Japan: General tips for when and where to go for snow

Discussion in 'Japan' started by Sandy, Feb 24, 2015.

  1. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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    Japan: General tips for when and where to go for snow

    These are general tips about when to go to Japan, where to go and any other info that is not so obvious to the less experienced Japan snow traveler. It can include any info that makes it easier, or makes the experience better.


    I was thinking about this today.
    Last Sun/Mon it rained below 1800m in central Japan. Looks like it will do the same on Thu/Fri and again on Sun/Mon next week.
    So if you came to Japan on the 20th Feb for two weeks, you may be spitting chips.....

    Then the question needs to be asked: What is the best time, best place, and the best places to stay when you're there? There is a big database of experience across the Japan threads, of the goods and bads that can help determine how to maximise the experience on the snow in Japan.

    1. When to come to Japan
    In my view, the optimal time is the last two weeks in January & first week in February. January is usually the coldest time, with the most snow, with the least chance of rain. If you come to central Japan in early January, it may be snowing hard, but there is not as much base if you want to ski/board off piste or in the trees, because obstacles have not been fully covered. As a consequence, there are more back country gates opening at the end of January, than in the first week, because those dodgey creeks have been covered over, and branches buried.
    You can generally stretch this a couple of weeks either side if you're talking about Hokkaido or northern Honshu.

    1a. When not to come to Japan
    December in central Japan is not predicable enough to risk a holiday, unless you go as near to New Year as possible. March is spring, and while you can get some years that are brilliant, you will get a higher chance of rain, and less chance of powder.
    Hokkaido is usually good for the first half of March, and reasonable in the second half.

    To be continued.......

    (and please add)
     
    #1 Sandy, Feb 24, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2015
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  2. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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    Elevation.

    It's cold in January. Not so cold in March.
    So if you have to plan your trip in March you can do two things:
    1. Go further north
    2. Go to a higher elevation.

    e.g.
    This Thursday, and again on Sunday, rain is expected, with freeze levels of around 1300m & 1600m respectively. Let's look at Sunday, March 1st:
    Choose Happo (Hakuba) and you will get rain 2/3 the way to the top (bottom 760m, top 1831m)
    Choose Nozawa Onsen, and you will get rain within 150-200m from the top. (bottom 565m, top 1650m)
    Choose Shiga Kogen (Stay at Yakebitaiyama) and you will not get rain at all (bottom 1548m, top 2009m)
     
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  3. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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    Getting there if you don't know the way and have hired a car:

    Don't rely on a Nabi (GPS) in the car if you have a smartphone or tablet with data (see the phone thread for SIMs & WiFi devices, etc)

    For Android, just use the maps function and turn the sound up. It's in English. You can search just about any place, station or often a hotel, and in English.
    It will guide you there just like a GPS, and it will show you traffic jams in real time!!
     
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  4. bullet

    bullet Addicted

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    I can vouch for "Maps", we used it to travel all around Hokkaido, and direct us to pensions/ryokans all over the place. As Sandy said, the writing is in Japanese but the speech is English. The Distance and next turn direction you can make out also, so that helps.
     
  5. Budgiesmuggler

    Budgiesmuggler A Local
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    Can we sticky this thread it's looking the goods.
     
  6. essjaywhy

    essjaywhy Addicted

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    subtract out :
    NY hol's
    CNY
    Noz fire, Sapp ice Fests
    Hakuba weekends
     
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  7. Born2ski

    Born2ski Part of the Furniture

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    The great thing about this is that it fits in so well with Australian school/Uni holidays. Unlike Australia and NZ when the best time to go is August - no school holidays. And many USA resorts often have a dry spell in January so Feb or March tends to be the best if you're hunting powder. For families looking for fresh snow Japan gives you the best odds.
     
  8. ojisan

    ojisan Part of the Furniture
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    Weekends... just about anywhere
     
  9. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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    Think outside the box.
    Go to places that are not as crowded on the weekends.
    e.g. At Hakuba: Norikura, Iwatake. Other places at Hakuba avoid the Gondolas at Tsugaike, Iwatake, Happo. (avoid Happo on weekends anyway!!)
     
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  10. Zimboo

    Zimboo A Local

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    Only had one wait for a lift on our trip.
    Iwatake on a Saturday. Long long line for the Gondola in the morning (the chair was not operating).
    Once we were up, we stayed away from the front till after lunch, then no problem.
     
  11. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    Some genius things I've picked up from these forums over the last few years and continue to use each trip. Probably fairly obvious to seasoned goers, but always handy for new people.

    1. Baggage forward service (takkyubin). If you have a couple of days sightseeing prior to heading to the mountains and you don't want to lug your large ski or luggage bags around, forward them from the airport direct to your snow accommodation. Cost is typically around Y2,000 per piece and usually arrives anywhere from 24-48hrs after sending. Can also use on the reverse so they are there for you to pick up at the airport - just talk to your accommodation to organise.

    2. Car hire - don't be afraid to hire a car as it open's up your trip immensely and gives you the chance to try lesser visited resorts, change plans if the weather is foul, head to the supermarket to pick up supplies, hit onsens, etc etc. Driving on snow covered roads is fairly easy, as long as you take it easy. Most hire cars will come with snow tires and signs are usually bilingual. Get the hire company to show you how to input a phone number into your car's GPS which is used to locate most destinations in Japan.

    When I think of more, I'll add.
     
  12. ojisan

    ojisan Part of the Furniture
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    JR Pass can be worth it if you are doing a bit of travelling to different places in Japan
     
  13. Ralph_implement

    Ralph_implement A Local

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    So what you are saying is come for 3 weeks from 3rd week in Jan to end of first week in Feb.

    My trips to Japan have mostly been around this time and I have had excellent conditions, the one time I came end of feb I got blue bird and 17 degrees, not a misprint!

    My data supports your theory.
     
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  14. skichic

    skichic A Local

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    I've been once the week before Xmas (Hokkaido) and got lucky. Then 3 times mid to end Jan (Hokkaido and Honshu) and been lucky. Then the only time I went in mid Feb (Hakuba) it rained before we got there and barely any snowfalls while we were there.

    So my data also supports your theory!
     
  15. Ralph_implement

    Ralph_implement A Local

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    There you have it, Japan's season is 3 weeks long!!

    :out:
     
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  16. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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    :p

    The simple answer is that YOUR northern season is 3 weeks long. But if your season is 3 weeks long, make sure you get here during the right period to get powder. If OTOH, you don't need powder, come in April, when the groomers are aplenty and there's nobody around.

    So, for example, I skied 21 days between 8th Jan and 15th Feb. 12 days of powder.
     
  17. sbm

    sbm One of Us
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    Because I went to Tasmania during the Aus summer this year, this is what I decided to do, a dedicated spring ski trip. I'm going from 25 march to easter. Safer backcountry, longer sunny days, less crowds, corn, and hopefully see the cherry blossoms too.

    But spring skiing is an aquired taste and I you have to get outside the resort and into the BC to really appreciate it.
     
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  18. PMG

    PMG One of Us
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    Why am I getting this mental picture of a bunch of snow accommodation providers in central Honshu texting each other to organise a lynching party to travel to Yokohama?
     
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  19. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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    :D

    In the end, just a small proportion of Aussie skiers/boarders take this advice from here, so you guys get the benefit ;)
     
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  20. CarveMan

    CarveMan Pool Room
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    And Sandy should edit the OP to summarise the thread.
     
  21. bdenny4

    bdenny4 One of Us
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    Although, as I was there same time as you, the snow was still pretty forking awesome
     
  22. skichic

    skichic A Local

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    Yeah not complaining. But deep dry powder it was not :) Finally got that this year in Rusutsu.
     
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  23. hatto

    hatto One of Us
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    Don't know if been covered on other threads but in/around tokyo we used the ticket machines for rail and bought the discount ticket. this is 750yen and lasts all day, on and off the network. We even went to Ikea which was outside the distance allowed but only had to pay the difference 210yen
     
  24. Zimboo

    Zimboo A Local

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    Good one.
    Was it the "Common one day ticket" listed at 1000Y which was further discounted at the vending machine?
    We just purchase one way tickets from the vending machines for each journey which is easy once some homework is done prior about how the system works, however if your moving around a lot during the day then 750Y is great.
    http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/value/1day/
     
  25. hatto

    hatto One of Us
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    Its in the vending machine as "discount ticket" from memory down the bottom
     
  26. hatto

    hatto One of Us
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    I think it might be 12midnight to midnight
     
  27. hotsaki

    hotsaki One of Us
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    I have just had a customer in my store that got back from Niseko last week.He said that was his fourth and last trip there.
    Said that the queue in Physchomart extended out the door!!Heaps of Canadians there cause they had such a crap season.
    I just hope that they all keep going there and leave the rest of Japan to us ski.commers eh?
     
  28. M_G

    M_G A Local
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    The best three weeks of the season here this year were from opening day to mid-January. In 2012 I was skiing fresh pow at the start of April. in 2011 it was March. However I'd say odds wise for planning it's mid-Jan to mid-Feb.
     
  29. Piste Again

    Piste Again Part of the Furniture
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    I'm taking M8 to Japan in April (skiing April 9-12) and had to look hard to find much. Many resorts are closed, or severely curtailed (eg Myoko Kogen will only have 2 lifts open to access intermediate terrain by then) and the ski schools are nearly all closed. We look like going to Niseko but even then only 2 of the 4 areas are open and we'll need to stay right at the lifts as the village shuttle doesn't run.

    If the snow melts before then, I'll pay the $400 in cancellation fees and get my FF points back.
     
  30. Donza

    Donza Pool Room

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    I'll be in japan next year for close to a month from mid to late march. Taking into account easter and school holidays. .
    Based in hakuba...
    I expect sun... groomers..bbqs and a sneaky pow day.
     
  31. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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    For April, you need to do this ^^
    Or go for a hike above lifts that are open.

    Two things to do:
    1. Check the close dates for a resort(s) your are interested in
    2. Make sure there is a gondola that goes most of the way to the top.

    e.g. Not good selections:
    - Central Yuzawa (Low elevation: mostly from 400-500m up to 1000-1200m)
    - Kagura (Yuzawa) It has good elevation (620-1845m), but you need to get Ropeway, chair, gondola, and two chairs to get to the top. Too many variables and sometimes need to be bused up to the bottom of the gondola.
    - Nozawa. Bottom elevation 565m. The gondola takes you close to the top, but the steeper slopes are near the bottom. oob takes you down to the bottom where only the gondola will be open (but you need to be able to get to it.)

    Better seelction:
    - Hakuba. Happo, Goryu/47, Tsugaike. All have elevation & gondolas near the top. Tsugaike also has the ropeway that opens in early March, giving an 250m vertical.Happo & Tsugaike have good access to alpine oob
    - Shiga Kogen. Big elevation. (1350-2300m), but only the main areas are open in April.

    Etc. Do your homework.
     
  32. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty
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    April - don't rely on regular ski resorts, ski schools etc. It's about sunny days, spring skiing, touring above or beyond the resorts - areas that have lifted access to backcountry (eg. Hakuba, Hakkoda, Asahidake) with perhaps a bonus powder day. And don't miss the cherry blossom festivals in the city parks.
     
  33. Piste Again

    Piste Again Part of the Furniture
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    With M8 in tow (he's still working on getting parallel on easy blue runs) I want at 2 days of ski school for him so I can do some proper skiing. Much as I love him to bits I'm not going all the way to Japan to spend 4 days pottering around gently!

    Tsugaike : looks very interesting. The ski school says it's open until "early april", unfortunately the "english" verison of the ski school website is 90% in Japanese. I've contacted them...

    The ski schools at the other "better" resorts that Sandy mentioned close at the end of March :-(
     
  34. Ralph_implement

    Ralph_implement A Local

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    Tsugaike inbounds has a lot of flat.
     
  35. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room
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    Ropeway, off the sides, through the trees
     
  36. Ralph_implement

    Ralph_implement A Local

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    Fair enough. I don't think that has ever been opened when I was there (not March).

    I just remember a lot of flat to get to the bottom, there's a few pitches around but short.
     
  37. Donza

    Donza Pool Room

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    Poppy could ski from the top of Tsugaike to the bottom. Thats kinda cool...
     
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  38. Donza

    Donza Pool Room

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    evergreen included?
     
  39. Annabuzzy

    Annabuzzy Part of the Furniture

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    There'd have to be a few under employed instructors still in the Valley happy to pick up some business. Evergreen would no doubt charge full freight for a private but maybe an "off the books" deal could be done. If so, maybe someone could PM PA.
     
  40. Donza

    Donza Pool Room

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    I thought evergreen was all year round, ie hiking in summer etc
     
  41. Annabuzzy

    Annabuzzy Part of the Furniture

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    Exactly. So they should surely be able to accommodate a private, but maybe not a group lesson. I was just thinking though PA might be able to get a better deal from an instructor with another company (peak season that is) still in the valley but perhaps between seasons, or jobs.
     
  42. Donza

    Donza Pool Room

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    There is a shit load more skiing in hakuba in april than nearly anywhere japan wise..imo.
     
  43. Piste Again

    Piste Again Part of the Furniture
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    I'm more than happy to pay the "group" rate, or even a little more, for an all-day lesson for M8 but the problem is that all the places I contact tell me they're closed, only running one or two lifts (if any) or don't have any instructors on tap at that time of the year. Myoko Snowsports were kind enough to offer to help but the resort will be pretty much closed down by then.

    Maybe some insider knowledge of Hakuba would help but to date they all tell me they're closed when I email them.

    Niseko is the only place I've found that can tell me that they expect to be running the lifts, the hire shop and the ski school.

    All subject to snow cover, of course...
     
  44. Donza

    Donza Pool Room

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    Have yoy emailed evergreen ?
     
  45. Piste Again

    Piste Again Part of the Furniture
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    Evergreen (from their website) :

    Private Lessons
    Available December 8th 2014, 7 days per week until April 6th 2015 excluding New Year's Day.
    Adult Group Ski plus All Group SB Available December 20th 2014, 7 days per week until March 22nd 2015 excluding New Year's Day.
    Kid's Group Ski Available December 20th 2014, 7 days per week until March 29th 2015 excluding New Year's Day


    We start skiing April 9th
     
  46. Donza

    Donza Pool Room

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    Evergreen offers the most comprehensive english based ski lessons in hakuba. They are a year round operation and operate from Happo. Their msin focus is backcountry tours. But also offer kids programs
     
  47. Donza

    Donza Pool Room

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    Yeah
    Send them a email, they might be able to do something...
     
  48. Toto Warmlet

    Toto Warmlet One of Us

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  49. Badger

    Badger First Runs

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    Hey everyone,

    I'm heading to Japan next year for the first two weeks of Feb. I need some advice on which resort to ski at.

    It's a bit of a mix - I'm an intermediate, haven't done much park stuff but I can ski pretty much any terrain fairly confidently, and ski switch on greens. Everyone else on the trip (eight of us all up) ranges from total beginners to comfortable on blues.

    I've never been to Japan before but I have done a fair bit of reading on the various resorts. We're probably not going to be able to move around to different resorts over the two weeks, for several reasons - it's difficult to coordinate with such a large group/the other resorts I'd want to hit up wouldn't really suit beginners/none of us speak a lick of japanese, and finally, we're pretty much all under 21 and I'm fairly sure we wouldn't be able to hire a car to drive around in.

    So, based on my research, it's come down to a choice between Hakuba and Niseko. I really like the looks of Hakuba, especially the lifts being faster, Hakuba 47's terrain park, etc.

    On the flipside, Niseko is obviously well renowned for great quality pow, even through Feb. Whereas in the second week of February Hakuba's snow quality might be on the downhill with rain an occasional occurence.

    So, any thoughts? Is it easy to hit up different resorts in Hakuba? Is Niseko as crowded as everyone says it is? We'd be staying in Annupuri, I think.
     
  50. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    Personally, for a first time trip to Japan with a big group, Niseko ticks all the boxes. Stay in Hirafu if your group wants a bit easier access to restaurants/bars. Annupuri is fine for cheaper accom, but doesn't have much in terms of a nightlife.

    Shouldn't really be an issue (snow wise) whether you pick Niseko or Hakuba at that time of year.
     
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