Sugadaira, Nagano, Review
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Topic: Sugadaira, Nagano, Review
Posted: Feb/25/2013 at 11:34pm
Sugadaira - The review!
Who: Ippy the munificent, keeper of the keys and slayer of the 100 day monster. So er, 120 days or thereabouts. You knows the score, not very good at snowboarding, nor staying in shape, nor remaining flexible, and completely incapable of recovering from any injury sustained whilst hitting up jib features he clearly has no business riding.
About the Snowcat: The terrain at the starting point (the top of Lift 1) is MEGA soft. Like barely breaking downhill and runs like that for a good 200 meters before dropping into a decent pitch. The top of the lift operations is 1647m, whilst the cat tracks up another 600 or so meters. Three thousand yen for that seems a little... i dunno. If you have the skins, I reckon you'd be better off just hiking it. And if it IS steep, well, 3000 yen for a short bomb down a hill even if the powders fresh flowing seems also a little... if money isn't an object though, probably beats whatever else there is to do on the mountain.
And second, theres a good two or three Kilometers of fields, farms and houses between the Taro area and the Pine Beak area. You won't be walking this one. These two resorts are NOT connected by lifts or a traverse. If you're switching between the areas, you'll either be needing a car, or you'll be riding the shuttle bus. And this is where it gets spectacularly messy. For you see, the shuttle bus actually charges you to ride the resort you've paid your ticket for. It's not much, but it really irritated me that i had to pay 400 yen for a round trip to access the parts that my pass was apparently paying for (well... not me though - yay! free tix! but had I have paid, i would have been incensed to be honest). Worse still, it runs every two hours. It does two loops (around 20 minutes per loop), then its gone. If you miss the bus, its back up the hill and an hour and 20 minutes twiddling your thumbs waiting for the next one. And if you switch out, you better have your timings well planned to make it back in time for your bus back. If you are coming here then and using public transport here's my two INVALUABLE pieces of advice:
1. Pack very lightly. Preferably get a backpack with straps to carry your board, wear your gears to the resort so you don't need to bother with lockers. They aren't all that common it turns out.
2. Memorize the bus timetable. Fortunately i went there and took a picture of it, so this means no matter what, you're gonna have a better time than me.
And here's that shuttle bus timetable:
But i figure the best way to explain this resort is really to break it into the four main sections listed above: Pine beak 1 (the main pine beak area); pine beak 2 (the smaller mountain connected to pine beak 1 by a miserable traverse); Taro; and the Davos area. Obviously I tried to hit up as much as I could, but I maybe rode around 60% of the runs. I don't believe i missed out on some amazing secret though.
Breaking Down the Hill
(Top of Davos lift 1)
Davos is a weird one. On paper it's got a bit of everything: a load of soft runs for the beginners around lift 4 and lift 6; some fun little stashes around lift 5, a fun advanced beginners rolling bumpier course from lifts 2 and 3, a nice big central area at the base of lift one. Lift one takes you all the way to the top of the Davos area and itself has a few fun beginner-intermediate lines. On top of this you of course have the snowcat operation which might (i honestly cant comment on it - visibility at the top was less than 50 meters) give more experienced riders something to do.
The area in general however is much more suited to beginners and low intermediates (and I assume advanced riders wanting to score some fresh lines by earning their turns hiking to the very top of the mountain). Intermediate and above will find the lines far too short and not particularly engaging. Snowboarders will also find the traversing required rather irritating. The lift placements are somewhat disjointed possibly because lift 4 (area 11 on the map) has to service both the line down to lift 1 and also the line to lift 6. This cuts the area up a bit making it all a bit underwhelming. If you really want to enjoy yourself in Davos, you're probably best off making a bee line to the area serviced by lifts 1, 2 and 3 (area 12 on the map) and sticking around there. Lifts two and three really overlap in many ways so ultimately its two lines. Beginners will honestly enjoy them, as will burgeoning intermediates looking to deal with a spot of speed since there are a few decent pitch lines mixed in. In general the lines here are okay, nice and open, straightforward and probably a lot of fun for someone in their first twenty or so days... they are somewhat on the short side though making things a touch frustrating for anyone looking to bomb the hill. Finally, the area seems to get seriously exposed to the winds meaning that even in a drop you have a good chance of the fresh snow being blown away. It was also incredibly cold. Stay warm!
(getting ready for the hike to the top).
Turning to the other half of Davos (chairs 4, 5, and 6 - area 11), you have some SERIOUS beginner terrain. Chair 4 possibly has the softest terrain on the mountain. Its an awesome place to lap for first timers. Theres no real challenge from the pitch and due to the fact that line 1 seems to be the popular part of the mountain, the traverse between the two areas actually keeps people from riding it. This means there's a lot of space for you to do your thing and learn your skills. If i ever decide to pick up skiing, this part of sugadaira is going to be high on my hit-list. Chair 5 on the other hand has some really fun looking lines for intermediates and above. The only problem here though is that the lift is INCREDIBLY slow, and the terrain is as you might expect, rather short. Lapping seems like a great idea until you sit on the lift and realise you don't really want to waste your time here on such a small tiny line. Pity. i would have really liked to have hit up some of those lines. Its probably the only part of Davos that a progressing intermediate might find interesting and worth the bother.
This leaves line 6. Line six is your connection to Taro. It's got a few restaurants hidden in the trees i wanted to go visit, but aside that its a pretty mild run to the bottom. Getting to the top of line 6 from line 4 requires a bit of skill and speed if you don't want to unclip, and the resort was kind enough to add some rollers to keep you moving between the two. As i say though, great place for beginners to ride, but there's nothing here (aside those restaurants) for anyone who can ride a bit. Its super soft, super mellow, short and wide. It's real value though for most people is that it connects you to the Taro area and to the shuttle bus to Pine beak.
In summary, the entire Davos area (aside the short lines from chair 5 and the hike to the top) would suit a very inexperienced group. It's got a nice atmosphere at the base of lift 1 making it very family and beginner friendly. For solid intermediates and advanced riders not doing the snowcat/hike, there really isn't that much for you guys to do. Its kinda dull, the pow is super exposed and wind blasted, and because the snow level isn't so deep, the trees are pretty tight and scrubby. It's worth a look for the nice views but i wouldn't really sit around here for too long. There are better lines to play on.
But not necessarily at Taro...
Part 2: Taro
Looking at Taro from pine beak 2
Great terrain, but stupidly short. The lifts chug up at a decent speed keeping things moving, but most of the lines seem to mirror one another and all seem to be mid 20 degree straight runs to the bottom. I hit up a few of these lines and i'd suggest that the more technical and fun lines were found on the side facing pine beak. The side facing Davos is of course fun to play on, but it is barely breaking 500 meters whilst at least the Pine Beak side pushes out a couple of hundred extra meters. None of these lines though break 800m, so that should give you some sense of what you're really dealing with here: a rather tiny hill with a decent gradient. Again, nowhere near enough snow to cover the brush.
(its got an alright pitch to it)
Theres really not all that much to do here. Beginners will find it rather intimidating, intermediates will of course enjoy the challenge of the steeps, and though advanced riders will enjoy a proper good steepish run to let rip a bit and bomb the hill, its going to be short lived and again somewhat underwhelming. The only thought going through my mind here was that i could be riding similar but MUCH LONGER versions of these on just about any resort I've ever ridden. As a stand alone area, it kinda blows. Connected with Davos though its a bit more charming. It does at least offer a progressing beginner/low intermediate mixed group a convenient and fun challenge once they start getting tired of the softer lines on Davos. And really that's how I think of this place...
Taro on its own is around 12 short runs of totally mixed terrain - beginners paths mix in with 28 degree downhill bomber lines. If you choose to ride all of it, you'll easy kill a half day. Mix it in with Davos and a lowish level group's going to have a genuinely good full day out. But it just wasn't for me. I took a couple of the lines either side, mainly the steeper ones and reckoned I'd seen enough to get a good idea of the place. Maybe if someone else comes here and spends some time they can tell you in more detail about the area (I do feel that not riding the A course might have been a bit of an oversight since it looks like it had a bit of fun to it). However, for me, the Taro area really was a stop gap area between my bus home at Davos, and the shuttle bus across to Pine beak (it goes from areas 3, 4, and 5 on the map) and as such didn't really do much to hold my attention. It definitely has more fun lines than Davos, but it really is held back by its length. A pity of course, since what little it has, is rollicking good fun. But stay here and you'll be riding lifts more than you'll be riding the course, and since I'm no longer in Korea and have actual options, I think id rather spend my time riding the course to be fair. Naturally, if you're leafing and side slipping your way down a 26 degree course, i dare say you'll take a bit longer getting to the bottom making it a bit more of an effective use of your time.
Part 3: Pine Beak 2.
After a couple of runs the view of pine beak was becoming somewhat tempting. Effectively a bowl with a flat run out it seemed to offer at least something a little different and hopefully slightly longer than what I was currently riding. Both Taro and Davos (in particular) had been hugely disappointing, so perhaps a trip to the other side would lift the day. By pure luck I arrived at the bus stop in time for the 11.52 bus across to Pine Beak. I've already moaned about the timetable and the extra cost so ill just pretend that I'm not holding some kind of grudge about it by adding a sentence into the review of the zone moaning yet again about it... so back to the story!
Pine beak 2!
I'm starting in pine beak two because that's exactly what I did. The bus drove past pine beak 2 (I had no clue where i was) and then pulled into the main pine beak area. I checked my handy map, realised I had 3 lifts and then a traverse. I was cold, kinda fed up and bored. Pine beak was a bit of a revelation. The very short lines between the connecting lifts to the top were decent fun. I realised coming back here might be a decent option after all. However first I had to make sure Id checked out everything Sugadaira had to offer, so at the top of the lift I took the path across to Pine beak 2.
Its a fun little run through the trees... for about 300meters. And then it gets flat. And i dont mean it gets flatter. I mean it gets flat. Absolutely spirit level flat. You will be unclipping and you will be walking. And its a considerable distance. At least a good five to ten minutes. Thankfully by now i was so primed for boredom and annoyance that it didnt particularly phase me and i only let out a single muttered "i ****ing hate sugadaira!!!" before happily skating on my way.
I grabbed a quick lunch and then scooted up the hill. Really you might as well consider this one lift. It goes from the base to the top, with a small drop off zone about 3/4s of the way up. Its a nice quick lift making lapping possible, and because its kinda out of the way no ones really around. Theres just you, a few beginners cutting the teeth on the baby lift/run, and an amazingly fun looking downhill practice line for skiers, and get this! SNOWBOARDERS!!! Theres a snowboarder downhill line!
If you have an alpine board and want somewhere to give it a wee run out on a practice course, dudes! pine beak actually accommodates you! This was really awesome and made me like the place almost immediately. I dont know if its a dedicated line, or if they only had it up for the day, but it wasn't a competition or anything, it was 5 or ten dudes on their alpine sticks just bombing down the line. Its not long or anything, but it looks a fun little line to just blast on!
On the exact opposite side of the lift just prior to the first get off point is a nice little powder zone. It was closed, but well, in the interests of research i er, had to you know... and its a blast! Decent pitch, lots of powder, and very lightly tracked.
And if you do get the lift all the way to the top, guess what? TREE LINES AND FRESHIES EVERYWHERE!!! Whee! the hidden gem of the resort. Again, the lines are shortish, but the fact you can get in the trees here gives you something to drag those lines out a bit longer with a few happy face shots.
Of all the zones, this is the one that really delighted me. It has very little for beginners and maybe low intermediates, but solid intermediates and above will really enjoy this small out of the way area with only a few runs to its name. It definitely cheered me up a bit, and what with the lines id spied over at pine beak 1 it seemed like my afternoon might deliver something a little more entertaining than the morning session at Taravos. (copyrighted!) Truthfully its got a few laps in it. You'll likely get bored after a couple of hours, but they're a much better couple of hours than Id been led to believe were even possible in Sugadaira. Well worth that miserable traverse over here.
Part 4: Pine Beak 1.
(looking at pine beak from the base of Taro)
Possibly a worse traverse back if im honest. Ah wells... Just know its coming and mentally prepare yourself for it. It will end! it will end! it will end!
As for the resort area itself. Id already got a quick feel of the place making my way across to pine beak 2, and was rather impressed. The park line looked immaculate and good fun. Higher up and the pitch turned into a decent bobbly messed up choppy powder-scape. If you are a powder hound its pretty clear that pine beak is going to offer better quality and deeper lines (with the *possible* exception of the hike to the summit over at davos of course) that those found over at Taravos.
The lines were also a great deal more diverse, entertaining and fun. They're pretty identical in truth given that its a bowl area, so straight drop into a run out, but it does offer quality terrain, a semblance of length (though still not what youd class as even a medium length decent run - unless you truly try and drag it out by running all the way to the very bottom so you can ride three lifts back up). Beginners will find the lines serviced by the lower lifts certainly accommodating, whilst park rats are going to at least have a decent line to lap (i never hit it of course, but it looks like they have a beginner and intermediate line). Finally more advanced riders are just going to love cutting in and out of the trees up the top and playing with the steeps and bumps.
Its cut up, its tracked, its moguled in places, and if it gets icy, its going to be utter hell, but in a drop, its well worth a look in. Lots of ways to plop down from the top lift, so really if you find one run cut up (possibly the two flanking the main lift to the top) you can just pop a little further along for slightly less steep but also likely less cut up lines to muck around on. In all, its a fun area. Its also fairly popular compared to the other parts of the mountain which gives it a bit of an atmosphere. It's got a little bit of everything which makes it a great place for a mixed group to consider basing themselves. It was a little busy mind you and you can see its the kind of place you might be fighting for tracks. But a fun (little) place.
Deciding on Pine Beak or Taravos?
Youve got a day, youre using the bus so its a pain in the ass getting from one side to the other. What to do? Well, genuinely i think the two areas offer a completely different experience from one another. High intermediates, park rats, and powder hounds are definitely going to want to skip Taravos. Aside the whole centralish hub feel of the surrounding area, the actual terrain is either too soft to enjoy or too short to let rip. Throw in the exposure to the elements and its not really all that enjoyable. Beginners and intermediates on the other hand will find almost the entire area accessible to them and theyll get a great sense of accomplishment tackiling some of the more tricky faces of Taro. I also think of the four, the Davos area is possibly the prettiest part of the mountain making for a genuine "experience".
Pine Beak on the other hand definitely suits the more adventurous rider. The steeps are steeper, the lines are longer, and the pow is deeper. The tree riding, (though short) is nevertheless a nice break from the endless groomers over at Taravos. Pine beak 1 offers an all round fun small hill to kill time on. Its not somewhere I'd probably find myself really wanting to head to, but if I found myself stuck there for some reason, then it definitely offers something resembling a slightly alright ride to it.
Finally, the powder hound looking for fresh lines and not really too concerned about pitch (and the Eurocarver looking to refine their skills) will definitely enjoy a couple of hours over at pine beak 2. Its a great place for doing your own thing and enjoying the stillness (once you escape the omnipresent shit music blatting out of the speakers).
This is really a decision that makes itself based on your skill level and what you want. If you want fresh lines, a bit of a challenge with the terrain, and some runs through the trees, probably spend more time over at Pine beak. If you want the AWE of being on a ski jo with a happy friendly unchallenging line where you can just splat on your face then base yourself around Davos. If youre after moving up the mountain a bit and want to have a crack at some different terrain then Taro/Davos is probably going to give you plenty to keep you interested. The two in conjunction would work really well for a beginner to early intermediate group looking for something not too intimidating, accessible, and a decent enough area to keep it diverse.
Finally if you want a hike, well, why the hell not just follow the rest of the people skinning up to the top of davos and pick your line?
At a push, theres honestly something for all levels to do and enjoy.
Just found this and it seems a nice idea to add it in and give you an idea of what youve been reading and maybe also goes some way to balance my slightly more fussy viewpoint. It also seems that although im right about the terrain up the top of davos being soft, i didnt realise there were mad photo opportunities up there with some snow monsters. If i do go back. Mayhaps i will have a wee scoot to the top after all.
Ipps in Sugadaira
...but Its that qualifier. I cant seem to remove it from my head... "at a push..."
You see, I can't think of a single way I could enjoy this place. Sure, I loved pine beak, But its a relative love. Its a fallback love. I love it because its not Taravos i guess and that it gave me at least some degree of joy from a rather dull day. But even compared to little Togari, a small resort that i was absolutely charmed by, there just isnt that much to like... let alone love.
I liked pine beak 2. Its a charming little area. Quiet, deep, fun, and empty. But In effect its one lift. And just how many times could i conceivably lap that lift before I'm either throwing myself off a cliff just to try and find something new? At heart Im a bit of an explorer. I like to find stuff. That i bothered to find it at all, is frankly enough in itself. I could have maybe stretched out an extra hour or so, maybe two or three even if i popped into the cafe for a few beers. In fact, getting drunk and falling down it seems like a great idea since its just you and a few other people... but the point is, the happiness that such a place even exists here is only comparative. It's still small. It's still one lift. And just how much exploring can you honestly do here since its ultimately rather short top to bottom?
So i could head to pine beak 1 and play there. With a car this is a great plan. Pine beak 2 then 1 then back to 2! great day. But without a car, I guarantee you wont be wanting to ride that traverse ever again. And pine beak 1 is a bit hectic. Its fun! In miniature its like going from kagura to naeba in many ways. You go from a quiet peaceful, powdery untracked area, into better lines, more fun terrain, but more tracking, more chaos and more chop. Its a fun diversion, but that's all it is. Once you've ridden three or four of the lines you realise you're riding a mirror of everything before it. Its pretty much charge, bounce, bounce, run out. Or charge, bounce, trees, run out. Variations on a theme of bowl. All paths go to the same place, it all leads to the same line. Yet again, its too short to make the various lines feel any different from each other. So yeah, with a car, this place is working. Without one... not so much.
So what about the other side? Well Davos offered me nothing... other than of course the sheer joy at realising i was (barely) riding a plateau. The top of it is probably alright, but without it, its a few short semi-intermediate lines to the bottom with some crusty shallow pow and scrubbed trees you likely cant get into. The traversing yet again is miserable and the lifts are too slow to really outpace the time it takes to charge whatever line you pick up on. Taro suffers a similar fate. Though it has a far steeper pitch and some decent runs in it, they're simply too short to make up for the time spent on the lifts, and once youve ridden a couple of them, you realise youve ridden them all.
And this is really one of the (many) problems i have with Sugadaira. If you can carve, you're really outpacing the lifts. You're also going to realise very quickly that you are riding pretty much the same line just with a few degrees difference either way. There is just not enough run out to make it feel like you're getting a different line. Of course part of this is because i only rode the steeper and more obviously interesting lines, (and skipped over the paths as much as possible), but really why would i want to ride a reasonably soft gradient path crisscrossing through the woods? Don't i have enough of those stretching 6 or so Kms in Nozawa or on any decent sized mountains?
What does this place have that i cant get anywhere else bigger, better and more varied?
And the answer is nothing at all... well, with the exception of a dedicated alpine course and the very much on piste hike at the top of Davos. Since i have neither an alpine board, or a splitboard/snowshoes, I'm stuck with the resort itself, and i really cant say with a straight face that there's anything that would impel me to return.
If i HAD to come back, sure! If i lived here and i had a car, and it saved mucking about, then sure. If i didn't already have a season pass and i was broke and this was a free ticket and the only way to give me a day out, then SURE!!! why the hell not? Its better than nothing... but i literally mean "Its better than nothing."
Its really the best thing i can say about it. There's nothing here for me. Maybe for a group of beginners it'll work. There's loads for them to do. Heck, Id even suggest they should come here for a couple of days just to make sure they can explore the whole thing. But for me, its got nothing that i couldn't find elsewhere. In a fix, it'll do. But if I'm honest, it was a bit of a letdown and a wasted day on the slopes (well aside, the opportunity to moan about something!). Unless i carry out my threat to pick up a pair of skis, its fairly unlikely ill be back for a second helping. Sorry Sugadaira, thanks for the ticket, but in the words of Ivan Karamazov, if that's the cost of entry, i think ill have to respectfully decline. Ticket two is winging its way back to the SJ dudes for someone who honestly will enjoy it to have a stab at the place. It can be fun, I really think a low level group will have a blast here, but it's just not for me.
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|Quote Reply Posted: Feb/26/2013 at 4:02am|
review finished. If youre heading this way, i hope it helps you out :)
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