Trip Report Japan trip report during the Pandemic Mk2

Sandy

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I thought I'd do a travel report, inspired by @elSpike and his Pandemic Euro trip.

I spent the last 7 weeks of 2021 in the US, returning on 23rd December to Japan, with one person testing positive with Omicron on the flight, meaning that I was a "close contact". 3 days in QH with cold bento for all meals, and then the following 11 days in home isolation. I was "free" from Thu 6th Jan, had to make a visit to the office on 7th Jan, along with other things like paying bills, buying stuff. A quick visit to the ski shop area, Nakano & Akihabara in Tokyo on Sat 8th, sending stuff by Takyubin and then packing the rest of my ski gear on Sun 9th.

I took the Azusa Express direct to Hakuba on Mon 10th Jan.... it's still leaving once a day from Shinjuku. It used to be 7:30am, but this has changed to 8am which i think works better. I also intercepted it at Hachioji at 8:33am, so I didn't have to go all the way in to Shinjuku. It arrived at Hakuba Station at 11.41am. This may be a realistic option in the future if your flight arrives at Haneda Airport around 5am. You can catch the Airport Limousine bus to Yokohama Station (only 580 yen), and then catch the train to Hachioji.

Being the second Japanese season during the full pandemic, it means that once again, I'm working remotely out of the office at Hakuba.
My pattern is to try to get out for first lifts (usually 8-8:30am) and finish up around 3pm. This is also punctuated by meetings up on the hill, carrying my laptop in my day pack!!! For example, I had 4 meetings up on the hill(s) this past week. I then work when I get back to TJ's place.
 

Sandy

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Day 1: 10th January.
There's been a lot of snow at Hakuba. It was a bit annoying as I cooled my heels at home isolation, while huge dumps were happening over the Xmas NY period.

Riding the Azusa into the valley is really nice:
Kashimayari. Not many ride here when there's powder, but it's one of the most sheltered mountains in the valley when there's a big blow.

DSC01120b.jpg


DSC01122b.jpg


Aokiko. It closed around 2012 or 2013 iirc. Just north of Kashimayari, it was the link resort between Kashi & Sanosaka.... you could get a joint ticket for all three, and "Men's day" on a Wednesday for 2100yen and for women on a Friday. Kashimayari costs 4000 yen for a day ticket.
You can see that there's a lot of sapling trees on what used to be the piste:
DSC01128b.jpg


Arrive at Hakuba, get organised and out onto the slopes by 1pm, with a half day ticket. Iwatake only costs 3100yen for a half day seniors pass.
It was the warmest day for a couple of weeks, just above freezing. It was a public holiday, but it was the afternoon of the last day of the weekend. The snow riding crowds who normally flock to the slopes on weekends seem to have some trepidation about Omicron, so it looked like there were not huge numbers.

Back side of Iwatake. I'll be mindful of taking more photos since I'm doing this TR.
DSC01132b.jpg
 
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Sandy

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Day 2: Tue 11th January
Happo. This was supposed to be a rainy start, so I went for a higher mountain.
I'm noticing more and more lifts disappearing across the valley in these two pandemic years.
The chair at the old terrain park at Kitaone 3 is now defunct. The chair have been taken off. Also one of the Sakka beginner chairs is gone.
The double chairs below the Gondy top station were not running (Kokusai 3 duplex and Panorama). This may be just a pandemic thing, but not sure.
(Also at Iwatake, the triple chair to the north of the gondola is gone. I've also noticed that they are not running the double at the old terrain park, but the chairs are still on. It looks like there will be a huge development at Iwatake in the next couple of years..... new base complex and gondola)

The rainy start never actually happened at Happo. It started snowing the moment I got on the chair at Nakiyama. By the top of Riesen Quad and Gondy, it was light to moderate. It ended up moderate to heavy by early afternoon and heavy by 4pm. It was not powder and when I headed down at the end of the day, the snow was a little damp at the bottom.
There might have been 20-25cm during the day. Visibility all day was pretty good.

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DSC01140b small.jpg
 

Hyst

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Day 1: 10th January.
There's been a lot of snow at Hakuba. It was a bit annoying as I cooled my heels at home isolation, while huge dumps were happening over the Xmas NY period.

Riding the Azusa into the valley is really nice:
Kashimayari. Not many ride here when there's powder, but it's one of the most sheltered mountains in the valley when there's a big blow.

DSC01120b.jpg


DSC01122b.jpg


Aokiko. It closed around 2012 or 2013 iirc. Just north of Kashimayari, it was the link resort between Kashi & Sanosaka.... you could get a joint ticket for all three, and "Men's day" on a Wednesday for 2100yen and for women on a Friday. Kashimayari costs 4000 yen for a day ticket.
You can see that there's a lot of sapling trees on what used to be the piste:
DSC01128b.jpg


Arrive at Hakuba, get organised and out onto the slopes by 1pm, with a half day ticket. Iwatake only costs 3100yen for a half day seniors pass.
It was the warmest day for a couple of weeks, just above freezing. It was a public holiday, but it was the afternoon of the last day of the weekend. The snow riding crowds who normally flock to the slopes on weekends seem to have some trepidation about Omicron, so it looked like there were not huge numbers.

Back side of Iwatake. I'll be mindful of taking more photos since I'm doing this TR.
DSC01132b.jpg
One of the few advantages for seniors is the liftpass! Thought you were a bit younger seen from pictures!
But of course seniors are younger in JP. :clown:
 
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Sandy

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Day 3: Wed 12th Jan.
The expected Big Snow arrived overnight. Huge Expectations of an Epic Day for everyone.
Big Dud.
Huge winds, all gondolas closed from the word go, except for 47 & Goryu.
Most other places had most of their chairlifts shut. 3 running at Cortina, 3 at Tsugaike, 1 at Iwatake, 3 at Happo, 3 at 47, 3 at Goryu and 6 at Norikura. (not sure about Kashimayari, but probably 5 (most) lifts running.

I was at Happo to start with. Then went to 47, where I rode the gondola up..... it took 25min. The other lift running was the double at the park, but the quad closed before I go there. I then had a meeting in the restaurant..... by the time that finished, they'd closed all lifts!!!
I took the shuttle to Goryu (Iimori), gondola was long since shut, and as always Cosmo was running. I then had a 2nd meeting, after which I rode Cosmo again for two runs, and then it closed!!!! End of the day.

DSC01141small.jpg
 

Sandy

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Day 4: Thu 13th Jan
Tsugaike. There was plenty of snow around after the previous day's windy dump.
It started out with snow falling light/moderate, and then moderate by midday. After that things changed.....
Between around 12:30pm and 1:15pm, around 15cm fell near the top of Tsugaike, and around 25-30cm from 12:30pm to 3pm.
It went from gentle top ups to chaos on the groomed pistes, with plenty of inexperienced snow riders crashing and burning.

Sorry, only low res screen captures on my phone from the GoPro Max. (will process later and repost)
It went from mainly tracked snow to deep in 2-3 hours
Tsugaike1.png


Tsugaike2.png


Tsugaike3.png


At Hakuba 47, they had 45cm in 3 hours, causing chaos in the car park there.
 

Sandy

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Day 5: Fri 14th Jan
Kashimayari.
After a few episodes of wind hold across the valley during the week, the potential for more wind leads you to the assess which place is best sheltered from the wind: Kashimayari.

After fronting up before 8.30am and finding that they were clearing snow, we eventually got onto the lift about 8.50am (all 11 people in the line at the bottom!). We (TJ, Lucky Pete and myself) took the first run straight from the the top of the bottom chair back to the valley floor. No tracks there, not even ski patrol, so we were the first tracks......There was a narrow strip of groomed (with about 35cm on it) and the rest was about 50cm+. Vertical is around 350m. Was awesome!! I still needed to get a ticket so I went down a 2nd time!! ;)

I had a meeting at 10am, TJ, Lucky Pete & SW left around 11am, while I stayed until 3pm. Finding powder stashes all day.

Courtesy of SW (from the Hakuba thread):
Tony pow.jpg



## If you have a Hakuba Valley Pass (6600yen/day), it's probably a waste, because a day ticket at Kashimayari is 4000yen.
I'd say that it doesn't hold so much interest with only 5 lifts on a non powder day, but is really good on a powder day.
 

Sandy

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Day 6: Sat 15th Jan
Happo.
Ordinarily I NEVER go to Happo on a weekend, PERIOD. You get a million people and lines are long. Nakiyama is all moguls by 11am.
But many from Tokyo are spooked be reports that there's COVID in the Hakuba Valley, so I decided to take a look.

Here was the pre-8am lineup at Nakiyama:
IMG_20220115_075640293_HDR.jpg

You can't see so easily, but this line is >50m long, and later it snaked back for another 50m. So far i was thinking that this was a bad move....
The two doubles got the crowd up the mountain pretty well, and there was probably only 40 people at the Riesen Quad chair on Nakiyama.

Meanwhile, with wind hold the previous day, the entire top half of Happo was untouched.
Arriving up above the Gondy top, and into the Alpen Quad line were one or two people waiting for the lift to open. The ski patrol had obviously laid a few tracks to tantalise the crowd. Usually it's all big moguls there, but not one to be seen:

IMG_20220115_082407844_HDR.jpg

I'm guessing the line was about 60 people, but it moved quickly after it opened.

But the big question: Was a Saturday at Happo a big gridlock fest? NO!! I was rather like a normal midweek day when the Aussies are all there. i.e. Maybe 15-20 people on the busiest lifts at the worst time. So I'm thinking that next weekend may also be ok.

How was the skiing? It was ok. ;)
Off the northern ridge at Skyline:
DSC01163small.jpg


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DSC_0576small.jpg


DSC_0587small.jpg


Lots of wind scour at the top of Happo
DSC_0594small.jpg


There's a few small piles of snow around Echoland
DSC_0618small.jpg


Icicles
DSC_0637small.jpg


Oh, BTW, @Crispy013 wanted some photos!! ;)
 

Sandy

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Day 7: Sun 16th Jan
Rest day..... Otherwise I'd be starting the season with 14 days in a row! (until Sun 24th)

Started out sunny, clouded over and started to snow.
 
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Sandy

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Day 9: Tue 18th Jan
Tsugaike again:
Yet another reset. But normal transmission resumed with wind.....

The Gondola closed about 11:30am and most people disappeared. I mean at one stage I only saw about 3 other people.

It was snowing at around 5cm an hour, the sun almost appeared, but then it closed in again big time for about an hour, and deposited about 10cm. Eased up late in the day, but probably ended up with another 30cm. The rapidity of the snow falling reminded me of the previous Thursday.

DSC_0669b.jpg


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DSC_0676c.jpg



DSC01169b.jpg
 
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Sandy

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Day 10: Wed 19th Jan.
47/Goryu

The morning opened up to a cold sunny day. (-15.6C)
It was a beautiful morning.
However, there were "pillows" of cloud falling over the top of the peaks. The snow was squeaky and there was still some powder around, probably 35cm and about 3-4cm on the groomed slopes.
From about 11am, there was the oft seen bright sunshine and snow falling that is not uncommon in Japan. By 2:30pm, there were large patches of cloud with light snow falling.

A lenticular cloud off the the north
DSC01171b.jpg


DSC01172b.jpg


DSC01174b.jpg


DSC01175b.jpg


More snow forecast tomorrow into Friday.
 

Sandy

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Day 11: Thu 20th Jan.
Tsugaike. Probably 60-70 people on the mountain today. State of "quasi-emergency" declared for Tokyo from tomorrow (Friday 21st) and another 13 of 47 Prefectures. Unfortunately, I may have to stay in Hakuba for a while longer.....
:out:

Clearly they groomed Tsugaike last night with 25cm+ on the pistes to start the day. The snow fell heavily for much of the day, interspersed with "almost sunshine" for about 3 periods of about 10 min each. I'd say that Tsugaike ended up with about 45cm+ since yesterday evening to 3pm.
Otari Village had 42cm in the previous 12 hours to 6pm, so it's looking good for Cortina tomorrow.

Most of the pistes ended up a bit below knee deep.

DSC_0693b.jpg


DSC_0696b-Sh.jpg


DSC_0700b.jpg
 

Sandy

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Day 12: Fri 21st Jan
Cortina/Norikura.
Usually I NEVER go to Cortina first up on a powder day..... haven't done that for about 6-7 years. Why? It gets heaps of powder.
But No.2 (the bottom chair) and No.4 (the top chair) get huge lines, 25min long.

However, with COVID and no Aussies, it seemed like a good idea.... Probably 40 people in each line, it was still busy. But not 25min.

There was probably 55-60cm, and still snowing, but with occasional muted sun-disc peaking out. TJ commented about the depth of the "divots" when you had to cross other tracks and it was quite slow with that depth. People were often getting stuck.

Hardly anybody around at Norikura though.

DSC01176c-DN.jpg


The muted sun turned into a sun with snowing day and then full sunshine, still with powder.

DSC01180b.jpg


DSC01182b.jpg


DSC01183b.jpg


The new lift line cutting at Norikura that will change everything there!!
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Even the groomed pistes at Norikura had 35cm on them. It was an insane day!!

In the deep.....
DSC_0711e-15gp.jpg


DSC_0716bSmall.jpg


DSC_0720b.jpg


DSC_0721b.jpg
 

Sandy

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Day 13: Sat 22nd Jan
Iwatake.

Mostly nobody thinks about Iwatake and powder. And yet there's often plenty there to find while hundreds are up at Cortina.

Even the day after the dump, there's still tracks to be found because Iwatake often doesn't have enough powder enthusiasts to track it out.

A well tracked area still has a bit of powder:

DSC_0724b.jpg


DSC_0736b.jpg


Plenty of pow to be had.

IMG_iwatake2.jpg


IMG_iwatake3.jpg


And steeps
IMG_iwatake1.jpg


And late afternoon still untouched if you know where to look:
DSC_0768bCrop.jpg
 

Sandy

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Day 15: Mon 24th Jan
Tsugaike again. a nice cruisey day after the weekend and visitors leaving.

I scoped the areas at the southern end of Norikura from Tsugaike today. On Friday with the masses of snow, it was VERY tempting to head down into this area from Norikura, but as you can see, it's prone to glide cracks and slow slides. This area has a lot of Sasa grass and there is also a bit of volcanic heat underneath.

You can see the lift in the centre. The cracks extend across the whole area and onto the ridge at the right. It's best to do the central area when there's good visibility, and with someone else.
DSC01205b small.jpg



You always need to be careful not to ride off the south western side of this ridge(as you can see). The north eastern side is usually ok, but it's best to scope it first.
DSC01211b small.jpg


This ridge usually doesn't have any cracks except for the very end on the right. You mainly need to watch out for the gully when there's less snow.
DSC01206b small.jpg



Here's that area from Norikura. You can't see any of the cracks from above:
DSC01180c.jpg


DSC01183b.jpg


It looks very tempting, doesn't it?
 
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Sandy

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Day 16: Tue 25th Jan
Tsugaike once again, and cruisey with a bit more broken cloud and sun. My preferred spot for remote meetings is at Tsugaike.

I scoped the areas at the southern end of Norikura again from Tsugaike, but at a closer run. those glide cracks and slow slides were more evident after an extra day:

DSC_0780b Small.jpg


DSC_0781b Small.jpg


DSC_0783b Small.jpg


You can see that even on the end of that ridge, there are a couple of cracks.
DSC_0791b Small.jpg
 

Sandy

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Day 18: Thu 27th Jan
Happo.

Looked promising..... sunny out to the east, a little cloud up on the mountain.

It got foggier as you got up to the top of the gondy. It looked a bit brighter higher up so I went right to the top of the Grat Chair, and this is what I encountered:

DSC_0800b Small.jpg


Roiling, boiling clouds pushing over the mountains from the SW.... orographic lift did the rest.

Under that cloud, pea soup and snowing!!!

DSC_0804b Small.jpg



Well in fact, it was snow (as you can see) in full sunlight ABOVE the cloud!!!
DSC_0805b Small.jpg


Looking down the Grat Chair, you can see the fog starts about halfway down. At the bottom of the chair, it was so foggy that I only just saw the lift shed, and ran into a rope & a "closed" sign!!
DSC_0824 Small.jpg


A lot of wind action apparent when looking up to the bowl:
DSC_0821b Small.jpg



DSC_0812b Small.jpg



The fog below was probably the worst I've seen in Japan!!
 

Sandy

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Day 19: Fri 28th Jan
A meeting, so my quiet spot at Tsugaike today.

Not so much to report. Much like the previous day, clearish at the bottom, a bit clearer up top for a while and thick fog mid mountain, while it snowed lightly all day. Probably 10cm overnight.

This was about as sunny as it got (8:30am)
Tsugaike1b.jpg
 

Sandy

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Day 20: Sat 29th Jan. 17 days skiing out of 20.
Back to Yokohama.

An option that not many people take is the JR Azusa Express back to Tokyo (Shinjuku), for 8050 yen. The Shinkansen is 8340yen + bus 2200yen = 10,540yen.
The scheduled times have changed in the last couple of years:
Shinjuku > Hakuba: Was 7:30am - 11.15am. Now 8:00am - 11:41am
Hakuba > Shinjuku: Was 2:37pm - 6:17pm. Now 3:16pm - 7:06pm.

The first is now a realistic proposition if you arrive at Haneda around 5:30am, while it was tight when it was 7:30am.

If you have a 8:30pm flight out of Haneda/Narita the Azusa back is not quite doable, but a great option if staying in Tokyo. Very relaxed, the interior is much like the Shinkansen.... lots of leg room, not often crowded and even a food trolley.

And the views are great!!

DSC01230 small.jpg


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Donza

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Yeah been doing the maths using Hyperdia and and Google re the transfer from Haneda to Hakuba.

Hachiōji Station looks the go.
Gives you a buffer and you don't have to deal with Shinjuku.
 

Sandy

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Yeah been doing the maths using Hyperdia and and Google re the transfer from Haneda to Hakuba.

Hachiōji Station looks the go.
Gives you a buffer and you don't have to deal with Shinjuku.
Airport bus from Haneda to YCAT 580yen (Yokohama City Air Terminal).
Then train to Hachioji. There's one connection you need to negotiate form Yokohama to Hachioji
 
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Sandy

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Here is the timetable.
It's tight but doable. You need to get the 6am shuttle from Terminal 3 (used to be called "Terminal I") and get the 6:20am bus from T2 or 6:25am from T1. This arrives at YCAT around 6:55am.
That leaves you until 7:18am to buy tickets and get the JR Yokohama Line train direct to Hachioji arr 8:23am with 10 min to intercept the Azusa 5 at 8:33am.(The direct train only runs every hour or so. Otherwise you can catch JR Keihin-Tohoku one stop to Higashi-Kanagawa, and change there to the JR Yokohama Line, where they park their trains. there's also one other more complex way which can save you some time)
Hachioji is a simple station to navigate and you just need to go from platform 2 or 3 to platform 5 or 6 iirc.
 
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Donza

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Can you call them? App.

Cause a taxi from Haneda to shinjuku would be the best.
 

Ramenman

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STRANGELY, this may be solved!!!! ;)

They've had new taxis since the Olympics. They are bigger inside..... reminds me of London taxis.

tokyo-taxi-2017-1x.jpg

Now, we see it often in Tokyo and I like the new taxi (old ones are still running, but I guess they will be replaced by the new one gradually). They say it's a new taxi that Toyota made for the first time in 20 years . It seems the official name of the new taxi is "JPN Taxi".


 
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Donza

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Now, we see it often in Tokyo and I like the new taxi (old ones are still running, but I guess they will be replaced by the new one gradually). They say it's a new taxi that Toyota made for the first time in 20 years . It seems the official name of the new taxi is "JPN Taxi".


View attachment 266950


They'll fit a board bag and 4 pax?
 

Ramenman

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They'll fit a board bag and 4 pax?

Sorry, not sure because I don't keep snowboards in my apartment room in Tokyo but keep them in our main home in Ibaraki Pref or ski lodges (so, I don't hire the new taxi with a snowboard bag). All I can say is, 3 people with 3 golf bags = still enough space was left.
 
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Donza

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Not sure because I don't keep snowboards in my apartment room in Tokyo but keep in our main home in Ibaraki or ski lodges (so, I don't hire the new taxi with a snowboard bag). All I can say is, 3 people with 3 golf bag = still enough space space was left.
It looks like with seat back right folded = 170cm length.
 
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Ramenman

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It looks like with seat back right folded = 170cm length.
Ah, Gomen nasai, I might have picked up a wrong picture in the post (because, I just randomly picked one from the pictures that google showed me after typing "JPN TAXI" without confirming if it's really a picture of JPN Taxi).

I think I should STOP contaminating this Sandy-san's great ski trip report by writing about taxi now:emoji_dizzy_face:

Edit : This link might help you (the website says it has enough space for 4 golf bags and more pics)
 
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Sandy

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Day 21:

Reset!!!
Day 1: Shiga Kogen 4th Feb 2022.

After getting up at 5:30am, 6:08am subway to Yokohama Station, 6:39am to Tokyo Station(Arr 7:05am) > 7:20am Shinkansen to (Arr Nagano Station at 8:42am), I caught the 9:10am bus to Shiga Kogen.

It's the first bus on weekdays (8.15, 9:02 & 9:25am on weekends) arriving at Shiga Kogen (Ichinose) at 10:38am. I checked in early, got changed then out onto the snow around 11.15am.
In typical Japanese fashion, it was snowing while partly sunny. It continued to clear and was mostly sunny be around 4pm.

I was expecting 7-8cm on the ground, but here's what I got:


About 30cm of fresh powder, some lines still there at 1pm.

DSC01265a small.jpg


It must have been a good morning early on.

I nailed that untracked on the right a bit later on!!

Some snow clearing:
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I've noticed a few changes. Some areas that were previously closed are starting to be controlled and opened

Unlike last year, the Nepalese restaurant in Ichinose has reduced its menu in response to the lack of people. I think this is probably just a temporary measure.
 
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