As we approached Yuzawa-machi, not far from Naeba, the snow started coming down pretty heavily. We went from solid spring conditions to winter in only a few short hours. As it was our first time in this area I was quite impressed by the massive infrastructure at both Naeba and Kagura. It was obvious that these places were huge and rangy, even from the road.
Driving into Yuzawa-achi is easy and straight-forward and everything is clearly marked and relatively logically laid out. We had booked a little hotel called Takehana at the base of Nunoba ski-jo, a part of Yuzawa Kogen ski-jo. It was a typical little Japanese style place with very helpful mom and dad running the show. You get what you pay for and this place was cheap but the breakfast was good and the views from our room were fantastically stoke inspiring.
Just a hundred meters or so down the road from our hotel was the famous Ninjintei tonkatsu restaurant that Muikabochi had recommended. It was certainly a good place to eat and one of my favourite restaurants in a while. I had the hire katsu teishoku and she had the ebi teishoku (or something like that). I also enjoyed the dai-jyoki of beer... it was big and beery. One was almost enough.
It snowed all night. Out the window from our room we could see about 5cms (or more) of snow. It was easy to finish breakfast quickly and we were at the Mitsumata ropeway by 8:15.
From the base area it is almost impossible to get any idea of the vastness of Kagura. Even from the top of the ropeway you don't see much. It's not until you board over to the Kagura gondola and are half way up the hill that you can begin to gauge the size of the place. I was really chomping at the bit to get to boarding after seeing boot to knee deep snow all over the piste. It remained cold all day as well which kept the snow nice and fresh the entire day (and even most of the next morning).
Kagura is basically three areas: Mitsumata, Kagura and Tashiro. The Mitsumata area has a couple of beginner runs and a terrain park, the Kagura area has advanced and intermediate runs (and a little park with a giant jump that they were just beginning to build), and the Tashiro area is basically a beginner area with some long flat runs that can catch you out if you are not paying attention.
After spending the morning smashing up the pow in the Kagura area, which has great side/slack/back country runs and loads of treed areas, we made our way over to the Tashiro area. On our first day we basically boarded every run at the ski-jo and just on our way back from the Dragondola area of Tashiro we cover 17.5 kms (according to my GPS) to get back to our car. Going from Kagura over to Tashiro involves a lot of flat annoying runs but on the way back the lift system gets you higher up the hill and there are some pretty fun lines to hit.
It was a little cloudy and snowy the entire day so it was somewhat difficult to get a good understanding of what we were getting into. It made the side/back country options much more daunting than they actually are. All in all, it was a fantastic day of boarding and there were almost no indications that it was the end of March (other than a few places where it was dust on crust).
We drove back into Yuzawa completely satisfied after a long day on the slopes. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a restaurant as nice as the first one and ended up at a little izakaya down the road from our hotel that was pretty standard fair. Anyway, a few beers helped me get over that small disappointment.
We woke up to clear blue skies. The morning had an unmistakeable spring feel to it and the forecasts were calling for warmer temperatures than the day before. Because of work commitments, I had to admit to myself that this was going to be my last day of the season on the slopes. Time to swap snow for ocean!
Anyway, we got up the hill at about the same time and the blue skies gave way to massive views up and down the valley as well as the surrounding peaks and back country areas. Kagura is a beast of a mountain. Every time I rode a different lift I counted almost endless runs down from the peak in different directions. I made mental notes of the lines I wanted to hit and banked quite a few for future reference.
I'm not sure what the ski-jo's policy is towards riding 'out of bounds areas' but there were almost no ropes anywhere and ski patrol was nowhere to be seen. I'm definitely going to go back there during my February holidays and do some guided tours to get a fuller appreciation of what is on offer. There is a lot of fun terrain for those who like to venture further afield.
The morning had stayed cool enough not to degrade the quality of the snow too much. We lapped some fun little tree runs and bombed some funs lines down wide fast groomers. I even spent a few runs on my wife's small, super flexible board hitting up some fun little features. Unfortunately, by the time we decided to ski back down to the Mitsumata area the warm weather had taken a toll on the snow and it was like boarding on mochi, which over flat areas is a massive pain in the ass. While I didn't have to unstrap at times I felt like it would be less of a bother to just walk down the course.
I really like this ski-jo and feel like I should have gone here a long long time ago. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a pain to get to from where I live because it's difficult to avoid driving through Tokyo traffic to get there... and while we had no problems using the Kanetsu I can see how this highway could be a massive pain in the ass. One bonus of driving this road is that there was an awesome burger truck at the Akagi Kogen PA.
Will I go back there? Absolutely! I can't wait to see what fun there is to be had after some epic Niigata style snow.
From 26 March, 2013
Snow condition on visit:
Very good considering the time of year. Powder.
Things I liked:
Things I didn't like:
Seems like it takes forever to get from the car park to the top of the mountain.