THE BIRTH OF A LUXURY RESORT WITH TOTAL MOUNTAIN RUNS
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.
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.
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!
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 ski 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.
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, highspeed 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
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 upperclass 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?
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 Japanese-inspired 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.