Well I flicked through the list of ski jo's for Nagano and decided on Echo valley in Nagawa area of Nagano, about 25k from Suwa, one because I had never been there and wanted to go somewhere I had never been before, two it was close, just over an hour door to door on the little roads and three it had some reasonably steep terrain.
When I left my house it was actually a bit cloudy but bright, and looked like it might actually cloud up, which I was not so happy about as the forecast had everywhere in the area as being sunny all day, well I did not need to worry about that, because by the time I got to Echo Valley it was nice and sunny with just a few clouds around. And in fact it stayed like that for the day, with some clouds about, but mostly blue sky. At the bottom areas and in the trees it was calm and felt warm in the sun, but at the very top where it was totally open and exposed to the elements it was very windy at times, but as soon as you drop down a bit the wind was then not really a problem. It remained like this for the day actually.
The snow on the slopes was firm, but with some softness, and apart from a few spots not icy either. There was certainly no shortage of snow cover, with high snow walls all over the village area I would say a good 2 metres or so of fallen snow.
It didn't look like it had snowed so much the last few days as there was nothing more than tracked out snow on all the main parts of the slopes. However if you went off the main parts of the upper Hairozen (D) and Eco dai (E) courses then it was powder heaven with ungroomed boot deep powder to be had. It was mainly the Hairozen course that had the ungroomed section and in the morning it had plenty of patches that hadn't been touched.
The main goodies however were in the trees, which meant doing either a little bit of rope ducking or shall I say rope avoiding in order to reach the for mentioned goodies, which I did many times. I noticed actually quite a few snow borders also took advantage of the trees, but didn't see any skiers attack the areas except for me, they stayed within the slopes boundaries. Echo Valley's boundaries leave a little to be desired, they rope sections off, and put up signs that say don't go, but leave areas with gaps and no signs, which a lot interpret as ok to enter, me included, hehe!
By the end of the afternoon even the untouched areas where pretty much destroyed, but the powder was still there for the taking.
The steepest slopes, two of them were 35o, but didn't really feel that steep, actually I thought they were very easy and really wanted steeper, which actually I managed to find. Technically the steepest slopes are 35o, but if you drop of at the top of the (D) course at certain points there were some sharp drop offs probably in the range of 45o, which of course I did, so it was like skiing 45o onto 35o before going to a much less gradient from further down.
I could have gone to Kurumayama, in the same area, that has a 38o course, but I have been there so decided on the next closest resort with a similar gradient of slope.
It is only a smallish resort, just ten slopes, my local has eight, but the courses vary from flat narrow courses that run through trees to nice wide open courses that spread out from the top.
And with the slopes being in good condition it meant that you could go really fast if one chose to, which I did, and also have fun ripping through pow, which I also did.
Like my local it is the sort of resort that if you don't live close by you probably would not visit on a regular basis, as it is not big, but like most anywhere you go, if you have the right mind set then you can make it a very fun day and enjoy yourself, which I did. Basically as long as I have some pow, some steepness, preferably good weather and not to many people to get in my way then I am happy to be out there. It wasn't crowded actually, and as I went by myself I was able to use the singles lift line, meaning I didn't have to wait at all, having said that the longest wait was probably only about 20-30 seconds anyway I reckon.
To get from top to bottom if you want to get to the top middle/right hand side (looking up from the base) then you have to chop and change lifts a few times, which is a bit of a drag, but if you do the left side it is possible to do it with just two lifts.
It has some restaurants, both at the base as well as half way up and also a rest house and some shops where you can rent/buy gear.
I brought my own food so I don't know what the restaurant food was like.
I was also able to park in the top car park right next to the ski jo, which was nice and it is free parking. I believe weekends parking costs a 1000 yen?
This resort only being about an hours drive is certainly worth a go again as a change of scenery, especially as they do get good snow.
After a big dump, it would be a little difficult to get to as it is out of the way, quite a few k's from the nearest IC that being Minami Suwa, so it may put some people off from going who don't have 4WD cars as the road does get snowed up.
The snow keeps in good condition and doesn't melt much as it a high altitude resort.
Anyway I had a great time and did a lot of runs down the steepest courses and through the trees. Would I go there again? Yes, probably not the sort of resort that I would go often as it doesn't offer so much choice of terrain for my level, but then neither does my local, but its because its local I go there. I consider being able to get out many times rather than just a few important so I put up with the lack of terrain. For anyone that wants an ok variation of terrain in a small package, and lives with in an hours drive or so, then this is worth a look.
From 11 February, 2015 To 11 February, 2015
Snow condition on visit:
Good snow, but firm on the groomed slopes, powder in the trees and and on the ungroomed areas
Things I liked:
The snow conditions, fun little place with some nice powder tree runs