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Topic ClosedNozawa Onsen (Japan) - Review


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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Nozawa Onsen (Japan) - Review
    Posted: Jan/09/2012 at 7:48pm
Where?: Japan, Niigata prefecture, Yuzawa town, Kagura resort

When?: January 14th and 15th 2012  
Who?: Your man in japan, ippy the magni... i mean the dude that still after 4 seasons can barely press a board, barely stay on his feet and still gets owned by cross courses because he is going way too fast by the time he hits the 4th or so roller. 
Ticket Info: Tickets are very reasonable at 4,200yen. A little under the 4500 benchmark i use to assess a decent mountain. Im sure theres also something you can do in the restaurants to get a discount with your day pass. But i couldnt work it out. The 2 day pass at 7,700yen is AWESOMELY good value. Theres also the Mt. Naeba ticket which allows you to ride both Kagura AND Naeba for a mere 5,000 yen. The two day ticket is 11,000 but this also allows you to ride the nighta at Naeba on that first day which goes on to 10pm on saturdays! Definitely an attractive option if you turn up a bit late on the first day. Both resorts are connected by the Dragondola so this isnt a mickey mouse operation. Both resorts are rather huge so there is a LOT of terrain here.  
Accessibility: The bus to kagura isnt that often. I think theres about 5 or so per day. But its cheap (300yen) and drops you right outside the base at mitsumata. 
Snow Conditions?: Ridiculous pow. 
Resort Facilities?: The resort itself is pretty threadbare. Theres a few restaurants scattered about, a couple of tuning and rental places and a couple of shops at the base of mitsumata. You arent really talking echoland or hirafu here. Its more like myoko. There also arent that many buildings around the area in general (at least on the mitsumata side - not sure about tashiro). So more than likely youll be in yuzawa itself.  
Yuzawa Town info: What can you say about Yuzawa? Unparalleled access from Tokyo thansk to BOTH a direct shinkansen line, and a rapid local train from shinjuku/omiya. Ten or so resorts going in every direction and all within about a 40 minute (local) bus ride. In addition to all this you have plenty of accommodation options, a small genuine town that feels honestly rather bustling and dare i say, modern. Yuzawa itself is kinda like a quaint japanese town, but unlike somewhere like Nozawa it feels like it has a lot less of a focus on its cultural heritage and a bit more in supplying teh stuff that tourists on day trips from tokyo will be looking for: onsens, restaurants, combinis, ATMs (this is a bigger thing than you might realise), as well as all your omiyage (gifts for colleagues and family) needs and public baths to relax in. Its a spa town. But also pretty young and vibrant. Youll have plenty of places to hit up if you stay in teh area, and buses to all the major resorts leave from here. Accommodation DOES cater more towards the Japanese customer im afraid so you may have to do your research, but the tourist office just outside the station has excellent english speakers who can help sort you out.  Basically, if youre in Tokyo anyway and want to ride, forget nagano. Its a long way away, just come here dude, its going to have enough to entertain you for even a few weeks at a time.

Coming back to the resorts for a moment. You have Naeba and Kagura (which are arguably the biggest), and then Gala Yuzawa itself which is directly off the shinkansen station. Gala makes a great option on a weekday particularly if you get the ticket that ties it in with Yuzawa Kogen and Ishiuchi. Ishiuchi has, i believe, one of the best looking parks in the area as well as a nice powder zone. Gala itself is the locus, and though its kinda lame looking, yuzawa kogen adds a little more terrain. Definitely fantastic value then if youre here for a day or two (but try and avoid the weekends if you can during peak season for obvious reasons). 

Anything Else?: A few curiosities on accommodation... in kagura itself theres a small room at the base of mitsumata that has blankets and crappy futons, but you can in fact sleep there overnight for FREE. It might get cold, i honestly dont know, and id be a bit uncomfortable myself chilling there in a very small room with random japanese people trying to include me in their group but not knowing how to, but if you are a bit braver than me, it certainly gives you a cheap place to billit. Theres also a place called Yuzawa Kenkou Land. Its an onsen just outside Gala Yuzawa.  You can stay in a massive dorm room overnight (with about 100 other people on your own futon (its noisy, bring ear plugs)) as well as use the rather decent onsen facilities for a BARGAIN 2,200yen/night. If youre in the gala area, its definitely worth putting up with teh farting, snoring, and 6am wake up call from everyone getting up to score first tracks before the bullet trains start dumping the population of tokyo on a small-medium sized resort. 
In more accommodation news, theres a decent value option on the mountain itself called Wada Goya: For 7000 yen you get to be central on piste (at the top of the gondola), you get a bed for the night, AND you get both breakfast and dinner. Pretty decent value for a semi-budget dude. I assume its kinda busy though, so obviously book early. I should also mention, and something i didnt know, and now that i do makes this a no brainer... the lift tickets are INSANELY cheap!!! INSANELY cheap if youre staying here. So factor that in too. 7000 yen for breakfast, dinner, a 2000 yen ticket if you arrive after 12, (thats 1000 yen saved) and 3000yen for a day pass for the Mt Naeba (another 2000 yen saved). Mental. No doubt about it, im staying here if i can. 

One more thing to mention and it seems a touch superficial, but you will see a LOT more US brands on the mountain. Clearly this is the Tokyo influence playing its part. But you will see a lot less burton and yonex and a lot more rome, capita, ride, and even my first ever sighting of the lesser spotted stepchild. Hell, i even saw not one, but TWO bataleons (a 2009 riot and a 2012 violenza). This tells you a lot more than you might think. First, this mountain is hit up by park rats (it has a pretty decent kicker line). Second, the population hitting it arent predominantly in their 30s to 70s like some other places and are likely out of their first board, and 3. (surprisingly for anywhere outside niseko and hakuba), snowboarders may even dominate this mountain. The vibe here is MUCH younger than a lot of the traditional japanese resorts, so again, if youre visiting Japan, this area in general is definitely competition for your cash for the two big international hotspots. 

Addendum: Sorry, this was pretty long. Im going to make it a mission to try and hit up a few of the main resorts in this area, but this ones the first review, so its probably carrying a bit more of the Yuzawa weight than the others maybe will in the future.  Hopefully ive covered the main parts... lots of buses from Yuzawa; a town with a decent buzz to it; some rather incredible accommodation options; about ten resorts within spitting distance of yuzawa itself; and incredible access from Tokyo. The place is definitely worth checking out. But thats enough about the area in general... how about this specific resort then? 

Kagura Preamble:

The resort itself is in three main parts. The first part, mitsumata, will likely be your first stop. Its the closest part of the mountain to Yuzawa itself, and unless you have accommodation in Naeba or Tashiro, youll probably get off the bus here. 
The second part is Kagura itself. This is the top half of the mountain. Here youll find arguably the best terrain in the area as well as the best powder. For the most part i sat here on day 1, and kept it as a treat on day 2 after id ridden most of the third area. 
The third area is Tashiro. Most of the terrain here is beginner friendly and relatively short lines. It's not entirely special to ride, but it does have some SPECTACULAR views (and even a nearby lake about 30 meters from the piste due to the dam). Alas my gopro battery died before i got over here so i was cursing at my luck. If you like sweeping panoramas and not just smashing through powder, you should make a point to get over here. Its also the staging area for the dragondola connecting Kagura to Naeba.  

Kagura For Beginners:

As mentioned, Tashiro has some really nice beginner terrain. You have two central lifts in the area - the tashiro high speed 1 and 2, both of which give you a stack of nice little cruiser runs to play on. Its hard to honestly remember which run is which, but the whole area had a reasonably shallow gradient, but not shallow enough that youd lose speed. Obviously this is the stuff that beginners are going to enjoy. Add in the spectacular views and most people scoring their first turns are coming away relatively happy. In addition you also have a nice little baby roller course, and plenty of little ungroomed side hits (as well as the most modern looking restaurant on the hill). Its a safe bet for a party of beginners. They wont be going home miserable or feeling exhausted,a nd theyre going to have a blast, particularly if they hang out around the high speed 2 lift which ticks almost every box that a beginner is going to want (reasonably long enough, not too steep, nice and wide, not too many people, great lift access and some nice side hits to play on as well as a slalom course and a cross course to play on some rollers). 

A final thing to note is that even on a sunday in peak season in perfect conditions it just wasnt THAT busy. I mean, there were enough people around here to give it some life, and there were queues in some areas (around the Tashiro high speed lifts), but im talking about 2 minutes maximum here. The only reason you'd mention it as a queue is so you can boast about how little time you spend queuing :)

Moving in towards Mitsumata side, theres a GEM of a little pow field at the kagura romance lift 4. It's not challenging, but its certainly deep enough that it held my attention for four or five rides on it before moving elsewhere. It has a few side areas that are DEEP and are going to cause trouble for beginners (due to them also being relatively shallow). They also leave a considerable amount of the area here ungrommed, with only a central line or two getting hit. So if you fancy a spot of pow, chances are youll score some, somewhere around here. 

Moving into kagura proper and you have the kagura main slope (thats its actual name). It gets busy, the angle can seem a bit steep for beginners in truth, and it does get cut to hell. Its marked as a beginners run, but when it gets icy, it starts getting kinda gnarly, bumpy and a bit quick. So if youre looking for something a little faster and a spot more challenging to start opening out your carves, its a definite option. You have essentially one lift servicing the area (the kagura high speed 1), and it can get quite busy since its probably the most attractive area of the entire mountain for everyone. But again, queues weren't massive and people were filling up the chairs. It's also the top of this lift that sets you on your way to Tashiro.  

But don't think that's your fill yet! There's still Mistumata. Unfortunately it contains the longest, but by far my most hated run... the gondola run. It's super busy, super shallow, and super irritating. Unfortunately, aside the gondola itself, its the only way down, so you have to suck it up. It's basically a long winding path without any of the endearing views you might usually get on a path. Its nice to look at and all, but its still dull and gets in the way of your fun a bit. Beginners just wont have enough speed to carry them through this, so they'll be unclipping at least twice and possibly three times on this run. It might be nice for the more timid riders out there, but i cant imagine most people will get a real kick out of it. 

This plops you out at the bottom of the gondola and from there its a short lift back up to the central mistumata base area. Here you have your final little area. And honestly, its another fantastic little zone for beginners. Its a nice gradient, decently wide, and will get anyone through their first turns enjoying it. It'll also blow their mind when they realise this is one tiny part of the mountain and they start exploring the rest of it. :) If youre with a beginner (or are one) and you want to get riding asap, then this is the place you'll probably spend the better part of your time.  Definitely an ideal beginner line, whilst still having enough ungroomed side areas to keep you or your more experienced mates entertained. 

As you can tell, beginners have a LOT of accessible terrain. And you might be thinking that this means the mountain is a beginner mountain. Well yes and no, for you see the reason youre here is because of teh powder, and the powder is going to give your intermediate and advanced rider a lot to hit up. 

Kagura For Intermediates:

The first place to mention might be the park at Mitsumata. I only SAW it (as if im going to go into a park these days?), but it looked pretty much immaculate with three central lines for people to ride down. Again, we are talking a relatively short run and were you to bomb it top to bottom, youd probably do it in under a minute or two. This is not long winding parks with millions of features at the end of the day, but its immaculate, well maintained and has a bit or variety thrown in. As mentioned above, the mountain draws in park rats, so theres definitely stuff here worth lapping (or cutting your teeth on). 

So there's the park? Well, there's also the powder. That little run on Tashiro i mentioned earlier is going to keep intermediates well happy. That being said though, there really isnt ostensibly much terrain that might be classic "intermediate" stuff. Really what will keep intermediates here is either cruising around tashiro soaking up the views; getting some baby laps in the park; and popping onto some of the more tricky runs. In truth whats going to keep intermediates riding this area is the size of it (it is rather massive) the sheer wealth of runs and diversity (the mix of paths, groomers, and easily accessible off piste to flirt with), and of course the powder. It can be rather immense. So really intermediates would be better off not reading this part and focusing more on both the beginner and advanced descriptions because that middle ground between the two dynamics is really what they're going to really enjoy about the mountain. Its not really an intermediate mountain per se, but intermediates wont be exactly bored either. And theres a good reason for this that im about to explain.   

Kagura for advanced riders:

You see, Kagura doesnt have much in the way of on piste advanced runs either. It has a few over at Toshiro, and the main lines up at Kagura, but really advanced boarders will find the groomers relatively short, and pretty much chopped up. I mean, we all love choppy pow, but we all know some of those runs are getting moguled out eventually and that kinda sucks... So aside the park theres not much going on. Theres a few little neat spots (like the area around Tashiro Romance 6 lift) that are great fun and probably will have powder running on them (if albeit chopped to hell), right into april. But this all ultimately makes up a fraction of a resort thats dominated by green beginner stuff.

Until you duck a rope.

And heres the thing. Those ropes... no one honestly gives a shit. Its got Myoko's very laid back policy. No one bothers to poach lines here, they just drop in them in front of the mountain staff and track to their favorite spots. Just off the back of that black run at the top of Tashiro 6 for example is a rope. This rope has HEAVY cut in tracks from people popping a little skiers right before the challenge bahn to cut down a ridge line on some seriously deep pow. It shallows out towards the end which probably turns most people off, but you know people with the right board are hitting that and scoring awesome surf... and whats more, so do the resort staff. They probably have their own little secret areas they like to hit up. 

Take for example the Kagura area itself... sure, you CAN ride the fun challenge course (it was caked in powder and nice and bouncy and a decent quality black run (if lacking in a bit of steepness to really take it above an advanced red run maybe), OR you could just pop under the rope on skiers left just after you get off the lift and either track under the lifts (there are a LOT of lift lines on this resort well worth playing on by the way)... and you might thik this is awesome! And youll be right. But maybe the second or third time you hit that line youll notice that theres a few lines going much further skiers left. And you might follow them... and when you do youll hit a massive open pow field (well tracked again), but with some serious powder fun. In many ways it reminded me of strawberry fields in niseko.

And hell, the next time you might even resist the temptation to hit that line up and ride even further on. And here you're rewarded with less tracking  and even deeper lines. But nonetheless bringing you back out at the top of the gondola and teh central station in the kagura area.    

What makes this wild is that its clearly popular, its not just a few pow hounds ninjaing these lines, its commonplace with a massive blind eye policy from the staff. As i say, this is just the obvious stuff that a dude riding a day and a half is going to find. But theres a stack of it, and its going to keep you in pow right into the late season here and that's honestly a fantastic draw for advanced and high intermediate riders. I know you shouldnt encourage rope ducking (and im feeling killclimbz scowling at me while im writing this :)), but its clearly common practice on this mountain and no one at all seems to bat an eyelid. Its bizarre in a way. Maybe its just to keep beginners from getting stuck? I have honestly no idea and thats part of what makes it slightly dangerous for the unaware. You see, very little of the mountain is actually roped off. They let you ride pretty much wherever, so it does beg the question of why these places are roped off when so many people are hitting it. So keep that in your mind when you get here. There have already been two deaths this year around this area, not from tree wells or creek beds, but from people simply getting inverted and ending up head first. Its still dangerous stuff out there even if that danger isnt obvious or apparent. So please do understand this. 

That being said, the draw for advanced riders is precisely the access to free powder terrain. It's going to be deep, you're going to find lines, its going to be face shots and you're going to have an awesome time riding it. And it seems to be almost all over the mountain itself. I didnt obviously spend a great deal of time exploring Tashiro but its certainly got some lines i might consider on my next trip (but i was kinda pushed ofr time this time out). 

As i mentioned to intermediates before, its precisely because the resort doesnt rope off much that youre going to get a lot of opportunities to start flirting with the trees or riding some of the lifts, or hitting the ungroomed side areas as well as the obvious ungroomed powder zones which everyone loves in powder time regardless of their official course designation. Though you might be best to stay away from the more obvious rope ducking stuff, youre still going to find a LOT that's not really listed as suitable for intermediates, but that the snow quality helps take care of on your behalf. Just like with the advanced riders, there's way more here to hit up than it might appear just by looking at the map. :)

Oh, one part ive forgotten is the path to the base from the mitsumata ropeway. Instead of getting teh gondola down, you can, if youre not an absolute beginer ride a very sharp turning path to the bottom. You can also just skip the path and fly straight down. Its kinda fun and gives you something fun to do at the end of the day to score that last little bit of pow fun. 

Off Piste options:

I'm looking around and one of the things im seeing is this: A lot of terrain within hiking distance. Indeed, clearly there's a decent hiking area since the base of mitsumata rents out snow shoes for people to traverse the ridege line up near the top of the mountain itself as well as tour groups setting out (rather cheaply by the way - 7000 yen i believe) to hit up some of the more easy to access stuff around the mountain itself. Further afield there are also some decent sized mountains (similar to hakuba in size), with some terrifying looking rides that genuine freeriders (who actually know their shit) would want to make a bee line for. Obviously im donny, this is out of my depth, but its obviously there, and its obviously going to give you something else. If you lived in the area i honestly cant see why you wouldnt own a splitboard. The place screams HIKEABLE TERRAIN!!! If that's your bag, theres more than a few lines in the general vicinity that are going to keep you entertained for a while.   

Ippy goes to Kagura (the Review). 

So hopefully you have an idea of what the area is like, I reckon Ive typed more than enough, so ill try and hit up the highlights (good and bad). Clearly I enjoyed myself. There's plenty to do and being a little slackcountry kid, the mountain pushes a lot of my buttons. 

The bad first because im the type of person that eats the biscuit first on a twix so i can indulge with that sweet sweet caramel and chocolate. 

The bad is first that gondola run. I hate it. It's a real vibe killer. The fact you HAVE to ride it also annoys teh crap out of you. You can of course cruise it, but chances are youll be unclipping somewhere, and i hate that more than i hate boredom. So its boredom for me. 
The second thing is the line back from tashiro to kagura. It can get windy and suffer from similar flat/unclipping issues. It doesnt really inspire you and its definitely something you ride ONLY because you honestly have to. 

So yeah, theres some flats, and yes, theyre compulsory if you want to check out the whole mountain. And they go BOTH ways. Getting to the dragondola for example will require traversing a few tedious flats just as getting back will also have you mumbling under your breath about these annoying bloody runs! Dont let that dissuade you though. Tashiro is rather pretty and has some fun lines, and mitsumata is swimming in powder. Regardless of the negatives, you will still want to hit it all up. 

Another thing thats kinda naff is the length of time from arrival to getting your first proper ride. First you take the ropeway, then its a quad lift up to the top of the park, followed by a little scoot, then onto the gondola before popping across to the high speed 1 lift bringing you out NEAR the top of the mountain (the top lift itself doesnt open until mid February i believe, but by god it looks very very awesome). All in all it might be somewhere around 35 minbutes before you clip in and start riding. 

And when you do start riding, the on piste can be kinda short. I mean you COULD ride all teh way to the bottom which is going to be rather long, but that gondola run pretty much makes the decision for you. You wont bother riding it until you have to ride it, so its kinda like half a mountain in reality. 

But the pow takes care of that. As does the terrain which can be rather fun when it gets going, as does the slackcountry, and as does the vista your met with at Tashiro. 

What really draws you in though are those secret little lines and knowing that no matter how late in the season it gets, if youre on the right board, youre going to be scoring powder somewhere. The place is honestly a stack of fun. Its vertical isnt exactly stunning, but its actually rather huge. It takes a fair while to trundle from one end of Tashiro back to kagura and theres plenty of fun little parts to hit up along the way. 

Its a strange mountain. I feel like i should be a little underwhelmed by it, but it just keeps delivering and opening up little lines i didnt expect or revealing little secret areas (including some of the on piste by the way) that are a lot more fun and secluded than they might appear. Its really that sense of discovery that makes the place quite fascinating. You think youve seen the best it has to offer, and Blam! another little line opens up putting another smile on your face.

And thats really why none of that stuff in teh nagatives is worth even mentioning at the end of the day. The paths are annoying, the lifts can be slow, the flats can pop out of nowhere killing your vibe, but then youll think "hmmm... whats down this line?" And youve just discovered your new favourite part of the mountain. And its really this which makes me WANT to come back here. It feels like ive just scarcthed teh surface. And even if i havent the powder is still there waiting on me anyway :)

Honestly, its a great place, and when you throw in Yuzawa on top of it, i cant see a reason id want to head to Nagano any time this season. Sure, siga kogen is huge, Myoko is my ancestral home, and Hakuba is mischief central, but Yuzawa seems to have all that plus a tonne of waist deep pow just waiting for me to ride. It seriously has questioned my desire to base myself in nagano, and for that alone its a place youll definitely want to hit up if you get the chance.  
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bugsbunnymydad View Drop Down

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jan/10/2012 at 2:43am
21 is long as heck and a waste of time if you're looking to have fun boarding/skiing. However, it's got some really nice scenery and it's a long and relaxing ride down. Maybe it'll be nice as a last run or if you're with your family.

As for me, I quite liked 13-22-30. But I only rode 22 once cus I'm stupid and I kept forgetting if 22 was left or for some reason I kept going to 23. 23 is def a lil more brutal than 22.

Schneider was kinda fun but I don't remember doing Utopia. For advanced riders, I would say 16-19 or 18-17 and then getting the lift back up would be a good idea. Everything else, you have to take the gondolas.
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ippollite View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jan/10/2012 at 3:14am
actually, i think youre right. And i think that picture i have labelled as challenger is actually utopia now i think about that lift placement. Funny we never did it in truth since i was kinda itching for a non dicking about straight lift ride to access fun terrain instead of mucking around with gondolas. Oh to just reach the end of run and pop on a quad that takes you half way up the mountain! :) Ah well, next time im there ill be sure to run it a few times to see if its worth it. Its probably also utopia where our mutual friend is clinging onto the walls for dear life in one of my photos from two years ago :p

I should say though, i preferred the middle line over schneider just because it felt a bit longer and didnt seem like it was getting as trenched out. Possibly uchikubi is also a little mellower in its slope angle as well over the bottom half of schneider meaning people just bomb it a bit more rather than cut into it so heavily. It feels more chaotic and choppy, but in a good way just because you can let rip a bit more. :) 

It should also be noted that when i say id felt id seen it all by three days, this isnt a bad thing. I mean this in the way you might mean you ate just the right amount of food that you feel nice and full without being bloated :p I was in no way sick of nozawa by the time we left. I could have probably stretched it out another two or three days without feeling an urge to move on.   

Oh! and 23 is a LOT more brutal than 22. I have a vid of us riding it which has us literally falling on our arses every two or so turns :p
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humdingaling View Drop Down

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jan/10/2012 at 4:34pm
i wish to view this video for training purposes Smile
Don't approach a goat from the front, a horse from the back, or a fool from any side..
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bjvinson View Drop Down

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jan/10/2012 at 4:46pm
Thanks for the review ippollite, extremely comprehensive. You've inspired me to get back to Japan, now I just need to get a seal on some tickets before the season finishes!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jan/10/2012 at 5:10pm
jetstar was having sale not too long ago

not the 400 bucks type tickets of yester year but still ok ...if you can bear them Ouch
Don't approach a goat from the front, a horse from the back, or a fool from any side..
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