Great snow, nice variety and some great off-piste and BC!
Of the skijos in Japan I have been to Kagura is definitely one of my favorites. I heard it described once on this website as “a bunch of lifts going up a mountain” and this description seems fitting to me. Due to its location, it gets consistent good powder snow all winter long and due to how open things are, you can even find fresh powder runs later in the day. Kagura also offers a great variety of courses for every skill level. I have spent most of my time in the “Kagura” area (as opposed to the Mitsumata and Tashiro areas) and will focus my report on this area. I will also be talking about a couple of my trips to Kagura to hopefully give a broader picture of what the mountain is like.
My first trip to Kagura was in a blizzard. I started my day around noon at the Tashiro Ropeway and slowly worked my way over to the Kagura area with almost zero visibility and no knowledge of the skijo what so ever. My plan was to get as high on the mountain as I could and from the maps I had seen, the Kagura area was the place to be. It was definitely an adventure, but more of a work out than amazing boarding for much of the traverse. I remember doing a lot of skating and thinking “maybe I should have just gone to one of my familiar skijos today.” After coming to the Kagura area things started to turn around. Though I was initially disappointed to find that the the highest lift (Kagura 5 I believe) was closed, I found some nice tree runs and a nice valley run that made the effort worthwhile.
Do to starting so late, the long traverse and not knowing the skijo I ended up not being able to make it back to the Tashiro Ropeway, so I instead descended into the Mitsumata area. The trail below the Kagura gondola is really flat and my tired legs didn’t appreciate more skating, but I was forced to do some. It still beat riding the gondola though. I didn’t spend to much time in the Mitsumata area but instead went to the descending course which was a lot of fun! This course has a lot of switchbacks and I enjoyed hitting the powder and natural jumps on the sides of the trail. I also talked to a lot of other riders on the way down which made me feel like we were one big group. Taking turns hitting the powder and jumps and laughing at us all crashing due to the low visibility was a lot of fun! There is a free bus heading from the Mitsumata to the Tashiro Ropeway which I used to get back to my car. Overall the experience made me want to come back on a clear day and park at the Mitsumata Ropeway instead of the Tashiro.
So a little later in the season, I did. The weather was beautiful and the snow was great. But once again the highest lift was closed due to its extremely late opening date (does anyone know why?). The mountain was good without it however and I had a great day. During this experience I spent a lot of time dropping in to the varies tree runs in the Kagura area. I also noticed people hiking up Mt. Kaguragamine and riding down into the valley beside the resort which I had been riding the bottom of. It looked like fun, but having no snow shoes I decided it wasn’t realistic. I did hike I little ways up towards the top of the closed lift and drop into the valley behind it which was probably my best powder run of the day. I also hiked a short way up the ridge beside the closed lift a couple of times to get some powder before dropping into the valley which the hikers were dropping into but from a much lower elevation and the opposite side. On one of these hikes while I was putting on my binding, I saw something which made me question the growing interest in back country that watching all the hikers had created in me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement on the opposite side of the valley and looked up to see an avalanche coming down from one of the steeper points on the ridge line. I didn’t see anyone in it, but soon after a skier made their way towards the avalanche and started digging. A couple of minutes later someone emerged letting out an “I’m lucky to be alive!” scream. Most likely without his friend that person would not have been alive. This time around the buddy system worked.
My third trip to Kagura I planned around the highest lift being open. I once again started from the Mitsumata Ropeway, but this time got there for the second Gondola up. I had my snow shoes with me and was ready for a hike! The top lift has a later opening time so I hit some nice tree runs to warm up. I then finally went over to the highest lift which I had been wanting to get to since my first trip! The actual runs from the top to the bottom of the lift are not that long, but using the lift you can do a number of different things. I started out by hiking a little ways towards the top of the mountain and then dropping a fresh line down towards the lift. This area is not that steep, but it is a beautiful forest run. After doing this a couple of times I decided to hike up the mountain. The snow was pretty deep so even with snow shoes the hike wasn’t easy, but getting to the top made the effort worthwhile. The scenery at the top of the ridge line is some of the best I have seen in Japan! Winter hiking is amazing! and being able to ride down is an awesome bonus. Not having the proper av gear and no partner and having the avalanche I saw the previous trip still in my mind, I decided to take one of the less steep safer routes down from the peak. There really is an amazing amount of options for how you ride down! The rest of the day I spent dropping into the valley behind the highest lift and using a number of lifts to get back to the top while riding some tree runs along the way.
My most recent trip to Kagura came at the end of last season. This time I brought a friend who likes snow shoeing with me. We picked a beautiful clear day in hopes of getting some amazing views from the top of Mt. Kaguragamine. We got there early and went straight for the top of the mountain as quick as we could, only stopping for one warm-up forest run from the highest lift on the way. The views did not disappoint. This was my friends first back country experience so I decided to take him down a nice easy run into the valley behind the highest lift. It was a nice long cruise through the forest and into the valley below. I hit a couple of 360s off the valley walls for good measure and then it was back into the resort. After this I hit a couple of tree runs and dropped into the valley behind the highest lift one more time. After this, we were both tired and decided to call it a day.
My most recent trip to Kagura was maybe my favorite. I once again hiked up to the ridge line but being early in the season, I had to walk from the top of the quad lift. This time I also made it to the peak of Mt. Kaguragamine. The views as well as the snow covered trees were magical! It was another amazing day at one of my favorite skijos!
Snow condition on visit:
The snow has always been pretty good except for once but even that time it was probably better than the surrounding skijos.
Things I liked:
Great snow. Nice tree runs. The hike up and ride down from the Kaguragamine ridge line.
Things I didn't like:
Early closing times for some of the lifts.
Authentic Japan experience