After lots of ski trips in Hokkaido, we've finally decided to go skiing in Honshu: we wanted to discover something else, see the Japanese Alps and change horizons -even though we were a bit concerned about the snow amount, Honshu being more south. We've ended up discovering a new powder wonderland, with approximately 30 to 50cm snow fall a day. Every single day...
Planning our ski trip in Honshu wasn't easy, as there are more than 500 ski resorts to choose from! Talking about being spoiled when skiing in Japan... With only 10 days on the road, we had to make decisions, so we choose to stay in 3 different places and move from there: Minakami, Nozawa Onsen and Myoko. We've rented a van as we were a big group (6 ppl), but a ski trip in Honshu is actually pretty easy to do with public transports. There are lots of buses and trains, it's cheap, and you don't have to remove snow from your car... three times a day! Yes, that's the kind of problem you have when you go skiing in Japan. TOO MUCH SNOW!
To get a glimpse at this magical atmosphere, scroll down and check out the video of our insane ski trip in Honshu!
Itinerary of a ski trip in Honshu
There are many itineraries options for a ski trip in Honshu, this one appeared as the best for a first time. We've got to discover some tiny, remote little resorts, some more populars, experience great onsens and not drive too much. And the snow? It's everywhere anyway. And every day. NON-STOP.
TOKYO >>> MINAKAMI
From Haneda Airport to Minakami : 113 miles // 183 km // +/-3 hours drive
As we were short in time, we went straight from the airport to Minakami. But if you have time, I'd definitely recommend to stay a few days in Tokyo to explore this incredible city. Also, if you fancy some ski / snowboard shopping, head to Kanda district: you'll be amazed by the quantity of gear they have.
WHERE TO STAY IN MINAKAMI:
Surrounded by white mountains, Tenjin Lodge is a family-run lodge situated 5-minute walk from Tenjindaira Snow Resort. We LOVED the atmosphere there. After a day skiing, the staff takes whoever wants to go to the local onsen, then around 6pm, everybody is in the lounge with beers and wine, and at 6:30, dinner is served around a long table. It feels like being on a ski trip in a chalet! The owner, Kieren, is also an excellent backcountry guide -book him in advance though, as he is the only guide in the area, he's often busy. Tenjin Lodge also offer rental gear, ski lift discounts, shuttle bus and -that's important- drafto beero.
TENJINDAIRA SNOW RESORT (MINAKAMI)
Tenjindaira snow resort has only 3 lifts -and MASSIVE amount of fresh, dry powder. Completely remote in north Minakami, when we went there, it was pretty much only us and max 20 other riders, all from Tenjin Lodge. It's like having a private ski resort on your backyard! It might be small but it's great snow, and when the powder abounds, who cares about the size of the resort? It's also really cheap, with a "ladies pass": 3200¥ for a day with lunch.
KAGURA (1h30 drive from Tenjin Lodge)
Kagura is big, with a lot of great runs and beautiful runs. We had lots of fun there, but with this much snow honestly it's hard to judge the resort, there were all fantastic. If you can't bear riding during a snow storm, they have a great cafe on top of the gondola. 4700¥ lift pass for the day, Kagura only.
HOUDAIGI (20min drive from Tenjin Lodge)
Another great ski resort in Honshu, more steep than the others, with a great natural half pipe, and some awesome tree runs -for advanced riders, as it's tight and technical. The resort is relatively sheltered from the wind so it doesn't generally suffer from lift closures -it's a great option when Tenjindaira does. Avoid the weekends, as it's a popular spot for people who live in Tokyo.
4300¥ lift pass for the day.
> MINAKAMI >>> NOZAWA ONSEN
From Minakami to Nozawa Onsen : 58 miles // 94 km // +/-1h45 hours drive
WHERE TO STAY IN NOZAWA ONSEN:
There's plenty of choice! Although be careful when booking: some accommodations are located on the mountain, and if it's convenient to go skiing, you'll be missing the atmosphere of the village with its numerous onsen and its lovely local restaurants. We stayed in Peanuts House -and even though there were no peanut butter for breakfast (with such a cool name?! come on...)- we loved it. The woman who runs the lodge is adorable, she gave us a lift when we needed one, helped us remove the snow for the car, prepared some delicious breakfast... The rooms are all Japanese style and comfortable. It's a 15 minutes walk to the gondola.
The hot springs, the traditional Japanese culture, the charm, the snow, the food... Nozawa Onsen has it all. Once we arrived in this beautiful resort, we didn't want to leave anymore. Steam rises up everywhere amongst the narrow cobblestone streets and the dunes of snow... Thanks to its proximity to the sea, the ski resort is blessed with over 10 meters of snow -I can confirm: we got one meter snow fall in 3 days! Nozawa has some greeeat sidecountry and backcountry terrain, with delightfully steep tree runs and lots of variety. Don't miss a visit of the Kenmei-ji Temple, it's magical under the snow.
4800¥ lift pass for one day / 9000¥ for two days
> NOZAWA ONSEN >>> myoko kogen (akakura)
From Nozawa Onsen to Myoko : 27 miles // 45 km // +/-50 min drive
WHERE TO STAY IN MYOKO:
There are many places to stay in Myoko. We choose to stay in Japow House, a beautiful wood chalet down the resort. Our mistake was to get there with our 2WD heavy van -the road is too steep, the snow too deep, so you can get stuck if you don't have a proper 4WD car. So we had to park up in the village and walk down to the lodge every snowing day -which means every day. Apart from that, the staff is absolutely adorable and lodge nice and cosy, with good lift ticket discount. Our friends stayed in Akakura Yours Inn which is more expensive but really, really good: delicious breakfast, shuttle bus, onsen and as usual, adorable owners!
AKAKURA ONSEN (MYOKO)
Myoko, Akakura... that's a lot of names for one place?! Akakura Onsen is the main village and Myoko Akakura refers to the two interconnected ski areas Akakura Onsen and Akakura Kanko. The village is basically made of one main street. It's small, but it has some great restaurants: delicious gyozas, yakitoris, ramens... As there aren't many, you better book your table in advance. There's one place we highly recommend, it's the incredible Korean barbecue Shokudo en. The meat is delicious, the vegetables super tasty, and the price very reasonable.
AKAKURA KANKO RESORT
And the snow? Well, Myoko has the reputation for scoring looots of powder -that's why we put the pin on our Honshu ski trip itinerary! The resort is rather small -but big enough to enjoy the fresh powder!
4300¥ lift pass for one day
MADARAO KOGEN SKI RESORT (40min drive from Akakura Onsen)
When your trip ends and you think it can't get any better... Madarao blew our minds! With its great tree skiing (not too tights, snowboarders ;)), steep bowls and off-piste, it's a must-see powder destination in Japan. A real treasure! We stayed only a day, but next time, we'll sure stay longer. Oh, and if you fancy some extra fun, they also have snowmobile in Madarao...
5000¥ lift pass for one day
> MYOKO KOGEN >>> Tokyo
From Myoko Kogen to Tokyo : 170 miles // 272 km // +/-3,5 hours drive