I was lucky enough to win a ticket for Yakebitaiyama from one of the amazing SnowJapan giveaways. Thanks! I decided to make use of the ticket almost as soon as it arrived. The forecast was for significant snowfall up in Shiga that coming weekend, so I planned a Saturday trip up there with my partner in crime, 'Bushiman'.
I have previously held a season pass for the entire Shiga area for a few seasons. I really like the area as it is high, rarely busy and gets very high quality snow, albeit not quite in the same volumes as the Hakuba or Myoko areas. I tended to stay away from the Yakebitaiyama area in the past, as it is generally a little more crowded than the other areas and also quite a bit flatter. There are a few steeper sections but they tend to be joined together by long, flat terraces.
So Bushiman and I drove up to Shiga early on Saturday, January 30th. On arrival it was immediately obvious that the 30-60cm forecast had not fallen. At the base area it was more like 10-15 at best. Worse still, was that after the standard 'finger through snow on random car windscreen' test, I was horrified to feel my digit penetrate a rain/sleet crust layer 5cm from the surface. Rain? In Shiga?? At the end of January??? This truly has been a bizarre season, but I was not expecting this at all.
We got the tickets and headed straight for the old haunts of the mountain. The better powder runs are located around the No. 1 Gondola line. We got straight in there to sample the goods and our suspicions were confirmed. The crusty layer was there right up to almost 2000 meters elevation. The snow was a little less dense up there, but it had indeed rained/sleeted at some point near the end of the previous storm system. Ouch!
After a few laps around the No 1 gondola line we decided to salvage the day by exploring some new areas within the resort in the hope of finding a little stash somewhere to enjoy. We started by trying our luck from the top of the No. 2 High-speed Quad. there are a few steeper sections in the trees riders right of the lift line, but it gets so flat at the bottom that you need to hike out if there is any new snow. We gave it a lap regardless and almost made it back to the trail. A little leg workout at least. The lift line itself is rideable, but you lose even more pitch by opting for this route.
Our ticket wasn't good for Okushiga, which has finally opened up to snowboarders for the 2015/16 season. The section between Yakebitaiyama and Okushiga is by far the steepest terrain on the mountain and some decent lines can be had there. For us these lines would have involved taking one of the very infrequently running shuttle buses back to Yakebitaiyama from the bottom. We decided not to get involved with these lines on this particular day. The new High Cascade park is also located in Okushiga from this season and it looks really nice from the photos and video I have seen.
Towards the end of the day we decided to get creative and explore some possibilities around the No. 2 Gondola line. Riders left of this line has some really good, steeper lines but ultimately they lead you to the start of the long, basically flat gully which eventually leads back to the green trail between the East Course and the South Course. A very long hike out for not such a long run in. Bushiman and I opted to try some stuff on the other side (riders right) of the gondola line. This side is nowhere near as steep, but with careful line selection can take you very close to the end of the gully. We did this once, then got a little too keen on the next one. We had a good 25 minute wade out through heavy snow to get back to the course. Needless to say I wouldn't really recommend going anywhere near that No. 2 gondola line unless you need a workout!
All things considered I'd say that Yakebitaiyama is a great resort for beginner and intermediate riders and skiers. It is good for families and has the Prince hotel right there on the hill with doorstep skiing. The dining options at the base areas seem pretty decent, and they even have a cool 'Izakaya' right there below the gondola station. You have to sample the 'Shiga Kogen IPA' if you are in the area. For advanced riders and powder hounds you would probably want to avoid Yakebitaiyama, and head across to the Okushiga area or right up to the Yokoteyama or Terakoya areas.
Thanks again for the ticket SnowJapan!
From 30 January, 2016
Snow condition on visit:
Heavy powder with a rain/sleet crust a couple of inches beneath the surface.
Things I liked:
Not so crowded, fast modern lifts, free parking, local beer.