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  1. I’m interested in ski resorts that are very close to each other, where a physical connection seems possible - almost obvious - but they don’t happen. Like Iwappara and Maiko in the Yuzawa area. Like Alts Bandai and Nekoma in Fukushima. Any more? Or even stories behind those.
  2. Having won a free ticket from the kind people at both Snow Japan and Maiko Korakuen resort in Niigata, I happily roped in a driving friend and his son and we had a day out from Kanagawa. Right from the off, the stars seemed to be aligned against us as my mate got lost on the way to my house to pick me up!! The weather report was for light snow but the previous 2 or 3 days had been significantly warmer and there was some rain so I wasn't expecting there to be stellar conditions. An early start for a drive from Shonan, picked up and on the road for 4.45am....not bad. we had to make stop in Tokyo for a mate before running the gauntlet of the dreaded Kan-Etsu Expressway! Anyone who has read some of my car trip exploits before will realise that I have a hate-hate relationship with this road. I sacrificed some small children, a couple of goats and even promised to go back to church if only the road gods would smile on us.........my appeals fell on deaf ears.....silver lining, I can sleep easy on a Sunday morning! Traffic into Tokyo was free and flowing, traffic out wasn't bad....onto the devils road and boom!! The navi was screaming Jyu-tai (traffic jam) at us every 5 secs. Snails pace up through Saitama, finally catching up with the head of the jam to see that some dozy fool straight on rear-ended some unsuspecting car full of snowboarders, they won't be sliding today and the Kan-Etsu devil road took another victim. Onward and upwards!! Finally free of the choke point we tried to make up some time. The little ETA clock on the Navi said 10.10am.....I'll have that, I thought. Through that tunnel from Gunma to Niigata and what was generally green and brown turned into a glorious white. Snow banks starting to pile higher as we drive closer to Yuzawa. we were gibbering so much that we missed the turn off at Shiozawa-Ishiuchi.....the Kan-Etsu wasn't finished yet!! So after a 20km detour to the next IC and back we were FINALLY at the resort at a time of just after 11am. Maiko is a nice compact resort, not exactly challenging, the lower "run" on the gondola side is maddeningly flat and crap but the runs in the back bowl area at the top left of the trail map and also the smaller area at the top right of the trail map can be lots of fun. To access the bowl area you need the gondola......it was closed! Or you need the last two pair lifts.....they were closed doh! Up to the highest point we could go to have a look at what we have..... It was blowing a gale JUST as we got a little higher on the lift, so all the exposed faces had had their new snow cover blown from them, leaving the previous day's rain inspired ice crust dangerously exposed. The upper runs were bulletproof and instead of the usual swish-swoosh noises that you come to expect in Japan, it was harsh scraping all the way. We regrouped at the Mountain Restaurant at the top of the Nagamine Quad and decided to head over to the Maiko area of the resort. Usually I avoid this area as its mellow runs are best suited for beginners and I like the bowl area on the other side. However today, this area was best runs. The snow was soft and shiny on piste which gave for fast conditions, but at least a little give in the snow. We did a few laps of the of the centre quad lift while giving my mates son some tips and pointers. We could only look up longingly at the area served by the Maiko triple as that was shut as well. Snow probably would've been nice up there as its a little sheltered from the wind. To re-cap, a huge thankyou to the people at Snow Japan and maiko resort for providing the freebies. Maiko is a decent resort when the coditions are good.....the top areas of both sides are definitely the places to have your powder fun, however on this day the snow gods deffo were not playing nice. Coupled with the whims of the Devil road, this wasn't exactly the best day I've ever had on the snow. That said, its always nice to get out the house and into the mountains for a slide around, it was snowing all day ranging from big fat flakes to small polystyrene balls and back to big fat flakes when we were leaving so, anyone up there today, conditions should be much better.
  3. Sciclone

    Maiko - 13 Feb 2013

    Ok, before I start this trip report I must confess that I wasn't in the best frame of mind when I came to Maiko to use my free ticket. My snowboarding partner (my brother) was sick and couldn't get out of bed/onsen, I was teaching two noobs who lacked drive and the other 2 who came with us were complaining heavily. Add to that some warmer conditions and wind affecting lift/gondola operation, flat camera battery and you have the makings of a bad starting point. After getting to Echigo-Yuzawa around 9am, we made our way to the east exit, before asking where the Maiko bus left from. We had to walk down a little passage to the second car park, but there was a bus waiting there. It took roughly 40 mins to get from Echigo-Yuzawa to Maiko, as it goes first to the Maiko resort/hotel, before coming back and going to the main gondola area. But fortunately the bus was free (unlike the Kagura/Naeba bus). Upon getting inside, I was greeted with the sight of snow bunnies. We had come on a Wednesday, which is girls day, so the slopes were packed with girls, a lot of whom were learners. This meant one of the noobs with my got the 1000Y off the normal ticket price. We set ourselves up and got ready to head up the main quad, as the gondola had closed due to wind. I wasn't expecting to have to skate to start with, but there is probably a 30 metre skate from the lift to where the basic slope starts. This was a little slushy due to the traffic and conditions, but we just got on with it. The first run down the bunny slope took 40mins because of the 2 noobs, the other guy got bored and went exploring, so we hopped on the lift again to do it again. This run only took 20mins, but at the end of it, the girl landed awkwardly and jarred her shoulders (common beginner injury) so we headed in for a beer and crepe. This helped ease the pain, so after getting ourselves braced for the cold, we went up again. This was a little more awkward, as even though they had done better, they had starting losing stamina, so whilst coming down, the girl fell and got her thumb trapped under her board, bruising it heavily. This was the end for her day, and her husband who was also learning piked out because of knee and back stiffness. We headed in for a bit of lunch, before meeting up with the guys that were also with us. They had criss-crossed the mountain, but were unimpressed, and just wanted to call it a day as well (and it was only 1pm). So even though I still had energy, I didn't have anyone to continue boarding with. While we were waiting for the bus to get back, it started raining/sleeting lightly, then as soon as we left the shelter of the lodge, it started pelting down with wet snow. Within a minute of boarding, cars had a thin layer of slush on them which would have slightly improved conditions. My pros and cons: Pros: Free bus from E-Y Crepes and a good selection of food at the lodge (both japanese and western) a good beginner slope for teaching on Cons: Only 1 linking run between the 2 halves. A lot of terrain inaccessible if Gondola is closed Courses could have better signage. I would go here again, simply because I don't think I was in the right frame of mind when going to give it an in depth, fair review. I will upload photos when I get my camera. Thanks again to the SJ crew and Minamiuonuma resorts for the ticket.
  4. My first day on the snow. And a good one to pick as well. Stormy conditions yesterday make for very nice snow today and the sun was out shining with blue skies over Minamiouonuma this morning. Mt Granview not being open yet, Maiko Snow Resort here in Minamiuonuma was the choice. Not busy at all, the whole place open and lovely snow conditions. Great first day. When the lovely new snowjapan site goes up, I'll write a resort review for Maiko, and the other places I know, with some more words rather than just pictures. Not enough exercise and too much eaties over Christmas results in plumper muikabochi Must... exercise... more.
  5. Very strange day today weather wise. Started off snowing, then around 8am it was bright blue skies, then it quickly clouded over again. Back to sun after 9am and as I hadn't been skiing since Hakuba last week I thought I would go out and have a half day. Lovely blue skies for an hour or so and then it got all grey and clouding over once again around lunchtime. Lots of different shades of blue, then grey. It was almost like it was different days looking in different directions. I was really pleasantly surprised at the snow - it was really decent out there today. Actually it was easily better than last week (in Hakuba), which was unexpected given the weather we had since then. I know I have posted pics from Maiko from this season before, so try some different ones. Messing about with fisheye, lovely snowy trees, sunshots and.... well, some more trees. I like trees. What fun! -- Giant overlooks the little people I reckon last weeks warm weather did some of this Wu-e-hey!
  6. I was going to wait and hit up here next Wednesday for some uncrowded weekday action but I couldn't stand looking at all the snowfilled webcams for another weekend, so off I went. Its an early start for me, get the 5.04am train from Fujisawa station to Tokyo, jump on the 6.08am Shinkansen to Echigo Yuzawa and powder heaven. When we were spit out of the HUGE tunnel between Gunma and Niigata, we weren't disappointed to see that the Pow tap was left on and there was loads of snow around and the sky was full of it. Maiko puts on a free shuttle bus from Echigo Yuzawa station to the resort so thats great. They also time it to coincide with the Shink arrivals so there SHOULD be one waiting for you when you get off. When we got there, happily there were 2 buses.....1 a large coach that took all the bags in the hold and another more of a hotel like shuttle bus. We were greeted very happily by the driver with a cheery "Good-o Mo-ningu" which put an unexpected smile on our faces. Shuttle was busy, both buses were packed, with people sitting in those dodgy jump seats that all Japanese buses seem to have on them. There are a couple of stops at the resort itself......think the first one was called "Ski-jo Mae No Iriguchi", 2nd one was the "Hotel Stop" and lastly was the Gondola.........get off at the Gondola, the ski centre is there and you can change and rent gear if need be and also the Gondola accesses the better side of the mountain, the powder bowl area on the left of the Gerende map above. I didn't take any photos, except for some dodgy stuff they passed off as soup (more of that later), as this place has been photographed on much nicer days by a slightly better photographer than myself (Muika take a bow) and it was gray and puking snow all day so not much to see. We got off the Gondola and headed to the top lifts marked C and B on the map. Took B up and rode down the ungroomed area to the Gondola top again. The ungroomed area was pretty much tracked out in the centre but the sides were chock full of large banks of untouched DEEEEEEEEP powder. This resort isn't very high, just below the 1000 metre mark, so although the new snowfall was light, the powder underneath was a little heavy. This meant that there were a lot of people getting stuck and having to dig themselves out........we made 2 or 3 runs down this slope and there was 1 guy who was still digging himself out to the piste. After our first runs, we were kind of left feeling with a little "is this it" kind of feeling. Not that the snow wasn't good, just that the runs were a bit short. We then took the C lift up, there was so much snow that our boards were not that far away from the snow while riding the lift!! There were tons of the white stuff!! near to the top we spied 2 girls who ventured off the side with the intention to ride under the lift, come a cropper and start to make the long arduous task of digging themselves back to solid base-land........they took ages doing this! We decided to ride down to the bottom again to see what the rest of the runs were like. The Guigui course was fun, we cut through the bushes and trees for some short untouched powder runs and then followed the course back down to the Mountain Restaurant. We actually took an early lunch.....I plumped for my standard katsu curry and was surprised to be given a cup full of what looked liked dishwater, to be told it was the "Soup Set"........if Peppered water passes as soup, I think they should fire the chef!! Back to the runs, I enjoyed these cruisy meandering runs, nothing challenging, just great fun on the powdery slopes with some surf-style switchbacks on the berms at the side of the piste, dropping in and out of the untouched as I went. We headed across to the Maiko area after lunch to check it out. At first glance, this is family and beginner central. The lower runs are all very cruisy greens, not much of a gradient at all and it was here that I had to wade out of my first waist deep powder hole of the day. On the lift up I spied a powder pocket with not a track, decided that to ride it all the way through I should stay high and cut down at the last minute and at all costs avoid charging down into the hole in the middle.........got a little excited and forgot my previous plan and got stuck. That was a wade out so not too bad. We headed over to the strangely named "Dolphin Course", the track from the lift is above a semi open bowl that is left ungroomed and strangely has skull and cross bone signs saying that it is not Patrolled. Most people headed over to the open face to drop in, we hung back a little and dropped a little into the treed area (it hardly warrants the use of the word "trees") but still it was nice to get untouched snow, lapped this a few times and each time we were dropping in earlier into the bowl. Finally a place here that is steep enough to allow you to ride the deep all the way through. Its pretty short though which is a shame because its one of the few places where the gradient helps you through the deep snow. I also got stuck here, at the bottom of the run where many people had tracked, leaves kinda big holes that when you get spit out into can halt your progress and get you stuck.....another wade, this time mid-stomach and had to use my board as a raft. Last run of the day, decided to take the Gondola back up and enjoy that Guigui run again............instead of using the track, I cut through the pockets between the trails (actually it may be the Ranran course at this point) riding the snow when disaster strikes and my progress is halted......AGAIN!! This time though, I'm stuck good!! I'm not far from piste which fills me with confidence....I can just wade over there again. Not this time!! This snow was uber deep and every movement I made meant i sank further down. I had buried my board, found it, tried to use it as a shovel....failed....sank further......tried to use it as a life raft and was reasonably successful but it mean that snow build up at the front was getting into my face.........man I was tired!! thankfully this guy was passing and asked if I needed help, which I gladly accepted and he pulled, I kicked until I was finally free! That stuff was like concrete around my feet, almost sucking my boots right off them!! I really felt that this year I would be able to start doing proper out of bounds stuff but this has brought it back to me that actually perhaps I can't. Ok, so this has turned into an Ippy style edition and I'm droning on....so a re-cap.....Maiko, nice little place for a day trip. Families and beginners will enjoy the mellow Maiko slopes and a weekday trip with no crowds will mean a lot of untouched for the Powder Hounds. Not really that much challenging runs in terms of gradient....this is a pretty mellow place and those runs that do have a bit of steepness are actually really short and its over before it began. Obviously I got stuck a few times and it got me thinking.......last season at Kagura I was riding the pow and trees there no probs, so why was I having so much problems with the Maiko stuff?? I figure that the snow, while great, isn't as light due to the altitude and also the gradient doesn't help when there are crazy amounts of snow, keeping momentum can be a challenge.........though I am loathe to suggest it but can a place have too MUCH snow?? Anyway, I had a great time, I didn't get to see the nice views that are meant to be here, but it was very picturesque.....I also missed out on the beer towers but if they were filling them up with the 600 yen cans of 350ml Asahi then I'm glad I passed.....couldn't have afforded it!! Peppery Water
  7. It was supposed to be snowing again this morning, but we woke up to some clearing skies and by 10 o'clock it was bright and sunny. Time to get out! Went to one of my locals - Centleisure Maiko Snow Resort in Minamiuonuma - 10-15 minutes drive for me and just to the north of Yuzawa. After all the heavy snow, snow conditions were just great. And as is often the case, tons of places to find untouched snow. Let's Maiko, I reckon. It was sunny and clear skies when I got there, but clouds quickly moved in and just 30 minutes later it was really clouding over quickly. Very grey skies later on this afternoon and I think we are in for more snow tonight. Anyway, it wasn't perfect for photos with the light and cloud, but was able to take some pretty ones. Here are some pics. Ue-heyyyyy! Another fine day


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