This is a place that I have been meaning to check out for years. It is not terribly big, but can boast of occupying probably the best spot on Mt. Bandai for views, facing directly onto Lake Inawashiro. I really wanted to go on a clear day – which can be a rare thing around Mt. Bandai. But with the forecast for at least partly-clear weather finally coinciding with a day we were actually able to go, we went off to check it out.
The resort was built in 1985 by Keikyu Railway (the lift towers still say “Keikyu Inawashiro Resort” on them). After some changes of ownership it is now called “Grand Sunpia Inawashiro Resort,” which is a bit of a mouthful, but is less confusing than when it was just called “Inawashiro Resort,” being located as it is right next to “Inawashiro” resort (little “r”).
The base area is built in basic Bubble Jidai style, but is quite subdued for the era. There is a ticket booth, a restaurant (with glassed-in, unattended DJ booth attached), a gondola station with a second, smaller restaurant underneath, and a rental/lessons building off to the side of the gondola. That's it, pretty clean and simple. There is a resort hotel below the base, which looks pretty nondescript from the outside, though from their web site looks to be quite nice on the inside.
There is a gondola running up the center of the resort, with 3 pair lifts running up in parallel on the skier's left-hand side. The top chair lift and the gondola almost meet at the top. The intermediate and expert courses are mainly located on the left- and right-hand sides of the hill. Filling in the middle of the triangle are some snaking beginner runs. It can be a bit tricky to figure out how to get around at first, especially figuring out how and where one can cross from the skier's left side to the right near the top, because the course map doesn't make very clear which direction some of the middle bits are sloped! Some exploring and poking around is part of the game.
Skies were overcast in the morning, gradually clearing to brilliant blue by afternoon over the mountain, with only a slight haze over the lake remaining. The views were, indeed, spectacular! Grand Sunpia has a much more direct, front-on view of the lake than do Inawashiro or Alts Bandai, on either side of Grand Sunpia, both of which get a somewhat side-on view. Even better than the view of the lake, though, is the view of the main peak of Mt. Bandai, rising up from the back of the ski area.
It was a fairly warm day, a couple of degrees on the thermometer but directly baking in sunlight, so the skiing conditions were basically early spring skiing. The steepest course, the Lightning Course (max gradient 40 degrees), was fully exposed to the sun, and where I was expecting moguls was instead somewhat firm slush. This was a fun run, sending rooster tails flying all over the place while flying down the face. The ungroomed expert Niagara Course, to skier's left of the Lightning Course and meeting it at the bottom, was semi-shaded, and perhaps as a result the snow never really softened up enough to be able to play in it well, being kind of spongy. It did look like it has possibilities with either firmer or softer snow conditions, but this was not the day to enjoy it.
The gradually steepening intermediate course leading to the Lightning Course was fun, too. The run-out from there back to the gondola base, on the other hand, was a bit tedious. More like a skate-out.
On the other side, some nice fast carving runs next to the chair lifts, with a quarter-pipe embankment built up along part of it that was fun to play off of. In some of the middle bits near the top, once one figured out how to get to them, were some pole bahns, including a tight training-mogul run. A couple of waves and one small jump, though no real park features.
There are a bunch of light poles, though they don't run regular nighters anymore. They do host a series of Wednesday evening races, which may be the only times they use the lights now. The evening races include lots of junior events, and I speculate that they are held in the evening so as not to conflict with school schedules.
The focus of the ski area now seems to be on training, especially of skiers. Lots of ski school classes about, and they host the above-mentioned races, plus badge tests. There were some boarders around, especially on the main runs by the chair lifts, and they do have a snowboard school, but the majority of the visitors there were skiers.
Overall, it is a very pleasant place to ski, with great views looking both uphill and out. I worried at first that I would get bored quickly, but that never happened, and I was still feeling out nooks and crannies by the time I left. The lifts are a bit on the slow side, including the gondola, but they are all well laid-out. Not a place to park oneself for a week, but a nice place to add into rotation to hit occasionally. Wouldn't mind trying the Lightning Course again some time when it is either full of moguls, or full of powder.
From 01 January, 2015
Snow condition on visit:
Things I liked:
Views of Lake Inawashiro and Mt. Bandai. Lightning Course.
Things I didn't like:
Slow lifts. Tedious run-out at bottom of Lightning Course.