass. By the time you get there on a Starlight Pass, there are no more spots available on a Fastpass before 10pm.
     
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  8. travelislife

    travelislife Dedicated Member
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    Awesome! Looking forward to this!
     
  9. Vermillion

    Vermillion Pool Room
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    I went on a Monday that was not a public holiday and everyone back in school and it was quiet. It was a perfect Tokyo winters day too, maybe I was lucky.
     
  10. Heinz

    Heinz Old And Crusty
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    Nice. Japan TR's are in full swing tonight.
     
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  11. Vermillion

    Vermillion Pool Room
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    Im sitting back at base with not a lot to do waiting to get into it tomorrow so I have some time. Belly fully of sushi and single malt.
     
  12. Crispy013

    Crispy013 Dedicated Member

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    PART 2: MYOKO (& SURROUNDS)
    It was a fairly straight-forward hour or so journey along the Joshin-etsu expressway from Nagano Station up towards Akakura Onsen (Myoko) where I would be based for the next 7 nights. I had stayed here back in 2012 and really enjoyed the vibe of the more traditional ski-jo, so thought it would be a good central point to hit a number of resorts which I missed on my first time round (namely: Seki Onsen and Madarao). A bit more scouring of the Snow Japan website and I also added several other nearby resorts/mountains (which I'll eventually talk about) that would fill in my time over the next week or so.

    From some excellent Tripadvisor reviews, I booked into Red Warehouse Lodge, which was located pretty much in the central Akakura Onsen village, just off the main drag where Myoko Snowsports is located and the congregation of various restaurants and local stores. In actual fact, I was put up in a traditional tatami room in the neighbouring Hotel Takada which suited me just fine as the rooms were HUGE, and I just ventured across the road to eat my breakfast and use the wi-fi as needed. Views were absolutely amazing each morning to check snowfall (or a cheeky sunrise when conditions were clear).

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    I'm not really going to give a run-down of the Myoko Akakura Onsen village as I didn't 'really' spend too much time there. Having a car, really opened up my experience of the local way of life down along Route 18 by visiting the main supermarket (Naurus?) and the likes. This is predominantly where I picked up most of my essentials/meals each day after my adventures. What I will say is that there a very noticeable increase in foreign tourists roaming the streets (from what I recall back in 2012) and that the restaurants all looked extremely busy whenever I ventured down the main drag.

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    Having checked in a little early, I had a couple hours to kill before my room would be ready so I decided to get straight up to Akakura Kanko and get my ski legs back with short afternoon session. I also managed to time my arrival to perfection as my snowboard bag had turned up pretty much at the same time.

    Resort # 1
    Name: Akakura Kanko
    Conditions: Clear and relatively cool (2 days since new snow)
    Gaijin count: Low-Moderate


    After setting up my board, it was a short 2 mins whip around to the base of Akakura Kanko resort and exchange my voucher for a silly priced half day ticket (maybe Y2800 if I'm lucky). Since the snow that hit the region on Sunday, conditions had been relatively cool and clear for the past 2 days which kept the snow in great condition and made the views of Myoko San behind the resort spectacular.

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    Having spent some time at this resort from my first visit a few years ago, I knew it short-comings as well as some of the more favourable tree runs off the piste courses and was keen to see how they were faring given the unseasonable snowfall to date. After taking the gondola up to the top station and traversing across to the top chair, it was soon pretty evident that everything off-piste was very dicey. A LOT of exposed bushes and lower shrubs that would have normally filled in by now and required a lot of foresight to see where your next turn would be. Having said that, the snow which was sheltered in the right aspects was lovely and as good as I've experienced anywhere in Japan. The natural valley off skiers left of the top quad was probably the pick of the day.

    Being a mid-week day, crowds weren't noticeable, however the lift set-up on this resort truly is woeful. I was asked on more than one occasion by other skiiers how to get back to the gondola as the natural orientation of the runs and lifts doesn't really lead to an easy progression. I also noticed a lot of people out hiking from the top lift too.

    Overall, it was a good resort to get the legs back given its proximity to my accomodation in Myoko, but I can't say that would be itching to get back to it. However, for beginners/intermediates who love groomed piste runs it serves its purpose just fine.

    RATING: 4/10

    More to come...
     
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  13. Gimp

    Gimp Dedicated Member
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    Keep it coming, but expect a bit of loco wrath for your ratings. 11 to go, this is going to a good write up
     
  14. Crispy013

    Crispy013 Dedicated Member

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    Yep probably should put a caveat on the ratings. This is solely my rating based on the the conditions experienced, resort layout, infrastructure and terrain that I enjoy skiing in - which is primarily tree runs.
     
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  15. M_G

    M_G Dedicated Member
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    No wrath from this aspect. Crispy is/was after something different and given his perspective and the conditions it's a fair rating. Others might disagree. Looking forward to more updates. :thumbs:
     
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  16. gettingtooold

    gettingtooold Dedicated Member
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    Keep rating on what you find from your experience on the day please. We all know things can change quickly. Carry on with the good work. :thumbs:
     
  17. Crispy013

    Crispy013 Dedicated Member

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    Resort # 2
    Name: Ryuoo Ski Park
    Conditions: Clear and warming (3 days since new snow)
    Gaijin count: Low


    With a large high sitting over much of Honshu and the forecast for the freezing level to rise over 1000m, the decision was made to make the most of elevation where I could. With that in mind, I thought Ryuoo Ski Park might fit the bill being located over the other side of the valley on the way up to Shiga Kogen and with a top lift station of over 1700m.

    Whilst this resort could probably easily be accessed from Myoko via the expressway in a bit over 45mins, I decided to take the local Route 18 in towards Nakano. It probably took a good hour or so as I didn't really factor in all the extra lights and traffic in the local town centre.

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    As you pass through town, you then start up route 403 which elevates you around the mountain footholds behind Nakano itself where a number of smaller sized resorts were located (Kimjimdaira, X-Jam, Iimori, etc). As it was another classic Honshu clear day, views were just spectacular on the way up looking back down into the valley.

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    Not long after maybe 9am I had arrived in the parking lot of Ryuoo ski park eager to get up high and experience the mountain. After a quick exchange for my day pass which was probably Y4,000 if I'm lucky, I scoured of the trail map extensively to see how I'd access the ropeway. Unfortunately, it was located halfway up the base slope and required a series of magic carpets and beginner lifts to even get you there.

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    On the way up the lower slopes, it was again very obvious that ski schools dominated, but I was really after the steeper stuff up which I thought was up higher so I made a bee-line for the ropeway hoping it would give me access to the tasty tree runs I could see up the entire length of the ropeway's traverse. Shortly after 10am I took the ropeway up to the top station which was on a 20 minute turnout. Just when I though views on the car ride up to the resort were good, I had no idea how amazing they would be at the top lookout/restaurant. Dayyyyymnnn!

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    Upon reaching the top, what I didn't really take into account was the layout of the mountain. It is kind of a three part surprise with it being VERY flat up high, VERY steep in the middle, then quite flat at the base. Once up high, I decided to check-out the two top courses, which are accessed by a single chair that takes you up a few hundred more meters and you eventually just venture back pretty much under the lift along a very tame cat track. Hard to see how they were rated more than an easy green, BUT snow up at this elevation was sublime! Incredibly dry and light.

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    The trees up high are very tight and bushy making any attempt at finding a line between the cut courses quite difficult. But I did manage to find some nice, short forays into the trees with a short boot pack skiiers left from the top lift.There is also a massive natural bowl skiiers right from the top lift that could easily be turned into some nice runs if the resort wanted to and could feed down to the cat track that connects the top ropeway to the bottom parts of the mountain.

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    The only real frustrating part of the whole mountain on the day was that the actual decent steep runs from the top ropeway station towards the lower runs were unfortunately closed!!! This was real heart breaker as they looked so tasty, but unfortunately I think the low snow to date hampered the resorts willingness to open them. Plus I also believe that a number of people were killed here last season so unfortunately no dice today!

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    As I took the ropeway back down to the lower courses, I tried to make the most of the remaining afternoon just exploring what I could find. It was a bit of fun, but with the temps rising throughout the day it slowly became slushy down low. From the highest lift on the bottom course, I tried to hike up a bit of the untouched connector course and got an okay run down an untouched bowl, but I could finally see why it wasn't opened. Just bulk sassa grass which I had to work very hard to dodge.

    Overall, I did really enjoy the variety of the resort and would love to return to experience the runs from the top area down under the ropeway. A lot of potential here.

    RATING: 7/10
     
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  18. Donza

    Donza Pool Room

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    I get the feeling those steep runs aren't open much anymore
     
  19. Crispy013

    Crispy013 Dedicated Member

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    On my way back from Ryuoo after quite an enjoyable day, I decided I'd have a little look around Lake Nojiri-ko which is located about 15-20 mins from where I was staying in Akakura Onsen and pretty much adjacent to the foothills of Madarao/Tangram.

    The lake itself is utterly gorgeous and has a series of little communities and 'camp' houses along its shores that I'd imagine would be bustling in Summer, but in Winter, largely get snowed in.

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    It was another stellar afternoon, so I made the most of it and aimed for a more local route that traversed around the many outskirts of the lake. This gave great views of the lake close to its shoreline which were just gorgeous in the afternoon sun. A bit like a mini Lake Tahoe or Queenstown (when they get snow to lake level!)

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    Unfortunately as I was getting ready to head back to the lodge, I was carefully driving along a snow covered part of the route close to the shoreline and felt my steering wheel just very gently angle into shallow snow bank next to me. I soon realised that I was now spinning my wheels and had bogged the front end of my small car into a soft drain that had been hidden by the snow :doh:.

    After some attempts at reversing and trying to dig my wheels out, it was very clear that this car was not moving without some help. Fortunately for me, whilst the road I was on was pretty much deserted, I did remember passing a stationary vehicle just a few hundred meters up the road. So I raced up and somehow communicated for this local to come look at my situation to see if he could somehow help. After some hand gesturing and what-not, he raced off and was back in about 30 mins to tow my car out using a large CAT snow clearer. Hurrah!!

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    Feeling like a twit, I gave him some money for his troubles and was off just before it became dark back towards Myoko and having well and truly learnt my lesson about driving on snow-covered roads.
     
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  20. benchives

    benchives Part of the Furniture
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    Tight! That could have gotten nasty!
     
  21. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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    Usually, they are not soft drains. In summer, they are big, deep concrete drains, about 50cm deep and around 30cm wide.
    The snow hides them in winter, and they are a big hazard!!!
     
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  22. Incider

    Incider Dedicated Member

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    Yeah I had our X Trail a bit twitchy a couple of times - usually on the most innocuous corners. Luckily, it was always whilst travelling quite slowly (and only ever doing one thing at a time, e.g. braking, accelerating or turning).

    A couple of corners jumped up on me and I was forced to 'steer through them' a little faster than i would have liked, whilst withstanding the natural reaction to break mid-turn.

    Driving a 2WD single cab hilux for ten years teaches you to expect the unexpected.....
     
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  23. Donza

    Donza Pool Room

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    I just drive in the middle of the road.
     
  24. Incider

    Incider Dedicated Member

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    yeah, that was my theory too!
     
  25. M_G

    M_G Dedicated Member
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    Ryuoo has a lot of great possibilities if they can work through some issues. I wasn't able to hit the steep middle either when I went but the place does have a good vibe. They even have a Subway shop in the base station.

    Good to hear the Queenstown comparison too from someone else. This area could explode all year round if the locals got their act together.
     
  26. Crispy013

    Crispy013 Dedicated Member

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    Resort # 3
    Name: Togakushi Ski World
    Conditions: Clear and warming (4 days since new snow)
    Gaijin count: Very Low


    With another clear and fairly warm day upon me, I again opted for elevation and decided to venture out towards Togakushi to give it a whirl as it had a top station around 1700m similar to Ryuoo. It was a fairly easy 45 min drive down along Route 18 towards Shinano and then up Route 36 which runs along some of the backhills of Hakuba's northern range. Absolutely spectacular sight of the Japanese Alps, but very evident that this side was very bare snow-wise.

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    Pull up into the car park with maybe 30 other vehicles, dodge the ski school and acquire my pass. This mountain was the only one I encountered that uses RFID cards for their lifts which was awesome, as too was the speed of the lifts. Looking up from the base, what confronts you is some very decent pitched runs and the aspect of most of the valleys shelter the snow very nicely. Gave me a bit of a Nozawa vibe early on, having the really steep runs so close to the base station.

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    After doing a few quick laps of the front face of the resorts (and trying to avoid the icy death of the eastern facing runs), I was quickly surprised at the amazing condition of the snow and lack of any lines within the fairly manageable tree runs between courses.

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    Next it was up to try out the top lift which largely centers around a natural bowl with the peak of Mt Menou just above the top station. Clearly, one side gets roasted, but the other side was absolutely golden in the shade and hardly touched. This was somewhat due to quite a sharp ravine/creek running down the centre of the bowl that meant if you took a line on this face it almost certainly lead to a run out into the bottom lift station. It didn't really stop me having a little play and reminded me a bit of Rusutsu and it's many spines which have amazing fall lines.

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    Off skiiers right from the top lift you can take a nice tree run that falls down into an adjacent valley and ends up on what appears to be a large frozen lake. This was quite enjoyable as the snow was protected very well in this aspect but the flat runout at the bottom to connect into the cat track was a bit brutal trying to cut on a snowboard.

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    The rest of the afternoon I just explored various other runs through the trees of various little bowls and valleys off Lift 4 & 5 and had a ball considering the time it had been since it last snowed.

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    This resort was a real surprise to me. Quick modern lifts, excellent variety in the terrain, quality snow due to the high elevation and pretty much deserted. Not sure given its proximity to Nagano whether it gets alot of weekend traffic, but this place would be a ripper in a mid-week dump. Would return for sure.

    RATING: 8/10
     
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  27. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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    Interesting!!! :D

    I like the Wooden pole line.

    I've seen the turn off, but always been in a hurry to get from one place to another....
     
  28. Crispy013

    Crispy013 Dedicated Member

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    With the temps making things a bit sticky down low, I decided to call it quits at about 2pm and venture round to check out the various Togakushi shrines scattered up the valley. A short drive along the route towards Togakushi village I arrived at a long snow covered walk that would take me up to famous old cedars.

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    After about 1km in the deep snow trying to keep in the boot pack that had been made I arrived at the entrance to the old cedars which were just stunning in the afternoon sun.

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    A really magical experience that really should be checked out if you are in the region. A quick scour of the trail map and I decided to continue up the path for another km to what I thought may be the top shrine. Unfortunately, I don't think in winter it is really an attraction and was largely snowed in. Quite a dicey walk with all the snow around, but a gorgeous up-close view of the mountains behind and looking back onto Togakushi Ski World in the distance.

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    After struggling and sliding back down the path, I continued down the road a short while into the main Togakushi village itself which was quite quaint. I was really after a nice onsen, and after seeing the infamous onsen symbol (7km ahead) I decided to follow it down the valley and checked into the Mokumokubayashi Spa which was amazing!

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    Top end to a top day.
     
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  29. Donza

    Donza Pool Room

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    Toga is on my hitlist
     
  30. Crispy013

    Crispy013 Dedicated Member

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    Resort # 4
    Name: Myoko Suginohara
    Conditions: Snow/rain
    Gaijin count: Moderate


    Finally after what seems like a lifetime of clear weather, the large high that was sitting over much of Honshu was slowly moving away and a low sliding in from the SE. What this meant was that snow was definitely on the way, but freezing levels were going to be quite high (over 1400-1500m) for part of the day, so I might be in for some nasty rain/sleet at lower elevations. With this in mind, I thought Suginohara might fare okay if I based myself up and around the top lift which sits at 1800m+.

    Awoke to a pretty overcast morning and it was actually a surprise to see it snowing lightly and a couple of cm's accumulated on the car - just maybe I might get lucky today.

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    After a quick clearing of the dust on the car (first time this trip ;)), it was only a short 15-20 mins around to the carpark of Suginohara for first tracks. I still remember the ordeal of taking the bus around in 2012 which seems to take FOREVER, so I was very surprised with how close Sugi actually is from the main Akakura Onsen village.

    Fairly continuously for most of the morning, it started to really come down which was a good sign, however once I reached the top of the main gondy and traversed around to the far side of the mountain where the top lift is located it was pretty clear that not a whole deal had fallen. I had a few pleasant runs down the freshly groomed tracks just waiting for the top lift to open and just poked my head into the trees under the Mitahara Lift 2. What I found wasn't all that inviting. A combination of low snowfall to date and a couple of warm day getting roasted on this side of the mountain meant it was an icy and bushy experience. The lack of base snow was the most surprising thing to me!

    At about 9:30 the top lift opened and I was straight up there to scour the ungroomed runs and trees for hopefully something worth riding. It was surprising much better above about 1500m, but still not amazing. I took a few runs under the lift through the trees but these had been smashed to bits since the last decent snowfall. I wasn't game trying to head skiiers left off the top lift.

    By about 11am, it was very evident that the temperatures were soaring, even despite the precipitation that was falling. As soon as my board was sticking like clag glue on turns, my goggles were dripping with water and my pants saturated I knew it was time to bail.

    I have experienced Suginohara before in better conditions and it is clearly my pick of mountains in the Myoko belt for its terrain variety and length of runs. Unfortunately the freeze level and lack of snow hampered any real enjoyment from the day. Need to get to this resort after some decent snow.

    RATING: 2/10
     
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  31. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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    This season, there have been a lot of westerlies. On these occasions, Suginohara does better than the resorts on the eastern side (Akakura, Ikenotaira, or Seki in the NE). If you closely observe the wind direction, you can score even when there's only 10-15cm in the eastern side.
    e.g. I scored twice the 3rd week in January, picking Sugi. One time there was 20cm around at Akakura, but 45cm at Sugi. Again, similar, where there was 15cm on the east, but 30cm at Sugi.
     
  32. M_G

    M_G Dedicated Member
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    Overall from feedback and observation it seems to me like Suginohara has fared worse this year than the other resorts.
     
  33. Crispy013

    Crispy013 Dedicated Member

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    Following on from a pretty depressing couple of hours in Suginohara due to the rain, I decided that afternoon to take a run down towards Joetsu to check the town out and have a look at the western coastline of Japan. It was probably a good hour plus car ride along Route 18 and I expected it to be pouring with rain the closer I got to sea-level, but in fact it was almost the complete opposite and absolutely chucking it down by the time I hit the streets of Joetsu. I had a couple hours just driving around, scoping out the unfortunately pretty depressing shoreline but also stopping into check out the large Aeon shopping centre and Uniqlo which was fairly enjoyable. As I made it back up to Akakura Onsen village later that evening it seemed like the baron was finally here and some decent snow was falling and accumulating quite nicely. Hallelujah.

    Woke up early the next morning to a tidy surprise in the carpark out the front of the lodge which was looking even better than the day before. Winter had arrived!

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    After what I witnessed down in Joetsu, I was fairly confident that Charmant Hiuchi would have copped it so made the decision to venture out that way hoping it would deliver. Jumped on the expressway heading west towards Joetsu, passing Arai and then a big left hand turn to head south towards Itoigawa through a myriad of tunnels. Despite the heavy snow overnight the expressways were cleared pretty successfully and I arrived at the Nou interchange in about 60mins.

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    From the interchange at Nou, it was a pretty simple 15 min drive up the valley to the base of my 5th resort - absolutely frothing to get up top.

    Resort # 5
    Name: Charmant Hiuchi
    Conditions: Overcast with 30cm+ overnight
    Gaijin count: Very Low

    Rocking into the base car park, it was no doubt pumping with excitement, but for a powder day on a Saturday, not all that crowded. I get my day pass and head straight to the main central lift that takes you straight to the top of mountain. Bring it on.

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    Charmant is pretty much a free-for-all resort with only a couple groomed tracks down from the top lift which, on a powder day, is just amazing. Today was going to be no exception. Up top I generally follow most of the crowds and head skiiers left for my first few runs popping off the sides of the few groomed runs. What I find is brilliant knee to waist deep powder...and lots of it! It was definite a big reminder to me on how hard your back legs have to work to keep your board afloat and I spent many of the early runs out of breath and bogged up to my chest in deep snow because I didn't really judge my runouts to the groomed runs very well.

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    While it was amazing to just pick a fresh line from the top and pretty much end up with a clean run-out to the bottom lifts, it did really take some foresight because of the snow's heaviness meaning you needed a solid pitch to stop you just sinking into a heap.

    After a good solid couple of hours scoring fresh track after fresh track, I headed into to pick up an early lunch. While I was at the vending machine, I ran into a Canadian expat who had been living in Toyama for the last 7 years and with Charmant being his local hill. I think he was so surprised to see another foreigner here that he invited me to come ski with him and his friends for the rest of the afternoon.

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    Got to love the local knowledge, because where I thought I had done most of the runs, I was shown some amazing side runs just outside the boundaries skiiers right from the top lift that were untouched when we hit them at 2pm that afternoon. Absolutely AMAZING and such a good feeling to know exactly when you need to cut back into to the resort.

    My legs were exhausted by about 3pm and it was time to call it quits and head just down the road to freshen up with another delightful onsen.

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    Overall, this is probably one of my favourite resorts, purely for the 'free'-ness of the mountain and that it seems to always seems to get pounded when the snow rolls in off the coast. While it isn't a large resort, on a legit powder day it has all you need to keep you occupied. Great variety in the terrian, almost no ropes and has a HUGE backcountry potential if you are that way inclined. The fact that it is so isolated also means crowds are not really an issue. All ticks in my books :thumbs:.

    RATING: 9.5/10
     
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  34. Crispy013

    Crispy013 Dedicated Member

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    Resort # 6
    Name: Madarao / Tangram
    Conditions: Snow showers/flurries (~10cm overnight)
    Gaijin count: Moderate

    After a successful outing the previous day at Charmant, it was next up to test out a mountain I've been wanting to hit for a couple of years now. After hearing great reviews on this forum and understanding that the resort was actively encouraging and cutting tree runs within its boundaries gave me some great expectations.

    It was a fairly simple 20-30 minute commute from Akakura Onsen (only 19km away!!!) down past Myoko Kogen station and up to the Madarao plain. Coming from Myoko I actually passed around Tangram to the other side of the mountain and pulled into carpark 8 which I didn't realise at the time but was perfect to hit the main lifts that went to the peak. A quick exchange to pick up my all mountain pass for both Madarao and Tangram and I was off up the main super quad lift.

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    The day itself was fairly overcast and there were intermittent snow showers/flurries up higher, along with the dastardly fog which made the first couple of runs in the morning up high very difficult to judge various terrain features.

    After a couple of runs skiiers right off the main quad where I found some very nice boot deep powder just sitting off the groomed runs, I started to have a little play in the many small valleys that run under the main quad. A little sneaky traversing and dropping into the Riverline course I found some pretty delicious untouched powder to get the day off to a good start.

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    Next it was a little traverse skiiers right from the main quad across towards the top single lift.

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    From the very top lift, you can either take a cat track course back towards the Madarao base, or venture across adventure aisle which is a fairly narrow traverse along the ridge line with various natural tree runs lookers right down the mountain known as powdertheatre and powderwave2. Unfortunately these were 'technically' closed and my first few attempts along this track had me a bit hesitant to just drop them due to the thick fog and not knowing what (if any) terrain traps might be in there. Despite this it was probably one of the prettiest courses with the lovely snow tipped trees and delicious inviting terrain just off it. Once you head towards the main cut courses it was fairly heavily tracked and alot of sassa grass on powderwave2 due to its aspect I'm guessing.

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    After a couple hesistant and bushy runs off adventure aisle I started to have a little play around the natural crystal bowl course which I really enjoyed! It had a strawberry fields type vibe with large spaced trees and a fairly rough course and markers cut to guide you towards the exit. While the main line was fairly tracked, if you just ventured a little ways further along the ridge line there were heaps of fresh lines to find. This was probably one of my favourite areas of the Madarao side and with a bit of exploring I eventually found an amazing run right along the ridge line and dropping into Kamoshika.

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    After most of the morning on the Madarao side, I ventured over to Tangram to check it out. Unfortunately the promoted tree run courses off the No. 1 lift were roped off for the most part and pretty heavily policed. I did manage a few sneaky runs down through them and actually had some great turns in beautiful snow except, as has been for most of the trip, ALOT of exposed bushes making the route quite difficult and not very smooth. There was also some great tree runs you could make over the other side of the Tangram bowl off lift No. 4 just popping off the side of the green weaving cat track.

    It was fairly obvious that this resort was aimed at families with a huge selection of kid play areas at the base station (sledding, tobogganing, snow castle, etc) and absolutely mental in the food hall. Also a lot of learners and ski schools but they only took over the lower extents of the trails and beginner lifts.

    I don't think I really got to explore the Tangram side to its full extent partially due to the restrictions of the tree runs and low base but expect there to be countless little runs that I didn't find for those in the know. By about 3pm I was spent and finished the day off at another amazing onsen just down the road from Madarao Kogen hotel.

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    Overall, this mountain lived up to my expectations and then some. For tree runs, this is just heaven and the snow quality (while low in base) was incredible. So so so much potential here and would keep you busy for a good couple of days. The only downsides I could pick was maybe the excruciatingly slow lifts and the fact that I think the word is out and this place is quickly becoming the next big thing - HEAPS of people with Nozawa rental stickers on their skis and a lot of gaijin in the food halls.

    Note to self: I HAVE TO RETURN HERE ON A POWDER DAY.

    RATING: 9/10
     
  35. M_G

    M_G Dedicated Member
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    Nice write up and that's a great onsen to finish up at.
     
  36. Gimp

    Gimp Dedicated Member
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    Yup got me hanging for the next installment. Keep it coming Crispy
     
  37. Ramenman

    Ramenman Well-Known Member

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    I remember my Japanese powderhound friends were raving Charmant Hiuchi and ex Arai mountain & spa resort. Arai went bankrupt about 10 years ago, but a foreign mega hotel chain bought Arai last year and they will re-open the ski resort next year(or 2018). I wonder how "new Arai" will be like and I'm looking forward to skiing there.
    http://forums.ski.com.au/xf/threads/arai-mountain-and-spa.69878/
     
  38. Crispy013

    Crispy013 Dedicated Member

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    They could be onto a goldmine at Arai - I kept looking up at the area every time I drove Route 18 into Joetsu and drooling at the terrain. Pretty much right next to the shink station, and, on the expressway. Closer to the western coastline than Myoko so when the wind isn't penetrating hard it will probably fare okay. They only downside might be its aspect.
     
  39. Crispy013

    Crispy013 Dedicated Member

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    Resort # 7
    Name: Seki Onsen
    Conditions: Moderate snow throughout day (~10-15cm overnight)
    Gaijin count: Low(ish)

    Coming into my last full day in Myoko before my journey across to the Yuzawa region, I knew it was going to be now or never to experience Seki Onsen this trip. Luckily, I woke up to about 10-15cm's on the car which was SUPER light and dry. The back end of this low that swept through appeared to now be sending in some north-westerly love. As I ate breakfast it really started to pump down so things were looking good and I was just hoping that Seki might have had a sneaky little bit extra on top.

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    After finding out that the short connector road between Akakura Onsen and Seki was snowed over, I had to detour down along Route 18 and take another approach. With the lifts not scheduled to open until 9am, I rock in shortly before then and manage to find a park next behind a couple of locals. Bring it on.

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    I found this to be kind of an odd resort. Well, its not even really a resort - more just a local hill with a couple of lifts. There is pretty much is no signage for the place and no indication of any restaurants or base station facilities here. You essentially just buy your ticket at the base of the first lift which takes you part way up the mountain and then there is a single chair half-way down that then takes you up the remaining couple hundred of meters to the top.

    As 9 am rolls around, there's a group of Europeans kitted out behind me and a couple of locals in front with powder boards. I was probably one of maybe 15 people max on the mountain (including the lifties!!). God I was excited to get up there.

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    As you take the first lift up you can take the skiiers left track which has tree runs back under the lift itself or following it eventually wraps around back to the base lift station. The other track skiiers right takes you to a much wider main bowl which houses the top lift and also another runout back to the base area. If you traverse even further right under the top lift you then hit a ridge line that gives access to some fairly nice steeps of the bottom face or off the backside to a sharp valley.

    Looking ever so promising I took my first few runs in the trees right under lift. As much as I wanted them to be good with the snow that must have fallen overnight and at the rate it was pumping down currently, it was just AVERAGE at best. It felt like the base was rock hard for some weird reason even when I found fresh lines.

    After a disappointing start it was then over to the main bowl where I eventually found some nice boot deep lines in the trees just near the top lift. I also had a couple runs taking the far right ridgeline down to the bottom base area but this was quite tight and difficult in the conditions.

    As the snow continued to bucket down, the top lift eventually started running a bit after 10:30am. I was second in line and just frothing to get up higher and see what was on offer up higher.

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    After a quick-fire binding mount I took the first line down the main trail from the top lift. Similar to the trees off the bottom lift, I was expecting it to be far better than it actually was....which was some ankle deep fluff on a rock hard base. Disappointing!

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    After a couple more runs down from the top lift it was trashed in about 20 mins (even with the 10 or so people on the mountain). Next it was into the trees skiiers right from the top lift which held the snow in far better condition and had a bit of Cortina feel, albiet the trees a little tighter. As you head further right from the main cut course you eventually run down into a creek line that after some cautious exploring I eventually cut a runout through back to road. This probably held the best quality snow but was also very sketchy terrain wise because I didn't know if there were any hidden streams that might give way. I only maybe did 2-3 runs through here before my conscious got the better of me and told me to get the hell out of there.

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    Overall this was quite a hard mountain to review. It has all the ingredients for some killer runs (ungroomed, trees, steeps, etc), but I think it really needs 50cm+ to have some genuine fun in. There is probably a lot of extra terrain available too with some touring but with the conditions I couldn't really explore further than just off the main trails. Being such a small resort too means it gets smashed extra quick too. Not sure if I'd return here to be honest, but glad I've experienced it.

    RATING: 7/10
     
  40. Gimp

    Gimp Dedicated Member
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    Think you're going to have to go back to a few places. Sheet only 5 more.
     
  41. geeoff

    geeoff Active Member

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    Great TR.
    While I was at Akakura Onsen in late January heard the locals were shocked how badly Seki got smashed on a powder day......since then the bus from Onsen cancelled for season and now road not cleared. Deliberate tactics by the locals?
     
  42. M_G

    M_G Dedicated Member
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    The road is never cleared in winter as it cuts across some Akakura Onsen resort runs.

    Bus was cancelled purely because it wasn't getting enough business.

    Seki is only small, as Crispy says. Unless it's pumping it's going to get smashed, no surprises there.
     
  43. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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    There's more to Tangram than what you can see!!!! ;)
     
  44. DeskRider

    DeskRider Dedicated Member
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  45. Crispy013

    Crispy013 Dedicated Member

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    PART 3: YUZAWA/MINAKAMI (& SURROUNDS)
    After a fairly enjoyable 7 nights back in Myoko, it was sadly time to say goodbye and start my journey round to spend the final part of my trip on the other side of the mountains primarily located in Minakami, but with an overnight stay just outside Yuzawa.

    The baron which set in pretty legit yesterday looked like it was continuing to deliver the famous japow goodness that I've become accustomed to from previous trips and I was definitely pumped to get into it today. With low temps sitting in the sweet spot I decided to try out a little resort called Cupid Valley which sat nicely on the route I selected between Myoko and Yuzawa where I would spend that evening, and also a bit off the foreign radar.

    After jamming the little Nissan I was driving with all my gear, it was fairly straight-forward journey down Route 18 into and around Joetsu, before taking a right hand turn and heading back towards the mountains along Routes 253 and 403. All up it probably took a good 90 mins and the snow looked like it was finally set in and was falling heavy enough to start sticking to the pavement...excitement factor was definitely increasing!

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    Resort # 8
    Name: Cupid Valley
    Conditions: Heavy snow
    Gaijin count: Non-existant

    Cupid Valley isn't an overly huge resort with only a couple of lower lifts servicing some fairly wide groomed beginner runs and a gondora that takes you up past some quaint log cabins to the top part of the mountain where a tame cat track casually wraps around back to the base or some steeper ungroomed courses gets you to the top lift area.

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    After fumbling my way through to buy a ticket which was discounted something hardcore (I think being a weekday), I made my way over to the top gondola eager to get up high. Rock out of the gondola station into a delicious site of puking dry goodness. Finally! This was the Japan I knew. Get at me.

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    I take the ungroomed black course towards the top lift and soon realise that there is SO much potential here. And it seems like no a sole has even touched outside the main cut course. With this good warm up under my belt it was next onto the top lift which carries you over a number of short but sharp wide open valleys that sit in the middle of the trail that runs around them. Snow was really starting to pound down now. I'm talking accumulation on your lap heavy. Giggity.

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    From the top lift I head skiiers left on the main course looking for an entry into the terrain that you can see underneath you on the lift up. With the deep snow it was going to probably mean a short bootpack but I was just frothing to get at it. After slyly dodging some pretty notional keep out signs, I head up maybe 30m from the side of the course and hit a massive wide bowl just the otherside of the top lift. Take one pretty cautious run down to realise its fairly harmless...and the snow is DEEP. Yewwww!

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    Finding a clean runout back onto the groomed run and the fact that NO-ONE has touched this valley which is literally just off the main course I made a beeline back to just lap this bowl, over and over as the snow got heavier and heavier. Life is good.

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    The only downside to my time in the white room was that I snapped one of my flow binding straps mid run and had to hobble carefully back down to the base area. I tried to see if the rental store had a spare piece to let me back up into the action but unfortunately not. They were very accomdating though and let me 'borrow' a pair of rental bindings for the rest of the afternoon.

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    After a couple more hours exploring various runs off the groomed trails, I called it at about 3pm knowing I'd have a pretty treacherous journey through the mountains to Yuzawa. Not before have a quick rinse at the onsen which is just across the road from the Cupid Valley carpark and had a gorgeous outside onsen looking back over the resort. Just bliss as the snow continued to pump down.

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    Overall I highly rated this little gem of a local resort. While the elevation is fairly low (top station around 900m), its location just off the coast means its in the powder firing line when weather penetrates off the Japan Sea. While there is a fairly large portion of flat stuff around the base, there is also a a lot of interesting and short steeper terrain inbounds between courses with no crazy ravines or dodgy rivers that I encountered. Also, while I couldn't really explore due to the conditions, appeared to be heaps of potential just a short tour away and gave me a kind of Kiroro feel. Hit this place on a mid-week powder day and you will not be disappointed.

    RATING: 9.5/10

    After feeling amazing from the onsen and powder day I continued fairly cautiously through some pretty dodgy mountain roads at times towards Yuzawa. Due to the conditions it took another good 90 mins and I arrived in Ishuichi just outside Yuzawa town where I was bunking that night.

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    As I pulled into the Yuzawa region it was pounding down. In actual fact, I've never seen it snow heavier in the 6 years I've been travelling to Japan.

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    Tomorrow was going to be off the charts.
     
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  46. M_G

    M_G Dedicated Member
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    Just shared this on Facebook Crispy. Wanted to share the love! :cheers:
     
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  47. M_G

    M_G Dedicated Member
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    Some people getting inspired by it. Well done. :thumbs:
     
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  48. Crispy013

    Crispy013 Dedicated Member

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    After finding my way into my accommodation for the night which was pretty much right next to one of the lifts of the Ishuichi ski resort (Resort Inn Fujiwara), I took a quick little look around the area and then drove down into Yuzawa town itself. The best way I could describe Yuzawa would probably be the glitz and infrastructure of Tokyo which has been dumped into snow country. The valley itself is VERY narrow and within it features a shinkansen line, local rail line, expressway, local roads, houses, hotels, shops and all straddled by a crazy number of ski resorts on each side as far as the eye can see. This valley is seriously lit up like a Christmas Tree at night. As an engineer it just blew my mind how they could possibly fit everything in and make it work, but they do!

    With it still dumping something cronic in Yuzawa, it was a nightmare trying to find somewhere to park near the Yuzawa station, but I got a good feel of the town itself casually roaming the streets. A huge juxtaposition of the industrial shinkansen infrastructure against the natural mountains and streams, but for some quirky reason it seems to work.

    I also tried to track down a ski/snowboard shop that evening to see if I could buy a cheap pair of bindings to last the rest of the trip but surprising found it VERY hard to do! Everywhere I found was a rental shop and for some weird reason couldn't dare sell a pair of those basic hire bindings - "HIRE ONRY" o_O.

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    As it continued to pound down overnight, I awoke to a fairly positive image of my little Nissan partially buried again. I honestly thought more would have fallen but it must have backed off after I fell asleep. I didn't care - I had a feeling that today was going to deliver anyways.

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    Again, it was another pearler of a morning with low temps and steady light snow. My destination for today was to head down to a resort that sits behind the township of Muichamachi called Hakkaisan. In total it probably only took about 20-30 mins down along Route 17 and crossing over the Uono River up towards Route 214.

    Resort # 9
    Name: Muichamachi Hakkaisan
    Conditions: Light-moderate snow (approx 20-30cm overnight)
    Gaijin count: Low


    I pull into the base station at around 8:30am and head up to get my lift ticket for the day and see if I can hire some bindings again. Again, for some weird reason they wouldn't dare part with only the bindings so I was essentially forced to hire a complete board set for the day. They offered me a choice of which board to take and as soon as I mention powder board they get a bit coy and say "oh no, only little snow fall, not deep enough for powder". Hmm, maybe there hadn't been as much as I'd hope :confused:. Anyways, I get given a fairly run of the mill board which cost an extra Y400 to hire for the day on top of my very generous lift ticket of Y3600. Got to love Japan.

    From the base station there is a small chair that takes you up to some tame beginner courses at the base with a high speed tramway sitting just up another rise on your right. I take this bottom chair mainly to access the tramway, but also to give a little test out of the new board.

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    What I found awesome about the tramway was purely its speed, elevation and turnaround. Departures every 10 minutes - you beauty! Looking down below its very evident that this is a narrow course, with quite heavy pine trees either sides that would fit more in a Canadian resort than central Japan.

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    After rocking out of the top tramway station, the fog was back again up high so I hesitantly head skiiers right down the ungroomed black course to find knee to thigh deep goodness on the main run. Good god - that 15cm new snow report I read on the tramway up surely had to have been a mistake.

    A couple cheeky face shots to start the morning and its straight over to the Romance chair which I thought might take me higher, but soon realise it just takes you from about mid mountain back up to the other side of the top tramway.

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    Popping out of the romance lift, there is a nice steep ungroomed course right next to the lift which was good fun and hardly touched out towards the edges. There is also a zig zagging green cat track far skiiers left that you can just drop the sides through trees and end back up on the cat track when its alignment swung back around. This was quite fun, but the trees and shrubs were pretty dense so also required a bit of fore-thought.

    Heading back down from mid station its a fairly well graded open run with thick trees straddling the extents of the resort boundary, as well as gorgeous views back down the valley.

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    After a couple of runs down the obvious courses, I decide to have a little play around in between the top courses and underneath the tramway which was roped off for some unknown reason. With a little sly rope negotiating, I find there was a sort of a natural valley running down the guts of the tramway alignment, but if you stayed high on the ridge line, it was waist-high untouched powder paradise with fun little bumps and undulations. And deeeeeep...did I mention this?

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    The trees on the sides also were heaps of fun and easy enough to negotiate through.

    Fanging out under the tramway with a grinning face and coming into mid mountain, I then decided to continue down the mountain and explore a bit skiiers right into the heavy trees. What I find is an awesome little natural gully course that has heaps of pillows and bumps and eventually spits you out onto the lower course.

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    Again, this snow was almost as deep and such an awesome little find. As long as you're careful of some dodgy little drops which align to some frozen waterfalls, this is just paradise.

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    Link it with a run under the tramway and theres a good 600-800m of vertical pow. AMAZING!! I even managed to time my runs down quick enough that I was getting off the tramway at the top, bombing it down this course and making it just in time to get one going back up - now this was tiring!

    Had a late local ramen at the base station around 3pm and my body had decided it had enough for the day - I needed to make tracks back east towards Minkamani where I would be staying for the final 4 nights of my trips.

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    Overall, this resort was a standout and one of my favorites of the trip. I think what I enjoyed about it was its gradient, amazing natural terrain just off the sides of the resort, high speed tram making fast laps and that fact that it was deserted. The quality of snow was also great given its fairly low elevation at the base and less favorable aspect. Give it a clear warm day and I'd say it wouldn't be the best choice of resort to pick however. There is also a butt load of extra vertical and side country options available with the help of a guiding service which would also be a ton of fun. Not sure how public transport access goes from a base in Yuzawa, so I think a car is really needed here.

    RATING: 9.5/10

    It was then back in towards and past Yuzawa but not before dropping into a sports store in Muichamachi to pick up some basic bindings. Finally! From the Yuzawa metropolis, it was then around the mountains passing Kagura and Naeba. The route was definitely very mountainous and windy but amazing scenery all the while. It took a good probably 1.5-2 hrs before I closed in on my stay at Tenjin Lodge which was just outside Minakami Onsen and at the footholds of Tenjindaira.

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    Hello serious mountains. More to come.
     
    gmanpadre, PatMcrotch, M_G and 4 others like this.
  49. Tanuki

    Tanuki Dedicated Member
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    Superb, thanks for taking the time to share. I'm a convert to the selfie stick now; for communications purposes :)
     
  50. M_G

    M_G Dedicated Member
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    The best part of that last report? 'Fanging out'! LOL