This was my 3rd visit to Tsugaike and came courtesy of an unclaimed Hakuba Alpen Resorts ticket from the SnowJapan Giveaways, so a big thanks to SJ, Hakuba Alpen Resorts and the person who didn't claim their winning ticket!
When I visited here last season (March 2013), I met up with fellow SJ’er Chriselle for a few turns and we discovered that Tsugaike has a top ropeway that only opens from March. We weren’t able to ride it that day but vowed to return, which is what I was able to do this week. As previously, I visited Tsugaike using the free shuttle bus service from Happo-one. There had been a decent dump on the Friday before I arrived but by the Monday of my visit the rising temperatures had turned the new snow to slush or porridge, depending on altitude. Undeterred, I headed up the gondola and over to the ropeway station in time to see the cable car slide out of its berth and off up the mountain. With a 30 minute wait until the next one, I had a quick run up the Tsuga No.2 pair lift and back down the Tsuga-no-mori slope, the condition of which was surprisingly good, giving me hope that the higher area accessed by the ropeway would be ok despite being south-facing.
You pay-as-you-go to use the ropeway, so 720Yen lighter, I entered the next cable car along with a 15 or so other punters, all Japanese and mostly middle-aged to elderly skiers with the exception of 2 younger girl boarders. Upon arrival at the top station, a safety talk was given by a member of staff, informing us of the day’s conditions and warning about where and where not to go, well that was the general gist that I could glean from my low-level Japanese.
The upper slopes looked beautiful and I was so tempted to hike off for a better look at potential lines back down but given the previous warnings, and the fact that I was riding solo and had never been there before, decided to play it safe and head down the only “course”, which I guess is a service road. Straight away I could see several lines dropping off from this, so decided to follow suit, riding down a wide, rolling gully. There was up to a foot of untracked snow but as suspected, it had become sugary in the sun. Still rideable but not as much fun as it would have been earlier in the morning or better still, 2 days beforehand. I followed the gully down into an area of denser trees, where the tracks converged into a run-out to the cat-track that links the top of the gondola station to the bottom ropeway station. Due to the heavier snow, I had to un-strap a couple of times and skate, though I probably wouldn’t have needed to with better conditions.
I didn’t have enough time to do another run up the ropeway so headed back down to the base of the resort. As with my visit the same time the previous year, the middle slopes were almost glue-like in places, which made straight-lining entertaining to say the least! The condition of the slushier lower slopes was more consistent and certainly more fun for beginners. As stated in last year's review, the lower slopes of Tsugaike are great for beginners, being gentle and wide. As I was on beginner duty, I spent most of the time lapping the Oya-no-hara and Karamatsu slopes, which are accessed by the Central triple chair lift.
Although the recent snow had suffered in the rising temperatures, I had a good day in the sunshine at Tsugaike. Most importantly, I got a taste of the top, ropeway-accessed area, though need to time my next visit better. Although you can say that with all places, the fact that the ropeway only opens in March, coupled with the south-facing aspect, means that the number of days with decent conditions is likely to be limited. At an extra 720Yen a run, I therefore probably wouldn’t bother with it on other days. Shame it doesn't open earlier in the season!
A couple of other things I don't think I've mentioned before. There are parks at both the top and the bottom of the resort (and looking at the map, in the middle as well, though I didn't see that one), so you have a few options if that's your thing. Speaking to a Japanese friend of a friend, it also seems that Tsugaike has a bit of a reputation as a party town among the younger Japanese crowd. I'm unable to verify that but it might be worth checking out.
In light of this visit, I've increased the scores that I gave last time and would be happy to go back again. Thanks again to SnowJapan and Hakuba Alpen Resorts for the ticket!