Last month I ended by saying that by the time I was posting my next article we would hopefully be playing in some seriously deep snow here in Japan.
As I write this on 28th December, I am happy to report that many of the mountains throughout Japan are getting dumped on with some serious snow being reported. For example, since yesterday, an impressive 80cm of snow has been reported at the base of the ski resorts in Myoko (Niigata), with around 50cm in other areas of Niigata and part of northern Japan. This is easily the strongest cold front of the season and it looks set to last at least a few days. Nice.
Until now though, for most regions December has been something of a frustration and has at times been testing our patience.
Last time I mentioned how the first snowfall recorded in the northern island of Hokkaido this season arrived rather later than usual. Since then, resort areas like Niseko have been doing fairly decently, though they still don’t have their top gates and out of bounds areas open. Still, snowfall has been recorded on all but a handful of days throughout the month of December and up until today just over 3.5m of snowfall has been recorded at base for the season to date. As a comparison, by the end of December 2018 about 6m had been recorded in the same place – so there is a way to go to catch up to the incredible start last season.
There may well be some exceptions, but I think it is fair to say that in general most mountainous regions of the main island of Honshu have been struggling with snow this month. There have been a few moderate dumps here and there, but it has not been consistent, and temperatures have stubbornly often remained higher than usual for December. Most ski hills have managed to get open, but many remain only part open as we waited for this heavy snowfall to change things.
Christmas may be something of a ‘new tradition’ here in non-Christian Japan but with 23rd December being a national holiday – The Emperor’s Birthday – and young people increasingly observing Christmas events, resorts very much want to be open by then and absolutely before the very important New Year holidays.
As I see heavy snow coming down outside my window it is looking like we might be able to end the year with some exciting conditions and hopefully all the ski resorts will soon be able to get fully open.
The ‘ski boom’ that Japan enjoyed in the late 1980’s saw some impressive – and sometimes improbable! – ski resort facilities being approved and built. It was a pretty heady time and for a period, skiing was the thing to do and be seen doing. Japan likes such ‘booms’ and fads so such levels of enthusiasm were destined not to last forever and in recent decades Japan has seen the number of people skiing and snowboarding steadily decreasing. The introduction of snowboarding helped as has the increasing number of visitors from overseas. All in all, though, there has been more news of ski lifts and ski hill closures than of new facilities opening.
One or two new ski lifts have opened in Japan in recent years, one being a ‘hybrid’ lift in Niseko. That was the first I had heard of a hybrid life – one that has both chairlifts and gondola cabins operating on the same lift line.
The biggest ski resort news in Japan this season is surely the new facilities that have just opened at the Ishiuchi Maruyama ski resort in Niigata Prefecture. Ishiuchi Maruyama has been open since 1949 and is a northern facing resort located just outside the boundaries of Yuzawa town. The region is popular for people living in the Tokyo region – you can leave central Tokyo and be on the slopes within two hours either by car or using the Joetsu shinkansen bullet train.
Ishiuchi Maruyama has introduced three new facilities this year including a new Resort Centre building that acts as a base as well as a new mid-mountain triple lift. But the biggest news is another hybrid lift.
It’s not particularly long at just under 1.2km in length, but it certainly looks very slick. The new lift is called ‘Sunrise Express’ and features 19 Gondola cabins with big windows all round along with tan leather spacious bucket seating as well as 57 six-person chairlifts which are hooded and have heated seating! In normal operations there are three chairlifts in between each gondola, and riders can choose which they want to ride with separate boarding areas for the different carrier types. The new modern technology in this lift is claiming that it will be an extremely smooth and quiet ride and it certainly feels that way.
It is great to see some new facilities being introduced.
Anyway, right now I have to go outside and shovel some snow. May there be much more of it – here’s to a very snowy new year for us all.
See you in January.