I will always remember Bear Valley as the place I learned to snowboard. I worked about fifteen minutes from the resort and would go for night skiing after work whenever we had a decent snowfall, which was pretty frequently that winter. I see it's closed already this year, so I suppose that's not always the case. This area does get higher snowfall than the surrounding area however; something to do with monsoon winds I believe.
I will preface this review by saying that if you don't live in the area (north Okayama or Tottori), then Bear Valley isn't really worth the trip. If you do though and are looking for a change of pace from Daisen, especially for night skiing, then give Bear Valley a look.
The resort has three runs. To the left coming off the lift there is a long bunny run. Nothing very interesting but pretty long compared to other resorts in the area. A good place for beginners to practice. To the right is a path leading to two runs: a steep run to the outside and a park run in the middle. While the park isn't huge it's better than the park features at Daisen. It has (if I remember correctly) a one-and-out quarter pipe (bomb it down the ramp, jump once then ride away to the lift), a big kicker, a smaller kicker to the side, two small table tops, and about 6 rails. There is also a wave to the side of the bunny run which with last year's massive snowfall turned into a series of waist-high jumps spaced about 5 feet apart. They would basically throw you around completely out of control; lot's of fun. The run to the far right is where I learned to snowboard as well as I can, and gained the confidence to throw myself down anything, on piste at least. It is incredibly steep for a groomed run. Since leaving Hiruzen last year I have been riding in Niigata, Nagano, and Minakami and have yet to encounter anything as steep as this run that isn't covered in moguls. A great place for the person who has been riding a few times to develop into an intermediate rider. There is also a nice field of ungroomed powder to the left at the bottom of the hill which can be fun. Be warned though that they park the groomer there, cutting a path through the middle of it. If your not prepared you can lose control going from knee-deep powder to ice and bite it on the icy groomed snow, as I did more times than I care to remember.
The best thing about Hiruzen though is that it is virtually deserted, especially at night. A few times I had the runs completely to myself, the only other riders hanging out in the park. All the runs are open at night, making it a much better option for night skiing than Daisen. They also use colored lights on parts of the slopes, which both make it easier to see the piste and give the place a cool look. If you get there when it opens you can also get a great view of the sunset over the beautiful Hiruzen mountain range with Daisen in the distance. My recommendation would be to go on a Friday or Saturday night, when the place stays open for an extra hour until 10:00. 5 hours for 2500 yen is pretty reasonable. Parking is also free.
There are only a few downsides to this place, the main ones being it's size and the lack of variety. The two-seater lift is also old and kind of slow, but that's sort of negated by the fact that you'll never have to wait in line for it. There music selection is also, er, interesting, though I've certainly heard worse at other resorts in Japan. I will reiterate that if you drive two or three hours to get here, you will probably be disappointed. If you do live in the area though, do yourself a favor and spend a night at Bear Valley.
On last point to mention. If a night on the slopes has left you sore, there are plenty of nice hotels with onsen in Hiruzen. Your best bet, however, is to take the expressway and get off one exit to the south at the Yubara interchange. There, you can soak in a beautiful and completely free outdoor onsen next to the river.
From 2007 To 2008
Snow condition on visit:
Great, lots of powder, though there was abnormally high snowfall that winter
Things I liked:
Cheap, great view, only park in the area, good lights for nightskiing, no wait for the lift
Things I didn't like:
Small, not worth the drive if you don't live in the area, no restaurant (at night at least)