Greetings to you all from Japan. I hope this finds you safe.

I so much want to try and make this not be all about coronavirus and gloomy news. No doubt we are all close to overload on that subject! But, alas, it’s almost impossible to ignore the subject given the impact that it is having on all our lives – including the operations of ski resorts and access to our beloved snow.

I’ll start off with the good news: some ski resorts in Japan remain open.

Over recent weeks I have been noticing that ski resorts around the world have been closing due to restrictions being imposed by various lockdowns. It does feel kind of odd – and certainly in some eyes somewhat controversial – that ski resorts here have mostly remained open.

Well, the ones that have enough snow! More on that later.

2019-2020 really has been the season of a ‘double punch’ for much of the Japanese snow industry.

That first punch was, of course, the mild winter and lack of expected levels of snowfall.

It is important to note that since my last report there have certainly been bouts of snowfall here and there, and there has also been some flashes of Japanese brilliance in places.

But in general, the ongoing frustrating ‘warmer than usual with less snow than usual’ trend has continued. Much more than is usual, this season warmer air has been brought up from the south.

Below I present to you two images courtesy of the Japan Meteorological Agency. Each image shows three maps of Japan – the top map shows average temperature (°C), the second map shows average rainfall (%) and the third map shows average sunlight hours (%). All are compared with the expected ‘normal’ for the same period.

The first set of maps is for the three-month period between December 2019 and February 2020. That red on the top map is showing temperatures for a large chunk of Japan being around 2C (or more) warmer than usual. As you can see, the northern island of Hokkaido fared better than most of Japan with only a slight increase. It often remained very cold up there in Hokkaido! That’s what we like.

The second set of maps is for the month of March 2020 and it shows how that pattern continued for pretty much all of the winter.

Even in a good winter season, ski areas in western Japan do not generally get as much snowfall as those in northern regions, but they really have endured a difficult year this time round. I can’t find any specific numbers to report to you, but there were more than a few ski areas that were not able to open at all. Not even for one day. Unfortunately, I think that it is going to be almost inevitable that some of those ski areas are not going to survive.

So, on to the second punch.

Initially the coronavirus did not appear to be so threatening, but then suddenly many people were unable to enter Japan around the busy Chinese New Year holiday period. Further travel restrictions greatly reduced the number of overseas visitors. For some ski resorts that increasingly rely on that relatively new overseas market, it has been something of a shock to the system. Some less invested areas may well be doing some rethinking. As the coronavirus situation has developed over recent weeks, it started to affect the number of domestic visitors too. While the official number of confirmed virus cases in Japan remains relatively low, they have been increasing in recent days…

The latest event was the Japanese government declaring a ‘state of emergency’ for Tokyo and six other areas on Tuesday 7th April. This is not exactly a ‘lockdown’ as is happening in other countries – it is more of a strongly worded but polite request for co-operation.

Post announcement, the major Hakuba Happo-one resort in Hakuba (Nagano Prefecture) became, I believe, the first ski resort in Japan to announce a closure due to the coronavirus situation. They announced it on Tuesday, and that day ended up being their last day of the season. The nearby Tsugaike Kogen quickly followed by announcing that Wednesday 8th April would be their last day of the season. Both were originally planning on being open until 6th May.

As things stand today (Thursday 9th April), some ski resorts around Japan do remain at least part open. The following list is not complete, but amongst the more famous names:

  • In Hokkaido, three of the four ski resorts that comprise Niseko United remain open and Furano in the central region is also part open
  • In the northern Tohoku region, Appi, Geto Kogen and Zao Onsen remain open to varying degrees
  • Hakuba 47 and Hakuba Goryu in the Hakuba Valley region of Nagano Prefecture both remain open
  • Nozawa Onsen and Shiga Kogen in the northern region of Nagano Prefecture are also part open
  • Kagura in Niigata is open. GALA Yuzawa will be closing on Sunday (brought forward from a planned closing date of 6th May).

Kagura has plans to remain open until 24th May. I’m not sure that I would put a bet on that happening given the snow situation, but they always prove to be very good at squeezing as much out of a season as possible!

So, if you are here and want a last fix or two during the 2019-2020 season, it’s still available – if you can get to it and want to try!

I think all anyone really wants right now is for next season to be able to just be ‘normal’. After all, as I have said before, ‘normal’ in Japan is really, really great.

I promise that my next report will be on a positive subject!

In the meantime, take care and stay safe.