There’s always fresh winter powder at Japan’s biggest resort area
It’s become common knowledge that Japan has a number of impressive powder resorts, all vying for attention with their huge snowfalls, relaxing hot springs, and exceptionally good local cuisine. There’s only one though, that comes complete with snow monkeys.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Shiga Kogen resort area in Nagano Prefecture. For skiers and boarders, it’s like going to a music festival with more great bands than you can physically manage to see.
As well as the snow monkeys, the bill at Shiga Kogen features 19 different resort areas across 400 hectares of snowy land, which lies at altitudes of between 1,340 and 2,307 metres within Joshin’etsu Kogen National Park.
The 52 lifts and gondolas that connect to all courses and the inter-resort shuttle buses can be accessed with one single pass. Their season is one of Japan’s longest, beginning in mid November and continuing in the uppermost areas through until late May, and they are accessible from Tokyo by bullet train and bus in just over three hours.
To satisfy serious powder skiers and boarders, Shiga Kogen implements a no-grooming policy the morning after a fresh dump at its Terakoya, Ichinose Family, Ichinose Diamond, Higashidateyama and Nishidateyama resorts, while there are permanently non-groomed slopes at its Takamagahara and Mauruike resorts. Yokoteyama Ski Resort is home to Japan’s highest ski field, and the highest slopes in Shiga Kogen. Seeing the rare natural phenomenon of ‘juhyo’, frost-covered trees known as snow monsters, adds to the excitement of skiing down from the 2,307-metre summit of Mt Yokote. Yokoteyama is a mecca for riders hungry for a taste of quality powder all season long. The most expansive and well-developed of Shiga Kogen’s resorts is Yakebitaiyama, which has 19 courses connected by two gondolas and two high-speed chairlifts, as well as a terrain park. Experienced riders will enjoy the challenge of its Olympic Course – specially constructed for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics – and Expert Course, which has a cartwheel-inducing 39˚ incline.
Recently, Shiga Kogen was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which are known as UNESCO Eco Parks in Japan. The area has been loved by skiers since 1960, and although its infrastructure and facilities have been developed, most remains in a natural state. The surrounding environment is well looked after and maintained to live up to its title as a Biosphere Reserve. Shiga Kogen is also pursuing a ecologically friendly way to develop and enjoy all that the area has to offer, to encourage eco-tourism in the area.
Accommodation options in Shiga Kogen are as vast as the resort area itself. In addition to the convenience and comfort of plush ski-in, ski-out hotels, there are a number of traditional Japanese hot spring inns located in towns and villages inside the resort area, like Yamanouchi, as well as Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen.
The inns are a great opportunity to experience an outstanding kaiseki degustation banquet prepared with the seasonal produce of Nagano Prefecture, which can include delicious salmon, beef and mountain vegetables. They make superb bases to enjoy the powder at a variety of resorts, visit must-see attractions in the area like the snow monkeys in Jigokudani Monkey Park, and boutique breweries and restaurants, returning at the end of the day to the luxury of a steaming hot spring bath.
How close is Shiga Kogen to?
Tokyo: 3 hrs 10 min (car)
Osaka: 4 hrs 45 min (train)