Just a few hours north of Tokyo by shinkansen (bullet train) await remote mountains and the countryside of Tohoku’s Akita and Iwate prefectures. This region offers some of the best lift-accessed deep powder riding in the off piste, sidecountry and backcountry.
Geto, Tazawako, and Ani are three local resorts with frequent deep powder dumps, amazing 30-degree old growth glades, few people and rarely any foreigners.
These three destinations are located in north central Tohoku and have distinctive weather patterns and microclimates that ensure fresh, deep powder at one or more locations. They are within an hour or two of each other, making for easy storm chasing over a long weekend. Geto and Tazawako are near the Tohoku Shinkansen and Ani is best accessed by car (about an hour drive north of Tazawako). The countryside cuisine is also delicious and rustic with kuma-nabe (bear stew), kiritanpo (fresh mochi skewered on a bamboo stick), Yokote yakisoba and other local delicacies.
TAZAWAKO RESORT & AKITAKOMAGATAKE
Akitakomagatake is located between Ani in the north and Geto Kogen to the south. It is on the west side of the range with Tazawako Ski Resort facing west to the Sea of Japan and adjacent to Lake Tazawa, a large alpine lake that creates substantial dumps. The resort is far enough away from the sea that the snow is much drier than Japan’s Northern Alps.
Unlike the large Kanto resorts that groom and fence in the pistes, Tazawako leaves the forests accessible and the top half of runs ungroomed. Combined with low rider traffic, the powder takes a day or two until it’s tracked out on piste while the side country remains untracked for days.
The top half of the resort has nice 28-degree terrain that is fun to blast full speed on a fresh powder day or stormy low visibility day. Bluebird days beg for a more serious assault on the sidecountry terrain that is accessible after a 20-minute hike up the ridge directly above the top lift. However, be sure to have skins or snowshoes to return inbounds.
Experienced backcountry riders will want to follow the ridge up as high as 1,330 meters then select a descent point on rider’s right of the ridge below that height for the first couple runs. As you descend rider’s right below the ridge go in the direction returning towards the top of the summit lift with occasional short direct drops down the fall line. About 100 vertical meters above the summit lift, start cutting over to rider’s left and cautiously approach the ravine while staying to the rider’s right of the cli band. At 850 meters cut to rider’s right to enter the piste and repeat the process. Always take caution to be aware of riders above and below and have the proper equipment and experience.
For the more adventurous alpine tourist, Tazawako operates a snowcat that takes you up into the caldera of Akitakomagatake (1,300 meters) in the morning and retrieves you in the afternoon. Up in the caldera you will find a wide array of terrain from mild to wild reaching up to 300 meters from the caldera bottom to the peak at 1,637 meters. Many of the aspects have extensive cli s and drop zones with a mellow ridgeline for skinning back up to the top. Come fully prepared for the back country even though access is mechanized.
From Tokyo Station it’s less than a four-hour trip on the comfortable Akita Shinkansen to Tazawako. An hourly bus is available as well as taxis to take you the remaining six kilometers to the resort. A great place to stay is the Tazawako Sports Center at the bottom of the lifts. Shared rooms are ¥6,400 a person with breakfast and lunch included. Booking.com can find many other luxury accommodations available at nearby onsen resorts or in Morioka City.
Tazawako Ski Resort
Tel: (0187) 46-2011
Tazawako Sports Center
Tel: (0187) 46-2001
For lift-accessed off-piste powder in Tohoku, Iwate’s Geto Kogen is often considered at the top of the list along with Hakkoda in Aomori. Geto typically has a five to seven-meter base and the off-piste trails are expanded for the 2018 season to include much steeper terrain that reaches 38 degrees in well-spaced glades. Weekends attract 1,600 riders a day while weekdays see only about 400 riders leaving the off-piste runs nearly untouched, taking days for the powder to get tracked out.
If a storm arrives at Geto Kogen, you’ll want to settle in for a few days as the piste is still easily ridden even during stormy conditions and the off piste is also frequently manageable. With a comfortable and speedy gondola to the summit, Geto offers many days of huge powder vertical. Simply bring your helmet, poles, skins or snowshoes and you will quickly rack up some of your largest days of lift- accessed powder. After the storm passes, you’ll have some amazing powder days.
On-site facilities include an onsen with stunning views and a hostel that charges ¥6,400 for bed, breakfast and dinner on weekends. Several food stalls and restaurants are on site as well.
Less than two hours south of Tazawako on the Tohoku expressway or Akita Shinkansen, Geto Kogen is quickly accessible from Kitakami Station via shuttle bus. Access from Tokyo is similarly very convenient with a three-hour Shinkansen to Kitakami Station. Very little English is spoken at Geto Kogen and booking for the hostel is available on the Geto website. Many more accommodations can be found on Booking.com for nearby Kitakami City.
Tel: (0197) 65-9000 (North Japan Resort Co , Ltd )
Tel: (0197) 65-9005 (Accommodation / Onsen)
ANI SKI RESORT
Visible from Tazawako and less than a two-hour drive north, Ani Ski Resort has very few visitors on weekends and is frequently empty on weekdays. Located on Mt. Moriyoshi and accessed from the town of Aniai, the resort’s pistes face the nearby Sea of Japan and frequently get hammered with maritime powder dumps while other destinations in Tohoku are running dry.
Take the gondola to the top and, if you have a bluebird day, continue skinning/hiking up to the top of Moriyoshi-san for great views and a mellow powder cruise back to the resort where you will want to ride down to the summit lift on rider’s right. On weekday powder days there will be little need to ride into the sidecountry as the piste will have virtually no tracks. Drop into the adjacent sidecountry, staying close to the trails and avoiding the deep drainages, then hop onto the summit lift to repeat the process all day.
Ani Ski Resort is a good destination to find powder when other Tohoku locations are dry, tracked out or crowded. The terrain is moderate with a great fun factor when the powder is deep. The location is seriously in the deep mountains and facilities on mountain and in Aniai town are very sparse so it is better to make a day trip from Tazawako. If needed, the closest accommodation can be found in Kitaakita or Odate. Similarly, public transportation is challenging and slow so driving the best option.
Ani Ski Resort
Tel: (0186) 82-3311