Getting Ready for Japan's Ski Season
Summer seemed to suddenly finish early this year. Almost with an audible thud as though someone had flicked the Fall switch. Still, as the temperature needs to plummet from an August high of 35 to minus 10 on the mountain tops by year end, I guess Mother Nature needs to get on with it. Which has got me thinking about the white stuff.
Japan benefits from the Kuroshio – a warm ocean current that swirls around from the tropical regions near Indonesia and Philippines. Sitting in the lee of the massive Eurasia continent at mid-latitudes, without this current Japan would likely be a dry, barren place. Fortunately, in wintertime, the warm, moist air that rides atop the Kuroshio smashes into the freezing blocks of atmosphere that roll south from the Arctic, generating bucket-loads of snow. Almost too much in some places, like the famous Snow Country along the Japan Sea west coast, where the white stuff piles up meters high. But in more central and easterly locations, it’s just right to create perfect conditions for skiing.
The number of Japanese skiers is decreasing as a result of a falling and aging total population, although there are still some amazingly active skiers in their 60s and 70s. This means that Japan’s copious ski infrastructure has more capacity these days for international skiers. A good example of this is the Hokkaido resort of Niseko. Remote from the major Japanese population centers on Honshu, this resort has aggressively targeted the international ski market.
Photo: Brian Chiu on Flickr
As a result of these efforts, for example, Japan has become the second largest international destination for Australian skiers, after neighboring New Zealand. Japan offers a counter-seasonal opportunity to down-under skiers, whose own season is in July/August. The low value of the yen offers very good value to international skiers, who can also have an oriental cultural experience as a bonus. Australia alone has a ski population of one million, meaning that in Japan’s winter QANTAS flights to Tokyo are more heavily laden with northbound Australian skiers than returning Japanese tourists.
But of course those of us on Honshu don’t need to stretch as far as catching the new bullet train to Hokkaido for great skiing options. Nagano hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics, and received its own bullet train in support. Just 90 minutes from Ueno will bring you within taxi distance of a host of good resorts. Hakuba is one of the most popular with a wide range of facilities. A little to the east is Sugadaira, with a large selection of gentle slopes weaving their way through forested terraces, ideal for intermediate skiers.
Mt Fuji’s symmetrically white capped figure is a promotional icon for Japan’s winter. There are a couple of resorts on sacred Fuji itself, and a number close by that provide spectacular views of the big mountain, if not from the slopes themselves, at least en route to them. Fuji is on the main Tokkaido route connecting Japan’s three largest cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka. So transport to the area is convenient with options of bullet train or several freeways for bus or car transport.
So, get those planks waxed. In no time at all we’ll be saying ‘snows up’. Will you be ready?