“…the highest terrain park in the Hakuba Valley…”
Tsugaike Kogen is one of the Hakuba Valley’s biggest resorts, and transforms from a highland oasis of colour in the off-season to a powder paradise in winter.
The twelve courses within its 155 hectares are connected by 27 lifts, giving everyone more than enough space to stretch out and enjoy themselves. But if there isn’t enough, Tsugaike Kogen is one of ten Hakuba Valley resorts that belong to The Mountain Collective – their All Area Season Pass will let you pop in and out of resorts whenever you desire.
Views of the valley around the resort are magnificent, especially from the courses descending its upper reaches around 1,700m. They include the Tsuga-no-mori Course, a wide intermediate slope, and the Uma-no-se Course, a 35° expert’s run with tighter turns and moguls.
Also located high up at Tsugaike Kogen is its Hit Park, the highest terrain park in the Hakuba Valley. It opens during January on the Han-no-ki Course and shifts to the Tsuga-no-mori Course during March, offering a mix of kickers up to twelve metres high, boxes and banks.
And if you prefer your powder off-piste, Tsugaike Kogen’s ungroomed runs, or better still its backcountry are waiting to be explored. Helicopter trips take skiers and snowboarders to the Tsugaike Kogen backcountry from March every year, dropping them off at 2,200m to enjoy the long 14km run back to the base. The area is a part of Chubu-Sangaku National Park, and the unforgettable journey through its dynamic surroundings can also be enjoyed on a guided snowshoe hiking tour.
Back at the base, Tsugaike Kogen has plenty of wide open spaces for beginner and intermediate riders like the Kane-no-naru Oka, as well as play areas and other facilities for kids.
There are plenty of accommodation in the village as well as local hot springs. They provide essential après-ski therapy after a great day exploring all that Tsugaike Kogen has to offer.
Tsugaike Kogen, Otari-mura, Kitaazumi-gun
Days 8:00-17:00, Nights 18:00-21:00
Travelling times to Tsugaike Kogen Tokyo: 3 hrs 10 min (train), Osaka: 5 hrs 25 min (train)
New Off-Piste Terrain at Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort by James A. Robb, Guide/Instructor, Evergreen Outdoor Center, Hakuba
Hakuba is renowned for its majestic peaks, epic snowfalls and powder skiing both right on the piste and in the boundless backcountry. However, on the resorts, the in-bound tree runs and side-country terrain can be either a total “no-go zone” where one risks losing their pass, or is an uncontrolled avalanche area where the risks are much greater. The common tendency for adventurous skiers and snowboarders though, is to seek out these off-piste areas and ride them.
In response to the growing demand for “off-piste areas” in or near ski area boundaries and the aim of increased safety for their guests, Tsugaike Ski Resort commissioned Evergreen Outdoor Center to professionally mitigate avalanche hazard at the resort and open previously closed off-piste terrain to the public. Evergreen’s Director, Dave Enright with assistance from NPO ACT’s Director, Motomura Koji and Alaska Avalanche Specialist’s Director, Bill Glude assembled the most qualified team of avalanche professionals Japan has seen to date to form ‘Japan Avalanche Specialists’, JAS. Tsugaike’s layout includes two prominent ridge lines that include steep avalanche slide paths that cross regular on-piste runs as well as open glades, chutes, cliffs, steep trees and pillow lines in previously closed areas. This winter once the JAS team had blasted the avalanche start zones with high explosives and deemed the avalanche hazard to be low risk, lifts and courses were opened and guests were treated to some of the best steep and deep powder skiing Hakuba has to offer.
The rewards of skiing these new off piste areas need to always be balanced with one’s own personal risks. Skiers and boarders should all be carrying their own beacon, probe and shovel and be ready to do their own self-rescue, as getting a patrol rescue from any of these areas will be a costly experience. Everyone should obey the signs and enter the off-piste areas at designated gates.
One should also keep in mind the concept of the “Avalanche Hazard Triangle”. There are 3 basic things that create hazardous avalanche conditions. The 3 corners of the triangle are “Avalanche Terrain” or potential avalanche areas, “Unstable Snowpack” and “People” or man-made structures. Remove 1 of these 3 factors and you reduce or eliminate avalanche danger.
Of these 3 ways to mitigate the danger in riding the off-piste terrain, the Japanese ski resorts generally only use the concept, don’t enter avalanche terrain, period. The problem with this however, is that there will always be people who don’t know the danger and enter into avalanche terrain. One should only enter these areas with others who have the appropriate safety gear and know the area, or hire a professional guide who can guide you and your group safely.
From a longtime locals’ perspective, this “controlled opening” of these off piste areas is a wonderful and welcome change and definitely a step in the right direction for powder enthusiasts and ski resort evolution in Japan.
James A. Robb is a professional guide and General Manager at the Evergreen Outdoor Center in Hakuba, Nagano and has resided in Nagano for over 10 years. He has attained his CAA Level 1, CSGA Level 1, CSIA Level 2, CASI Level 2, CIGA Professional and Advanced Wilderness First Aid & CPR as well as multiple other summer guiding certificates.