Houdaigi is a ski hill in the north of Minakami just under 20 km from Minakami IC (highway exit). It offers some nice courses for riders of all levels and due to it’s location it consistently gets good powder snow during the winter months. It is located on the northwestern slopes of Gunma’s Mt. Hotaka and due to this orientation the snow is less effected by sun than other hills in the area. I would consider Houdaigi a medium sized hill. Smaller than many of the more famous places in Japan, but large enough to keep you interested.
The hill – beginner, intermediate, advanced and off-piste
Houdaigi is a good hill for beginners. There are some nice fairly wide trails for people new to skiing or snowboarding. Houdaigi also offers one ride lift tickets for 400 yen which could be nice for riders who won’t be doing too many runs. I think the best place for begginers at Houdaigi is the two parallel courses at the bottom of the hill the “ファマリーゲレンデ” (family gerende) and the “タンポポコース” (tanpapa course). They are both fairly wide, not very steep and a good length for begginers. The family gerende seemed much busier with many boarders practicing spinning their way down the hill. The Tanpapa course seemed much quieter and maybe a safer bet for young children. As your skills improve you can also ride down a thin course to the #1 lift located at the very bottom of the hill below the main building. From there you can ride the lift up and loop back to the main building along a steeper more challenging beginners run.
The longest run at Houdaigi is a nice intermediate run with good views of the surrounding mountains. It is broken in to two courses. The “パノラマ” (panorama) course which runs along the top of the ridgline and the “スラローム” (slalom) course which descends into the valley below. This run is accessed by the #7 lift and also requires riding the #6 lift to get back to the #7. Going the opposite direction from the top of the #7 lift intermediate riders can ride down a more direct route to the bottom of #7 and go straight back up. My favorite course at Houdaigi is the #10 course. It is a fun intermediate course descending from the top of Houdaigi’s only high speed quad. It is a really long natural half pipe which is great for wall riders intermediate level and up. Another nice, but a little short, intermediate course “白樺ゲレンデ” (Shirakaba Gerende) can be found at the bottom of the mountain below the main building and accessed by the #1 lift. I highly recommend getting to this one early if there has been a dump because it is a great place for intermediate riders to get a taste of some amazing powder! For intermediate riders ready to challenge their first expert course both of the expert courses decsending from the quad are probably the best bet. They are easier than the expert courses decsending from the #7 pair lift.
I think the best place for expert level riders are the courses desending from the #7 pair. If you get there early on a powder day the “イーグル”(eagle) , “ダウンヒール”(downhill) and “パラダイス” (paradise) courses are all a lot of fun! Only “Eagle and “Downhill” connect directly back to the #7 lift so keep that in mind. The “expert” courses mentioned in the intermediate section are much easier but still can be fun.
This is for the most part what I do at Houdaigi. I did like how on the big maps the trees were bordered in red for off piste areas and black for out of bound. In general I would say that the tree runs at Houdaigi are steep and tight. Compared to other places in the area my runs were a bit slower. That said I don’t mind winding my way through the trees so I still had a lot of fun and the snow has been amazing every time I have gone. My favorite of the tree runs are accessed from the #7 pair lift. You can also ride the trees between the runs accessed from the quad.
Park riding isn’t really my thing but I did enjoy watching people hit the boxes and jumps below the #6 pair. I also think the park is open at night.
I noticed a nice kids snow play area with a "mountain" to climb, a small magic carpet and sledding.
The surrounding area
Houdaigi is out in the mountains maybe 20 km from central Minakami. It’s for the most part quiet with only a couple of restaurants, liquor stores and small convenience stores. The best thing to do, outside of the mountain of course, is go to a hot spring. There are many nice looking one’s in the area. Takaragawa Onsen is particularly nice. I have even seen it rated as having the best outdoor baths in Japan! It is only a 10 to 15 minute drive from Houdaigi but unfortunately closes to non-staying guests at 5 p.m. Not the best time for after the mountain soaking. That said it is a nice enough place to keep your non rider companions entertained all day.
Overal I would recommend Houdaigi to anyone looking for a nice hill of the beaten path.
No specific date.
Snow condition on visit:
It's been good every time I have gone.
Things I liked:
The natural half pipe. The snow. The maps labeling areas off piste and out of bounds.
Things I didn't like:
1,000 yen parking on weekends (free on weekdays). The lift system could be better.