If you are after some serious Japanese powder then just an hour north of Nagano City is Myoko Kogen – a resort which perfectly encapsulates the Japanese cultural experience and the famous Japanese powder. Off-piste skiing is allowed across the whole resort, a rarity for Japanese resorts, and a unique experience here through the magnificent birch trees. The ski area is made up of 4 individual resorts; Suginohara, Ikenotaira, Akukura Kanko Resort and Akakura Onsen, and Myoko village lies just below these.
The main areas to ski – Akakura Onsen and Kanko are situated side by side, and are linked. Onsen is best suited to beginners and intermediates, and Kanko offers more challenging terrain. Suginohara and Ikenotaira are a short shuttle bus ride away, and included on the International Guest’s pass. Suginohara has a lovely long 8.5km run, from which you can catch views of Lake Nojiri. Ikenotaira offers wide, gentle slopes, and a great freestyle park. Seki Onsen is a separate resort in the Myoko range and not included in the ticket, also a slightly further bus ride away, but it is definitely worth a visit. Some hotels have courtesy shuttles which go there, however if this is not provided there is also a local bus, which costs approximately £7 for a return ticket.
Local ski schools offer lessons in English, and it is also possible to hire guides for backcountry or off-piste tours.
Off the Slopes
This area is big for onsens (Japanese hot springs) thanks to the proximity of the volcano of Mt Myoko which is the source of the thermal spring waters. Lots of the hotels have their own and then there are a number of outdoor options in the various villages, some of which free. This incredibly relaxing après activity is a great way of experiencing a big aspect of Japanese culture. If you are feeling a bit more adventurous you can take the train to Nagano and then pick up a taxi to some of the various sightseeing options in the area including the wonderful snow monkeys at the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park.
There are lots of bars and restaurants to choose from the in area with the majority to be found in Akakura Onsen. The izakayas (Japanese bars where you can taste lots of tapas-style snacks) are a really popular option here and really worth a visit as they have a great atmosphere.
There are some amazing ski-in ski-out hotels available, and numerous ‘Ryokans’, which are traditional Japanese inns with tatami flooring and futon beds. The ski-in ski-out hotels are slightly further from the town as they are located right on the mountain, but it is easy enough to get around by local taxi or bus.
Getting to Myoko is easy, as it’s only a 1.5 hour train ride from Tokyo to Nagano by the bullet train, and then a 40 minute train ride from Nagano to Myokokogen station. From the station you can either walk to your accommodation if it is town, catch a taxi, or the hotel may have arranged a courtesy shuttle if you are staying in one of the ski-in ski-out hotels by the slopes.