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Advice needed Stay in Naeba or tripping around the Aizu area? 2 weeks in late Dec/Jan

Discussion in 'Japan' started by Mrdini, Nov 18, 2018.

  1. Mrdini

    Mrdini Hard Yards

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    Creating a new thread as slightly different from my earlier query in Early season trip - Naeba which in hindsight may have been a little confusing (as I did not mention I had 2 weeks to play with!).

    So. I have about 2 weeks from 22nd Dec to weekend-ish of 4th/5th Jan. I've more or less settled on Naeba for the first few days - 22nd - 26th Dec for reasons. But I fancy exploring a little further afield and hopefully somewhere a bit quieter after Naeba as New Year period is a bit busy in Japan.

    I recently stumbled across the very tempting car promo from Aizu Ski/Ekiren which got me thinking and looking into the Aizu area especially after having read the excellent Mt Bandai Accommodation thread (Thanks @Ramenman!).

    So I'm currently toying with the following idea (including buying a JR East Tohoku Area Pass) ...
    22nd - 26th Dec - Naeba - Edmonton Lodge
    27th TBC (Probably takkyubin bags to Aizuwakamatsu)
    28th Dec - 3rd Jan - Aizuwakamatsu base (have booked Washington hotel with free cancellation earlier today) and hire a car for 6/7 days and explore the various resorts such as Alts, Grandeco, etc...

    Having said that, a few questions...
    * I've never driven for a skiing holiday nor hired in Japan - should I need to be aware of anything specific to skiing? Where would I store skis - should I be asking for a ski rack when hiring or would they go in boot? (Looking to hire a S class "Vitz, Fit, Demio, and others"). I've not driven much in snow but I do know the general idea i.e. easy on throttle, light touch on brakes etc. Also, I'm aware I'll be needing an IDP.
    * Although I have boots, I normally hire skis & poles when I ski. Where can I hire from - are there hire places in Aizuwakamatsu?
    * Washington Hotel doesn't sound like they'll have drying rooms or anything like that. What can I do to dry out boots & clothes at the end of the day... :/
    * Am I crazy? Should I just stick to Naeba/Yuzawa area for the two weeks period? It does seem pretty busy around Yuzawa though...

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. Tonester

    Tonester One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    I've never driven for a skiing holiday nor hired in Japan - should I need to be aware of anything specific to skiing? Where would I store skis - should I be asking for a ski rack when hiring or would they go in boot? (Looking to hire a S class "Vitz, Fit, Demio, and others").
    I have never bothered with racks. I usually hire a station wagon and stick them in the back. However, that may be an issue if you are travelling with more than 2 other people, I would imagine.

    I've not driven much in snow but I do know the general idea i.e. easy on throttle, light touch on brakes etc. Also, I'm aware I'll be needing an IDP.
    Yes, unlike other countries that require an international driver's license, japan actually insists on seeing this prior to hire

    * Although I have boots, I normally hire skis & poles when I ski. Where can I hire from - are there hire places in Aizuwakamatsu?
    no idea...I'm sure others can assist here. At the ski hill perhaps?

    * Washington Hotel doesn't sound like they'll have drying rooms or anything like that. What can I do to dry out boots & clothes at the end of the day... :/
    What is this drying room thing you ask of? What purpose does it serve in japow?

    * Am I crazy? Should I just stick to Naeba/Yuzawa area for the two weeks period? It does seem pretty busy around Yuzawa though...
    That's a matter for you. It depends what you are after, Aizuwakamatsu put me right out of my comfort zone when I was there last Feb. I found the drive up to Nekoma quite treacherous, especially after the overnight storm they had. I made it up in one piece...only to get bogged in the car park just as I arrived.
     
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  3. Ramenman

    Ramenman One of Us

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    Usually, ski resorts in Tohoku are less crowded than popular ski resorts in Central Honshu. But Grandeco and Alts Bandai can be crowded during New Year holidays. They are in Fukushima Pref, the southernmost prefecture of Tohoku, which means, it's relatively closer to Tokyo, if not as accessible as Yuzawa. Not only that, Grandeco and Alts Bandai are good ski resorts for family with young kids, so they tend to be crowded during New Year holidays. Having said that, I'm not sure how actually crowded they are during New Year holidays because I usually ski at other ski resorts in Tohoku during New Year holidays.


    Driving to Alts Bandai is easy. To Nekoma and Grandeco, it can be very difficult sometimes in that they are snowier and their base altitude is higher. You can rent skis and poles at each ski resort, and if you need only skis and poles, it doesn't cost much, 3500 - 5000 Yen, if I remember correctly.
     
    #3 Ramenman, Nov 19, 2018
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2018
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  4. Mrdini

    Mrdini Hard Yards

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    Ooooh - pleased to hear from both @Tonester and @Ramenman. Great thread & partly what got me looking into Aizu (along with the deals)

    Wouldn't be Japan if they didn't do things by the book :)
    Ha. I guess it's just force of habit - in the past, I've always stayed in hotels close to the slopes so they've always had drying rooms of some sort. I may look into buying a boot and gloves dryer at the very least though - grateful of any recommendations (I see the Thermic dryer is well regarded although 220V/110V might be an issue - I'm in the UK and the version they sell here is 220V).
    Hrm... Keep in mind I'll be going very early in the season and during the busy period so I daresay roads may be easier to drive (clearer roads) at that time...? As I said, never driven on a ski trip in the past.

    Hmmm... Thinking a bit about it, maybe I could hire skis from the slope closest to Aizuwakamatsu for the whole week and ski there on the first and last day I'm in the area... (Looking at aizuski.jp, that'd be either Alts or Inawashiro).
     
  5. geeoff

    geeoff Hard Yards

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    My experience of most hotels in JP is that you can just lay your gear around and it will be bone dry the next morning...
    Make sure you get a 4WD car. They should all have snow tyres in that area. I hired a little Suzuki Swift 4WD some years ago in Aizuwakamatsu and it did the job on the roads to ski fields. Driving wise you should be OK just leave plenty of time and take it easy.

    Alts would be the best bet to hire gear.
     
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  6. Tonester

    Tonester One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    I've never had a need for a boot dryer in japan...or any where else for that matter. Just have them in your room and they'll be good to go by morning.
     
  7. ojisan

    ojisan Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    for the period you are going, it may be touch & go for some of the lower elevated Yuzawa resorts - snow wise, especially in December. (https://www.snowjapan.com/japan-daily-snow-weather-reports/Yuzawa-Now )
    Then again, they could have a December like they did in 2014/15 where over 550 cm fell.
     
  8. elSpike

    elSpike I am a Meat Popsicle Ski Pass: Gold

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    Just remember to close the window overnight.
    [​IMG]

    There are 3 gloves and a balaclava under there somewhere...
     
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  9. Draizuh

    Draizuh One of Us

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    Naeba is great fun. Its a bit derelict at times. Last time i was there (this year) Mikuni was still sleepy. Have to follow timetables to get to conbini etc.

    I wouldnt bother with a car in naeba. there is buses everywhere. You can often get free shuttles from your accom :)

    Id pick a car up on the way out.
     
  10. Mrdini

    Mrdini Hard Yards

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    Yes, I wouldn't be hiring a car in Naeba/Yuzawa. I'm hoping to get a JR East Tohoku Area Pass for the Tokyo -> Naeba -> Aizu-Wakamatsu -> Tokyo bits, and hiring a car in Aizu-Wakamatsu.

    Question regarding winter driving... I gather that lot of routes are closed in winter due to roads going over mountains(!). How do I know which routes are going to be open - would GPS tell me? (Google Maps don't seem to be very useful here!). I was looking on Youtube and a few places in inaka have caught my eyes (there's a railway station with a stationmaster cat a few miles south of Aizu-Wakamatsu and Ouchijuku looks absolutely gorgeous!) - would these be reachable by car in winter or would I need to use the local train?
     
  11. ojisan

    ojisan Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    The GPS would not send you up a road that is closed in winder
     
  12. Vermillion

    Vermillion Pool Room Ski Pass: Gold

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    That station would be open as that is the main road down to Minamiaizu, which remains open.

    It's not a foolproof method but any roads in the hundreds should normally be open all year round (excepting some circumstances). 200 and 300 numbered roads I would be suspicious about, especially ones that are mountain passes. Having said that, the 400 route is open all year round from the East coast right through, so like I said it's not foolproof.
     
  13. Draizuh

    Draizuh One of Us

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    Check the validity on the passes. If they are valid for only 7 days it might limit your time in Yuzawa.
    Fun fact, there is a relatively cheap Tokyo area 3 day pass that will get you to gala yuzawa in winter and from memory is quite cheap. Id do that on the way there, and pick up a pass in yuzawa if you can, as its quite a big station.
     
  14. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    You sure about this?
     
  15. ojisan

    ojisan Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    In my experience... Yes
     
  16. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    Mine is other...
    But @Born2ski @Born2skii had a even more hairy moment if I recall
     
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  17. M_G

    M_G M_G_ = Make skiing great again Ski Pass: Gold

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    Have to second Donzah. I've been sent into some doozies of places. I had to dig out a Japanese couple from the small roadway next to RW early one winter. They'd basically just followed their Navi into a road nearly one metre deep in snow.
     
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  18. Melskius

    Melskius Addicted

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    We are doing a similar trip. 5 days in Naeba, but decided to do Aizu as a day trip. Spending 3 nights in sendai. We went to Naeba for a few days this year. Used the JR east nagano-niigita pass then, 2019 trip will be JR east south pass 19000yen 5 of 14days. Worked out 53000yen of trips will be taken using it in 2019.
     
  19. Born2ski

    Born2ski Part of the Furniture

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    Google maps GPS definitely will. I've had it try to send me up many closed roads in Japan and also a few in the USA.

    In relation to Japanese in car Navi units, I've never had them take me up a closed road but they have taken me up some dodgy single lane steep goat tracks that nearly got me in trouble.

    My advice when travelling in Japan in winter is stick to the main roads, don't take the Navi "shortcut".
     
  20. Tonester

    Tonester One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    I'll second that!
     
  21. Vermillion

    Vermillion Pool Room Ski Pass: Gold

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    Like I said, 100's should be OK, i'd double check the 200s and 300s though.
     
  22. Vermillion

    Vermillion Pool Room Ski Pass: Gold

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    It's one thing to follow a GPS that takes you onto a closed road. It's an entirely different thing to get yourself stuck so badly you need digging out because you followed your GPS. At some point your brain has to switch to the ON position and go hey hang on, it's winter, in Japan, some roads are closed, maybe this is one of them, oh yeah the snow is getting deep, OK we cant drive anymore now.
     
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  23. ojisan

    ojisan Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    the only problem I had with GPS in Japan is that it kept directing me onto toll roads when the local road would have been quicker
     
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  24. M_G

    M_G M_G_ = Make skiing great again Ski Pass: Gold

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    You'd think that, hey?! Unfortunately not for some.

    Sometimes, not always, the gut works better than the navi.
     
  25. Mrdini

    Mrdini Hard Yards

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    So all going well so far! Naeba & Kagura was fun! Rather enjoyed the resort although not sure if I'd visit again (too many novice skiiers in Naeba so kept going over to Kagura every day).

    Went to Alts Bandai this PM and only one lift open :( I gather the forecast is for more snow overnight but not too sure where to go tomorrow yet - any suggestion? I'm not too keen on going back to Alts again so soon as they said "maybe" about opening up more lifts (although website right now is claiming the majority of the resort will be open... Hmm...) - would rather wait a few days before going back to Alts if I'm to be honest.

    I asked... "No. Day hire only unless you're staying at the hotel". :( Has anyone got any idea where I can hire skis for 6 days? I'm not too keen on hiring skis day by day - could get a bit spendy, not to mention a pain. I did ask at Alts if they had any suggestions but they were "No idea, sorry!". Help?!??!?!

    On a side note, didn't find it too much of a problem driving around thankfully. Roads are fairly clear of snow at the moment. As for the whole "driving in Japan" thing, roads are surprisingly well laid out - but so much distractions and flashing lights everywhere in towns! Got to be really alert! Was given a very handy map by the car rental with telephone numbers of ski resorts which is super-useful for sat navs! Can upload it if anyone's interested.
     
  26. 2ESki

    2ESki Addicted

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    Sounds fun, need photo's :thumbs:
     
  27. Melskius

    Melskius Addicted

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    We are going to the places you've been in feb. Got 5 nights at Naeba, planning on skiing Kagura too. We were thinking about Alts Bandai, but chose Naeba (convience with food and kids). Keep posting some trip reports... and pics too. Have fun.
     
  28. Mrdini

    Mrdini Hard Yards

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    Sorry for not getting back with a trip report in end!
    @Melskius - with a family, yes, Naeba may be the best option. The Prince (although I didn't stay there) seemed to have everything a family would ever want. Loads of restaurants and so on. I won't go on as Naeba is fairly well trafficked and I daresay others have covered Naeba elsewhere on this forum.

    So - went to Aizuwakamatsu & loved the experience. I have to say that the freedom to pick and choose ski resorts every day is super! Being a solo traveller with no off-piste experience or lessons, I don't do off-piste & have never done sadly - not safe on my own although one day, one day.

    Day 1 - Ouchijuku, followed by 1/2 day at Alts.
    Relatively rubbish day -_- Only one lift was running at Alts - the snow was fairly poor elsewhere and Alts was practically a ghost town! Parked virtually outside the resort.
    Day 2 - Nekoma
    The big storm arrived and it snowed everywhere. Went to Nekoma and _loved_ it. All pistes had fresh snow all day long :D Tiny resort, but great when the snow's fresh. The drive up there was a bit scary (first time in serious snow) and down too... Lived to tell the story though ;) I did admit to being a little concerned when I saw signs for snow chains laybys and "Last snow chain change station" on the way up - even though I didn't see many if any cars with chains
    Day 3 - Inawashiro
    A bit of an alright. So the resort is kind of split into two and it takes a bit of time to get from one area to the other. Gorgeous views however!
    Day 4 - Grand Sunpia Inawashiro
    Kinda boring as really only had a handful of runs and serviced by a gondola. Wasn't really my favourite along with Grandeco. But the views over Lake Inawashiro were stunning too! :)
    Day 5 & 6 - Alts Bandai
    The whole mountain was open. The first day - Mon 31st Dec was absolutely heaving - it was like a completely and utterly different resort. Instead of parking next to the resort building, I ended up parking miles away and had to take a shuttle bus! I have to say that Alts is a really rather nice resort when everything's open - but its a pain to get from one hill to the other so I did one hill one day & the other hill the next.
    Day 7 - Grandeco
    Ugh. Did not like Grandeco infrastructure at all. A number of fun tree runs and nice views. But took me ages to get up onto the hill. Granted, it was a busy day but queues everywhere - queues for ticket office, queues for ski rental and queues for gondola. Grandeco's fault is that all runs pretty much funnels you down to a single gondola at the end that's pretty tiny with a long queue.

    My one regret is that I did not get the chance to go to some of the other resorts such as Minowa but most of these resorts were a bit further away and although I got more comfortable with driving in snow towards the end of the trip, it's still pretty slow driving around in snow.

    I do definitely want to go back to the region and explore some of the Adatara resorts.

    Aizuski.co.jp is running a couple of super promotions that are well worth mentioning...
    * Cheap car rental - just show your ski pass afterwards. One problem is that Alts & Nekoma use electronic lift passes that you have to return at the end of the day so an excuse to visit smaller resorts that use paper passes ;) https://aizuski.jp/blog/2018/10/bestpricerentalcars/.
    * Lift passes are capped at ¥3500 for adults and free for kids up to 24 years old! https://aizuski.jp/blog/2018/12/liftticket/

    There's a nice Instagram channel that is featuring pictures from various resorts although all pics seems to be nice sunny days (I saw the sun very rarely ;) ) https://www.instagram.com/aizuski/

    Happy to answer any queries! I have to say that of all the areas I've skiied in Japan, the Aizu region is definitely way way up there in terms of ambience and overall experience even if individual resorts may be tiny. I suppose i'd put it down to having a car, staying in a proper town (& not a seasonal resort) and being able to visit a different resort every day - mixing it up a bit.
     
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  29. Mrdini

    Mrdini Hard Yards

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    One final point & worthy of a separate post - I'd like to say many thanks to @Ramenman and @Tonester for the excellent Mt Bandai thread in my first post - without that spark, I may very well have not gone to the region!
     
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  30. skipperlee

    skipperlee Hard Yards

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    did you pay for the car rental at the end to get the discount ?
    im going back to tohoku / aizu area 2020 and this car deal would be great if it is on offer again!
     
  31. Mrdini

    Mrdini Hard Yards

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    Paid up front with card. They did ask for ski passes afterwards (and I had car park tickets too). I'm honestly not sure how they would've retroactively charged me if I hadn't gone skiing - perhaps using the card on file (for damages) - or if I'd only skied Alts/Nekoma with their refundable RFID ski passes.

    Go for it, especially if they run the promo again next season! I know where I'm going next season ;) (In fact, I was very sorely tempted to go skiing right around this time if it wasn't for the poor season :( )
     
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  32. geeoff

    geeoff Hard Yards

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    The 1 day ski hire is weird! Seemed to have a decent hire range. Hope you ended up sorting your gear out.
     
  33. Mrdini

    Mrdini Hard Yards

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    Nope sadly. Ended up hiring day by day - it's certainly one way of ski testing! (I know now that I rather like the Atomic ETL 165! ;) )... So wasn't too bad a thing in the end as had my own boots so just grab skis and go. Grandeco was the absolute worst though for queues.