It’s been seven winters since I moved to the snowy Nagano town of Shinano-machi. I am no longer surprised by water pipes freezing or more than a meter of snow piling up overnight. As soon as I step out of my front door, I strap on my splitboard, climb up the mountain behind my house which is about a 200-meter ascent, enjoy a cup of coffee at the top and then ride all the way down to my front door, enjoying the life that only snow country can offer.
Shinano Town is located in the mountains of northern Shinano, where many volcanoes and nonvolcanic mountains stand side by side such as Mt. Kurohime, Mt. Togakushi and Mt. Madarao, as well as one of Japan’s 100 most famous mountains—Mt. Myoko.
Shinano Town has two ski resorts, Kurohime Kogen Snow Park to the west and Tangram Ski Circus to the east across Lake Nojiri. Outside of Shinano Town, there are several major resorts all within a 30-minute drive, including all of Mt. Myoko’s resorts, Togakushi Ski Resort and Iizuna Ski Resort.
Tangram Ski Circus may not be big, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in excellent powder riding, making it one of my personal favorites in this region. It is located on the northwest slope of Mt. Madarao and offers fun tree run areas and, best of all, it’s rarely crowded. Riders can purchase the Madarao Kogen and Tangram Ski Circus combo lift pass, which lets you ride at both resorts.
Of course, resorts are not the only places where you can ski. From winter to early spring, there is a wide variety of backcountry areas for beginner riders to experts. Recommended backcountry areas include Mt. Myoko’s outer rim, accessible by lifts, Mount Kurohime and Mount Madarao.
If you’re looking for a less extreme, but equally invigorating adventure, jump on a snowshoe tour. As a snowshoe and forest therapy guide, I enjoy taking guests to Togakushi. The sacred forest around the inner shrine of Togakushi Shrine is one of the most popular places for snowshoeing, as this flat forest is dotted with giant oak, birch and beech trees.
The main attraction is the picturesque snow-covered rows of 400-year-old cedar trees leading from the Zuishinmon Gate. Combined with the silence of the forest in winter, it is a truly mysterious and spiritual place. If you go further to Kagami-ike Pond, you will see a magnificent view of the jagged Togakushi Mountain Range and a snow-covered field above the frozen pond.
For a good workout, Mt. Hakama and the beech forest near the summit offer spectacular views of Mt. Myoko and Mt. Kurohime.
Cross-country skiers should definitely go to Dowa no Mori Snow Wave, a cross-country course certified by the Ski Association of Japan. The course is located at Kurohime Kogen. Gear rentals are also available. Visit Dowa no Mori Snow Wave.
Back in Shinano Town, you can also enjoy a walk by Lake Nojiri. While Lake Nojiri is more popular during the green season, it is also enjoyable in winter. You can even hang a hammock and have a cup of coffee by the lake. It almost looks like a white sandy beach with all the snow on the shore.
If you have always wanted to try ice fishing, but don’t want to sit for hours in a hut on the ice, you can also fish for smelt in comfort. In the past, Lake Nojiri used to be completely iced over, and people made many holes in the thick ice to fish for wakasagi (Japanese smelt fish). Recently, due to global warming, the surface of Lake Nojiri does not freeze over. Instead, from Nov. 1 to the beginning of April, many wakasagi boats take avid fishers out. Fishers can enjoy the warmth of the boat while dropping a line through a hole in the floor.
At its deepest point, Lake Nojiri is almost 40 meters deep so it may be challenging to pull the line up. Don’t be disappointed if you can’t get any fish, as the atmosphere of winter fishing while sipping on sake makes the experience worth it. More info on their website here.
Another way to stay warm is The Sauna run by LAMP, a stylish guesthouse and cafe near Lake Nojiri. This is an authentic Finnish-style log sauna. After warming up inside, you can cool down in the snowy landscape outside. The sauna is also available for private groups. Visit their website to book.
Shinano Town is dotted with a variety of lodges and hotels, especially around the Kurohime Kogen Lake Nojiri and Tangram areas. For information on accommodation, visit Shinano Town’s official website.
This snowy region has limited transportation options so it is recommended to rent a car during your stay to give you the flexibility to explore the area. It is 30 minutes by train from Nagano Station to Kurohime Station on the Kita Shinano Line. From there, you can rent a car from Nikoniko Rent-a-car. Rental car availability is limited here so call ahead to reserve or rent a car from Nagano Station and drive to Shinano Town (30-40 minutes).