The Envy of the World 2: SKI AREAS WITHIN METROPOLITAN SUBURBS IN ABUNDANCE

The Envy of the World 2: SKI AREAS WITHIN METROPOLITAN SUBURBS IN ABUNDANCE

THE ENVY OF THE WORLD:

SKI AREAS WITHIN METROPOLITAN SUBURBS IN ABUNDANCE

Ski slopes in the Surrounds of Sapporo and Otaru

Words and Photography: Kazuya Baba

The majority of overseas ski tourists visiting Niseko and other ski resorts in Hokkaido tend to travel straight to their destination from the gateway to Hokkaido, New Chitose Airport. The same visitors then make a beeline straight back to the airport without any side trips or diversions. This type of visit is such an unfortunate waste of potential opportunities for exciting experiences. At just a short 40 minute train ride away from the airport is a large city of approximately 2 million people and one of the most fascinating cities in all of Japan – Sapporo. This city of charm and wonder also happens to have a variety of different local ski resorts around it at just a stone’s throw away. This special feature will focus on travels centred on the metropolis of Sapporo and the charming fishing-port town of Otaru. Keep reading to gain some inspiration on a new way to enjoy a ski trip around Hokkaido by visiting ski slopes around its major cities.

OTARU

THE WALL STREET OF THE NORTH: A HISTORICAL PORT CITY IN HOKKAIDO

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Otaru is a history-rich port city approximately 30 – 40 minutes away from Sapporo by train. It is a popular tourist
destination and has a number of ski areas in close vicinity to hop on over to. For those looking for a more relaxed city with easily accessible ski resorts to base their snow adventures, then Otaru might be the place to stay.

Otaru Canal is the most popular tourist spot in all of Otaru. Visitors are often captivated by the nostalgic sight of stone-built warehouses lining the canal. At night, the stone footpath adjacent to the canal is lit up by gas lamps, reminiscent of the Meiji era during the westernisation movement in Japan. The stone warehouses capture the light of the lamps and cast a reflection across the mirror-like canal at night.

The magical night view of Otaru harks back to the city’s past as a thriving place of trade. Until the Edo period, Otaru was a small fishing town.

The development of Hokkaido in the Meiji period saw the small town grow into a city with a significant presence. Along with the official development of Hokkaido, towns such as Sapporo needed access to Honshu, the main island of Japan, for commodities and resources – this is where Otaru Port played a vital role. Sea routes connected Otaru to places such as Europe and Sakhalin, whilst the establishment of a rail route to Sapporo made freight services by land possible.

With trade routes on both sea and land, Otaru became the main port of Hokkaido and, in turn, saw banks and businesses flock to the town to set up offices and raise capital. Otaru was thriving with so much business at the time that it earned the nickname, “The Wall Street of the North”.

The merchants of Otaru held significant power at the time and influenced not only the markets in Hokkaido, but overseas as well. During the glory days of Otaru in the late Taisho period, the Otaru Canal was constructed. Part of the coast was reclaimed as land to create the 40 metre wide, 1,140 metre long canal, before close to 120 warehouses made of stone were built alongside it.

Nowadays, many multi-storey buildings, such as the Otaru branch of the Bank of Japan, still fill the city like they did during more prosperous times. A trip around Otaru to soak in the sights of buildings and railways that were constructed in days gone by will set you on a nostalgic adventure to remember.

Together with the shift towards modernisation, cars became the norm and the population of Sapporo exploded, forcing Otaru to lose its crown as the central business district. Sapporo took over the economic throne and Otaru now sees visitors flock to it for its charms as a tourist town.

The warehouses lining Otaru Canal are now used as tourist facilities and house establishments such as restaurants and glass-making workshops. Lights illuminate historical buildings at night, whilst rickshaws and retro-styled buses roam around the streets as the city works hard to preserve and maintain the historical buildings that help to boost tourism.

As a port city, Otaru is well-known for being blessed with delicious seafood. Otaru Beer, on the other hand, is a popular local brew worth a taste or two. If you are a gourmand looking for good food and drink, then make sure to put Otaru on your list.

The city is also known as a town of glass and music boxes, making it the perfect place for souvenir shopping on days away from the ski slopes.

February marks the arrival of the Otaru Snow Light Path, an annual event which sees the snowy streets of Otaru majestically lit up. Otaru Canal is also spectacularly illuminated during the event, so make sure you book your tickets to see this magnificent sight in all its glory.

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KIRORO

A MAJOR SKI RESORT JUST A STONE’S THROW AWAY FROM OTARU

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Kiroro Snow World is known for receiving the most snowfall in Hokkaido. The constant snowfall in the area means that the snow is always fresh, prompting skiers and snowboarders from all around the world to flock to this ski resort in search of the world’s best powder snow. The cat has been let out of the bag and Kiroro Snow World is the talk of the town.

At the base of the mountain is the Mountain Centre Facility and the Sheraton Hotel, which is connected directly to the ski area. Approximately 2 kilometres away from the ski slope is the Tribute Portfolio Hotel, the closest fully-serviced resort hotel to Sapporo and bigger than the Sheraton in scale. Both hotels are excellent and offer a wide range of facilities. There are also a number of great hot springs in the area, so you really cannot go wrong with either choice when choosing accommodation in Kiroro.

Visitors staying in Otaru or Sapporo will find Kiroro Snow World a welcome ski resort at a convenient 40 minutes away from Otaru and 1 hour away from Sapporo. Whilst many skiers travel directly to Kiroro from New Chitose Airport, I believe it is a complete waste not to stay in Sapporo or Otaru if you have already made the journey over to Hokkaido. Another suggestion would be to spend a few days at one of the hotels in Kiroro during a long stay in Hokkaido to take advantage of everything the resort has to offer.

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MOUNT TENGU

A TRICKY SKI AREA MADE FOR AND LOVED BY OTARU LOCALS

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Mount Tengu (Tenguyama) is a ski area located behind Otaru and can be seen from the town. There are a number of attractions in the area for those who have no interest in skiing including: the observation deck on the top of the mountain that has earned a 1 star listing on the Michelin Green Guide Japan; the Hananade Tengu-san, which is a large statue of a Japanese demon with a long nose, said to grant the wishes of those who rub its nose; the Tengu Museum, which houses a collection of different tengu masks from all over Japan; and the Otaru Ski Museum.

This ski area is a typical local slope and can be easily missed due to its small scale. Many visitors are unaware of the fact that Mount Tengu was the first place in Hokkaido to introduce ski lifts to the area. It is also where Otaru locals go to earn their stripes – skiers who are able to conquer the slope in one run are considered bonafide skiing experts.

The courses at this resort run down steep slopes and can be challenging even for the most experienced of skiers. Of the various courses, the Dynamic Course, nicknamed “the Tengu Wall”, is the most unforgiving of them all at at heart-stopping 42 degrees steep. This course for experts is a joy to master after a night of heavy snowfall. Otaru is known for producing a number of Olympic athletes and Mount Tengu is often used as the training grounds for these elite skiers and snowboarders. With a reputation for producing world-class athletes, the Tengu Wall is sure to capture the hearts of advanced skiers and snowboarders alike.

A visit to Mount Tengu at night is also recommended in order to see the beautiful night scenery in the area. Whilst the tengu is a Japanese demon known for its long nose, the jury is still out as to why Mount Tenguwas named as such.

SNOW CRUISE ONZE

A RARE EXPERIENCE – SKIING WITH AN OCEAN VIEW

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Snow Cruise Onze is a ski resort located 20 minutes from Otaru and 30 minutes from Sapporo by car, placing it approximately mid-way between the two cities. This ski resort is unique in that it gets particularly busy at night due to its nighttime courses staying open until 11:00 pm. The biggest drawcard of this resort is its location. With the ocean right next to the ski slope, skiers racing down the slope feel almost as if they are diving into the sea beyond the mountain.

Onze is easy to access and has a variety of courses on offer, such as: groomed runs with compacted snow, non compacted snow courses both standard and with moguls, and even relaxing forest runs. Skiers and snowboarders of all different levels are bound to find a suitable course to shred to their heart’s content

This ski resort is popular amongst locals for the ability to enjoy the beautiful night views with nighttime access available on all of the courses.

Whilst the ski resort might be a little too small for you to enjoy a full day of skiing, it is a great place to drop by after a day of sightseeing in Otaru or Sapporo. The “Handsfree 4 Hour Ticket” is one of the various packages on offer that bundle equipment rental and resort admission all in one. Snow Cruise Onze is a great resort for a casual ski trip and is worth adding to your list of ski slopes to visit in Hokkaido.

YOICHI

HOME OF THE FATHER OF JAPANESE WHISKY AND NIKKA WHISKY

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If you happen to find yourself in Otaru, then I highly recommended you take the 30 minute train ride over to the little town of Yoichi. Despite being a small town of only 20,000 people, there are a number of old ruins and other spots to make for a relaxing sightseeing trip. The most famous of all of the tourist attractions in Yoichi is none other than the origins of Japanese Whisky itself – the Nikka Whisky Yoichi Distillery.

Japanese whisky has gained recognition and high praise around the world in recent times, with the Nikka Taketsuru 17 Year Old Pure Malt taking out the World’s Best Blended Malt Award at the 2018 World Whiskies Awards (WWA). The Taketsuru brand has now racked up a total of 8 international awards.

The Nikka Whisky Yoichi Distillery was founded by the father of Japanese whisky, Masataka Taketsuru in 1934, with the goal of producing authentic whisky in Japan.

Taketsuru travelled to Scotland on his own to learn the intricacies of producing whisky, fuelled by his unwavering desire to find his own whisky utopia. He finally settled on a small town similar to Scotland with cool, humid weather and fresh water with clean air – Yoichi. The heavy stone walls of the distillery capped off with a red roof makes it look almost as though it was taken directly out of a Scottish town.

The distillery continues to produce authentic whisky to this day and offers highly popular free tours to give visitors some insight into how their whisky is produced. Whilst guided tours are only offered in Japanese, the historical distillery area is free for visitors to walk around with English descriptions on exhibits providing fascinating tidbits of trivia. There is also an English app available for download, so language should not pose any issues.

Along with free whisky tastings, the distillery also offers visitors access to the museum and the residence where Masataka Taketsuru once lived. Make sure you travel over to the distillery by train since drinking and driving is strictly prohibited.

The Envy of the World: SKI AREAS WITHIN METROPOLITAN SUBURBS IN ABUNDANCE

The Envy of the World: SKI AREAS WITHIN METROPOLITAN SUBURBS IN ABUNDANCE

THE ENVY OF THE WORLD:

SKI AREAS WITHIN METROPOLITAN SUBURBS IN ABUNDANCE

Ski slopes in the Surrounds of Sapporo and Otaru

Words and Photography: Kazuya Baba

The majority of overseas ski tourists visiting Niseko and other ski resorts in Hokkaido tend to travel straight to their destination from the gateway to Hokkaido, New Chitose Airport. The same visitors then make a beeline straight back to the airport without any side trips or diversions. This type of visit is such an unfortunate waste of potential opportunities for exciting experiences. At just a short 40 minute train ride away from the airport is a large city of approximately 2 million people and one of the most fascinating cities in all of Japan – Sapporo. This city of charm and wonder also happens to have a variety of different local ski resorts around it at just a stone’s throw away. This special feature will focus on travels centred on the metropolis of Sapporo and the charming fishing-port town of Otaru. Keep reading to gain some inspiration on a new way to enjoy a ski trip around Hokkaido by visiting ski slopes around its major cities.

SAPPORO

FROM FOOD TO ENTERTAINMENT

Sapporo

Putting Japan’s Best Foot Forward with a City of 2 Million People

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Sapporo, Hokkaido is the northern-most ordinance-designated and fifth mostpopulated city in Japan (including the special wards of Tokyo). It was the first Asian city to host the Winter Olympics in 1972 (the Sapporo Olympics) and later went on to host a range of other international sporting events, including the FIFA World Cup. Sapporo is also currently considering a bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics.

As can probably be gauged from its history, the greatest advantage of Sapporo is that it is surrounded by a number of easily accessible ski areas nearby, despite being a large, urban city. The renowned ski resorts in the area will be covered in more detail later as this section will focus mainly on the city of Sapporo itself. Before diving into the wonders of Sapporo, it is worth mentioning that the ski-jump ramps used in the Winter Olympics can be visited in a flash from the city. It is a highly popular tourist destination and is definitely worth a gander.

The first cab off the rank in this introduction of all things Sapporo is none other than Sapporo Beer. Many of our readers will have, no doubt, seen and perhaps even tasted this beer at various Japanese restaurants in Australia. Sapporo Beer is a widely known Japanese brand and is consumed all around the world, however, what is little known is that its history dates back long ago to 1876. The prefecture of Hokkaido has a comparatively short history compared to the rest of Japan, having only been officially developed in the late 19th century. This means that the history of Sapporo Beer and the development of Hokkaido walked hand in hand.

There is a place in Sapporo where all things Sapporo Beer can be experienced such as: a museum displaying the history of Sapporo beer, tours explaining the beer brewing process, tastings, and even a restaurant to taste the delicious local fare of the northern country. This wondrous place is a 15 – 20 minute walk from Sapporo Station – The Sapporo Beer Garden. The local Hokkaido dish of “Genghis Khan” (lamb barbeque) can also be feasted upon here, making this a must on your stays in Sapporo. Hokkaido is also known as the biggest food-lover’s paradise in all of Japan. Sapporo is the heart of this prefecture and is home to a huge variety of local Hokkaido cuisine. While scallops and other seafood is in deliciously rich abundance in Hokkaido, there is one highly accessible local dish that absolutely everyone knows about – Sapporo Ramen.

Sapporo Ramen Yokocho is a well-known little alley in the city. This popular little spot is filled with famous ramen restaurants, left and right, up and down. Ramen lovers should definitely check out this street and even make return trips to taste all of the different types of ramen on offer.

Hokkaido has a deep food culture history and is known for various food booms such as soup curries, and chocolates like Shiroi Koibito and Royce. Doing some research into the different delectable foods to fill your belly prior to jetting off to Hokkaido will make for a particularly satisfying trip.

Next on the list of all things Sapporo is the biggest winter event in all of Japan, the Sapporo Snow Festival. This snow and ice festival is held annually in early February around Odori Park and other various locations around Sapporo. Odori Park is located in the heart of Sapporo and hosts seasonal festivals all year round to provide relaxation and entertainment to locals, such as the Sapporo Lilac Festival in spring and the YOSAKOI Soran Festival in summer. The grounds stretch 1.5 kilometres across from east to west and are filled with snow statues, big and small, during the Snow Festival. Come nighttime, projection mapping exhibits are switched on to create beautifully dazzling sights that see tourists from all around the world flock to the city. Over at the Susukino site, a snow playground will keep the kids happy while the adults admire the beautiful ice sculptures on display. Planning a trip to Hokkaido to coincide with this event is highly recommended. Hotels are in high demand during this period, so make sure you book well in advance to lock down a spot!

TEINE

PLENTIFUL SIDECOUNTRY AREAS FILLED WITH TOP QUALITY POWDER SNOW

The Main Event Location for the Sapporo Winter Olympics

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Sapporo Teine Ski Resort is a short 30 – 40 minute drive away from the Sapporo business district and captured the attention of ski fans worldwide during the 1972 Winter Olympics as the main event location for events such as alpine skiing. Despite its convenient location near Sapporo proper, it boasts the longest ski slope in Hokkaido at a massive 6 kilometres in length and accessible sidecountry areas for exciting powder snow mountain runs. It also features a snow park, as well as tubing and sledding courses for safe family fun, making this resort a truly versatile location.

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Sapporo Teine Ski Resort is actually two ski areas rolled into one – Teine Highland and Teine Olympia. Highland is situated at the top of the mountain and is aimed at experienced skiers, whilst Olympia takes up the bottom half of the slope for family fun snow sports. The combination of the two areas gives birth to the 6 kilometre long course, welcoming skiers of all levels from different walks of life. There are also different attractions, such as the snow park for freestyle skiers and snowboarders to keep everyone happy.

The Highland area features courses that were used in the Winter Olympics and requires an adequate level of skill to conquer. The KITAKABE (North Face) course is particularly challenging with areas as steep as 36 degrees; it will take a lot of deft weaving and ducking to get through the sidecountry-like trees unscathed. Although this course might seem like a goliath to even the most-advanced skiers, the forest run is too difficult to groom, which turns it into a powder snow heaven the morning after a night of heavy snowfall. Definitely give this run a shot, if you dare.

The 4 Nature Zones are sidecountry trails accessible from the main courses and are sure to bring smiles to the faces of avid skiers. Exciting tree runs and powder snow runs (after heavy snowfall) can be found in these spots.

More happy news for hardcore skiers – the backcountry areas at Teine are not prohibited from access. Skiers can access the backcountry areas through the Teine Gate at the peak of the Highland area provided that they take full responsibility for their own actions. Access to these areas is purely for those who want the opportunity to shred some backcountry and it is important to note that it may not be possible to return to the main ski area after passing through the Teine Gate. Make sure you come fully equipped and research the layout of the land carefully before taking the leap.

The Highland area is also known for its magnificent views. There are not very many courses around that give you a view of the big sprawling city below as your ski down the slopes in the great outdoors. I have heard stories of skiers hesitant to move from their position and ski down the slope because they have been captivated by the stunning view. This ski resort is a must visit – where else can you find a similarly impressive ski slope so close to a major city? There is nothing quite like the luxury of enjoying the sights of the big city after a satisfying off-piste run.

Sapporo Teine Ski Resort offers 2 handy packages for visitors. The Big Runs Bus Pack includes return bus fare from 7 major hotels in Sapporo and lift access, whilst the Taxi Pack includes return taxi fare and lift access. These packages must be purchased in advance so hop onto their website for more information.

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BANK.K

DROP BY THIS SKI RESORT ON A WHIM

20 Minutes Away from the City Lights

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Just 20 minutes away from the city, you say? That’s right, Bankei’s biggest draw point is its short distance from the heart of Sapporo. The resort is easily accessible by car, subway and bus, and keeps its nighttime courses lit up until 10pm at night, so you can drop by the resort in the evening after a day of enjoying the Sapporo Snow Festival if you plan your trip to coincide with it.

Bankei Ski Resort also stocks a variety of skis, snowboards and snow gear, making a quick ski trip without any gear a cinch.

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There is also the Snow Kids Park on site for kids to try their hand at snow tubing, and a snow escalator for novice snow enthusiasts to find their winter feet. The child-minding services at the resort also helps parents to take a breather on the ski slopes while their kids are looked after. Most of the 17 courses available at Bankei have fairly gentle slopes and are targeted towards families. Whilst the resort may have a reputation as a family ski area, there are definitely offerings for advanced skiers.

Snow sport enthusiasts looking for more of a challenge can try out the Half Pipe and Moguls Course, both of which meet International Ski Federation standards. The Half Pipe is the largest of its kind in Japan at 180 metres long, 20 metres wide and 5 – 6 metres high. It was also selected as
a course in the 2016 FIS Snowboard World Cup. The Moguls Course sees frequent visits from top athletes to practice their skills on the high quality run. The Half Pipe and Moguls Course were both used for events in the 2017 Asian Winter Games held in Sapporo and Obihiro. Freestyler skiers and snowboarders alike should definitely drop by Bankei and try out the world class courses on offer.

Before you leave, stop by BANKEIEN on the western-side of the slope to feast on the local Hokkaido dish of Genghis Khan, lamb grilled on hot charcoals, for a tasty way to end your day.

KOKUSAI

THE BEST POWDER SNOW PARADISE NEAR SAPPORO

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An hour’s drive away from both Sapporo and Otaru on a snow-covered mountain pass is a ski resort located at the base of Mount Asaridake – Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort. Sapporo Kokusai and the nearby Kiroro Snow World are the coldest and receive the most snowfall in the area. The conditions are so harsh in this region that driving around at certain hours of the night is prohibited and extreme care must be taken when driving at other times during the day.

Fortunately, the bitter cold and heavy snowfall provide the perfect conditions for a great ski resort. Professional skiers and snowboarders from Sapporo, Otaru, and the surrounds flock to this ski resort for its consistently high quality powder snow. The 2.2 kilometre long Downhill Trail, which spans from the peak of the mountain to the base, is particularly thrilling with its non-compacted fluffy powder snow, making for a satisfying shred.

With only 5 total lifts and gondolas, the ski area may not appear to be particularly large, however, the Fairy Tale Trail through the forest, aimed at novice skiers, is a satisfying run at 3.6 kilometres long. The plentiful snow combined with low temperatures also creates excellent powder snow to be carved up in the sidecountry areas.

While this ski resort may be a little further from Sapporo compared to other resorts in the area, there a number ofbus packages that offer return fares at affordable prices for those who have concerns about driving to and from Sapporo Kokusai. Some packages include lunch courses and even access to nearby hot springs, so make sure to have a quick browse to find the package which best suits you.

An itinerary plan I would like to suggest when visiting Sapporo Kokusai is a stay at the nearby Jozankei Onsen. This hot spring town is only 20 minutes away from the ski resort and is the perfect place for tired snow fanatics to seek refuge.

JOZANKEI ONSEN

TAKE A DIP IN NATURAL HOT SPRING WATERS IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS OF HOKKAIDO

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To enjoy the beautiful Hokkaido scenery on offer throughout every season of the year in the relaxing thermal waters of a natural hot spring, take a trip an hour out of Sapporo to Jozankei Onsen. The long history of Jozankei Onsen began in 1866. The Buddhist monk, Miizumi Jozan, was said to have founded the town through many hardships after first discovering a hot spring source during his missionary work. The area was given the name “Jozankei” in recognition of Jozan’s endeavours.

There are 56 different hot spring sources in Jozankei Onsen. The thermal waters bubble up from the banks and river bed of Toyohira River, which runs through the town, in approximately 8,600 litre bursts. The sodium chloride-rich hot spring waters (neutral hypotonic thermal waters) are clear and have a characteristically smooth saltiness – a quality popular amongst hot spring fans in Japan. Salt sticks to your skin as you soak in the waters and prevents sweat from evaporating so as to warm you to the core.

Of the numerous longestablished Japanese inns to line the streets of this hot spring town, HANAMOMIJI is particularly proactive in attracting tourists from around the world. Onsen lovers will be delighted by the facilities on offer at HANAMOMIJI, including: an open-air hot spring bath with a view of the Jozankei valley; 3 private baths; and even the opportunity to soak in the springs of surrounding inns. The dishes filled with local Hokkaido seafood is also a big crowd-pleaser. Check out the HANA-MOMIJI website (offered in English) for more information.

Iwato Kannondo Temple is one site that absolutely cannot be missed on a visit to Jozankei. On the right-hand side of the altar inside the temple is a cave filled with 33 statues of the deity, Kannon. Iwato Kannondo Temple is a a quick peek into the cave to feel the power emanating from the area. Jozankei is also known for its “Kappa Folklore”, which tells of a kappa (a Japanese water spirit) that once lurked in the town. As such, the kappa has become the town mascot and statues of it can be found scattered around town. Anyone fancy a kappa search on their next visit to Onsen.

Lotte Arai Resort

Lotte Arai Resort

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THE BIRTH OF A LUXURY RESORT
WITH TOTAL MOUNTAIN RUNS

Lotte Arai Resort

Words and photography: Kazuya Baba

One of few resorts in Japan with large non-compacted snow zones, a legendary ski area that makes backcountry lovers and powder-snow junkies tremble with excitement the day after heavy snowfall – Arai has returned. This was the biggest news on the Japanese ski scene last season.

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Lotte Arai Resort is a fully-serviced resort that was originally opened in 1993, trading under the name ARAI Mountain Spa. Located at the base of Mount Okenashi (next to Mount Myoko), it was known for allowing snow-sport lovers access to its huge powder-snow areas through lifts and gondolas – unprecedented at the time.

Unfortunately, the waning popularity of skiing and deteriorating economic environment saw a number of ski areas and hotels close, rendering the resort to a fate of fodder for nostalgic tales of the past. As previously mentioned, ARAI’s greatest selling point was its huge, non-compacted snow courses, however, this also served to be its weakness as it offered few compacted-snow courses.

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The trend amongst Japanese skiers, at the time, was towards hard, compacted snow as they enjoyed carving turns. In other words, there were few skiers who enjoyed backcountry skiing, unlike now. I personally believe that ARAI was trying to hit a market that didn’t exist in Japan during that era. The resort was too ahead of its time.

Nowadays, skiers from overseas, namely European, American and Australian skiers, flock to Japan for a taste of powder snow in quantities unmatched by any other country in the world. Similarly, the number of Japanese skiers looking to try out areas away from compacted snow continues to rise.

In May 2017, ARAI was reborn under the major Korean-owned hotel brand Lotte as Lotte Arai Resort. As the trend continues to evolve, I have no doubt that Arai will now grow to become a renowned Japanese ski resort of luxury. Keep reading to find out more about the new and improved ski areas, activities and facilities on offer at Lotte Arai Resort!

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THE BIGGEST NON-COMPACTED SKI SLOPE IN JAPAN

Arai is located next to Mount Myoko at the base of Mount Okenashi in one of the most prominent snow-rich regions in the world. There are many ways to access Lotte Arai Resort, for example: it is 8 kilometres or a 10 minute drive away from the Joshin-etsu Expressway Arai Interchange (Smart IC); a 30 minute free shuttle bus ride from Hokuriku Shinkansen (bullet train) Joetsumyoko Station; or from internationally renowned Myoko Kogen, it is a 30 minute trip away as well. The ski area’s convenient location on the eastern slope of Mount Okenashi also happens to contribute to the slow-melting quality of the snow.

To speed things up, take a quick look at the map to aid in familiarising yourself with the main features of the courses on offer. Pay particularly close attention to the purple areas. On a normal skip slope, these areas would be classified as off-piste, but at Arai they are free to be carved up. These areas are, of course, non-compacted so you will be able to enjoy top quality powder snow. One look at the map should give you an idea of how open and freeing the courses are.

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That’s not all. The map featured here was released when the resort reopened in December 2017. Since then, even more areas have been opened up for access. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to label this the largest non-compacted snow area in Japan. The 4 courses from the peak of the mountain can be approached by hiking up towards them from the lift station. Resort staff carry out checks on the slopes before they are open for hiking, meaning that opening times differ from day to day. Courses will be closed on days where conditions are too dangerous for access. Your best bet is to ask a member of staff stationed at the starting point about the day’s conditions.

A WONDROUS STROLL IN THE SKY – JAPAN’S LONGEST ZIP-LINE

Of the numerous new attractions added to coincide with the reopening of the resort, the zip-line should not be missed. This zip-line of huge proportions sits at the mountain peak, stretching 1,501 metres in length from the mountain-top gondola station with a total elevation difference of approximately 240 metres. As of January 2018, it is the longest of its kind in all of Asia. It is extremely safe and utilises the same emergency escape mechanism found on NASA space shuttle launch pads. The first half of the ride is a thrilling, high-speed experience, followed by a more relaxed second half that allows you to enjoy the sights of Hokushinetsu Mountains around and the Takada Plains below. The included snapshots will give you a taste of how big it really is.

Many visitors are prompted to book a ride on the zip-line during the ski season after catching a startling glimpse of someone flying above them. It is an attraction I highly recommend to anyone who happens to find themselves at the resort. The Zip Tour also includes 1 ride down the 192 metre long tubing slope, another thrilling experience for those with a need for speed.

THE HOTEL DEFINING THE EPITOME OF DECADENCE

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One other aspect that draws visitors to Arai is the gorgeous hotel. The hotel features a total of 257 rooms, divided into 3 classes: Superior, Deluxe and Suite. It has been designed around the concept of mountain villas or retreats. The hotel is marketed as an upper-class establishment, meaning that even the Superior-class rooms are spacious and pristine. There is an air about this hotel that places it head and shoulders above your average hotel. The specially produced bedding has been particularly well received for its outstanding comfort. If you are after an even more luxurious experience, how about giving the Deluxe or Suite rooms a shot?

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Headlines were made over the reopening of the resort for another reason – the drawing of hot spring waters. While the original resort had excellent spa facilities, it used heated water, rather than drawing from natural hot springs. With the revamp, steps were taken to dig up and locate hot spring sources. The efforts of the resort paid off and it now boasts a large public onsen bath. The Myoko region is known for its hot springs, so it would a trip to the area would not be complete without an onsen experience. This is a great coup for would-be visitors.

Inside of the resort is a wide range of other facilities including: a library café filled with a huge range of books, bouldering walls, a pool, gym and even a spa to keep you on your toes. There are also a number of top quality restaurants and cafés scattered around. I was particularly impressed by the Italian restaurant, Arcobaleno. Dinner courses start at 13,000 yen per person and while you may not think this is a bargain, you’ll be reaching for your wallets when you see what dishes are on the menu.

Selections include top quality char-grilled Wagyu beef, unique pasta dishes made with the finest local Niigata-sourced ingredients, and even soup. Every dish is made with the utmost care and is absolutely scrumptious. The restaurant is marketed as a fusion of modern and classic Italian cuisine, but I personally found it to be a fine dining experience of Japaneseinspired Italian fare.

While it is perfectly fine to stay somewhere nearby and visit the ski slopes, I highly recommended you experience everything this first-class resort has to offer on your next trip to Lotte Arai Resort.

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