From my understanding, the mighty Naeba is a flagship of the 'bubble era' resorts. Arriving here at night with heavy snow falling is quite surreal, steep mountains partially lit by the reflected light of the mini-city wedged into the narrow valley floor below, high above march rows of giant high voltage power lines giving the whole scene a strange science fiction feel.
We opted to stay at Naeba, with night skiing (for what it's worth) & more accom options, while riding mainly at Kagura. Avoiding the hideous Prince Hotel, we stayed at a small nearby hotel "The Kinta' which was actually quite the Japanese boutique luxury, almost empty & with a nice mixed balcony onsen that overlooked the lower mountain. We arrived at Yuzawa Station quite late with heavy snow falling. No more public buses were scheduled that night, so we grabbed a Prince Hotel 'ticket' & rode the luxury 'Prince guests ohnry' bus up to Naeba 'village'. On arrival, the porters looked quite mystified when we grabbed our boardbags & headed out of the Prince lobby into the snowy night.
Taking into account access to all the lifts & ropeways, along with shuttle buses, the combined Mt Naeba lift ticket is good value. The Naeba ski area on it's own is a moderate size, has good vertical & some great alpine & off-piste terrain, if you can get it. Unfortanately, the mountain also has some genuine avalanche terrain which threatens many of the main piste areas on the left side of the mountain & subsequently the off-piste policy appears to be very strict, with a great deal of signage, roped off areas, public announcements & staff with loudspeakers waiting in areas where people tend to drop into the off-piste bowls. I did see some fairly passive attempts at avy controls in these bowls areas, each morning ski patrol undertook ski cutting in the most threatening areas & at the base of each bowl, a medium sized snow wall had been constructed in an attempt to stop slides running onto pistes should slopes above release. With more pro-active control of these bowls & a backcountry access gate system, Naeba has the potential for some excellent bigger mountain terrain with much of the upper areas being open alpine terrain or large widely spaced trees.
Aside from these off-piste areas, which we did score some nice fresh lines in when conditions permitted, the main ski area has some pleasant long rolling runs, plenty of good banks & features & quite a large terrain park set-up. The ungroomed face & trees off the top double chair is great in clearer weather, as is the pleasantly located log resturant at the top of the main gondora. One frustration was the lack of lifts operating in the entire right section of the lower mountain. With fresh snow, there was some nice little pockets in that area, but with only the Dragondola & a small double chair operating, lift access was not available. While receiving less snow than Kagura, the mountain still get plenty & the altitude of the upper section keeps snow in good condition.
Night skiing was more average than I expected, suprisingly crowded with only some of the total floodlit area turned on each night. The Dragondola was certainly an impressive engineering feat & quite a scenic cross country ride but with the endless small lift shuffle required to reach the good stuff at the Tashiro / Kagura end, seemed more of a novelty than an effective way to quickly get over to more fresh powder.
To me, Naeba is a textbook tackily overdone bubble resort tempered by some excellent big mountain terrain. Unfortanately, in it's current form, the best terrain is vigorously avoided & restricted. The actual resort, felt sterile & commercial & the base 'village' wildly overdone. Being combined with the lower key Kagura area improved Naeba but I wouldn't return to ride at Naeba alone, despite some of the lines waiting just outside the ropes, instead would stay at some of the lower key lodges near Kagura & more thoroughly explore that area.
From 02 February, 2010 To 05 February, 2010
Snow condition on visit:
Very good - fresh powder 10 - 30cm each day, dry & light, night we left absolutely dumping down.
Things I liked:
Big interconnected ski area when combined with Kagura, well serviced, potential for excellent backcountry & big mountain terrain.
Things I didn't like:
Busy, bit of a 'scene', over the top bubble era high rise hotels & apartments, megatron industrial powerlines marching across mountains, restrictive off-piste policy, lifts not operating, limiting access to some areas of mountain.