Where to go for the snow

2006-01-25

With so many places in Japan to ski, snowboard and enjoy other winter activities, it can be hard to decide where to go. Of course, the best way to find out is to get out there and explore. Another option is to ask those who have been at it for a while. Fitness JP asked a few about their favorite spots.

As host to the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano Prefecture's roughly 22 resorts, 70 lifts and easy accessibility have made it one of Japan's most popular winter destinations for tourists and locals alike. It's no wonder. "As far as snow conditions, we've had more snow this year than I've seen in my life," says Dave Enright, 32, owner, director and lead guide at Evergreen Outdoor Center in Hakuba, Nagano. "We're pretty much guaranteed to have great snow - and some powder snow."

For Enright, a native Canadian who has seen his fair share of snow and slopes, setting up his full-service resort in Hakuba was a no-brainer: "It's got beautiful mountains and there are 15 ski hills in the valley. Not many places in the world have that in such a small area." He says Hakuba's other main draw is its wealth of ancient shrines and festivals that promise foreign tourists a unique cultural experience that other popular ski destinations can't match.

Shin Yi Ski Club members in Tokyo, however, shy away from Hakuba - despite all its grandeur. Julia Nolet, who heads the club of mostly middle-aged skiers says, "We don't go to Hakuba because it's such a huge area and we like to do things together as a group." She adds that because of the area's size, group members can spend the entire day trying to find each other if they get separated on the slopes. Other Nagano areas, however, are high on the club's list.

"We like the interior of Nagano," Nolet says. "The snow is dryer than areas closer to the cost such as Naeba and Echigo Yuzawa (ski resorts in Niigata). Those areas are very popular and it's easy to get there. It only takes one to two hours - or more - by car depending on traffic. But I don't think the snow is good enough for an entire weekend trip. I like Shiga Koen a lot. It's a national park with huge a variety of places to ski and great snow that's more powdery."

If snow quality is a top priority, then many say Hokkaido is the place to go. One of its main attractions is Niseko, where both tourists - especially from Australia - and locals flock annually. Scott Walker, owner and operator of Scott Adventure Sports (SAS), says the draw is, "simply the amount and quality of snow. It's the best in the world." He also plugs Hokkaido's Furano for its "quality and reliability of snow."
Backcountry guide Chuck Olbery agrees. He left the winter bustle of Niigata this season for Furano, taking his business, Backcountry Powder Tracks, with him. But he differs with Walker about where Hokkaido's best snow really is - especially for those in search of off-piste powder.
"I chose Furano because I think it has best quality snow in Japan," he says. In terms of quantity, I'd have to go with Niseko. I've skied other countries and parts of Japan but I haven't experienced the quality of snow that's in Furano. In terms of terrain, I'd have to go with Hakuba in Nagano. Most mountains in Japan are small, but in Nagano there are some big ones."
Whatever your preference, when it comes to winter activities, Japan has a lot to offer.

Visit Evergreen Outdoor Center at: http://www.evergreen-outdoors.com. Backcountry Powder Tracks is at: http://www.b-powdertracks.com. See http://www.sas-net.com/a.asp?l=e&a=about for more info on Scott Adventure Sports. To contact Shin Yi Ski Club email: jnworwor@gol.com.

Snow Japan has info about winter activities and daily weather and snow reports at: http://www.snowjapan.com. J2ski.com's Ski Japan page has details on resorts and tours at: http://www.j2ski.com/asian_ski_resorts/Japan. For links to live Web cams at resorts throughout Kanto and Niigata see: http://www.snoweye.com/?page=jp-central.



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