Trip Report Crispy's Tohoku Tour

Crispy013

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Jun 6, 2010
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Following on from a pretty amazing Christmas trip with the family, I was extremely fortunate enough to get a leave pass with the wife after convincing her that I was needed as tour guide back in Japan for a couple of friends. 2 trips in one season, awesome!

This one is definitely a more focused snowboarding and pow hunting exercise. After several seasons exploring Hokkaido and Nagano/Niigata/Gunma resorts, I had always had my eyes on the Tohoku region as one to experience. So before my first kid comes along, this was probably the best opportunity to get this area under the belt, because it might be a few years before I can wrangle a trip like this again.

So the rough plan is:
3 days - Aizu/Urabandai region. Staying Urabandai Lake Resort. Eyes on:
  • Minowa
  • Nekoma
  • Tengendai Kogen
3 days - Iwate/Hachimantai region. Staying Hachimantai Minami Onsen Asahi No Yu. Contemplating:
  • Appi Kogen
  • Hachimantai Shimokura
  • Okunakayama Kogen
  • Amihari Onsen
4 days - Akita/Tazawa region. Staying Cafe & Inn That Sounds Good.
  • Tazawako
  • Ani
  • Shizukuishi
3 days - Iwate/Kitakami region. Staying Hotel Mets Kitakami.
  • Geto Kogen
  • Juenesse Kurikoma
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I want to try and keep the same flowing trip report to the last which worked pretty well - some daily updates and photos. Fingers crossed for some love from the Baron. Hopefully it's a blast.

Fly out tomorrow night. Hoping to be on the slopes Monday lunchtime.

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Crispy013

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Jun 6, 2010
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So flight over went super smoothly. Domestic from Port Macquarie to Sydney through our new airport re-do and then a couple of hours in Sydney before QF25 into Haneda.

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Honestly, after going direct to Japan I am a convert big time. Felt like I watched a couple of episodes of TV, quick dinner and then out for the count. Up for a quick breakfast (thank you Qantas for doing cereal), then all of a sudden it was arrival time. So easy!

Landed in Haneda airport just past 5am, and it took a good hour to get through customs and baggage. Pulled out some cash and then over to the line up for the JR East office to sort my Tohoku pass out. Unfortunately it didn’t open until 6:45, so just had to wait it out. Once it was organised, it was onto the monorail, then Yamanote line to Tokyo station. Everything went pretty smoothly, even being peak hour.

It was then the 8:48 Yamabiko service heading north to Fukushima station.

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Rail pass worked a treat and I was able to sort reserved seats for the journey. Was maybe half full on the journey north.

Pulled into Fukushima just before 10:30 and then a 10min walk up to the Times Car Rental outlet to pick my wheels up for the next 2 days.

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Managed to snare an AWD Subaru for about Y6000 per day. From downtown Fukushima, I set the coordinates for Grandeco ski resort, which I thought might have a bit on offer. Took about 1 hour to get there and I pulled into a fairly deserted car park to sunshine.

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Vibe was good looking up towards the higher lifts and peak area behind. I sort a half day pass and then straight up the gondola. Visually, the snow looked pretty good.

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From the top of the gondola I notice the top lift lookers left wasn’t operating today, so I head lookers right towards the other top lift which takes you to the top of the resort.

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It all looked half decent up here, but that was where it ended. I do both runs down from the top and notice death cookies and sun affected snow everywhere. Nothing in the trees was achievable either - just too dense and low base.

I think the whole aspect of the resort facing south just smashes the snow quality. The gradient is also pretty undesirable for advanced riders. Some ok pitches up high and down low, but in between is fairly unexciting. Cool views over towards Mt Bandai and Nekoma though.

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It just wasn’t the day for this place unfortunately. If you like long, wide and flat groomers, this is where this place shines.

After a couple of hours, I decide to pack it in. Back down the hill towards my accommodation and I notice a trail towards the Fudo waterfall. Decide to give it a crack. Beautiful afternoon sunshine made the walk very picturesque.

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Accommodation for the next 2 nights is at Urabandai Lake Resort. I pulled in and wow, this place is ENORMOUS.

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Place comes with free access to their Onsen which I have to say is probably the best one I have ever visited. Huge indoor pools and even outdoor one overlooking the lake. Superb.

Some snow on the way tonight and tomorrow so hopefully that freshens up the place.
 

bluestick

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Looking forward to your report. Doing something similar early March although still tossing up hokkaido. I have a real soft spot for tohoku, so many quite spots. Hope you get good snow.
 

Crispy013

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Day 2. Started with the included buffet breakfast, which I thought I headed down just after 7am opening, but wow, very busy. Also, pretty impressive spread - maybe 60:40 Japanese to Western offering. Good variety.

Headed outside and there was some blizzard like conditions in the car park. Didn’t look like much had fallen judging from my hotel window, but car o meter registered maybe 5cm.

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From Urabandai Lake Resort I head back towards Fukushima to test out Minowa today. Maybe a 30min car ride. All fairly easy driving. Pull into the car park just after 8:30 and maybe a dozen cars. Oh and the army personnel followed me in.

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Straight into the main building and organise my lift ticket. Over to the bottom quad chair and what I see looks pretty damn good. Some decent pitched runs and maybe 15-20cm judging from some of the early lines.

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This lift takes you pretty much to the top of the resort far left side, but it mellows out towards the top. I cut a few quick laps down the main runs in nice soft buttery snow. The wind however had blown these waves into the snow which was fun to bump off.

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Next it was over to otherside of the resort to hopefully get higher. I get down low and notice that unfortunately it was ski school central and the top lift right side wasn’t in action. Bugger. There was some nice powder stashes on some of the steeper connector courses that the beginners couldn’t get at.

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Anyways, after a quick morning break I decide to take the lift up as high as I could get and then just hike up to see what I could get at. The wind was pretty brutal, so unfortunately the earn your turns gamble didn’t really pay off. But the scenery was beautiful - very cool sight of the snowed over pine trees. Not quite full Juhyo just yet.

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Didn’t make it all the way to the top as the wind and deep snow made it very tiresome. Unfortunately, the journey back down wasn’t that great either. I kind of ventured too far right and then got stuck trying to navigate my way back towards the resort. Some nice turns down lower in the trees, but just too much veg to get any real momentum.

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Finally made it back to an abandoned ski lift beside Minowa resort and then skated down the road back to the base station for a well earned late lunch. Was a bit odd as I was the only patron in the lunch hall. Y1400 Katsu curry went down a treat.

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By the end of lunch my day was done. Snow seemed to have cleared and surprisingly more people seemed to have appeared on the slopes.

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Overall a pretty cool resort. Just a shame about the top lifts which would have really given the place a bit more variety for the day.

Back to the hotel and another amazing house onsen to end the day. Feeling a bit spent. The hike knocked me around I think.

Tomorrow is moving day towards Appi/Hachimantai. Original plan was to do Tengendai Kogen in the morning, but freeze level now sitting at 1900m. So could just be a cruisy travel day if it is going to be wet out there. Let’s reassess in the morning.
 

MadPow

Hard Yards
Mar 13, 2017
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why don’t you hit nekoma for an early session. it’s 15 minutes from your hotel has good north aspect and decent base elevation. Would be the pick of resorts in Aizui. We has good stuff there over a week ago.
 

MadPow

Hard Yards
Mar 13, 2017
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google maps has it as an 8 minute drive from your hotel. Defiantly worth a drive in morning to see what’s going on. even if raining at hotel, may be snow there. hopefully snowing for you in morning.
 

nanami_JS

Hard Yards
Feb 20, 2019
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Day 2. Started with the included buffet breakfast, which I thought I headed down just after 7am opening, but wow, very busy. Also, pretty impressive spread - maybe 60:40 Japanese to Western offering. Good variety.

Headed outside and there was some blizzard like conditions in the car park. Didn’t look like much had fallen judging from my hotel window, but car o meter registered maybe 5cm.

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From Urabandai Lake Resort I head back towards Fukushima to test out Minowa today. Maybe a 30min car ride. All fairly easy driving. Pull into the car park just after 8:30 and maybe a dozen cars. Oh and the army personnel followed me in.

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Straight into the main building and organise my lift ticket. Over to the bottom quad chair and what I see looks pretty damn good. Some decent pitched runs and maybe 15-20cm judging from some of the early lines.

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This lift takes you pretty much to the top of the resort far left side, but it mellows out towards the top. I cut a few quick laps down the main runs in nice soft buttery snow. The wind however had blown these waves into the snow which was fun to bump off.

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Next it was over to otherside of the resort to hopefully get higher. I get down low and notice that unfortunately it was ski school central and the top lift right side wasn’t in action. Bugger. There was some nice powder stashes on some of the steeper connector courses that the beginners couldn’t get at.

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Anyways, after a quick morning break I decide to take the lift up as high as I could get and then just hike up to see what I could get at. The wind was pretty brutal, so unfortunately the earn your turns gamble didn’t really pay off. But the scenery was beautiful - very cool sight of the snowed over pine trees. Not quite full Juhyo just yet.

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Didn’t make it all the way to the top as the wind and deep snow made it very tiresome. Unfortunately, the journey back down wasn’t that great either. I kind of ventured too far right and then got stuck trying to navigate my way back towards the resort. Some nice turns down lower in the trees, but just too much veg to get any real momentum.

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Finally made it back to an abandoned ski lift beside Minowa resort and then skated down the road back to the base station for a well earned late lunch. Was a bit odd as I was the only patron in the lunch hall. Y1400 Katsu curry went down a treat.

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By the end of lunch my day was done. Snow seemed to have cleared and surprisingly more people seemed to have appeared on the slopes.

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Overall a pretty cool resort. Just a shame about the top lifts which would have really given the place a bit more variety for the day.

Back to the hotel and another amazing house onsen to end the day. Feeling a bit spent. The hike knocked me around I think.

Tomorrow is moving day towards Appi/Hachimantai. Original plan was to do Tengendai Kogen in the morning, but freeze level now sitting at 1900m. So could just be a cruisy travel day if it is going to be wet out there. Let’s reassess in the morning.

We were at Minowa just last week! We saw those army dudes too. Some were pros, some less so. Chairlift A will take you to the top of the mountain but prolly only opens on the weekend. Even if it opens, the two black runs from the top of the mountain are probably still close due to the lack of snow. We sneaked in (sorry...), the black run close to the chairlift A was okay but the other black run hardly had any snow, hubby's board was scratched.

Looking forward to your next update! Appi / Geto are on my list for next season.
 
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Crispy013

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Jun 6, 2010
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So finally arrived back in Australia. Trip was amazing. Unfortunately due to a cancelled domestic leg with crazy sideways rain, I’ve got 8hrs to kill in the Q club. Perfect opportunity to catch up on this trip report. Here goes nothing.
 

Crispy013

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Jun 6, 2010
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Day 3. Check out from Urabandai Lake Resort and with another check of freeze levels and precip, it looked like I might score with upper lifts at Tengendai Kogen. Moderate rain and 2deg mizzle at Urabandai turned to heavy rain as I tracked clockwise around the mountains to the base ropeway station. As I pull in, the final 500m it turned to dumping snow. Today just might surprise.

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I was at the base ropeway station fairly early and rode the first car up with a lot of the lift operators. Was beautiful and snowy heading up, before heavy winds confronted me on top. The high winds and snowfall made opening of the lifts a bit delayed, but by about 9am I was on the first lift to get up higher.

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This is a fairly odd resort, a series of 3 connecting lifts that basically take you along a spine of the mountain. It’s fairly mellow, wide open runs with some sneaky side courses cut behind the heavy side veg. I take a few early runs down, going wide and finding about 10cm of pretty heavy and wind affected snow. Still a bit of fun to get warmed up in.

Finally the top lift opens to what looks like the black marked runs, so I get on this to get up to the top of the resort. Again, another disappointment with a lot of the lift just traverses very mellow runs. It wasn’t until the very end that it gave any beneficial elevation. Still very pretty with the snow covered pine trees lining most of the lift.

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Up top, the main run peels back down under the lift with a short steeper pitch run before a longgg run out back to the start. Very underwhelming.

The snow kept coming down so I decided to have a play around on the top lift and found another trail with a small little hike that had a bit more veg still exposed. This was much better as it had little bumps and jumps to keep the run interesting.

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Once I had explored most of the obvious courses and routes it was back to base station as I think this place probably shines more as a BC access spot.

The winding CAT track back down to the base ropeway station was a bit of fun though and very picturesque. Snow definitely getting super heavy the lower you got.

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Back to the car, before I had to get changed and unpack the board. Drive back to Fukushima station was a little testing with the heavy snow set in, but easily achievable in just over an hour.

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Dropped car back and got a free lift back to the station as it was pouring rain and 8C in town. Shinkansen north to Morioka to pick up another car and meet up with my 2 buddies to continue our adventures in Hachimantai for the next 3 nights.

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Crispy013

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Day 4. The heavy rain seems to have abated from Fukushima and it was a little bit cooler in Morioka. There was light rain down at accommodation level, but checking freeze levels it was likely snowing on the resorts.

We awoke to a clearing storm and decided to head to Hachimantai Shimokura today as it had some good vertical and elevation. From our place it was about a 20min drive and the snow banks seemed to increase substantially as we got closer to the base of the resort. Pull into a beautiful looking morning with a dozen cars. Too good to be true!

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We buy our lift passes and also get our tree riding arm band. Lifts delayed opening until 9am because of snow removal. Good signs!

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This was another classic Japanese style lift set-up with 3 lifts required to snake you to the top of the resort. Very pretty with the overnight snow lining the trees. Also very interesting to see how close the trees have been left to the lift. Was clipping them multiple times - bit weird.

Still, we finally reach the upper part of the mountain and get some sneaky face shots off the side of the groomers to get the day rolling. Maybe 20cm fresh. A little heavy, but powder nonetheless.

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We finally make it to the top lift and the scenery was jaw dropping gorgeous. The first couple of runs back down the ungroomed black was super fun before it got tracked out slowly.

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After a couple tracks down the steeper sections, it was over into the marked tree runs. I was expecting something special, but unfortunately the heavy snow made the top run almost impossible. Just far too flat. Again, super pretty, but just lacked constant pitch.

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Finally, we make it into some unofficial tree courses between the upper runs which were far superior. Nice spacing and good fall line. Snow a little bit more protected, but got super heavy very quickly.

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We call it quits at about 1pm as the temps had soared and snow was getting far too much work to get through. Still, an excellent morning and I’m glad to have ticked this mountain off. Tree skiing was incredible. Do rate.
 

Crispy013

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Day 5. We were a bit worried, because today was our scheduled CAT tour, but how quickly the temperatures soared the previous day and the forecast of 65km/h+ winds didn't really give us a much confidence. After some convincing of the crew, I was able to twist the arm of one party member to join me today. We head round near the base of Hachimantai Shimokura to Club Lodgeman who would be operating the tour today.

After an awkward wait in their lodge, we finally get our BC gear and then load into their van to get going. We were the only 2 on the tour today, so basically a private guided day! They take us up the Hachimantai Aspite Line road, which slowly weaved up to an upper plateau in the mountains. As we arrive at the little base hut that they operate out of, the sun came out and the scenery was spectacular.

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Finally we load into the CAT and start to slowly snake our way up what was apparently an abandoned resort. A couple of groups skinning up the CAT track, which I felt kind of slack just cruising past them in our comfy cabin.

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First run was a bit of a warm up. Up very high was kind of mellow, and we just used it to weave in and out of exposed sassa grass, getting a feel for the snow. It was pretty wind affected, but actually still fairly light.

Once through the top half, it was onto the main black face which was where the fun was. After the lead went down to test, we all got our turn at cutting some turns. It was pretty nice, but some aspects definitely heavier than others, so took a bit of concentration not to dig in and get an edge caught.

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We manage a couple more variations from the top and slowly move to different sides of the main black face. All pretty fun. The sun being out and winds less than forecast was definitely a bonus.

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Given there was only 2 of us in the group, we were able to get in quite a few laps. It also meant there wasn't really much competition for fresh lines. After lunch, we head back up to the top and the tour guides take us to their secret face. Ooooo. After cutting across through some trees, finally we reach the top of a moderate sized bowl. After it is tested for safety again, we both get probably the best lines of the day down this run. Super smooth and protected snow. Just beautiful.

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Unfortunately a short boot pack back out to the main run again but definitely worth it. I think we must have wrangled at least 10+ laps over the day, so value for money was achieved. Finally call it quits about 3pm before the winds started to ramp up. Perfect timing.

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Was a good day. Do recommend. This was the CAT + Ride tour, and after talking to the host, they do CAT + hike tours where you get much longer runs over closer to Mt Chausu. Then there is a full on BC tour. I need to come backkkkk.
 

Crispy013

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Jun 6, 2010
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Day 6. Another transfer day with accommodation set for the other side of the Hachimantai mountain range on Lake Tazawa. We load the car and head back down the expressway towards Morioka, before turning off for the southern side of Mt Iwate. Today was it was Amihari Onsen's turn to be tested out.

Not much had fallen overnight and we were starting to get worried that the snow machine was terribly broken. Finally as we get up to the car park of Amihari, very light flakes seamed to be falling. This was one of those resorts that looks pretty compact on the trail maps, but actually punches a bit above its weight.

We manage our 4 hour lift tickets and then start the journey to the top. Again - 3 lift special! We were there quite early in the day, so the upper lifts were still getting going and as soon as we do a run down from the second lift, we all had a terrible feeling about today. So so so icy. I'm guessing being southern facing, the whole of the mountain got roasted on the previous clear day and now with temps dropping, it was sheet ice. Eek.

Finally the top lifts get rolling and we manage to get up high. All looked fairly inviting and mixture of trees did look interesting to play around in. Not overly steep, but good spacing. From the top lift we traverse skiiers right along a fairly mellow track before dropping back through the tress for a little play.

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Inside the trees was actually really nice snow which was super surprising. Probably boot deep but heaps of fun to charge through and weave between trees. There were a couple creek lines to negotiate, but pretty easy to avoid. Fortunately the fall line was perfect to spit you back out at the bottom of the top lift.

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After a couple courses skiiers right, it was then skiiers left to the resort boundary to see what was happening over this side. There was a few warning signs, but no real fencing so we track as far left as we can before realising there was a HUGE cornice into an enormous crater like canyon. Heaps of steam coming from a series of femuroles. Pretty impressive.

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Well this was definitely the resort boundary, so we traverse hard down this edge into some really nicely spaced trees. There were untouched and we get some really epic turns. Unfortunately, as the trees opened up even more we finally hit the freeze level from past days and it got super gluggy. A real shame, because there is probably some of the longest, most consistent tree fall line I have ever experienced in Japan. This place was be mind blowing on a full on pow day.

After returning back to the top lift again, we unfortunately got a warning card come out from ski patrol. I think they must of watched up go close to the cornice edge of resort, so fair enough. This also meant we were tagged hard by patrol for the next couple of runs.

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After staying pretty close to the trails, we finally head far skiiers right onto a winding green track. Cutting in, there was some fantastic turns to be had before it spat you out onto the lower returning track. The snow was even better over this side.

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I manage to lose the other two and notice far skiiers right a little track heading out of the resort with a few tracks. I read the terrain and it looks like it would feed back into the lower part of the resort so I go for a little explore. After a couple of undulations, the valley opens up to again some of the best spaced and graded trees. Almost better than the other side of the resort.

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I traverse slowly back left towards the resort and pop back in with heaps of vert left to the bottom lift. Too good to be true! It was back up top and I repeat the same run with clean beautiful lines. No creek lines, nothing. Just amazing.

Finally around 2pm it was back to the bottom station and into the restaurant for lunch. Managed to pair back up with my group and down a fabulous Y800 ramen. Winner.

This was a real surprising resort. At first, I wasn't convinced, but as the day went on and I found incredible tree runs, I really started to enjoy this place a lot. Even on a pretty mellow day, snow wise, it was heaps of fun. I must return on a legit day. Crowds also non-existent. I hope too that the warning we got was just about the sketchy area we went near and not an attitude of strictness for riding trees at this place.

After a late lunch it was back down the mountain and through the range to the Akita prefecture. I had in my head that being on the western side this place would be caked in snow, but it was vastly different. There was absolutely nothing as we made out way near Tazawako. Actually looked fairly run down.

But we pulled into our accommodation which was right on the lake. Very beautiful scenery. Ready for the next 4 days and praying for some snow to arrive.

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Ramenman

A Local
Mar 3, 2014
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About Y28,000. Pretty good value.

Did you stay at Lodge Clubman? Or, you just happened to find their CAT tour at "Powder Station" of Shimokura ski resort?

They offer you reasonable BC tours if you stay at the lodge.
 

Crispy013

One of Us
Jun 6, 2010
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Port Macquarie, NSW
Did you stay at Lodge Clubman? Or, you just happened to find their CAT tour at "Powder Station" of Shimokura ski resort?

They offer you reasonable BC tours if you stay at the lodge.
I found them and booked it online. Might have been one of your posts. The lodge looks cool. Maybe next time we might stay there and do one of the more adventurous tours.
 

Crispy013

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Jun 6, 2010
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Port Macquarie, NSW
Day 7. The prayers for snow continued, and as we kept keen eyes on the radars, it looked like we were in a black hole with precipitation north and south of our location. Looking outside, it didn't look like much had eventuated overnight.

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After weighing up the options, I convince the group that we should probably chase the snow which was slamming the range to the south. Yokote town station seems to have picked up 15cm since midnight, so that was the target today. We set course for a bit of mystery card, being Juenesse Kurikoma.

From Lake Tazawa it is a bit of a mission and we had to drive on pretty much rural back roads to get there. Took maybe 2 hours in total. But as we near the resort the snow banks increase and fresh snow is very evident. Pulling into the car park, it was actually a bit busy, but it was a Sunday, so fair enough. We pick up our 4 hour pass again and then straight onto the main lift right hand side of the resort. Sun was popping out and there looked like some decent powder around!

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The main lift takes you up pretty high and gives access to the main front face. There are 2 cut runs down both sides of the lift, but either side was beautiful boot deep and light powder. We start the day with a couple of fantastic lines popping in and out of the trail edges.

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After a few warm-up laps, its over to the top lift, which my god, runs straight up a legit 40 deg black run. Juuuust not enough snow to cover the top ridge, but people were sneaking lines down it. Some quality and interesting terrain that looks more like Canada than Japan.

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Heading up the top lift, there was ample areas off the groomed areas to sample some quality snow. It was beautiful and light and felt proper cold which was a drastic surprise to the last couple of days.

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This place is also very relaxed with ropes, etc. Pretty much 2 bamboo sticks crossed together for the notional "Keep Out", but its a general free for all. We explored through a number of trees and between courses quite easily. A few dodgy gullies to avoid getting caught in, but generally most routes we took funneled us out to the resort.

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Some very pretty trees up top too. Nozawa-esque.

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The one thing we did notice on arrival was that the secondary main lift on the far left side of the resort was not in operation today. After sizing up the walk out, we cut hard skiiers right to have a play on this side of the mountain. What we found was some really enjoyable cruising powder turns.

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Basically, fresh tracks and the walk out back to main operating lift was 5 mins. Winning. We do a couple laps of this before it gets too baked in the sun.

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After hitting the obvious courses, I have a little look around the edges to see what else might be on offer. There was a bit of a skyline course skiiers right that gave you a little bit more vert into the resort, but a bit of a flat skate to get to the pitch.

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We pull in at the end of our 4 hours to the base hall and get a crazy sized curry for about Y900. Looks like we were the only customers at this restuarant, so I think we got given extra sized servings. A good way to the end what was a very surprising day.

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Really, really enjoyed this place. This is the kind of resorts I like finding and riding. Good variety, decent facilities and lifts + snow was on point. Despite being a Sunday and apparent crowds around, this was not even a concern with the areas we were riding. And only about 1 hour from Kitakami, so potential option other than Geto.

Drive back to Lake Tazawa was testing, but we were content with the gamble and hoping that the incoming heavy snow over the next couple of days actually eventuates.
 

Froff Life

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Looks like a fantastic day Crispy, your gamble to chase the best snow certainly paid off! Out of curiosity, what do you use to track weather/snow conditions?
 

Crispy013

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Day 8. After a pretty successful gamble yesterday at Juenesse, we decided today was to be an easy one on the driving front, so it was up to Tazawako to give it a go. From our accommodation on the lake, it was a very easy 15 min drive up the hill.

Finally, the cold weather seemed to have arrived and from our read of the forecast it was expected to hit this area about 11am and pump for the next couple of days. We decide on a late start and get there just after 10am and go for the 5hr pass to hopefully get some turns in the afternoon after a couple hours of dumpage.

Even pulling in quite late in the context of ski days, we managed to be about 2 row from the main building. These crowds (or lack thereof) in Tohoku were still blowing my mind.

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Ever so lightly, the fine snow started turning heavier as we geared up and got on the main gondola to get up high. Judging by the hooded quads, this place apparently gets a bit of weather, so these were a god send.

The main quad takes you pretty much 75% of the way up, with an extra open double taking you to the peak of the resort. This wasn't operating today, we just played around the main runs to get a feel for the place.

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Overall, we we found was very encouraging. Pretty decent elevation, good pitch (apart from a tiny flat spot just near the lower 3rd of the runs) and what seemed like some decent trees just off to the sides. Most of the trees between groomed runs were also well spaced and hardly touched. Me likely.

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Once we sussed the main trails skiiers left, it was over to the courses skiier right from this main lift. This took you down to a pretty wide and open area that reminded me of Myoko Suginohara. Pretty mellow and more of a beginners area. There were some alright trees worth exploring far skiiers right, but the terrain started to fall away from the resort so didn't go too far this way.

Again, another hooded quad over this side to get you pretty much back to the level of the main quad.

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Down for lunch in the main hall, which was pretty impressive. Great selection of offerings and decent pricing. I spotted a couple of westerners in the complex, so it was fairly obvious that Tazawako wasn't as off the radar as Juenesse the previous day. Still, we're taking maybe 2 groups over about 200 people.

After consuming a brilliant ramen, we notice the commencement of Lord Dumpenhausen outside. This was 30mins over lunch.

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Visibility was starting to get socked in, so we explored a bit harder into the trees skiier left. Again, pretty awesome spread to get good momentum. Also found a track through to the ungroomed black run that runs from the peak chair as a bit of a scoping excercise for when they opened it.

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Overall, a pretty good day. The mountain was a solid size and we had eyed a couple of a areas that we'd like to try again the following day after another 12-18hrs of good snowfall. Car-o-meter agreed.

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After clearing the car and a quick pitstop at Lawsons for customary fried chicken and biru, we decide to take a little scenic stop along the edge of Lake Tazawa to check out the famous torii gate. Somewhat Miyajima like, but probably prettier because of the snow.

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We get back to the lodge and bunker down for a bit of an incoming and strengthening snow storm. Hoping tomorrow delivers.

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Crispy013

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Day 9. Finally, this was more of the Japan I'm used to. I awake quite early for a peak outside the window and it looked like a bit of a clearing patch in the weather, but definitely some more coverage on the ground.

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We head outside and decide on another trip up to Tazawako in the hopes that the top lift area would get running after being shut the previous day. Maybe 5-10cm on the car.

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Straight up the hill and yesterday's scoping mission meant we were ready to do a few laps of the main lift before high tailing it for first runs on the upper lift when it got ready to move at 9am.

There was some surprisingly fantastic pockets of powder just off the main groomers. So good!

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Finally, 1 or 2 laps then over to the top lift.

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As we head high, the untouched snow covered trees looked outrageous. Get me in there.

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We were about the 4th people up top and quickly strapped in to peel hard skiiers left towards the ungroomed black run. The wide run meant that it was clean lines down for all of us. Some pretty awesome face shots and whooping to get the morning off to a good start.

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After hitting the obvious course, we just had to give the top lift line run a go. Very enjoyable too and as soon as we laid tracks, it was a free for all by the rest playing around the top lift.

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The edge of courses was also filled in slightly more than the previous day. A lot of fun just jibbing and pumping off the natural rolling terrain.

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As the morning went on, so did the snowfall. Just a bit of upper fog to keep you on your toes. But the edge of runs with the tree line to give focus were hardly touched anywhere, so we made the most of it.

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Finally with the obvious courses hit, we start heading wide into the trees. And boy, were these fun.

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Then out of no where, the clouds part and sun shines in. Beautiful views back over Lake Tazawa.

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Out from lunch to proper blue bird!

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A top day. Bit of everything and heaps of fun. Drive back down with a quick stop to take in the impressive mountain.

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More heavy snow predicted overnight. Stay tuned!
 

Crispy013

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Day 10. A transfer day, but with what seemed like another more impressive overnight dump, we decided to stay local again and set course for Tazawako.

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The packing of the car was a bit of mission with the continuing moderate snow, but there are worst things in life. We were just itching to get back up to see how much more had filled in on the hill.

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The 15 minute drive up the hill was still hard to get used to and we were there pretty early. Maybe 8:00, but the ticket office didn't open until 8:30 (sharp) so we just line up patiently behind a group of about 6 other Aussies/NZ who were pretty keen to get at it too.

Just a 5 hr ticket today as we had to make tracks back down south to our accommodation in Kitakami for the final days of the trip.

Finally as the visibility probably got worse and the snowfall increased, we managed to get onto the hooded quad to get up high.

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Yesterday's tracks still just visible, but pretty much a technical reset. As the top lift again wasn't to open for another 30mins, we peel off to give the side courses a hit. Unfortunately the group we met in the ticket line were first off the quad and bee-lined it for the exact same spot. Still though, we're talking 5 people and there was plenty still to be had.

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Finally, the top lift opens and we're 2nd in line. Happy days and the snowfall continues.

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The heavy snow and fog line kept visibility pretty low. We all set off lookers left towards the ungroomed black run, but somehow I mistake the tree lines and cut right too early back towards the bottom of the top lift. Pretty enjoyable light powder. Trees were your friend today.

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I loose the other two as they went wide, but I decide to head back up the top lift and snake the first line under the lift. Too good not to.

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Soon, every man and their dog was tracking this out, so the decision to go early was worth it. It definitely felt a little busier today and alot more groups poaching the lines than the previous day.


Seemed like the vis was getting slightly better as the morning progressed, but on slope fashion was still a bit iffy.

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I manage to cross paths with my group later in the day and with the obvious spots hit, we decide to head wider into the trees on the edge of the resort that we scoped on the previous days. I think we were becoming snobs even though there was plenty of powder on the main runs.

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Anyways, off into the trees and these were fantastic as always. In general, a little tight at Tazawako, but still fun.

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Finally, we head in for a late lunch and as we call it for the day to start our trip back to the Iwate prefecture, the sun beautifully appears again over the majestic Tazawako resort.

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Really enjoyed Tazawako. It reminded me of potentially what Niseko was 20 years ago. Good variety and facilities. The adjoining backcountry options look incredible. Unfortunately the variable weather probably makes it difficult to explore quite as easily as Niseko. Big potential for this place if they wanted to expand.

It was then back over the mountain pass and onto the expressway heading south to Kitakami. We had the final 3 nights in the city with the hopes of hitting Geto.

Headed out to town for an okonomiyaki dinner. This was interesting trying to order and read cooking instructions without any english, but we prevailed.

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Fat flakes at town level in Kitakami greeted us as we finished dinner. Tomorrow was set for another good one.
 

Crispy013

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Day 11. This was it. Those days you all hope for....or so you think. The heavy snow we experienced during dinner seemed to have eased up slightly in Kitakami, but reading the facebook update from Geto, they report 60-80cm!!! My my my. Looking out the window, it looked pretty dreary and snowy.

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The benefit of our accommodation in Kitkami was that it had underground parking, so no dig out required today. The downside however was the slow crawl through the city extents to get out towards Geto Kogen. Just standard morning commuter traffic that took a good 20mins to get through. But once we get to the western side of the city, its pretty smooth sailing up the valley for another 20mins or so.

The last 5km as you wind up to the resort was pretty hectic. Blizzard style winds and deep snow banks. Some very cautious drivers ahead of us riding right down the middle of the road and not letting anyone pass, except for the snow removal equipment. Big machines always win! Anyways, finally pull in and the coverage over some of the cars left out overnight was very impressive.

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We manage to get into what feels like an Antarctic weather station chamber and follow the long corridors towards the main hub of the place. The infrastructure here was pretty impressive and nothing that I've ever seen in Japan before. Surprising too, not that many westerners and a lot of Japanese clientele.

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After sorting the ticket, we jump in line for the main gondola. Understandably, with a now reported 60-80cm on groomed runs + 1m or more in the trees, the trees were off limits today. There was also a bit of a delay in getting the gondola running, but nothing too extreme. We were maybe 15 people back in line.

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As we make it up top and try to read the trail map we notice that the steeper runs lookers left of the mountain were still being checked, so everyone had to funnel down the main run for the time being.

When we pull out of the top gondola station it was absolute and utter carnage. Everyone seemed to be having a crack at cutting a trail to the steeper sections of the main red run, but everyone was failing big time. This was one of those times where being about 15th paid dividends and I was able to use the initial tracks and then get enough momentum to find some pitch.

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The snow was maybe boot to knee deep, so the flat green sections were tough, but slowly as it increased in steepness, you could lean back and let the snow wash over you. No doubt, it was tough going. But pretty fun being able to ride waist to armpit deep on the main run.

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At the bottom I find a spot that wouldn't bury me and catch my mates coming down. Outrageous conditions.


At the bottom, we realise today was going to be a slog and a half. Probably too much snow to really have fun with, as every line had to be calculated so you wouldn't get bogged. But, we get back up top again to find the connecting top trail which runs along the ridge line was open so we carefully traverse this.

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All of the tree runs were closed, so we keep traversing until we think we find a black or red run. This place was pretty deceptive, because the runs are all called A-1, A-2...B-1,B-2...etc. And all looking fairly similar with no real signage, it was pretty easy to go the wrong turn. But we do find the steeper run and have fun cutting first lines down.

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Over this side of the mountain, there was another chairlift, but it was still getting moving so my mates peel back along the base of the mountain towards the main gondola. I wait it out and catch the lift up to do a couple more of the steeper runs on this side.

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Although the elevation drop at this place wasn't great, there did seemed to be some good variety and trees on offer. The immense snow though meant there was no real chance of exploring today too far beyond the main runs. I slowly hit each of the steeper runs, but they eventually become a bit monotonous.

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Surprisingly, the powder was getting tracked pretty quickly here. After a quick coffee break, the sun appears briefly and I decide to then test a tree run out that had just been opened.

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It was pretty fun, but also very mentally tiring to keep momentum and avoid any creek lines. Probably not quite worth the effort today, but good to see what was on offer here.

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Exhausted, I head back to the main building for a late lunch and bump into my mates. Food here was pretty good too. We call it quits at about 2pm and head back down the mountain to Kitakami.

Overall, I think I enjoyed Geto, but the crazy crazy amount of snow probably hindered the ability to really explore and take in the mountain properly. Yes, this place gets mega snow, but it does have some frustrating set-ups with long flat traverses at the top and bottom of the mountain. There was a second gondola which probably would have helped, but I think it only runs on weekends. The elevation drop too wasn't that spectacular, so the runs can quickly get tiresome. Glad to have done it, but would pick my day when to return.

Back down in Kitakami, the sun came out and I got the opportunity to get a little run in by the river. Very scenic part of the world.

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It appeared that the snowfall from the past couple of days was abating, and after today, I was just happy for a clear day to end our trip on. Final day of riding tomorrow.
 

teletripper

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Another great trip report Crispy013. Much enjoyed. Just what the epidemiologist ordered in these times of lockdown. Don’t keep us in suspense and fill us in on the ending. Thanks!
 
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Crispy013

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Day 12. The final full day on the slopes for the trip, and my body was starting to feel it. After the last 4 or so days of non-stop powder, an easier clear day was definitely in order. The decision for our final hill was pretty hard, but after umm-ing and ahh-ing we did a scissor-paper-rocks between Shizuikuishi and Appi Kogen. The winner being Shizuikuishi.

So we set sail up the expressway and made it to the base ropeway of Shizukuishi just past 9am. Sun was finally out and I didn't have too much hope for fresh tracks today, but taking it more as an exploration of a new hill. We load onto the ropeway, which similar to Kagura, just takes you up a little ridge before spitting you onto a series of slow chairlifts over pretty mild terrain.

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Down low, this place was super super flat and I had a bad feeling that this was a sprawling beginners mountain. After looking over the trail map, we continue on another lift that would get us up to the top part of the mountain where the steeper terrain was kept.

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Finally, we strap into the top lift and eventually get some proper elevation. At the top station, which wasn't at the top of the mountain, there appeared to be some disused gondola poles for an old line that used to run far higher. Anyways, it was enough vert to warm up the legs and we head lookers right to test this side out.

Straight away I notice all the terrain under the top lift in pristine condition and not a sole had touched it. I duck into the trees and just easily scope it out. What I found was beautiful silky snow and some perfectly spaced trees to carve and play around.

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Unfortunately I veer a bit too ambitiously into a creekline and had a small bootpack out. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable first run.

Back up the same lift and we head lookers left now and traverse back under the lift line. This side had the better sheltered snow and as long as you kept out of the creek line, it was some amazing tree runs. And at 11am, completely untouched.

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Back up top again and we then decide to scope out the far lookers left trails that take you down to another base area. Again, it felt so odd to find, literally right on the main runs, completely untouched boot deep powder. Seriously, did they forget to open this resort yesterday?

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Further down, we find cool little runners off the edge of the groomed runs. Then right down low, the snow was actually still really good, although a bit more chopped up. Some great views into the valley with Amihari Onsen visible lookers left.

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We catch the chair at this lower base area back up and have another switch back to get right to the top lift area again. This definitely held the better terrain on the hill. The rest of the arvo was just spent picking new lines through the trees in this upper area. With no one there, it felt a bit too easy.

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We called it quits around 2pm and slowly made our way back down to the main base for a final unstrap. Shizukuishi did surprise me quite a bit. The tree runs, especially up high were fantastic. It's a shame about the old redundant lift infrastructure, which appears to hark back to a time where more of the mountain was accessible. There was definitely enough here to keep you entertained if you wanted to explore.

Back down the expressway to Kitakami and I spend the afternoon just dismantling my board and drying my gear. It was still good that the resorts up this way operate with paper tickets, because I like to collect these.

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We head out that night in Kitakami to an izakaya near the main station. Somehow manage to get an all you can drink for 2hrs and a selection of great meals. Do recommend. But did wake up with an almighty hangover the next morning.

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And that was that. 12 days riding in the Aizu and Tohoku areas. Really, really enjoyed the trip immensely. I'll do a short summary soon on my take outs.
 

Crispy013

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Okay, summary and take-outs of the trip.

I think I'll do this by region, as they were all slightly different.

AIZU/FUKUSHIMA - Grandeco, Minowa, Tengendai Kogen
Only really got a couple days warm up at these resorts. The warm weather and then white outs made it difficult to properly explore. Also, didn't get round to trying the famed Nekoma. Ahh well, next time.

Up on Lake Urabandai, it is no doubt very pretty and picturesque. Fairly isolated though, with one 7-eleven in the Kitashiobara township. This place reminded me of the Mt Norikura/Kamikochi national park area west of Matsumoto, only a little more developed. Urabandai Lake Resort was the business - just massive and perfect spot on the lake. Free access to their incredible onsen and good buffet were big ticks. Definitely worth the little bit of extra $$.

Grandeco - ahh, pretty 'meh' on piste. Very, very flat for the most part and only a couple of steeps up high. Trees kind of hard to get through between runs. Maybe up above the resort there is some good touring, but didn't get the opportunity. South facing, so not ideal and definitely experienced the impacts of warmer weather the day I was there.

Minowa - Enjoyed this place a bit. The lack of running lifts to some steeper terrain up high was disappointing. The areas out of the side of the resort are fairly manageable as long as you stay away from creek lines. Would return to explore more.

Tengendai Kogen - a bit disappointing. The pistes become very boring and not that much in the way of sustained steeps in bounds. I think this place is more of a BC access area. Sadly, the conditions made it impossible to consider anything outside the boundaries. Probably need a clearer day to return.

If I was to come back, I think I'd still stay up on the lake again and would want to try Nekoma, Alts Bandai & Inawashiro. Overall, a touch underwhelmed by the area compared to my other experiences in Japan.
 

Donza

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I'm re-reading this and trying to work out how I can combine a Hakuba and Tohoku trip...
 

bluestick

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Apologies for butting in. Did this due to various meet up commitments at Hakuba and a pick up later at Narita. hired a car from the first place on train out of Tokyo towards Nagano (karuizawa) that does snow tires etc included. Hired for a month and drove all the way up to Aomori etc dropped car back at Narita. A fair amount of driving and tolls but so many options on the drive up and back. We were a party of sometimes 2, 3 and 4. Forget the cost but it was ok. Could be done many different ways of course via planes, trains, buses etc.
 
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Donza

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Apologies for butting in. Did this due to various meet up commitments at Hakuba and a pick up later at Narita. hired a car from the first place on train out of Tokyo towards Nagano (karuizawa) that does snow tires etc included. Hired for a month and drove all the way up to Aomori etc dropped car back at Narita. A fair amount of driving and tolls but so many options on the drive up and back. We were a party of sometimes 2, 3 and 4. Forget the cost but it was ok. Could be done many different ways of course via planes, trains, buses etc.
The interesting thing re Nippon car rental is they have a max charge for snowtyres of 20,000.
Across a 20 day hire that's pretty reasonable.
Cheaper than train return for three pax to Karuizawa.
 

bluestick

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I’m pretty sure it was the Toyota pay 15 days get a month deal and 4 wd small car. It was 2018 and seemed the most convenient best value way at the time for the initial 2 pax. Did a few postings in the Japan 2018 thread on the trip. So missing Japan after cancelled journey this year. Bubble by March 2021??
 

Crispy013

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Would be epic. Though quite a distance between the two. I agree with @bluestick - car would give you ultimate flexibility. Though for me Shinkansen on long sections is far more relaxing. Probably weigh up cost of each. I looked too to see if flying might be an option - had mates come in to Hanamaki airport. Though not really a popular route between Matsumoto and Hanamaki.

Maybe some good rail deals in the wake of COVID might get a mix between rail and driving.

I do miss Tohoku...
 

Donza

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Would be epic. Though quite a distance between the two. I agree with @bluestick - car would give you ultimate flexibility. Though for me Shinkansen on long sections is far more relaxing. Probably weigh up cost of each. I looked too to see if flying might be an option - had mates come in to Hanamaki airport. Though not really a popular route between Matsumoto and Hanamaki.

Maybe some good rail deals in the wake of COVID might get a mix between rail and driving.

I do miss Tohoku...
Mind you it's only 4 hrs by car to Aizu.. From hakuba.
With a family of three.. Plus ski luggage.
A shink isn't practical.
 
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Ramenman

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Yep, it's about 4 hours (I have never drove between Aizu and Hakuba, though)
H to A.PNG
 

blowfin

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Something like this
https://goo.gl/maps/o3LFdD9UY3VmwAwk8

Apologies @Crispy013 I just want to keep the stoke alive for 14 months away.
Drive or fly, Shink doesn't seem practical for a number of reasons. I'd be wary of those driving times. Took us two hours to get from Iiyama to Yuzawa in winter when google is currently showing 1.5 hours. Apply that to a 4 hour trip...
 
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Donza

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Drive or fly, Shink doesn't seem practical for a number of reasons. I'd be wary of those driving times. Took us two hours to get from Iiyama to Yuzawa in winter when google is currently showing 1.5 hours. Apply that to a 4 hour trip...
But in the flip side. IC times are way under cooked.
I did Hakuba to Osaka in 4.45.
Google says 5.45.
Mainly due to driving at 130kays consistently.
 

Crispy013

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Something like this
https://goo.gl/maps/o3LFdD9UY3VmwAwk8

Apologies @Crispy013 I just want to keep the stoke alive for 14 months away.
I guess my question is, how set are you on Hakuba? If you’ve got say 3 weeks, then yeah, epic road trip. Get an IC pass and go nuts. Snow might slow up some travel times, but if you can wing accommodation a bit and follow the weather that sounds pretty awesome.
 
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