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Japan Times article yesterday , for those who didn't see

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Japan Times, Sunday 2nd Dec:


Although 75 percent of Japan is mountainous, and there are 600 ski resorts nationwide, the process of arranging a ski holiday can often be full of trials and tribulations.

There are a number of questions that need to be answered: How do I get there? What are the snow conditions like? What are the runs like? How is the accommodation? If you're not fluent in Japanese, it can be especially difficult to find answers. Fortunately, these and many other questions that you probably hadn't even thought of (e.g., Do they rent ski boots for big feet? Is there a day-care center for the kids?) can be answered, in English, by accessing the Ski Japan Guide Web site ( www.skijapanguide.com ).


The brainchild of 32-year-old Englishman Andrew Lea, the recently relaunched guide was set up to help anyone interested in a skiing holiday in Japan. "The response has been tremendous," said Lea. "We are getting 800 users a day on the Web site and expect that to rise to more than 1,000 once the season gets under way. Not only that, but we are getting inquiries from expats in Hong Kong and Singapore who see Japan as the only option when it comes to a midwinter break."


The site, which went up in 1999, evolved from being a hobby to a fully interactive site with Webcam images and daily weather reports and commentary from 11 "reporters" based at the major resorts around Japan. "We are totally independent of the companies that run the resorts," said Lea, "and that is the way it will stay as long as I have anything to do with it."


According to him, there is no better time to start exploring the numerous resorts scattered around Japan. "The industry is basically in a slump at the moment. The number of people staying at the resorts has fallen significantly -- particularly during the week."


As a result, he says, the ski resorts have responded not only by lowering prices (lift passes, rooms, etc.), but also by specializing according to taste.


The growing number of snowboarders (who outnumber skiers at some places) has seen certain resorts spend a lot of money on runs catering to them. Conversely, a few resorts have banned boarders and only accept skiers, and these resorts are actually reporting an increase in numbers, with families being the main customers. Despite their different needs, both groups are equally represented on the Ski Japan Guide, and there is plenty of information online for both groups.


Those that have never skied in Japan should, however, be aware of how things are done. For example, while alcohol plays an important role for many skiers, in Japan the drinking appears to be done after every other run at on-piste cafes rather than at apres-ski establishments, as is the case in Europe.


"The cultures are different," explains Lea. "There are a few places with bars and restaurants, but generally the apres-ski scene is very different from Europe or the U.S. The norm is to stay in a small pension, ski during the day, then take a bath and sleep. People go in small groups and generally only socialize within that group."


The interactive nature of the Ski Japan Guide, however, ensures that you never need to be alone should you want to head off to the slopes. "We have a chat forum and message board so that people can advertise when and where they are going and can hook up with other people, so they can enjoy their time both on and off the slopes," Lea explained. "And thanks to some generous sponsors, we have weekly giveaways -- ranging from lift passes to snowboards to weekend breaks."


As Lea stressed, the key element to the Web site is its interactive capability. No longer do you need to collect an assortment of brochures and magazines and then wade through the endless advertisements in the hope that you can understand exactly what a particular resort has to offer. The Ski Japan Guide provides its users with up-to-date news and information, and opens up a world that many did not know even existed.


The Japan Times: Dec. 2, 2001

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[This message has been edited by big-will (edited 03 December 2001).]

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