Naeba, Yuzawa, Niigata, Japan (review)
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Topic: Naeba, Yuzawa, Niigata, Japan (review)
Posted: Mar/18/2012 at 6:36pm
Naeba, Yuzawa: The Review
Where?: Naeba, Yuzawa, Niigata in Japan.
When?: Feb/march 2012 (usually half days).
Who?: Less than 100 days LIFETIME. Feeling the cold in my bones, and too old for this park nonsense. I likes me some bumpy sketch terrain and still feel a sense of accomplishment 50/50ing a rail.
Ticket Info: http://www.princehotels.co.jp/ski/naeba/ski/lift/ Day pass (8-5) is 4500yen, 5000 for the mt Naeba (which lets you hit up kagura as well). The full pass (8am-9pm) is 6500 and if you get there early afternoon they even have a 12pm-9pm pass for 5000yen. Kinda pricey, but relatively comparable to some of the bigger name resorts out there. Plus i think the nighta is pretty pico if I remember right from the trail map (a couple of the family zone lifts).
Accessibility: From tokyo or Nagano super easy. Take the bullet train from tokyo to Echigo-Yuzawa station, then get the bus out of the backside of the station (i think its East exit - the one furthest from the JR train gates). Then hop on one of the buses there to naeba. Gets SUPER crowded peak times in the peak season though. So if you plan on even getting on that bus I'd get there at least 15 minutes early.
Snow Conditions?: First time (early feb): tracked powder; Second time (late feb): groomered (soft in spots, icy in spots, groomed for the main part); third time(mid march): wet
Resort Facilities?: This is a resort. When i use the term here though, im using it in the much more classic sense of a holiday destination tourist trap. It's got EVERYTHING you need, and a 100 other things you didnt know you need but are pretty stoked they're there. This is the kinda place you can bring your S.O. who hates the cold and have them chill out while you go riding and have a fun time. Have a family with kids, but dont want the kids slowing you down?... kids play room ahoy! This place will probably have just enough to keep your bored mates a little less than totally bored. It's not a theme park mind you, i dont remember a bowling alley or a cinema, but because its pretty much built around the prince hotel, theres going to be (likely pricey) pampering all over it.
A brief word about *The Dragondola*: Linking up Kagura and Naeba (and thus allowing you to ride both on the same ticket (the Mt. Naeba - 5000 yen and only a little more expensive than the usual day pass for either resort)), is the Dragondola: the world's (fourth) longest gondola. It takes about 20 minutes to get from Naeba to Tashiro and a fiurther 45 minutes to get to the gondola at Kagura. It is the curse of the gondola that kagura is the wrong way around so you end up at Tashiro rather than the best bit of the mountain at Kagura. Were it the other way around the Mt Naeba would be a no brainer - free access to the piste on naeba and the off piste on kagura in the time it takes you to ride a few lifts! Awesome!
Instead you probably have to plan it out a bit more, and here's why:
Getting from Kagura to the dragondola isn't too bad. From the top of the Kagura High Speed 1 (the good part of the mountain), i dont even recall having to ride another lift. Probably takes you 15-20 minutes tops. But getting back is a different story. You need at least 4 lifts, you have a few flats, and it's going to take you 40 minutes to an hour to get to the top of the kagura high speed 1 from the Dragondola (which means 5 lifts actually). It's not a terrible thing, but just something to factor if time is pressing. Going there and back is going to eat away about 2 hours of your days riding time (not including faffing around and maybe hitting up a run or two on your way), so you likely need to decide a bit in advance if you're going to switch resorts.
Anything else?: Nope. That about covers it. Oh wait... I should start this review with an admission. I haven't ridden the entire mountain. I've hit up parts of the sprawling family area and the two main lines flanking the resort. I have yet to hit up the black runs going down the middle of the mountain to the family area. Apparently the riesen banh is a mogul run and the mens and womens slalom is a decent steep (though i suspect after Feb they get pretty gnarly).
But aside those two runs (and any potential secrets lying outside the ropes) i think ive seen most of what the piste has to offer, so i can have a decent crack of explaining it.
Naeba Explained :
Im going to start by saying Kagura is awesome. Kagura is right now my favorite resort in Japan. But it is lacking something. If you love your slackcountry/backcountry, then kagura is wicked fun. It doesn't get crowded, and also it gets puked on. This easily makes it far and away my number one choice for somewhere to ride in peak season if you're not in Niseko. But it lacks a little something.
What it lacks is rather weirdly, a decent on piste line. Once you realise that the gondola run isn't that entertaining, (and tashiro is kinda filled with fun, but kinda short lines), it suddenly feels a little small. Instead, where it shines is in its access to side and back country lines.
"Thats nice, ipps", you might be thinking, "but this isnt the Kagura review. This is the Naeba review! How about you review the resort you mentioned in the title instead?"
But hear me out, i have a reason: For what Kagura lacks, Naeba makes up for in spades.
It's a decent size, has a great fall line, has some excellent little steeps mixed in and just has some nice long runs in it. It feels a lot more fun to just ride and enjoy it. I'd dare say it is a perfect cruising mountain for weekend trippers were it not for the fact you might think I'm damning it with faint praise. . I reckon its got more than enough going on to keep you happy and entertained at least a few days. The terrain is just really good fun.
The first thing you might notice though are the negatives and i want to get them out of the way before i look at the mountain itself.
The first one will be the people. Naeba gets busy. On a holiday weekend (the first time i ended up there), its bedlam. Naeba is the closest ive seen a Japanese ski resort get to the numbers i routinely saw at Muju. If you can help it, avoid holidays and weekends if you come here.
Annoyance number two might be the sheer number of lifts clunking along for the family section. It really breaks the suspension of disbelief that youre in a winter wonderland when youre seeing all these bodies being mass transited up the hills. Its like a ski factory in a way. It definitely bothered me in a way that has nothing at all to do with the ride, and everything to do with snobbery. I just didn't like the idea of being herded up a mountain by some kind of inhuman mechanized operation. As i said though, that's snobbery and nothing at all to do with the actual ride. It's all about an illusion being shattered rather than some kind of cosmic truth. The bottom area of Naeba feels like a cynical money spinning operation and trying to pile as many people as they can onto those mountains as fast as they can. Again, this is not a statement of reality, its one of the ILLUSION of riding many of us carry. I mention it because it is almost diametrically opposed to the vibe at Kagura (which in turn plays into the illusion of the "authentic" and "serious" ski experience). Its a silly prejudice and something i want to chastise myself for. :)
You see, for all those lifts, the bottom area is nonetheless routinely filled with queues. Naeba is in demand, and with good reason.
Now that we've got that out of our systems, lets actually look at the mountain:
The main brunt of the mountain is the Family zone dfirectly in front of the main Prince Hotel. On the map its the Sanroku station (which is just the gondola). The whole are is fantastic for beginners since it has a lot of wide open spaces, and a decent green run gradient (not too steep but not so shallow that you'll be fighting speed). You can pick your favorite gradient and ride the lift for it until you're happy. The area is seriously made for beginners to earn their first turns and have a happy time at the resort.
Honestly its hard to say much more about this area. It's huge. Its pretty straightforward, and because its way wide, it never feels so crowded that you feel like youre tripping over everyone else. There are plenty of lifts to choose from and plenty of places to ride. And down at the bottom of it all are a stack of restaurants, lockers, hotels, and shops.
Bisecting the mountain:
Getting the gondola 1 and one of the two pair lifts up to the top you get a much more interesting experience. From here you have two really fun lines you can hit to the bottom with a few decent choices in the interim for a spot of variation.
Firstly, you can follow the little red path down skiers left bringing you back to the top of the gondola. From here its a really fun little cruising green run (with lots of side pow on skiers right and some little walls to hit on skiers left) down to the top of gondola 2. At this point the runs branch off and you get to make yet another fun choice.
Alternatively from the top you can plough down the mogul bahn. Right next to it is an awesome face of fresh pow. (I believe they don't rope it off all the time, but when i was there it was roped off every time.) It brings you out near the top of the green cruising run i just mentioned and onto the top of gondola 2.
Skiers right and skiers left:
Heading down the hill you have 2 real options. Ride the main face of the red run, or follow the winding (undesignated on the trail map above) zig zag path. Beginners usually take the path since the red run is actually rather steep and can be pretty bumpy. This brings you to the main junction and yet another set of choices. The central line are the slalom bahns mentioned in the anything else section. I havent ridden them, but obviously if you want a rip these will be your first choice. There's also the mogul bahn at the riesen Slalom course you could hit up. Alternatively though you could just head skiers right and follow the main red line.
This is a cracking little run with lots of little side hits, it also has loads of variation on what you want to hit up. At any time you can just get off the line and head towards the base area. It's pretty much a straight red run/green run piste course thats good fun to either just cruise, play on some of those side hits, bonk some trees, ride some walls, or even just run the baby park they have half way down it. Whatever you decide, its a great little run and if you can link a turn, youre going to find it a lot of fun. In all, the run (top to bottom), is going to be a good solid nippy line with an unbroken fall line, very little twisty turny semi flats and loads of variation (with little spots you might want to hit up to change it a little each time). It's a solid line where you can just rip past all the beginners side sliding it, or you can just chill out with them and enjoy hitting up some of the natural features. It's got just enough of a kick in it to make it feel feisty, but not so difficult that your advanced beginner mate is going to feel out of their depth (though there are some steep little spots on it...)
Alternatively you can go skiers left at the junction heading towards the dragondola and have a completely different experience. This one is pretty much a natural little half pipe through the trees. Loads of side hits, pretty icy, and you can pick up some decent speed on it. Of all the runs, this was probably my favorite (though all the hits are on the right hand side, so if you're goofy, you'll be working on riding heel side/switch up those walls :)). This is a cracking little run and once you get through the trees just head right and you'll find yourself back at the base resort (follow the path left for the dragondola).
Ippy goes to Naeba: the Review.
I started this review with a discussion on Kagura. The reason should be pretty clear as to why: Naeba's piste is a stack of fun. For beginners theres loads to keep you occupied, and for intermediates and above theres a tonne of awesome decent length lines to play on.
Naeba is a wicked little ride. I should of course qualify this by reminding you that this is Japan, its not steamboat, the trails arent thousands of miles long, but for Japan its a long run with a tonne of options to hit. There's also loads of little side hits and walls to play with all over the mountain as well as some technically challenging terrain to navigate.
In part, thanks to those nice long runs flanking the main central line of the mountain (both with really good solid intermediate inclines), you have a real change of pace from the piste at Kagura. Naeba has what Kagura lacks. And in turn, Kagura brings to the table the off piste lines and slack country in ridiculous untracked powder with almost no one around to score it. Singularly they both deliver an exceptionally good ride and both are great places to hit up, but together they offer one of the most interesting rides you're possibly going to get on Honshu.
Ultimately when the conditions are good and you want a solid ride through the trees or in the pow, id head to kagura. But when the conditions kinda suck, or you just want something a little more fun to muck about with then get the dragondola over to Naeba. A couple of times i found myself a little tired of riding the lines at Kagura or hating the conditions (this weekend for example), and on both occassions a trip to Naeba really lifted my spirits and cheered me up. Because the terrain at Naeba is great fun, it doesnt really matter what the conditions are. You're going to find you can do what it is you want to do... be that bomb the mountain, muck about with the side hits dotted all over it, enjoy lapping the gondola and getting a nice ride and take in the scenery, or just cruise with your mates winging snowballs at each other (or of course hit up the park, but as ever, ipps dont park.. but at least the lift is pretty quick and runs the length of it).
For me, Kagura delivers something closer to what i want in my mountain. But its much more reliant on its conditions. Naeba delivers (more than) a few days of decent riding regardless. Im having no problems strongly recommending it as a stand alone mountain or as a base for messing about on both mountains.
Definitely a cracking little place on its own. But in conjunction with Kagura, you need to add this place to your list. This is serious competition to both Niseko and Hakuba (like both of those, the whole Yuzawa area is rather tourist friendly). You will have a blast here, I absolutely guarantee it.
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|Posted: Mar/25/2012 at 10:01am|
Nice pictures and review! Japan seems so cool. Wish I could go there.
Wish it was cold in my backyard all year long.....
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|Posted: Mar/25/2012 at 10:34am|
I like that they have an "uncompacted snow zone", I'm guessing that's the Japanese equivalant to a backcountry area(?).
Japan isn't the first place people think when they think snowboarding, but everytime I see pics or vids it looks like a winter wonderland. Might have to get over there sometime, at 6'3" I'd probably be the tallest guy in the country.
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