The view from the top of Mt Yokoteyama is spectacular. At 2307m, this is the highest peak here at Shiga Kogen, Japan’s largest mountain resort.
As it’s taken me roughly an hour to get here via various chairlifts from my hotel, I’m inclined to take a break before I spend half the morning skiing down it. It’s actually quite dizzying looking down the path of the chairlift we’ve just ridden up here on.
I take the obligatory selfie by the sign that says 2307m before heading into the warm and cozy “Highest Starbucks in Asia” for a coffee that tastes… exactly like Starbucks coffee at sea level.
With 19 ski areas in total, Shiga Kogen is one of the largest mountain resorts in Japan – possibly in the whole of Asia.
I’m here with No. 1 son who, at 16 years old, is crazy about anything and everything Japanese. And snowboarding. So a trip to Japan ski resort is about as close to heaven for him as you can get (loads of brownie points for me then).
Located in Yamanouchi, in Japan’s Nagano prefecture, it’s easily accessible from Tokyo, with a regular bullet train service that takes exactly 1 hour 25 minutes to Nagano Station and shuttle bus service to the ski fields.
It’s also close to a cluster of ancient onsen (hot springs) villages, which we took the opportunity to explore first, to soak up some traditional Japanese culture.
Food is another great feature of the mountain resort. Instead of the usual meat pies, hot dogs and refried calcified chips we’re used to in Australian mountain resorts, at the Shiga Kogen cafeterias we have a choice of katsu chicken, Japanese curry, sashimi, sushi and miso soup. I feel healthier just looking at the menu.
The lift passes are a darn sight cheaper than Australia as well. One lift pass will get you on all 53 lifts and while there are regular (free) shuttle buses between each ski area, it is possible to ski (or board) from one end to the other, passing through a few rather interesting connecting runs.
On Day 1, we start from the bottom doorstep of our hotel, the wonderfully cozy Villa Alpen, ski across to the nearest chairlift, then down to the other end of the valley and through a tunnel that leads us under the road to a car park.
The trail then takes us behind a hotel, through another car park, over a lake to the next lift. There are several very quirky trails like this taking us through tunnels, down ramps and over bridges as we make our way across this massive mountain resort.
Each mountain we scale in this enormous park has a variety of runs, ranging from green to black so most are accessible even for beginners. There are even areas at each extreme end, in Okushigakogen and some parts of Yokoteyama, that are snowboard-free zones.
The mountain park sits within a national park, so development is limited and the area is surrounded by a rather stunning wilderness.
It really is spectacular – especially the famous Snow Monsters. These are pine trees so heavily laden with snow that they resemble creatures frozen in time.
You could easily spend a week here exploring all the mountains. We managed 22 lifts in one day, starting as soon as the lifts opened and making it back to our hotel shortly before the last connecting lift closed.
For boarders, there are plenty of terrain parks both here in the main mountain resort and Kita Shiga Kogen, an area that includes the Ryuoo Ski Park and X-JAM Takai Fuji.
At Ryuoo Ski Park there are plenty of beginner slopes lower down, but only black runs from the top of Ryuoo Ropeway – one of the largest gondolas in Asia. It’s not for the faint hearted, with slopes as steep as 38 degrees and waist deep powder.
Where to Stay:
Villa Alpen is in Sun Valley, Shiga Kogen. A great place to start your exploration of the mountain.
It’s a family-run hotel and father (The Captain) and son are both extremely experienced ski instructors, having trained and worked all over the world.
Both the Captain and his son Ken are excellent hosts; the Captain kept me entertained in the evenings with his many many stories and we spent a fantastic day skiing with Ken.
I especially like the bar, with an open fire and a great selection of local craft beer and home made fruit wine.
There is a choice of both traditional and Western rooms, and we chose traditional, which was equipped with enough futons (and heaters) to sleep a small army.
We flew Cathay Pacific, who I can highly recommend, even at the non-pointy end of the plane. Fantastic service on the ground and in the air.