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Shiga Kogen live trip report

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I had a business trip to Taipei so tacked a week's holiday on the end and flew over to Tokyo where my son is a student. We had dithered about where to go but in the end decided to go for height and miles of piste in Shiga Kogen. Hotel booked the day before arrival.

Decision made we took the 10.48 Shinkansen from Tokyo station to Nagano, arriving at 12.15. Unfortunately the next bus wasn't until 14.15 so we stored the luggage in a coin locker (every main railway station seems to have them) had a stroll around, bought a few bits and pieces, worked out where the bus went from and had lunch at the soba restaurant next to the bus stop (soba noodles, broth, tempura prawns, green tea -¥570). Bus was on time and not too busy and ¥2000 per person to Shiga Kogen Prince hotel West. As we gained height the road was snow covered - they had had 5-10cm overnight.

The hotel is a bit dated, I suspect built for the Winter Olympics, but functional enough and our room looks out over the pistes. There is everything on site including ski rental with a decent range of modern gear a couple of small gear shops, a large locker room plus onsen and a couple of restaurants.

We decided to explore so walked up to Ichinose along the main road for dinner, finding a Nepalese restaurant where curries, rice, naans and a couple of beers cost ¥4,150 for two. A large group of expat ski instructors were in there (Brits, Aussies, Kiwis) and I took the chance to ask about the best ski areas. Apparently all the areas link so we will explore that. Shuttle bus back to the hotel. By now it was -8C and feeling crispy underfoot.

Out on the hill tomorrow, probably staying around Yakebitai which is virtually ski in/out. More to follow when we get our skis on.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
First day on the ski area and the plan to stay local went out of the window. Seeing the weather forecast might bring snow later in the week we decided to explore. Started from Shiga Kogen Prince West and up the chair handily located 50m from the hotel. After a couple of laps (and one crash on a green run for me - getting used to the rental skis I claim) we headed to Ichinose Diamond and Ichinose Family areas. No-one about until we crossed the road here and genuinely no queues all day. Everything in perfect nick early on and we still had corduroy at points in the afternoon.

Kept linking areas and ended up at Sun Valley, the furthest point without using a ski bus. Some sort of regional slalom race going on at "Giant" run. Looked to be a juniors event.

Lots of cruise runs and a few steeper ones, some unpisted and having long mogul fields. In terms of size and style not too dissimilar to the Portes du Soleil where I have spent a lot of the time, particularly the Les Gets side with lots of roughly parallel pistes all merging and runs through the trees at various points.

Big parties of wholly incompetent school kids - you could pick who was going to crash next 100m in advance.

Found a good spot for lunch (more noodles) Restaurant Dakekamba, Takamagahada Mammoth area. Then home via Ichinose and a few runs round the home area at Yakebitaiyama.

Sun virtually all day and getting soft at the very bottom but above about 1700m the snow was still on the trees (birch rather than pine).

Bed now, going the other direction tomorrow.
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
thank you
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Another nice day, mostly sunny with some high cloud. Kept to the Eastern End of the valley and covered all of the lifts and runs in Okushiga before lunch. A really nice quiet area with four or five chairs, runs of all standards a snowpark and a yellow bear skiing around. We skied everything and initially wondered about the black runs but they were all fine and probably only steep red in the Alps. Found a nice spot for lunch where we bumped into the English family my son had helped buy lift passes earlier in the day. Introduced them to the "Stamp Rally" a strangely Japanese idea where you stamp a card with a large round stamp and ink pad. Collect one from each of four ski areas and they award you with a pin badge of Okumin, the area mascot which is a sort of stoat. We're working on it!

After lunch headed to Ichinose and covered all of Diamond and Family areas. The black run skiers right of the 4 man chair was deserted and hardly cut up at 1500. Fantastic. We arranged dinner at the Teppa Room izakaya on the Main Street, a 10 minute walk from the hotel. 8 local beers and Japanese snacks to go with them, what's not to like. Based on my limited experience somewhere in Ichinose would be the place to stay. It has good access to most of the valley and a few bars and restaurants and feels like a (very quiet) ski town. The Prince hotel is a bit soulless and out on a limb and populated mainly by Japanese families and a smattering of Brits and Aussies who wander round looking for the bar (there isn't one!).

We're trying the onsen tonight as it is the 26th it is due to be full of apples for which the area is apparently famous. Will report back on my first onsen experience.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
You should have an Onsen at the end of every day.
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@Fogliettaz, just had my first. My legs feel much better than they usually do at the end of a ski day.

It was quite hot, but open air in temperatures around freezing. In the water I was being gently poached, sat on the side lightly chilled. The apples floating by were a bit surreal. One young lad was trying to collect them all then a young girl started playing pétanque with them until her dad told her off (apparently according to my son the onsen is always single sex but some prefectures allow young girls up to age 10 in with their father if they behave).

Routine for those not in the know is leave shoes outside, undress and put your clothes in a basket, go and wash (sit on stool, shower all over, shampoo and soap everything then rinse off) then into the onsen. When finished shower if you want (I had a cool one) dress and away you go. Some people go through a stretching routine. My son was advised you should then drink milk coffee followed by food and beer. I didn't have the coffee, but felt so dry I've had a pint of water. Food and beer will follow!
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Now had food and beer and... snow. 10cm has fallen between onsen report and getting back from dinner. It was blowing a hoolie on the way to the izakaya half a mile away and we walked in looking like abominable snowmen. Earlier had thunder, lightning and hail. Forecast is for sun tomorrow so it sounds like a first lifts day.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@DJL, loved the Onsens during our Hokkaido experience! Simmering in the steam with beers at the ready chilling in the snow! Enjoy the fresh tracks in the morning snowHead
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@BobinCH, During my Feb 2018 trip there were lots of signs in EN that drinks/beer are not allowed inside onsens. But then again - in one of them I sat next to a mixed group if locals, we started chatting (not easy) and they offered me beer which they hid in the snow banks Smile
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@mooney058, bury them deep. Can’t do Onsen without beer Shocked
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@DJL, loving the reports. I'm getting a bit of an itch to see honshu after a couple of trips to Hokkaido so I'm all ears. And I'm all for the post onsen beer - purely out of respect for tradition, not because it hits you faster if you get nice and dehydrated first Toofy Grin
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
I've spent plenty of time in Japan, both on holiday and on business, but have still not managed even a day of skiing. My last project working with a Japanese company has ended but I'm angling for another one Toofy Grin I'm a bit fan of onsens, so the thought of soaking in an onsen after a day of skiing has always appealed.
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
A quick update before onsen Very Happy

I was slightly over optimistic yesterday. More like 5cm and seemed like the same up top. Great piste conditions first thing with either corduroy or a couple of cm of fresh on top of the groomed piste. Wind got up later closing some lifts and distributing the snow a bit. Stayed mostly good but the lower areas suffered in the sun and temperatures above 5C. Japow it wasn't.

We spent the day completing our stamps from the various ski areas and I am now the proud owner of an okumin button badge. Found another Stamp Rally at the central part of the valley, this one in two stages - collect two stamps in any one of three villages then collect one at the top of the Higashitate gondola and one at a restaurant in the area beyond. We misunderstood and thought you needed two stamps in each of the villages then the extra two. We managed to get them all but then the gondola closed for high wind so will will have to return tomorrow to collect our booty.

It is spring school holiday and lots of school groups in the area. Those who moan about ESF should see this lot -12-15 kids following an instructor, usually with a teacher as tailgunner. I rode one chair with a lady who was a teacher in Tokyo. Her English was a bit shaky (my Japanese is non existent!) and having determined she was a ski teacher it turned out on further discussion that she was actually a sewing teacher at a girls school who was just bringing up the rear. She opened the conversation by asking if we could put the safety bar down. Many lifts don't have them and they are often ignored when they do exist. We finally found a lift with a foot rest today - the first amongst maybe 25 different chairs we have been on. It's a bit different in Japan with lifties brushing snow off seats and sweeping out the gondola cabin after they had been used, just to get rid of the snow from people's boots.

Lots of racing going on in various areas and the preference for Japanese skiers in general is fast carved GS style turns.

Ramen for lunch today. It does the trick as well as alpine food. We have finally found a bar in the hotel. It is in the South building which is completely closed apart from the No 2 gondola station (which was also closed today but open yesterday) and an izakaya style place in the basement which opens 17.00-23.00 so that's us sorted for food and beer after the onsen. It's a 800m walk from our building (or take a shuttle bus) so not too far to go for a beer. I'm not expecting it to be busy.

Last day tomorrow and the forecast isn't the best, snow and high winds, but it's been a great trip so far.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
Great posts.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
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Well that's it for this trip and probably this season. We woke up to everything having gone white and on emerging it was clear there had been what counts as a dump by European standards (20cm). Old Japan hands are probably sniggering at me calling it a dump.

First run, first crash. I couldn't handle the "deep" stuff on my rental slalom skis. That was to change as the day progressed. We headed for the Higashitate Gondola to collect the swag from yesterday's stamp rally and ours were the 4th and 5th tracks on the traverse from Terakoya. First two probably put in by the ski patrol. It stayed quiet all day. Stopped for a coffee at 200 degree restaurant at the top of the gondola with a panoramic view. It was still snowing.

We noticed that there wasn't the preponderance of fat skis that are everywhere in Europe, mostly SL or particularly GS style even in the bumps and deep. After lots of runs through the trees at Tenne and Ichinose Family we headed back to the home patch for GoGo Curry (all over Japan with the Gorilla logo). This one at Yakebitaiyama gondola 2 claimed to be the highest curry shop in the world (1550m). I think various Nepalese might have something to say about that. I ordered Chicken Katsu Curry, my son 1550 Curry which was the same as mine but with half a pork Katsu, two frankfurters a piece of fried chicken and a boiled egg on top. Well he's a growing lad. We resisted a double portion of rice. ¥2650 for the two (about £1Cool

Then over to Okushiga to fill in the gaps on the piste map including an ungroomed black run. By now I was seeking out deep snow and, amazingly, it isn't the equipment that means you can cope but the practice. Who'd of thunk it? One last run down the top section of Okushiga (empty piste at just the right angle for big carves) then back to Yakebitaiyama with 40 minutes until the lifts closed. Two runs to the gondola then one flat out blast to No. 2 quad chair to be greeted by smiling lifties saying "last orders". It was 16.18 and only one pair made it after us before it closed at 16.20. By now the sun had come out and the cruise down was the perfect end.

It's different in Japan but well worth it if you get a chance.

A few tips if you visit Shiga Kogen:
Prince hotel is OK but a bit soulless. It is ski in/out and has hire shop and ski school on site but lacking life.
Ichinose is a 10 minute walk away, has access to lifts both side of the main road and a village feel. Better choice to stay there in my opinion.
Definitely take the whole area pass for all except total beginners
Don't expect a safety bar on chairs, some have one, and virtually none have footrests.
We didn't see a drag lift.
The area would handle a week for experienced skiers, especially if you get the bus to Kumanoya, Yokoteyama and Shibutoge for a day or two but the Trois Vallees it isn't.

I think we were lucky in picking one of the highest areas on Honshu and also that Shiga Kogen is topping the March snowfall charts for Japan according to SnowJapan. Pure fluke really but it has made for a great trip.

Back to Nagano by bus then Tokyo by Shinkansen tomorrow and home on Saturday. Are we still in the EU?
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
great write-up, thanks again. Safe journey home.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Brilliant report, has made me do some plotting (2021?!) Safe journey!
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
What a great report, thank you
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@DJL, Sounds like you're a fan now:D
Well done!
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
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Sounds like you had a great trip. Japan was on my bucket list of 3 and this year I managed to knock it off my bucket list, so there's a spot at number three, which was instantly filled with "returning to Japan, possibly trying out a different island/area"
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Just got to bed after a fun day in Tokyo. 15k run after 4 days trashing the legs in ski boots not recommended. Ramen at 2300 after trashing said legs fully recommended. Final episode to follow. None of it ski related.
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Journey back to Tokyo went smoothly, the bus trip which I had thought would be a real drag (I had considered hiring a car on arrival and driving to Shiga Kogen but glad I didn't) was pretty painless and full of interest.

Snow monkeys raiding whatever they could find in the car park at Takamagahara, spectacular views of the ski areas as we made our way down the valley (if you don't like steep drops don't sit on the left of the bus) a wild boar in the woods as we dropped down to Snow Monkey Park and then the strange experience of seeing people on virtually every road junction just waiting, many of them police, some with ropes and cones, others with red armbands worded police and something in Japanese which my son couldn't read as we went past. This continued for about a full hour - 50 miles all the way to Nagano station. We asked one of the guys with the red armband what was going on. Apparently the Imperial family had been somewhere in the mountains and were heading backs to Tokyo by Shinkansen about 30 minutes after us. Glad we didn't cut it tight and take the later bus! Then some excitement as my son left my boot bag on the station concourse whilst he went shopping for snacks for his housemates. We were happily settled in our seats when one of the station staff came bustling through the train looking for us. Bag retrieved and security alert avoided.

Checked in to the hotel in Shinagawa and made our way to the hash run that evening (google "hash house harriers" if you don't know what it is. Basically follow a trail marked in chalk arrows and have a few beers afterwards. The "hare", a barefoot ultra-runner had laid three linked trails, short (3.5k for the walkers), medium (6.5k) and long (10.5k) for the runners. I though the long sounded OK but it all went pearshaped as we missed a junction and ended up running the short one, then decided to go back to find the mistake and complete the trail. Ended up with close to 16k and my calves don't thank me for it. Still, that's this week's long run done! https://www.strava.com/activities/2249437989

Beers in the park after the run and then back to Shinagawa for noodles before bed. We were nearly finished when two Japanese salarymen occupied the seats next to us. Ordered a bottle of Asahi and four glasses and gave us a beer. Nice. Then they bought us gyoza. Had a bit of a chat and they ordered two more beers and two more portions of gyoza for them (to follow their ramen). Then realised they were late, abandoned one and a half beers and all the gyoza, settled the whole bill (including ours) and headed for their train.

My son explained it was the last Friday of the month (pay day) and the two guys were colleagues, one more senior than the other. Buying us beer, talking to us in his lousy English (my son's Japanese was much better) and then paying the whole bill was a way of the older one being a bit flash with his younger colleague. Cost him about £20. Strange country.

Now at Haneda airport having had Japanese breakfast in the JAL lounge and waiting for BA to take me home. Boarding in 15 minutes. All in all a great trip. Give it a try if you get a chance. Have you noticed I've developed a taste for noodles?
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@DJL, Really enjoyed that. Thanks for sharing.
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@DJL, cool reading!
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Final paragraph - costs.

Flights were free as tacked onto a business trip. First two nights in Tokyo with my wife, then 5 nights in Shiga Kogen with my son and final night in Tokyo with my son. Effectively two people/one room for 8 nights.

Total expenditure £2100. This included everything - 4 days ski hire and lift passes, travel on Shinkansen and bus Tokyo-Shiga Kogen and return, all food and additional travel around Tokyo and to and from airports.

Rough breakdown:
Hotels £850 (you could save a bit here I reckon - we wanted decent quality and easy access to the airport in Tokyo, particularly the first two nights with my wife and we then booked with the same hotel group in Shiga Kogen and back to the same in Shinagawa for the last night - Prince hotels)
Travel to Shiga Kogen and return to Tokyo £350 (Shinkansen/bus)
Lift passes £ 250 (2x4 days whole area)
Ski hire £ 170 (2x4 days skis and poles only)
Food,drinks, odds and ends and travelling around in Tokyo £480

We only really had two expensive meals - sushi lunch for 3 in Tokyo and nabe (hotpot) in the hotel izakaya. The rest of the time it was slopeside lunch or dinner in one of the small restaurants in Ichinose or a noodle bar. There wasn't much apres - we didn't find any! Breakfast in the hotel was ¥2100 (£15) so we didn't bother and had a coffee and a "melonpan" (a sort of Danish pastry) for ¥350 and got out onto the slopes.

I haven't spent much time researching it but think you could probably save a bit with a JR East pass bought outside the country, more judicious choice of accommodation and using skiset or similar. Still not too bad compared to a similar trip to the Alps.
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Quote:
Now at Haneda airport having had Japanese breakfast in the JAL lounge and waiting for BA to take me home. Boarding in 15 minutes. All in all a great trip. Give it a try if you get a chance. Have you noticed I've developed a taste for noodles?

Japanese breakfast is the only meal I had trouble getting use to.

I can live on noodles for the rest of my life. Hokkaido seafood soba in particular.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
@DJL, Will be in Japan in winter - hope for good weather here http://www.yokoteyama.com/

Thanks for reporting. snowHead

(is Le Renard still around - great food) Madeye-Smiley
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