Which month to visit Japan for snow?

El Nino or La Nina, or which month?

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El Nino or La Nina?

Global Warming. The affect of human activities on the ocean currents and the atmosphere. It’s controversial. I know some agree with these theories and some others don’t.

But in this post, I go along with the idea that this is true, solely based on my time in ski industry observing the weather over many years.

Anyway, so this is widely believed that when La Nina hits this part of the world, it’s meant to be a good winter in Japan.

This website, Western Pacific Weather, has a really easy-to-understand explanation with a video how La Nina affects Japanese climate.

This website, Ski Asia, has an interesting chart of snowfall record each year up to 2016 winter, in association with either El Nino or La Nina year.

It shows that each La Nina year, Japan had a huge amount of snowfall.

So generally speaking, I’d say (if you have a choice) La Nina year has a better chance of having a lot of good snow.

Which month?

I need to make clear that I’m talking about winter months here for the purpose of skiing or snowboarding.

This is another question frequently asked by so many people who are after a good snow in Japan.

These graphs were borrowed from: https://en.climate-data.org/location/5320/

temperature-graph

climate-graph.png

So as you can see from the graphs above, generally January and February are the coldest months in Nagano.

Once March comes, again generally speaking, the coldest chill in the air gets replaced by blue skies and a slightly warmer temps during the day.

At the same time, if you’ve chosen to come over here during those months, a couple of other things to be aware of.

  1. Normally, from the 1st of Jan through to the 9th or so, this is the time japanese have holiday and gets busy with them.
  2. After the period, you start seeing the flock of Japanese school groups in lessons, mainly on beginner slopes because this is the time for Japanese schools to have school trips.
  3. 26 of Jan is Australia Day and you normally see lots of Aussies, particularly around Hakuba on holiday.
  4. Chinese New Year. It changes every year but you definitely will see heaps more of them than other time during this period. They normally have a different pattern of behaviour that it gets busy around more of a snow activity side of the things like, tubing, tobogganing so you want to check with this fact especially if you have little kids who are into these things.

Hopefully this helps your planning of your next trip to Japan in winter.

Make sure to include visiting Jigokudani Snow Monkeys if you ever come Yudanaka way!

See you next time.

The Best Kept Secret I Found

Yomase and X-Jam Takaifuji Ski Resorts

ryuoo-and-komaruyama-from-mt-kosha

A little gem in Yudanaka

I think I should keep this to myself really… So little known that in fact they are not even on TripAdvisor!

Forget about skiing in Hakuba or Niseko if you are interested in,

  • Less touristy
  • Less crowded
  • Wide open trails
  • As much snow
  • Real (Run-Down) Japanese atmosphere

It is said to be around 500 ski areas in Japan. I’ve only been to maybe 2 dozens of them.

One of the best experiences I’ve ever had was at Yomase and X-Jam near Yudanaka.

yomase-1

What made it so awesome?

I may be repeating myself but, these are the reasons.

  • Nice wide open trails
  • Good variety of incline of slopes
  • Speed
  • It’s wide across mountains
  • Good view
  • Quiet

ryuoo-from-mt-kosha-1

Where is it?

Here’s the google map for you.

How much for Lift Passes?

Here’s the Link to their English website for you.

So there are 4 small resorts next to each other and makes sense that you buy the pass to have all the access to every chairlifts.

Those 4 resorts are,

  • Yomase
  • X-Jam
  • Yamabiko No Oka
  • Kijima Daira

There are also 3 resorts access pass available as well but the price difference for an adult pass as of Jan, 2017 is only ¥200 so I will talk about the full, 4 resorts access pass here.

It’s named “Mt Kosha” Pass

Adult: 1 day – ¥4100, 2 days – ¥7100, 3 days – ¥9700

kijimadaira-1

Your Challenges

The only downside of this is the transport.

As the time of writing, there is only one way to get there if you don’t have own car.

There is a irregular shuttle bus departing Yudanaka Station at 9am.

It’s not daily, and seems only during the weekends from Mid Dec through to End of March.

I couldn’t find the English version of their timetable, unfortunately.

Let me know if anyone needs it then I’ll translate that for you.

Hopefully there won’t be too many people at my favourite spot from here on.

Nah, I know not many people read this blog anyway!

See you next time.

Today’s Phrase

Hito Ga Hotondo Inai 人がほとんどいない = There are hardly anyone around

Listen and practise!

 

Shiga Kogen 志賀高原

The largest ski area in Japan

shiga-kogen-from-yomase
Looking afar towards Shiga Kogen from Yomase, Mt Kosha. In there right centre, Yokoteyama and in the left centre, Oku Shiga Kogen Ski Area

So in this map, “Shiga Kogen Ski Area” covers from,

Yokoteyama Shibutouge in the south to Oku Shiga Kogen in the north.

So some locals here say that Shiga Kogen is the last secret in terms of skiing destinations within Japan, that has been kept to Japanese for a long time.

This place hosted some of the competitions during the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998.

And also some of the locations were used for the mega hit Japanese movie themed on young city people going to Shiga Kogen for skiing and love story revolved around in it.

But in these days everyone all over the world is quickly finding out of its existence and reputation.

But, at the same time, for some reasons that I don’t really understand, this area does not seem to be too pro-active nor positive about opening its doors to the world.

That fact is causing lots of overseas visitors with lack of information about the area as well as inconvenience throughout their experiences when you are there.

So my aim here is to give you the very basics of this place.

Here are some useful links:

Shiga Kogen English website

Reviews on TripAdvisor

Despite the facts I mentioned above, overall, visitors in the past were having good times by the look on their reviews on TripAdvisor.

Facts:

  • The largest Ski Area in Japan, 425ha or  just over 1000Acre
  • Total lengths of trails = 80000m
  • Total of 50 chairlifts and gondolas
  • 19 resorts, 16km wide
  • One pass to go through all the resorts
  • The elevation between 1300m – 2300m
  • Usually open from early Dec – Early May

How to get there:

yudanaka-bus-stop-2

There isn’t a shuttle services or anything organised by Shiga Kogen as the time of writing in Jan, 2017. That means you have to catch one of those public buses as described below.

Buses: Nagaden Bus from Yudanaka Station

There are only 3 buses in the morning that depart from the station.

7:40am, 8:20am and 10:15am

yudanaka-bus-timetable4-001Fare: ¥1100

Duration: 30-60 min depending on which resort you want to get off

At the same time, there are lots of hotels and as such within Shiga Kogen so it may be a good idea to find a room on the mountain if your focus is to spend as much time on the snow as possible.

Once there:

They have a RFID system, that means you use a crd to have an access to any lifts on the mountain. Once you’ve paid for all mountain pass, you can go through any lifts within Shiga Kogen.

At the time of writing, the lift pass for all mountain is:

Adult:¥5000, Student: ¥4200 (I believe you need to show your Student ID), Child: ¥2500 (0-12yo)

There are some English-Speaking ski schools/rentals and accomodations, in particular Oku-Shiga way.

Hopefully you’ve got a good momentum going to find out about Shiga Kogen.

Let me know by commenting if you have anything in particular that you want to find out, I will do my best for you.

See you next time.

Today’s Phrase

Docchi No Sukijyou Ni Ikimashouka? どっちのスキー場に行きましょうか? = Which ski field should we go?

This is a tough one! Listen and practice!

Ryuoo Ski Park 竜王スキーパーク

Ryuoo Ski Park Up Close

ryuoo-ski-park-main-building

Today’s Phrase

Ryuoo Ski Park 竜王スキーパーク = Pronounced as more like Liu-Oh

I know this is very hard for lots of people, but you gotta try!

 

What kind of mountain is Ryuoo?

This mountain/resort is made up with 2 parts.

Valley Area and Skyland Area.

And they are connected by Ropeway and Kiotoshi courses in between, being a very steep terrain only ideal for advanced skiers and snowboarders.

Also, Kiotoshi 木落し stands for “Tree Falling“, meaning “So steep that even trees fall off the face” (My translation)

Please be aware that these Kiotoshi courses tend to open up well into January due to the nature of the terrain hard to accumulate snow.

Valley Area – Lower part

ryuoo-v8-chairlift

6 Chailfts, wide open long trails, mostly gentle incline.

Along V2 Lift you have some more speed with steeper terrain.

There are some “Ungroomed” space left near V2 Lift and V10 Lift for you to enjoy some powder.

The Top part of Valley Area has V5 Lift with steeper runs, but they don’t seem to open early in the season.

The reasons being,

  1. Steeper so no groomer vehicle goes there
  2. Therefore in need of wait for the accumulation of enough natural snowfall for safety

Skyland Area – Upper Part

ryuoo-s1-chairlifttrees-with-snow

2 Chairlifts, 3 Trails

The view from the upper part, (The highest point being at around 1930m or over 6000 feet) Skyland Area is superb on a clear day.

Also being higher in altitude, the snow tends to be drier and softer than Valley Area most of the times.

At the same time the temperature is a lot colder than what it is at the lower part of the mountain so be prepared to get in colder climate.

Oh and quite often it’s in the clouds with lower visibility.

The terrain is definitely for beginners to intermediate.

There are 2 restaurants, right above the top ropeway station at at the very top of the mountain off S1 Lift so you have somewhere to rush in if it’s too cold for you.

At those restaurants, mainly you find Japanese food like Japanese curry and ramen and so on.

Some Useful Links

– Link to their English Website

– This is the link to one of my past related post Let’s go skiing!

The Location

Free Shuttle

They run every 1-1.5 hour between Yudanaka Station and Ryuoo Ski Park.

It only takes 15-20moin to get to the resort.

The first one top depart Yudanaka is just after 9am, the last one to depart Ryuoo is just after 5pm.

It departs from right in front of Yudanaka Station.

Lift Passes

Half Day: Morning 8am-1pm, Afternoon 12pm-5pm, Adult ¥3400, Kids (4 y/o to 12 y/o) ¥2200

1 Day: Adult ¥4500, Kids ¥2900

2 days: Adult ¥8000, Kids ¥5100

Rentals

Half Day: Morning 8am-1pm, Afternoon 12pm-5pm, same as the lift passes, Adult ¥3500, Kids ¥2000

1 Day: Adult ¥4000, Kids ¥2500

2 days: Adult ¥7500, Kids ¥4500

If you are staying in yudanaka, one idea is to go see the guys at Yudanaka Rental/Info Centre right behind Goen restaurant.

You can get yourself set up with gear even the day before you head up the mountain.

That’ll be a good time-saver for you to be prepared the day before, rather than rushing for everything in the morning, with a possibility of waiting if they get busy.

I hope you will enjoy your time up on this mountain, and snow too!

See you next time.

 

 

 

For those who have never seen snow before

4 things you should know if you are thinking about skiing or snowboarding for the first time

Please skip this article if you are familiar with skiing or snowboarding. This post contains the very basic explanation for visiting ski resorts intended for beginners.

So Japanese winter is quite famous throughout the world nowadays.

For the amount of snowfall, its quality, the reason can be varied.

There are more and more visitors during the winter months visiting places like Nagano, Niigata or Hokkaido for winter fun.

It is a fact now that there are increasing number of people, from those countries that never get snow, taking up winter sports such as skiing or snowboarding for the very first time in their lives.

Even a place like Yudanaka has been filled with overseas visitors to go skiing or snowboarding during the busy winter months.

That’s awesome, we love to share the love and our passion.

BUT there are some things you need to know before jumping on it.

Take a breath and read these through.

When you finish reading, you will be in a way better position than before, that could ultimately save your life.

So here we go.

1, Snow is a natural phenomena. It doesn’t fall if it’s warm

Roughly explained, snow is a frozen form of rain, that means it got frozen near zero temperature in the sky. So if it’s above zero degree temperature it will come down as rain.

When you visit ski resorts early in the season, which is late November to the end of December, you may not see snow depending on the weather condition. Just like summer has cold or hot summer, winter has those.

There may not necessarily be any snow if the winter is starting up as a warm one.

2, If you don’t have your own gear, it takes time to get yourself set up for skiing and snowboarding at a Rental shop

Skiing and snowboarding are not something that you can go out and do right away when you don’t have a gear. You need to have your rental gear set up for you according to your shoe size, height, weight and ability level, that means you need to go through a certain process.

Particularly if you are a part of a group, the loser it takes to get ready the bigger the group size is.

3, Cotton is not ideal on the snow

It’s commonly known that cotton is not ideal for sports activities.

Wearing ja pair of jeans is not ideal when skiing or snowboarding, or it may even put you at certain risk like hypothermia.

Why?

It gets wet easily, hard to dry then wearing a wet clothing takes away your body heat.

Ski/Snowboard jackets and pants are there for a reason.

4, It’s wiser not to expect that you can ski or snowboard straight away if you have never done it before

Skiing and snowboarding are a sport with a particular set of equipments.

It will require some training or getting used to them. Quite likely you won’t be skiing and snowboarding elegantly right from the beginning when you have not done it before.

The best way to start out is to learn by taking a lesson.

Majority of major resorts nowadays has multi lingual ski and snowboard lessons available.

It is a dangerous sport to certain point, and you can reduce the risk of injuries by taking at least 1 lesson when you start out.

It will be easier and quicker to learn, more fun and less painful.

So, now you know about it a bit more and hopefully I’ve got your expectations right. It’s always better for you to do some research in advance and get your gear from the rentals the day before you go skiing or snowboarding so you have a whole day for it.

See you on the slopes!

-Today’s Phrase-

Ski Wo Rentaru shitai desu スキーをレンタルしたいです = I want to hire a pair of skis

You will need this phrase when hiring skis!

Let’s go skiing! (or snowboarding if you like… I’m a skier…)

The closest ski resort from Yudanaka

So, let’s say, you’ve got 2-3 days booked at an accommodation around Yudanaka.

Realistically you need half a day to go see monkeys.

You happened to be here during winter months.

What else would you do?

I definitely would go skiing or snowboarding!

From Yudanaka, the closest resort, technically, is Ryuoo Ski Park 竜王スキーパーク

This is the link to their website. At the top right on their main page, you find the language choice icons.

I’ll show you where that is on Google Map.

It’s 15-20 min drive or on the bus.

They have free shuttle services throughout the day during the season.

1, Their season usually is between late November through to Early May. Of course it is depending on the snowfall each year.

2, Their free shuttle normally leaves around 9 am to begin with, then the last bus leaves the resort after 5pm. For more information, please visit their website through the link put above.

Another drawcard of this resort is their plans dedicated to non skiers and snowboarders, or a family who are looking for fun to have together.

They have 2 plans or activities called, “Snow Landscape Plan” and “Adventure Park”

  • Snow Landscape Plan – This is the plan for those who’d like to visit their “Sora Terrace”, situated at 1770m above sea level with magnificent view of the nearby basin and The Japanese Alps afar when it’s clear. Once you’ve arrived at the resort, they take you up to the bottom ropeway station on a “Snow Vehicle” which resembles a tank for 10-15 min ride. Then you can take 8 min ropeway ride to the top where the terrace is, with a restaurant is just above you to stay warm on a cold day.
  • Adventure Park – This is where you can have fun playing on the snow doing stuff like, Tubing, Sledding or Tobogganing, Snow rafting and so on. This is ideal for those who wouldn’t want to go on skis or snowboard but still want some action for adrenalin rush. However, this park will start its operation once they’ve got enough snow to manage all activities safely. So you want to check its condition first before you get too excited about it.

They also offer ski or snowboard lesson in English and Chinese for those who want to give these sports a go or are eager to brush up your skills.

Anyway, I hope you will enjoy your experience regardless of your choice of how.

Make sure to drop into an Onsen and soak it up for your tired muscles to recover for next day!

-Today’s Phrase-

Ski Wa Totemo Tanoshii Desu スキーはとてもたのしいです = Skiing is such a fun!

Yeah skiing is awesome, make sure that you can say this!