Shiga Kogen

Shiga Kogen

Number of lifts (Incl. gondolas): 62
Number of runs: 84
Longest run: 4000m
Maximum elevation: 2307m
Steepest slope: 39 degrees
Terrain: Beginner 46%, Intermediate 40%, Advanced 14%
Night skiing: Yes, until 21:00
Season: Mid November until early May
Other: Park facilities include kickers, rails, boxes, and waves.

Find your groove on the slopes

find the right slope for your skills

Find the right slope for your skills

The word “Kogen” in Japanese translates in “high lands”. With a peak of over 2,300
meters, the resorts of Shiga are celebrated for their fine dry snows, and on clear days the dazzling view to the next prefecture.

Shiga Kogen is the largest ski area in Japan, with an interlinked collection of 22 resorts and over 120 interconnected lifts and gondolas. Imagine zig-zagging across the mountains all day, gazing across the peaks you’ve just conquered. I didn’t have the chance to do so because I got dazzled by the vastness at the first peak, but maybe you will. Lucky I had a capable instructor to coax me down or I’d be there still. I took to Ken right away. His English had that no-worries Californian accent, while his heavy-duty suit and lean face gave him a manga hero look. “You look like a fire-fighter,” I told him. “That’s because I am, as well as an instructor, snow shoveler, and other things.” Life is like that in the mountains. We skied all the way down a slope which ended right on the doorstep of a small hotel. “Come in, boots and all,” a sign said, so that’s what we did, with lunch on our minds. It was a hotel that looked like it had been in the family a long time, full of mother’s pot plants, framed embroidery, and children’s books on the 60‘s style tables. When little girls appeared and started tumbling over my instructor, that’s when I realised what some of Ken’s other jobs were. Namely, this was his family hotel. I was scared to go out after lunch, but this is Shiga, with every kind of run to choose from. We drove to Okushiga, one of the more isolated areas. They found me an beginner’s heaven that was snowboarder-free, wide and flat, with no distractingly magnificent view to ruin my focus. I didn’t have my Ken, but Mr. Sato who runs one of the large hotels, Villa Ichinose, volunteered to come down to be my companion. We worked out that if he was behind me, acting as an invisible guiding voice, I could forget about the outside world and relax. My body and brain started communicating again, and a gliding rhythm appeared.

field and lifts

My instructor and hero, Ken

I’m now convinced you can’t think your way to success. You just need to prepare the right surroundings, including great teachers, so it all just clicks. With all the large Japanese group tours that come to Shiga, the focus is on the slopes, not the food or nightlife. Most visitors choose a meals-included package and do their eating and socialising with their companions, mainly due to the lack of local restaurants or a real town centre.

The town of Ichinose, where I stayed, could be seen as the de facto main town of Shiga, and the best place to find a meal.

With the help of Facebook, my friends gathered their old friends and local gogetters for a BYO nightlife. We spend a lively evening at the Okinawa-themed pub, The Olympic at our hotel. As soon as the first dish appeared, a crispy chewy savory pancake, with unusual Okinawan beer, I knew the owner was passionate about the food he creates and that it would be delicious. The islands of Okinawa have a distinctly different culture and cuisine to the rest of Japan, so even for domestic visitors, this might be the most exotic food to be had in Shiga. For Nagano’s 1998 Winter Olympics, Shiga hosted downhill ski and snowboard events. In part due to this, overseas visitors to the area have been increasing every year. It’s usual for the staff to speak some English. Shiga Sugiyama ski school is a large, capable institution with international teachers who provide lessons in English and other languages, and anything else you might need to make life on the slopes brilliant.

With its high altitude, the Shiga Kogen ski season runs from early December to May. The ski area is part of a Japanese national park, which in the summertime becomes a place for hikers to enjoy the lakes, forests and wildlife unlike anywhere else in Japan.

Back in 1980, UNESCO designated the majority of Shiga Kogen as a Man and the Biosphere Reserve, one of over 600 in the world. These are places where researchers are looking for innovative, whole-system ways for humans and the rest of the natural world to coexist with each other.

From the ski lift we saw strange footprints.

“Kamoshika” said my companion. I know Kamoshika, a Japanese goat-antelope, from the Studio Ghibli animated film Princess Mononoke. Imaginative, I thought. This peaceful animal, with its wolf-like fur and mouse-like face, is said to be a protector of forests. It is only at this moment that I find out that this mythical beast actually exists. My companions weren’t teasing me when they said that Shiga Kogen is an otherworldly place.

Another special animal of Shiga is the Okojyo, a little mink-like creature. The Okojyo puts on a white coat for the winter, just to keep out of your sight and keep you thinking she too is mythical. If I ever find myself back at Shiga Kogen, it would be for hiking in mythical forests and I would bring a delicious lunch box of my own.