My previous Fukushima ski-jo experience was an enjoyable daytrip to Inawashiro in 2013 [http://www.snowjapan.com/japan-ski-resort-reviews/detail/2013], so assisted by the new-for-2016 Grandeco Daily Reports, I decided to head further up the road to the Ura Bandai area where Grandeco ski resort is situated. Despite safety concerns (following a fatal crash in Nagano), I took an overnight ski bus leaving from Tokyo, and costing 8,400Yen including lift pass. Thankfully the journey from Shinjuku was drama-free and in exactly the reverse order from my previous trip, we parked up in the Inawashiro car park at about 4.30am, and waited until they opened and the Inawashiro punters could disembark, before we headed on up the road to Grandeco, arriving at 6.50am in time for the ski centre to open at 7. With fresh snow on the ground and the forecast promising more snowfall through the day, I was looking forward to checking out the resort.
Right, onto the review. The gondola opened at 8.30 so I took one of the first few up. As previously said, the gondolas are really small and very difficult to get your gear in, which in my case was only a 154 board but it was still far from easy, and that was without sharing. The gondola serves what is basically the top half of the resort, where there are 3 covered quad lifts accessing 6 or 7 groomed runs. With the promise of first tracks, I lined up at the No.4 quad, waiting for that to open at 9am. I say "lined up" but there was no line, as nobody else was waiting. That set the scene for the rest of the day. The No.4 quad takes you to the top of the 2nd highest hill, so I made a few runs down the Mint B and Lavender A courses either side of the lift before heading into the trees off the sides. The snow in there was noticeably deeper, though also heavier than the Hokkaido powder I'd enjoyed two weeks previously. Can't complain about a good 20-30cm+ of untracked snow though! I then headed over to the No.2 quad, which opened at 9.30. This takes you up to the highest peak, at 1,590m, where you have a choice of the Mint A and Melissa courses, so I sampled both along with the trees either side and in between. With the slopes relatively empty, I dived in to the Buna Buna restaurant where, over a 500Yen coffee and cake set, I made a tactical decision to stay in the top part of the resort for the rest of the morning, just using those 2 quads and exploring the trees at my leisure. The runs weren't particularly challenging but it was good fun, with little or no competition for lines.
Following another pit-stop (for French Fries) at Buna Buna, I then headed back down to the base of the resort using a mixture of groomers and tree runs, and also encountering some of the flatter areas mentioned in the other reviews, though there was no need to skate so long as you kept your speed up. Although I saw more people about, the slopes were also still surprisingly uncrowded. Yes it was a weekday but I was expecting a Friday to be busier than other days. I spent the remaining couple of hours exploring the bottom half of the resort, using the No.1 quad rather than the gondola. Some of the tree sections were really good fun, and being steeper than the top sections, the slightly heavier snow didn't hinder progress.
With the bus due to depart at 4.50, I finished off the day with an onsen at the Hotel Grandeco. There's a free shuttle bus which links the ski centre and the hotel, and to give you an idea of how busy it was, I was the only passenger both ways! Apart from a member of the resort staff, I also think I was the only gaijin at the whole resort that day.
So good points for me included that it wasn't busy, so there were no lift lines and there was plenty of powder to play in, especially in the trees. Food at the Buna Buna restaurant was also good and reasonably-priced, and I liked the onsen too.
Bad points? It's a little on the flat side, as I think was mentioned in some of the reviews, though that didn't make much of a difference to me. What did annoy and surprise me though was not being allowed to charge my iphone in the ski centre/base buildings. There were signs up saying that it's a crime to steal electricity, and when I did sneak in a quick charge-up, a member of staff soon gestured me to stop. I can understand the financial concern but it does seem to be out of step with the realities of modern life, particularly within the service industry! Anyway, that was a minor gripe, which didn't spoil the day, and despite that hiccup, the resort (and hotel) staff were friendly and helpful.
In summary, Grandeco is a small to medium-sized resort which is basically split into 2 halves. The runs aren't particularly challenging so advanced skiers/riders will probably get bored quickly, unless you can find the goods in the (easily accessible) treed areas off the sides and between the pistes. Worth checking out if you're in the area, or stay overnight somewhere and visit nearby Inawashiro as well.
From 29 January, 2016 To 29 January, 2016
Snow condition on visit:
Fresh snow (5-10cm on piste with more off-piste) and snowing for most of the day.
Things I liked:
The lack of crowds; the treed areas; the "Buna Buna" restaurant and the Hotel Grandeco onsen.
Things I didn't like:
The ban on using Grandeco electricity and consequent lack of charging facilities for smartphones.