Don’t just watch it, do it!
by Suzy Small
Major sporting events often inspire spectators to turn off the television and get involved in some kind of sport themselves. After every World Cup there is a rush of interest in soccer, and Summer Olympics are often followed by a surge of enrollments in swimming, athletics, and gymnastics clubs. If watching this year’s Winter Olympics fills you with enthusiasm for trying skiing or snowboarding, you’re in the right place. Thanks to the shinkansen, you can leave Tokyo and be on the slopes in as little as three hours, and the choice of resorts means that whether it’s your first time on skis, or you’re looking for half-pipes to board, there will be a resort that’s right for you.
Arai Mountains Resort and Spa
Arai Mountains is one of Niigata’s newest resorts, and is a great destination for both beginner and advanced snow lovers. The resort has varied terrain, with the longest run clocking in at an impressive 5.2 kms. Arai’s close proximity to the Japan Sea ensures snowfall depths of 400-600cms between January to April, which means quality skiing is available for up to five months of the year. The resort’s comprehensive English-language website makes booking a breeze, and provides all the information you need about accommodation options, ski school, lift tickets, and rentals. After a day on the slopes, you can relax in the resort’s spa facilities, which include omen-style bathing and relaxing beauty treatments, and there is also a choice of several bars and restaurants offering both Japanese and Western-style meals.
Scala Grove Inn, Hakuba
Hakuba is one of Japan’s most famous ski areas, having been chosen to host several events during the 1998 Winter Olympics. Whether you ski like an Olympian already or are just starting out, it’s a great place to go. The Scala Grove Inn, with its choice of Japanese or Western-style ensuite rooms, is an excellent base for your time in Hakuba. You can easily access the ski areas via a free shuttle bus and skiing or snowboarding will be all the more enjoyable when you know that a delicious six-course meal and hot ofuro (bath) are waiting for you at the end of the day. The Grove Inn’s friendly, English-speaking staff are happy to answer all your questions, and can collect you from the station if you arrive by train.
Tel. 0261-72-4325, Fax: 0261-72-4718
Hakuba Goryu Escal Plaza
Hakuba Goryu, is conveniently located right at the entrance to Hakuba village. Skiing and snowboarding are available from late November until springtime, and the runs have spectacular views of surrounding mountains. The varied terrain makes the resort suitable for all levels, and there are also plenty of apres-ski facilities. When you need a break, the Toomi Gelende’s Escal Plaza is open from 11:30am until 10:30pm, and has everything you need — a large sunny cafeteria, nice restaurants, ski shops, an indoor pool, sauna and Jacuzzi, and an outdoor hot tub on the slopes.
Hakuba Alps Backpackers
Hakuba Alps Backpackers is only a three-minute shuttle bus away from Goryu ski field, a great place to spend the day for people of all ages and abilities. Another option, just five minutes away, is Happo One ski field, host of the 1998 Olympic Games ski jump competition.
The hostel itself offers clean and comfortable accommodation at a very reasonable price. There is an open-plan kitchen for guests to use, two living rooms equipped with a DVD player and television, and a Jacuzzi to soak your aching bones after a day on the slopes. There are also several restaurants and a bar within walking distance. This season, Hakuba Alps Backpackers is offering two ski packages. The first includes a day lift pass for Aokiko ski field and accommodation for ¥4,500. For ¥5,500, the other package includes a day ski pass and accommodation for the entire Sanosaka area.
Evergreen Outdoors Center
One company that makes it easier for foreigners living in Japan to discover the treasures of the Japanese Alps and enjoy what this spectacular area has to offer is the Evergreen Outdoor Center. Owned and operated by Canadian guide, David Enright, Evergreen provides a variety of activities year-round for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. During the winter they provide ski and snowboard instruction, snowshoe adventures, X-country skiing on the 1998 Olympic course, and back country tours. Dave is a professional avalanche forecaster and an instructor for the Canadian Avalanche Association and Japan Avalanche Network. His great passion and respect for the mountains drives him to assist others in learning more about these snow-covered peaks through teaching avalanche courses during the winter and guiding people into the Alps during any of Japan’s amazing four seasons.
Tel. 0261-72-5150 Fax: 0261-72-8056
Niseko, Hokkaido’s biggest ski resort, is famous around the world for its beautiful powder snow and friendly atmosphere. Every year thousands of visitors fly from the U.S., Europe, and Australia to ski in some of the world’s best conditions. For those of us lucky enough to be in Japan already, Niseko is just a short domestic flight and bus connection away.
Once you arrive, local company Hokkaido Tracks can provide everything you need to make your holiday a success. They will organize transfers and accommodation, but it’s the little extras that make their service stand out. If you book a self-catering apartment they will arrange to fill the fridge with food before you arrive, and they can help with ski hire and lift ticket selection, making everything simple even if you don’t speak much Japanese. And, if like many visitors you fall in love with Niseko and want to come back, they are able to assist anyone looking to buy real estate in the area.
Finally, for those who would like to enjoy the Japanese winter but can’t quite be tempted onto the slopes, try Minshuku Sosuke in Takayama. Takayama, known as ‘Little Kyoto’ because of its many old buildings and temples, is nestled in the mountains of Gifu.
The minshuku itself is a charming reminder of older times; the 170 year-old building has a welcoming fireplace, and traditional Japanese meals are served for dinner and breakfast, making it the perfect place to escape from a wintery Tokyo.
Tel. 0577-32-0818 Fax: 0577-33-5570