Wednesday, 20 February 2013

My Myoko Kogen: a Japanese ski delight

The shuttle bus driver stared longingly up at Mt Myoko, which had just emerged from behind the clouds after two days of snow.

"It's a bad day," he said in broken English and then smiled.

Actually, today was far from a bad day on the slopes and the driver knew it.

He would much prefer to be diving into the powdery conditions than driving around the skiers who would be doing it in his place.

Instead, today he would be driving the free shuttle bus which connects the four main ski resorts around the town of Myoko Kogen.  These are Myoko Suginohara, Ikenotaira Onsen, Shin-Akakura (also known as Akakura Kanko) and Akakakura Onsen (skiers able to ski between the last two if they hold a joint lift ticket).   

There are several other ski resorts in the vicinity, but a taxi or car would be needed to reach them.

Myoko Suginohara: one of the several ski resorts around Myoko Kogen
View over the lakes below from Myoko Suginohara

Perhaps it is the way the resorts are spread out, but it seems quieter and more "local" at Myoko Kogen compared to the nearby popular Hakuba ski fields.   

Not to say Myoko Kogen is some "secret" ski haven.  For starters, skiers must navigate their way around numerous Japanese school groups snaking their way down the slopes, and the groups of Japanese soldiers doing training drills.

But there does seem to be fewer Australians here compared to Hakuba and Niseko - or at the very least fewer Australians proudly boasting about their drunken escapades the night before.  While there are plenty of restaurants and bars across the area, this isn't a party town.   

The people who come here, are here for the snow.   The daily routine is beautifully simple - eat, sleep and ski.

Heading up the gondola at Akakura Kanko

And given the ski resorts which make up Myoko Kogen are close together, it's surprising how different they each are.   

Myoko Suginohara boasts Japan's longest ski run - a thigh-burning 8.5km.   Cruisy intermediate skiing on long ski runs is the main appeal here, as well as some shorter scenic black runs right at the top.

Nearby, Ikenotaira Onsen feels like the region's training school as newcomers to skiing and snowboarding take advantage of the predominantly beginner and intermediate slopes.

Akakura Kanko and Akakura Onsen combined offer the largest collection of runs with a variety of terrains across a decent-sized area.   

Snow covered trees around Akakura Onsen
When the snow is falling and the clouds hug the mountain, it feels as though you are in remote Japanese village far away from the rest of the world.  Hard to believe then, that Myoko Kogen is just a 50 minute train ride from the regional hub of Nagano (itself less than two hours by bullet train from Tokyo).

Like the other resorts north of Nagano, such as Shiga Kogen and Nozawa Onsen, local skiers seem to outnumber the international fly-in, fly-out skiers, giving a more authentic Japanese on-piste and off-piste experience.

Myoko Kogen receives around 13 metres of snow each winter

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