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Japan Snow Guide Travel Notes

HOKKAIDO

Globe-trotting riders will be pleased to know Niseko United will be joining the Ikon Pass connecting 38 iconic mountains across North America, Australia and Japan. The Ikon Pass offers seven non-consecutive days at Niseko United’s resorts. The Ikon Base Pass offers five non-consecutive days at Niseko with ten blackout days. 

Niseko Promotion Board will be holding Niseko Shootout, an Instagram photo contest. Take a photo that falls into the ski, snowboard or landscape category and post on Instagram using #NisekoShootout to enter. Prizes include a Gentemstick snowboard, Icelantic skis, lift passes, bindings, goggles and other exciting winter gear. The contest runs until Mar. 10. 

Save the time and hassle with Tomamu Resort’s Auto Gate System which starts this season. Instead of bothering with long lines at the ticket booth, purchase lift tickets in advance online. Scan the QR code on the online ticket at one of the resort’s ticket machines to receive an IC-chip-embedded lift ticket. Instead of showing your lift ticket to the staff, the gondola gates will automatically let you pass. 

Challenge yourself to Hanazono’s New Year Fun Jump (Jan. 2). Up to 80 participants can compete for a chance to win exciting prizes. Registration starts from 9-11 a.m. at Hanazono 308. Later in the season, the Hanazono Banked Slalom will be held with over 100 local and international contestants of all ages. On Mar. 17, the upper half of Hanazono Terrain Park will be the main stage for the competition. Each competitor has to run two timed trials. On the following weekend, three big kickers will be built on the lower half of the park for the Hanazono Slope Style (Mar. 24). Online and walk-in registration available.

Ride first tracks at Rusutsu’s Mt. Isola for only ¥2,000. Meet at 8:15 a.m. at the main entrance of Rusutsu Resort for the bus to the base of Mt. Isola. You’ll be at the top of the mountain by 9 a.m. First track riding is available on Jan. 1-14, 20 and 27 and Feb. 3, 10, 17 and 24. Up to 60 people are allowed per day. To reserve, email info@rusutsu.co.jp. 

Families will enjoy feeling like they’re at the North Pole at Rusutsu’s Reindeer Stardust Avenue. Experience a festive reindeer sleigh ride in front of the hotel and take photographs with two adorable reindeer. 

Brave the harsh but stunning winter scenery of the Sea of Okhotsk on an exciting full-day tour walking on drift ice and even taking a dip in the ocean (with wetsuits of course). The tour starts at Utoro Sir-etok roadside area where you will be picked up for snowshoeing at a nearby forest before heading to the coast to view the drift ice. Tours will be held on Mar. 2 and 17 and costs ¥10,000 per person (lunch included). Sign up here (Japanese only).

TOHOKU

Chill Japan, a non-profit organization started by Burton, will be hosting two-day snowboarding trips inviting 30-50 elementary school children whose families have been affected by the March 11 disaster. The trips will take place at Kunimidaira Ski Resort, Iwate (Feb. 9-10), Grandeco Resort, Fukushima (Feb. 23-24) and Shizukuishi Ski Resort, Iwate (Mar. 9-10). 

Volunteers are required to teach the children how to snowboard and play with them outside of lesson hours. You do not need to be a professional ski instructor, as there will be instructors at the camps. All meals, lodging and lift passes for both days will be covered. Click here to get involved as a volunteer or donate or contact info@chilljapan.org.

NIIGATA

New Year celebrations continue throughout January as Myoko Suginohara celebrates tradition at Dynamite Carnival (Jan. 19). People whose Chinese zodiac year is the same as the new year’s light a fire praying for prosperity, health and wealth. Mochi (rice cakes) is also cooked over this fire. The night concludes with an impressive firework show.

Warm up with local sake in an igloo at the Akakura Kamakura Festival at Akakura Kanko Ski Resort. Held at the beginning of February, the festival started off as a New Year event where locals built igloos while singing songs to ward off harmful birds from the fields. 

Yuzawa’s normally quiet nights are filled with the sound of taiko drumming and mikoshi shrine procession at the Yuzawa Winter Festival on Mar. 3. Yuzawa Kogen ropeway will be lit up with 1000 candles and a procession of skiers bearing torches will make their way down the slopes.

NAGANO

Australian surfer, musician and National Geographic presenter Nick Saxon will be heading to Japan this season for surf, snow and shows. After a day on the slopes, catch Nick live at Roots Café in Hakuba on Feb. 15 and Winterland Lodge and Taproom in Nozawa Onsen on Feb. 16 and 17. Tickets will be limited so be sure to reserve ahead by contacting Roots Café at 0261-72-5150 and Winterland at 0269-67-0700 or winterlandlodge@gmail.com

Celebrate one of Japan’s most famous fire festivals, the Dosojin Matsuri Fire Festival held annually on Jan. 15. Nozawa Onsen’s beloved matsuri is an annual bonfire mayhem. Local men who have turned 25 and 42-years-old (considered unlucky ages in Japan) build a 65-foot shrine which is burned at night as a purification ritual to prepare for the coming year. 

Part of the world-class freeride tour, Freeride World Qualifier returns to Hakuba for the third time running on Jan. 15-17. Designed to develop the talent and skills of up-and-coming athletes, the contest will take place over two days in the alpine backside of Hakuba Valley. Local and international riders including Travis Rice are listed in the roster.

Just because it’s snowing doesn’t mean you can’t cycle! Feel like you’re floating as you downhill cycle over snow at Togari Onsen Ski Resort’s Snow Bike Park. The resort’s fat bikes are stable over snow and suitable for beginners. Lifts specifically for bikes are available. The snow bike park is open from Dec. 22 to Mar. 31 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and costs ¥5,000 for two hours (rental included). 

GUNMA

If you’re just getting into snowshoeing, join the Minakami Snowshoe Festival on Jan. 26. Starting at Tanigawadake Drive In, trek along Yugiso River. The tour is ¥4,000 including lunch, snowshoe rentals, insurance and a guide, but if you are staying at Minakami you will receive a discounted rate at ¥2,500. To book, call 0278-62-0401. 

While you’re riding at Minakami, enjoy the luxuries this onsen town has to offer on an onsen and beer day tour starting at Jomo Kogen Station. Soak in Okudaira Onsen and enjoy local soba for lunch then head to Yu-Terume Tanigawa Onsen. After another dip in the bath, enjoy four different types of award-winning craft beer at the local Tsukiyono Brewery. Sign up for the tour here.

CENTRAL JAPAN & KANSAI

Spend a two-day weekend at Mikata Highlands Winter Festival in Hyogo on Jan. 19-20. Great for families looking for a leisurely paced winter adventure, the festival includes snowshoe and trekking tours, airboarding and night hiking. Organized by Montbell, the event starts at Osaka Station where participants will board a bus taking them to Mikata Kogen. Accommodation, activity fees and three meals included for ¥15,500 per adult (¥14,000 for children).

Dynaland’s slopes are open every evening for night skiing from 6-11 p.m. To add to the fun, this year they’ve added a beginner course, a bar on the slopes and a pole burn. Open from 6-11 p.m. until Mar. 17. If you’re more of a morning person, enjoy the sunrise while skiing. Open from 5 a.m. on weekends and public holidays between Dec. 23-Mar. 18. Fireworks will also be held on Jan. 13 and 27 and Feb. 10 and 24.

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