Hakuba Happo One Ski Resort and the 2017 IVSI Congress

March 29th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Report

Ski instructors from around the world train together during IVSI.

While the slopes are relatively quiet during late March, the Hakuba area welcomed delegations of ski instructors from around the world during the 2017 IVSI Congress (International Federation of Snowsport Instructors) for a week of skiing workshops, demonstrations, and lectures. Held every four years, this was the 13th congress and the second one to be held in Japan (Shigakogen in 1989).

My coworker and I visited Hakuba Happo One on the last day of the congress. The weather was perfect as instructors competed in slalom and showed their respective countries’ ski demonstrations. Some highlights included Hakuba’s mascot, Victoire Cheval Blanc Murao III, racing on skis; several Austrian team members donning ski equipment from the early 1900s; and skiers flying through the air on parachutes. Everyone cheered exuberantly for the demonstrators as they made their way down the course.

The same equipment was used when skiing was first introduced to Japan around 1912!

One of many great demonstrations during the farewell ceremony.

After the closing ceremony finished, some headed straight to nearby lodges to begin their après-ski evenings while others hurried back up the hill for a few more runs. I headed to the top of the mountain to enjoy the scenery of the Hakuba Sanzan: Mt. Shirouma, Mt. Shakushi, and Mt. Yari. From the top of the ski resort, the snow-capped mountains felt incredibly close.

View from the top of Hakuba Happo One.

As I skied down the mountain, the Hakuba valley opened up before me. On skier’s right were Hakuba Goryu and Hakuba 47, cutting swaths through the woods at the base of Mt. Goryu. On the left were the Hakuba Sanzan Mountains and Iwatake Ski Resort. There was another great spot for photos and relaxing: Usagidaira terrace, equipped with comfortable sofas, a fire pit, and plenty of beer. The cafeteria next door had great views as well.

The Corona Bar in the Usagidaira terrace.

Sanzokuyaki fried chicken at the Usagidaira Terrace restaurant.

Overall, I was impressed by the speed of the lifts and how easy it was to reach the top of the mountain no matter where I happened to be. I managed to do several top-to-bottom runs in no time at all! I mainly followed the Reisen slalom course and some of the forest trails that branched from it, but there were also numerous mogul courses, steep advanced courses and some tree runs as well. Another course that I didn’t get to try was Happo Banks, a playground of smooth banked edges for freestyle skiers and snowboarders to enjoy.

Wide open runs near the top of Hakuba Happo One.

Even so, the clear weather and beautiful views were satisfying enough, and I could easily see why the IVSI chose Hakuba, and Hakuba Happo One, as their destination for the 2017 IVSI Congress. I hope they enjoyed their last day on the slopes as much as I enjoyed mine!

“Madapow” at Madarao Kogen and Tangram

January 27th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics

The Northern Nagano valley opens up behind the Madarao Kogen hotel.

The Madarao and Tangram ski resorts sit between Iiyama City and Shinano-machi in Northern Nagano prefecture on opposite faces of Mt. Madarao. They are interconnected and you can ride both resorts in the same day with the 5,000 yen “Mountain Pass.” They resorts are medium-sized with well-rounded courses that suit all levels of skiers and snowboarders. Smooth pistes, moguls, and terrain parks are all available, but these resorts’ specialties are trees and powder, often referred to locally as “Madapow.”
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The State of Nagano Skiing this December

December 18th, 2015 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics
The beautiful northern alps are covered in snow, but green still shows in the valley.

Hakuba's mountains are beautifully covered in white.

Areas around the globe have been experiencing some crazy weather over the past month due to the dreaded El Niño effect. Wintery parts of the world have been unusually warm and green, and some areas of Japan have been reaching highs of 25℃ or more. It has also meant a late winter for Nagano prefecture, but don’t fear, folks: winter is here. The mountains are capped in white and ski resorts are open for business. Soon enough, your breath will be visible in your apartment and your shampoo will be freezing overnight.

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Shiga Heights Ski Resorts after 2 ft Big Snowfall Downtown

March 15th, 2014 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

I went skiing in Shiga Heights Ski Resorts February 22. It was one week after big snowfall in Nagano, so the ski courses were covered with wonderful natural snow. We (five Japanese, one from America, and one from Britain) really enjoyed skiing and snowboarding in the best condition.

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Cross Country Skiing at Nabekura Highlands

January 20th, 2014 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Spending an afternoon cross-country skiing in Nabekura Highlands is the perfect respite. Fields of white powder snow welcome you as you follow the trail which is surrounded by mountains. Unlike the fast-pace of downhill skiing, cross country provides a chance to slow-down and experience the nature first-hand. In your light-weight skis and boots you can glide peacefully down the path.

Details:
Nabekura Highlands, Mori-no-Ie 0269-29-2888
Address: 1571-15 Teruoka, Iiyama-shi, Nagano-ken 389-2601
Access: 40 minutes from the IC Toyota-Iiyama on the Joshin-etsu Expressway
Cross Country rental available: 2,500 Yen per day (2,000 yen half-day)
Snowshoe rental is also available. Guides can be arranged for an additional fee.

Togari Onsen Ski Fields – Good Value without the Crowds and Lines

February 16th, 2013 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

There are great views down to the Chikuma River valley from up on the mountain at Togari Onsen Ski Fields

Last weekend my wife and I went skiing with a couple of Japanese friends at Togari Onsen ski fields. Being new to skiing in Nagano, we have been trying out various ski fields and comparing their strengths and weaknesses. We liked Togari Onsen ski fields for a number of reasons. First, it was good value. The day lift pass is 4000 yen for adults (and only 2500 yen for over 50’s – show some ID to prove  your seniority). In addition to the lift pass, you get a free entry to one of the two local hot springs (worth 500 yen), plus a 100 yen discount coupon to use in one of the restaurants. You also get “repeater” tickets and when you have collected five of them, you can get further discounts. The other good value aspect was the Sky Top (スカイトップ) restaurant at the base of the Casseopea lifts. It had udon, curry rice and so on for 600 yen, compared to 1000 yen or so at the Kogen Warabi restaurant next door.

Second, we liked the fact that the ski fields were not too crowded. Our friends had been to Togari years before, and they describe it as a “local” ski field. By this they mean that it is relatively unknown. Certainly it did not have the long lines for the lifts that you find at Nozawa Onsen or Hakuba. It is often the case that the cheaper the lift pass, the slower the lifts, or the less variety in the slopes. But at Togari the quad lifts in particular were fast enough, and there is plenty of variety in the slopes. The slopes were relatively uncluttered, so I didn’t feel that it was just a snowy version of Tokyo’s legendarily crowded Shinjuku crossing.

There are two main parking areas at Togari. The one to the south is at the base of the set of runs known as Pegasus, while to the north is the Orion side. Further up the mountain, the two sides are joined by the Casseopea runs. There is a total of over 11kms of runs, with more than 4kms for beginners, 5kms of intermediate level, and 2kms for advanced skiers. Intermediate level skiers have access to all parts of the mountain, unlike some resorts where you have to be an advanced skier to ski at the top of the mountain. The beginner runs are relatively easy compared to beginner runs at other places I have been skiing, while there is quite a bit of variation in the difficulty level of the intermediate runs.

The snow conditions were quite good the day we visited, especially in the morning. Because the resort is not as high as say Shiga Kogen, there is a tendency for the lower slopes to get a bit icy later in the day. But up on the Casseopia runs the snow stayed good and powdery all day.

After skiing, you can choose between Akatsuki Onsen, near Pegasus, and Nozomi Onsen, near Orion, to soothe your muscles. My “Nagano Onsen Guide: The Top 100 Day-Use Onsens” (if you are interested, you can get it on amazon.com) recommends Nozomi Onsen because of its superior outdoor bath view, landscaping and environment. It is right across the road from the car park at Orion.

Togari Onsen Ski Fields are located in Iiyama City, about 45km by car from downtown Nagano City. You can find a location map for Togari onsen at the English language Snow Japan site http://www.snowjapan.com/e/resorts/resort_map.php?resortNo=41 – the marker on the map is positioned at the Pegasus car park.

Ski Mecca Nagano — Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort

February 6th, 2013 by
Category: Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Our kids had a day off from school the other day.
The weather was postcard-perfect.
Lots of work to do, but….

When in Nagano during the winter, you just gotta go skiing.

So the kids and piled in the car, and went up to Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort. Our son Andy wanted to try the 39-degree “Wall”, and I was looking forward to a soak in Nozawa’s onsen after skiing.

Family Fun at the Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort

While Andy tackled the Wall and the rest of Nozawa’s courses, I taught #2 son Kenny and our daughter Misaki how to ski at the Kids Park at the bottom. Andy was excited to have seen the ocean from the peak, and had a blast exploring all the various runs. Meanwhile, especially Misaki got hooked on skiing and wants to try it again.

After skiing at Nozawa, it’s against the rules not to take a soak in an onsen bath.

There are 13 “Soto-Yu” public bathhouses in Nozawa where locals and visitors alike are welcome to go and take baths for free (donations accepted). Locals take turns cleaning and maintaining the facilities, and the bathhouses act as gathering spots to chit-chat and catch up on things.

One of those bathhouses is Oyu. The stately elegant wood construction with the raised center roof to let the steam out is the classic “Yu-ya” (bathhouse) style. This is onsen culture at its finest.

Nozawa Oyu -- the granddaddy of Nozawa Onsen's public bathhouses

It had been years since I’d bathed at Oyu. So on this ski trip to Nozawa Onsen, the kids and I took the time (and followed the rule) to take a bath there.

Warning: Nozawa’s hot springs are scalding hot! Oyu is divided into mens and womens sides, and further divided into “Atsu-yu” (hot water) and “Nuru-yu” (moderate water). But even the nuru-yu was painfully hot (around 43 deg C), so we and the other guests added tapwater, and I used the wooden plank to stir up the bath, bringing the temperature down to a more enjoyable 40 degress C.

Dip carefully

The onsen water has a rich sulfur content. The strong smell makes bathing here a fantastic multi-sensation experience.

Nozawa Onsen — amazing skiing and amazing hot springs. Check it out!

My 5-day Ski and Onsen Trip to Nozawa Onsen

March 31st, 2012 by
Category: Cuisine, Information, Miscellaneous, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

— For Japanese translation of this article, click here (authorized link by Nagano Prefecture) —

Photo 1) Reconstructed Rest House YAMABIKO.
 
Photo 2) Brett and Hayley, snowboarders from Australia we interviewed.

My Ski Holidays at Nozawa Onsen Village

From Oct 2011, I wrote 3 reports about “Shinshu Tourist Destinations ‘Kizuna‘ (Bonds) Declaration” (Report #1, Report #2, Report #3).  The reason for drawing up the reports was that I wanted to encourage international tourists to return to Nagano.  Now, one year has passed since the earthquakes of March 2011.  I thought I would like to choose Nozawa Onsen Village, which was partly damaged by the earthquakes in March 2011, for my ski holidays this year to witness the recovery.  When I was writing the 3 reports, Nozawa Onsen looked quite attractive for a vacation.  Then, I carried out the plan.  This is a report of my 5-day ski trip to Nozawa Onsen Village from March 5th to 9th, 2012.
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Shiga Kogen’s Nature Preservation Center and Olympic Memorial Hall

March 10th, 2011 by
Category: Outdoor Activities

People come to Nagano from far and wide to enjoy its natural beauty.  And within Nagano, it doesn’t get much better than Shiga Kogen.  With its majestic mountains and deep forests, not to mention the famous snow monkeys and other wildlife, Shiga Kogen’s wilderness is sure to delight your senses and instill a sense of awe. 
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Nakadanasou – Japanese-style Inn in Komoro –

January 31st, 2011 by
Category: Accomodations, Cuisine, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs)
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“Hatsukoi Ringo Buro” (Hatsukoi Apple Bath).  Apples are floated on hot spring water.
 
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Outlook of “Heiseikan” accommodation building. 

“Nakadanasou” is a Japanese-style hot spring inn in Komoro city founded in 1898.  This 113-year-old traditional inn is especially renowned for its association with Shimazaki Toson (1872-1943), a prominent Japanese author and poet.   Toson loved to stay here and enjoyed its hot springs which contain healing power.  Nakadanasou even appears in Toson’s famous poem called “Chikumagawa Ryojou No Uta”.  

The main buildings of Nakadanasou are “Taishokan” (accommodation where Toson stayed and wrote the above poem), “Heiseikan” (new accommodation), and “Harikoshitei” (Japanese restaurant).  While the whole site is filled with a classic and tranquil atmosphere, its modern and convenient amenities ensure your comfortable stay at the same time.

I had lunch at the restaurant Harikoshitei.   The building of Harikoshitei, designated as important cultural property, is a large old house in the Edo period.  When I visited there, many dolls were beautifully displayed for the coming Girl’s Festival on March 3rd.   It is a Japanese custom to exhibit special dolls called “hina dolls” to celebrate the festival.  The restaurant serves Japanese country-style food using fresh local ingredients.  I had a set lunch called “Hatsukoi Gozen”.  Many small plates, such as tempura, fish and simmered vegetables, were served in a beautiful basket.  Furthermore, sashimi (raw fish), chawanmushi (steamed egg custard in a cup), soba noodles and a Japanese-style dessert were served.  I truly enjoyed the tasty and beautiful meal while looking at the pretty dolls. 

I also experienced its famous “Hatsukoi Ringo Buro”, which literally means “first love apple bath”.  The word “hatsukoi” was named after Toson’s poem in which apples appear.  From October to May, apples are floated on the hot spring water.  The sweet smell of apples really relaxed both my mind and body.  The hot spring bath is available throughout the year (from June to September with no apples), to both overnight guests and day visitors.  Please contact the inn to confirm the opening hours for day visitors.   

Finally, let me add that the inn is conveniently located for sightseeing.  Komoro station and Kaikoen Park are just 15 minutes’ walk.  Karuizawa, a popular mountain resort good for shopping, skiing and other leisure activities, is 20 minutes’ train ride.  “Asama 2000”, a ski resort at the altitude of 2,000 meters with natural powder snow, is 30 minutes’ drive by car. 

Why not experience traditional culture and cuisine in Nanadansou? 

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A large guest room that has Japanese rooms and a Western room with a great garden view. 
 
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The restaurant “Harikoshitei”, designated as important cultural property, was decorated with pretty hina dolls for the Girl’s Festival. 
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In front of Nakadanasou. Landlady in traditional kimono will give you a warm welcome.

 

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Set lunch "Hatsukoi Gozen" at "Harikoshitei" restaurant. Soba and dessert are also served.

Taishokan Nakaniwa

"Taishokan" accommodation building can be seen behind trees and flowers in the inner garden.

 

Name of the facility Nakadanasou
Description of business accommodation (capacity of 70 guests), restaurant, public hot spring bath  
Tel 0267-22-1511 (Japan country code: 81)
Fax 0267-22-9191 (Japan country code: 81)
Email nakadana@komoro.co.jp
URL http://www.nakadanasou.com (Click “ENGLISH WEBSITE”)
Address Kojou Nakadana, Komoro, Nagano, 384-8558, Japan
Reservations and inquiries Please contact by email or use the inquiry form on website.
Access
  • If you get off Nagano Shinkansen at “Sakudaira” station, change to JR Koumi Line and get off at “Komoro” station (last stop).
  • If you get off Nagano Shinkansen at “Karuizawa” station, change to Shinano Tetsudo (Shinano Railway) and get off at “Komoro” station.
  • Nakadanasou can be reached from Komoro station either by taxi (5 minutes) or on foot (15 minutes).
  • You can find a map on website.
Operating dates and hours
  • Nakadanasou (accommodation part) is open every day of the year. 
  • Harikoshitei (restaurant) is open daily from 11:30 to 14:00 except Wednesday. Reservation needed for dinner from 17:00 to 21:00.
Room rates and other prices
  • Minimum room rate is JPY11,000 per person per night including dinner and breakfast.  Room rates are changeable depending on the season, so please contact the inn.
  • A variety of souvenirs are available at the shop, including “nigorizake” (unrefined sake) at JPY1,680, “Harikoshi manju” (original Japanese-style buns with red bean paste filling) at JPY450, “umeshu” (plum liquor) at JPY1,100, and original wine at JPY2,800.