Japan’s skiing has been kept a secret from the international market for years by the locals and Antipodeans in the know, and for good reason. The powder here is renowned for being particularly light and is eloquently named ‘champagne powder’. As soon as I got back from a week of powder in Hakuba over New Year I started researching my next excursion to the snow; some would call it an addiction, I’m okay with that. When I got my JET placement I was almost disappointed not to be in the depths of Hokkaido, skiing to school every day. I say ‘almost’ because here in Hyogo we have it even better: our location is so good that a long weekend in Hokkaido (see Jetstar or Peach for flights) or up in Nagano (Willers’ White Express bus 11300円return from Osaka) is very doable. Even better though is that we can do day trips; Hyogo has 15 of its very own snow oases. There is no better feeling than waking up on a crisp Saturday morning and being able to go for a spur of the moment ski. Trust me, I had this luxury when I lived in Italy and it never gets old.
So whether you’re a powder hound, piste bunny or total novice, it’s time to drag yourself out from under the kotatsu, hop on a bus and hit the slopes local style. Hot sake is the new vin-chaud, and you simply cannot beat onsen après-ski.
Hyogo’s hottest cold spots…
Beginner 10% Intermediate 70% Advanced 20%
Av snow depth Feb: 185cm
One of Hyogo’s bigger mountains, Sky Valley has 8 runs with the longest just over 3 kilometres. If you like to show off in the park, Sky’s has enough to keep you amused for the day with rails, boxes, kickers, a half-pipe and sometimes a quarter-pipe. There’s something for every level at Sky Valley, and although it lacks proper pistes for the very advanced, if the snow’s good then there’s lots of potential to make tracks between the trees. Adorable woodland animals make the piste map easy to navigate, but be careful, the mascot may look deceptively friendly!
Lift pass: 3500円/day
Skis/board + boots + skiwear = 6000円/day
Skis/board + boots = 4000円/day
Access: Shinki Bus tour
Return transport from Sannomiya (departing 7:20am) plus day lift pass from 5000円to 6800\ see website for dates and prices.
Looking out over Kobe bay Mount Rokko is worth a visit at any time of year for the view alone, but come winter you can also enjoy playing in the snow. This small but conveniently located beginners’ slope is the perfect place for newbies to find their snow legs, or if you’ve had a day or two on the slopes before, then head to Rokko for a fun day of sledging and snow men.
Entry 2000円(rentals extra)
Take the Hankyu to Rokko station then the funicular up the mountain.
Fancy testing the slopes of the tallest mountain in Hyogo? About 3 hours North West of Kobe lies the 1509m Mount Hyōno. Best accessed by car (or a 50 minute bus from Yoka station), this small resort boasts a snow park and some excellent discounts (Tuesday is just 2500円for the ladies). Hang on to your lift pass for discounts at the onsen down the mountain too – the perfect way to relax those post mogul muscles.
30% Beginners, 40% Intermediate, 30% Advanced
Average snow depth in Feb: 183cm
Hyogo’s best known and most snow-sure mountain. Avoid the lower slopes which get choked up with learners, and the snow park which fills up early with posers decked out in the new season colours. Up the mountain you avoid the queues and benefit from a variety of slopes, semi off-piste and tree runs. Hachi offers two ski areas on the same pass, but the link run between Kita and Kogen is intermediate level so beginners should plan to stick to one side.
The Hachi Kita/Kogen area gets busy on weekends, so use the mid-term exams and a day of nenkyu to go make some fresh tracks when everyone else has to work.
Full rental sets: 5000-6000円
Access: Shinki Heart tour
Return bus leaving from Namba, Osaka at 6.45am (other stops en route through Hyogo) to Hachi-kogen.
Basic lift pass Extended lift pass
weekends: 7500円 9200円
weekdays: 5000円 6500円
Specials (14th, 15th, 20th Feb): 4500円 5900円
I won’t wax lyrical about the wonders of skiing (or snowboarding if you must); that first squeak of snow when you put your skis on, the frozen sparkle in the air on a sunny sub-zero day, the indescribable and somehow inoffensive smell of the boot locker (just me?) but to experience all this and more grab a buddy (all about ski safety) and head to one of these convenient resorts for some frosty frolicking.
The champagne’s waiting!