Naeba had long been on my list of places to check out, and the free tickets for kids helped seal the deal over competing destinations. Getting up extra early, and after ritually sacrificing a canned coffee to the gods of the Kan-Etsu for their favor, we embarked on our journey to the Land of the Erstwhile Bubble.
Kita-Kanto Expressway to the Kan-Etsu, then off at Tsukiyono. Grind it out over the Mikuni toge, until emerging onto the Niigata side, at which point we were pretty much immediately confronted with the Naeba ski slope rising above us.
As we pulled into the parking lot, first impressions were that the Naeba ski slope is surprisingly intimate, and steep. There is not much of a distance between the hotels at the base and the lifts, and the hill rises up straight up from there.
Somewhat unimaginatively, we started on the left-hand side of the resort (as looking up from the bottom), and worked our way to the right. The upper levels were shrouded in mist in the morning. Traversing the lower slopes took up much of the morning.
The nearest place I can compare Naeba to is Alts Bandai, with the same Bubble-jidai aura about it. But Naeba is like Alts on steroids. Alts has a huge, flat base area, with lifts into the hills well separated. Naeba, on the other hand, has a very thin but wide base area, with lifts packed insanely close together, and even crossing over each other. At both places, one can spend the whole day traversing from one side to the other, but at Naeba the number of lifts in parallel is much greater. In fact, if one looks closely, only about half of the lifts at Naeba are actually still in service. But even at that, it seems as if the slope is crazily covered in lifts.
Riding the #1 gondola lift up, we encountered a fog bank. Since we were not familiar with the hill, we didn't go all the way to the top of the mountain. Some breaks in the clouds/mist showed what an intimate valley the Naeba ski area is located in.
One thing that stands out about Naeba is that it is a deceptively intimate-feeling mountain. From the parking lot or base area, it seems as though one can see just one slope, with lots of lifts on it. But once one explores around there are lots of hidden areas to the sides and top of the main area. The name of the mountain itself, Takenokoyama, seems very appropriate. There are lots of hidden trails in the upper reaches that are not visible from the base area, hidden behind the upper "shoots" of the mountain.
Other things: There is a huge underground shopping mall hidden inside the hotel complex at the base of the mountain.
There were also a few fenced off kiddy snow-play areas around the base, with sledding, inner-tube rides, and snowmobile tows. Very family-targeted.
The snow quality was pure spring skiing: slushy rooster tails lower down, somewhat firmer at higher elevations. But, that was expected this time of year, so no complaints there. At least we didn't get rained on.
In the end, I can see why this place held sway during the heady days of the Bubble. It has a surprising amount of variety within an apparently-compact, yet practically spread-out area.
Also, the intermediate-level trails from the upper reaches to the lower areas are satisfyingly challenging for the average punter, in terms of length. Good work-out.
I could easily see going to Naeba several times a season -- were it not for the Kan-Etsu, which came this close to claiming me as a victim on the way home. Fix that problem, and the entertaining variety of terrain within a deceptively intimate-yet-broad space would be a killer combination.
From 24 March, 2013
Snow condition on visit:
Things I liked:
Variety and size
Things I didn't like:
Having to take the Kan-Etsu to get there.
Families & children