We take to the mountains for Shiga Kogen Ski Resort15 July, 2014 by Chad
Woke up to our first morning at Yudanaka Onsen with a filling breakfast that had been prepared for us which we enjoyed thoroughly. After, we’d get ready and head out to the station to book tickets for a mountain bus up towards the ski slopes at the nearby Shiga Kogen. We’ll be spending the rest of the day at one of the many ski resorts here, which were previously used to hold the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Buses to Shiga Kogen leave once every hour from Yudanaka so we were sure to leave the inn on time. Tickets for the next bus could be purchased in advance from the bus terminal at Yudanaka Station. It’s 690 yen and 30 minutes from Yudanaka to Haisuke at the base of Shiga Kogen. After which you will have to top up to go further up the mountains. We picked up our tickets, and topped up to continue toward Ichinose Family Ski Area one of the 21 ski resorts that made up Shiga Kogen which Gage picked out. While waiting for the bus, he got more ice cream from a nearby vending machine.
The bus passed by the adjacent Shibu Onsen town, the Jigokudani Monkey Park before hitting a mountain highway road up to Shiga Kogen. Shibu Onsen looked like it was worth a visit if we had the time. Apart from being more lively than Yudanaka, the hot spring water from around the area flowed into a large scenic river that passed through the center of Shibu Onsen. The town was also decorated with Monster Hunter motifs for some sort of joint promotion.
It was a steep climb for the bus up the mountains past the entrance to the monkey park. The road curved through the snow covered forest along the side of the mountain range. At some point, the bus driver stopped the bus in the middle of the road and told us to look out of the left window. There was a small bear in the forest along the side of the road! As we reached the resort areas people started to alight at their respective stops but the Ichinose area was still quite a bit further up.
Eventually we reached Ichinose Family Area where a stretch of road with hotels lined on both sides led the way towards the ski slopes. Since there was little information about the place in English, we had to rely on exploring on our own to find some place to rent some ski equipment. Entering the basement of one building, we found a locker area filled with rental equipment. An old man there pointed us upstairs to the hotel’s counter.
Turns out many of the hotels here offer ski equipment rental even to guests that are not staying with them. Equipment rental was cheaper than expected. After selecting what we needed and paying at the hotel counter, we were given a receipt to trade for our gear downstairs.
The old man tending to the “armory” downstairs was really helpful and incredibly skilled. He was able to accurately guess what sizes of clothing and boots all of us needed just by taking one look at us. He helped us as we put on the gear, chatting casually, giving us advise and even threw even some extra equipment for free. At one point he called me a “bijin” much to everyone’s amusement. When deciding between whether we ought to get skis or snowboards, he suggested that we go with skis since they were easier.
When inquiring if we needed to pay for a slope pass, he told us that we could opt not to get one since we probably wouldn’t be using the lifts being beginners, saving us the brunt of money. After gearing up, we stored the rest of our stuff in some coin lockers and took to the slopes. The nice old man even considered coming along to teach us how to ski, but his assistant wasn’t around to tend to the store.
The ski slopes were just next to the hotel where we rented our gear. There were slopes of varying difficulties, including a small slope where we’d practice. It was quite tiring just getting the skis on, since both the skis and the boots were rather heavy. All around us many of the local people were really skilled, moving around naturally as if they were walking (even the kids) and were all equipped in their own ski gear, so we stood out a bit. There was even one guy who was carrying a baby while skiing. But we didn’t really pay much attention to the people around as we continued to fumble around excitedly.
There was one other noticeable Singaporean couple here that stood out particularly though based on their accent and their rental gear from another hotel. But they weren’t too sporting though as they completely gave up trying after just a couple of failed attempts, and stood by looking as us seemingly in envy as we continued going at it fall after fall.
Out of the 4 of us, Randy was the only one who had any experience with skiing, having attempt so once in Korea before to traumatising results. According to him, the slopes here were much better since the snow was softer. In fact, even though winter had only started snow continued to fall at the mountain while we were skiing. Which was great, since we’d be doing a lot more falling than actual skiing today. Balancing was one thing, but I found greater difficulty in the stopping part.
An interesting if not somewhat silly incident, happened the very first time I put on the skis. Unaware, I had put them on while standing on a bit of a slope, such that the moment I put them on ended up going downhill immediately and fell straight into a Japanese guy who was standing at the exit of a rest stop at the bottom of the slope. He stood there for the longest time, not sure if he was angry or just shocked but he eventually helped me up after a very long pause.
Occasionally throughout the day we’d have to stop to take a break to catch our breath or the snow would get too heavy and everyone else would stop to take shelter, not us however. Instead, we’d find an empty spot on the hill beside one of the hotels and plop down there. Perhaps some people there might had found it a little strange but we were still high from the excitement to pay much attention to the cold. Also, the rented ski jackets did a really good job at insulating.
Without much luck with the skis, at some point in the day Gage and I decided to change out our skis for some snowboards despite the warnings. The gear uncle was nice enough to let us do so at no cost, while advising us to be careful. Maybe it was the fatigue from all the exercise so far, but snowboards were indeed much harder than skis. Ended up having one bad fall which would leave some pretty severe bruises for weeks to come, but continued at our attempts until we were completely exhausted.
Beside a couple of kids had taken to building some caves in the snow mound where we rested. The rest would attempt to build some too but fail and we’d end up just playing around in the freshly fallen snow. Most of the people didn’t pay us any mind, though one young women on the slope above did look on amusingly before sliding down to the main road.
At last we’d call it a day and returned our rented equipment. We had considered a tea break at the hotel’s cafe, but the pizza there was a little overpriced and we would be having dinner soon anyway.
It was a lot colder once we changed out to our regular clothes so we hurried to the bus stop to get our tickets for the trip down. There was some time to spare after so we visited one of the souvenir shops that we had passed by earlier to pick up some gifts. It would seem that Nagano’s speciality was apples as most of the items here were apple flavored. The omiyage were affordable compared to those in the city, so we each picked up some to take back. The sales girl at the souvenir store was quite cute too, and looked quite a bit like Kizaki Yuria.
Left shelter when it was the scheduled time for the bus down the mountain. Was a little worried that perhaps we were waiting on the wrong side of the road, but true to Japanese timings the bus arrived on the dot. There was enough space on the bus for people carrying their sporting equipment too, though there were others who had driven up to the mountain themselves.
The sun had all but completely set by the time we had returned to Yudanaka. Was feeling a little greedy since we had skipped lunch, so we stopped by the convenience store on the way back to pick up some more snacks. Got some of my much loved combini oden and a few sweets to share.
By the time we returned to the ryokan, dinner was already in the midst of being served and the snacks in our room had also been replenished. As with last night, dinner was generous and much appreciated. One of the items today was a mini pork hot pot. Sadly, lacked the good sense to cook these items first, such that by the time I had realized it the candle heating it up had burned out.
Experimented with cooking it later with boiling water from the kettle, since didn’t want to trouble the innkeeper to come all the way to our building with more fuel (especially after she had urged us to eat them quickly), but to disappointing results. A lesson learned. Putting aside our own folly, dinner was great.
Managed to catch a little bit of sleep this second and last night at Yudanaka, possibly thanks to how exhausted we were from the day’s activities. As before, we took the opportunity to savor the onsen downstairs before retiring for the night. Tomorrow, we’d be checking out and returning to Tokyo, but before that, we’ll have to to wake up early to catch a peek at the famous hot spring bathing monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.