While many skiers who visit Japan head straight for Hokkaido by plane and miss out on a trip to bustling and vibrant Tokyo, we prefer to land in Tokyo’s Narita airport (or better still, Haneda airport) and take a train or monorail to the city for a day’s fun and adventure before our quick journey up to the mountains.
Checking in at a local Ryokan (Japanese Inn) we offload our gear and head out to visit the sites: Akihibara for the latest electronic gear, Shinjuku for game parlours, a visit to the temple in Harajuku and then shopping in the city’s wonderful and eclectic shopping areas.
After of course, a wonderful Japanese meal!
Next morning at 6:20am we board the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) at Tokyo Station. Being a Monday morning, there wasn’t much lining up and when the train arrived we bundled our rucksacks into the overhead luggage rack; and skis all lined up.
After passing through the great Kanto Plain and into the double-helix rail tunnel we emerge to a wonderland of snow, an awesome sight and we could understand why Kawabata, the famous Japanese author, won a Nobel prize for his novel ‘Snow Country’ when he wrote, “The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country.”
After a rapid ride of just over an hour we arrive at Gala Yuzawa Station and offload with our gear. Heading straight for the cable car, we purchase a day ticket and climb aboard. Alighting at the top of the mountain we head for the changing rooms, change into our ski gear, strap our rucksacks firmly on our backs and ski off in the direction of Ishiuchi Maruyama Ski Resort.
This region, Yuzawa is the most easily accessible winter sports area from Tokyo. Snow clouds generated over Siberia pick up precipitation from the Sea of Japan, and Yuzawa is the first mountain range that these clouds meet. This leads to massive snowfalls.
Ski runs range from beginners to advanced, so because we had packs on our backs we chose the easier slopes for this run down to STI Ski Lodge. Being in a ski-in, ski-out location is convenient but gives a little challenge when going off-piste in the deep powder with heavy packs. We lean back to keep the tips up, and seeing the lodge in the distance, then gingerly traverse the last 20 metres so as not to tumble and end up in a face plant.
There was no track on this side of the lodge so the last few metres was heavy going as we sunk over one and a half metres into the pristine snow.
Dripping with sweat and full of laughter we arrive at the lodge balcony. The snow was so deep we had to knock on the window to get let in. After being warmly greeted by Peter our host (who’s also my Dad) we take off our wet gear and settle into a hot cuppa tea, admiring the stunning views to the valley floor and the clear blue sky.